Words are not magic crystals. What’s that
faint tapping in the night? It is Ted Hughes
wishing he’d stayed in Mytholmroyd and not
been made into a hero by hungry clerks
or his wife into a martyr by ideologues.
Tap. Tap. Is that you? Can you hear me? In the
night, in the womb, are we safe for the moment?
Do you remember a brief moment in Cambridge meadows
untouched by print, police, or prizes,
or the Penguins that waddle above our icy graves
bearing their own biographies across the icy flats:
an egg-dance and a swift fish.
Poverty stretched across frontiers fills
the resulting space with trills.
A life of repeated partings
stands behind the welcome and draws
Tears at the farewell. All our
loved ones were lost
Into unknown regions and well
may they persist for all we know
Sustained by consorts, trilling
like birds in the dawn.
HAYDN AT CSÁVÁS
The world heals us and casts us out, healed, into a black desert.
Every year at the new year fire we renew the terms of this
contract, the route to the centre, turn of the wheel, delight
in daily tasks while the new baby sleeps our sleep for us
entirely meshed in the chords. Until next year, when
it again becomes time to know what you’re saying.
The harmony includes cruelty and disdain, a bird lodges
briefly in the tree beside the graveyard and flies away
to the east. Haydn doesn’t belong here and the gypsies
don’t come to church. Someone’s knocking at the door.
Something’s knocking at the door, some force greater
than self sufficiency, longer than the forests and
wider than the army. It involves Haydn, out in the villages
listening to the gypsy bands and making notes, it means
the hymn, our last connective, ending and emptying.
The hymn ends with grace if the people we employ
get honest payment. Nobody in the wide west
believes this, the big numbers rattle in circular tombs.
But it is so, ultimately and yesterday and without end.
The gypsy band plays for singing and dancing
and every tune is our requiem, our bonfire in the snow.
The day of wrath approaches from the direction
of Austria, candle flames in the dark graveyard
as the watery star passes across the sky and
it is not enough to thrive, or to understand.
It is not enough to create. Look to the future
as a specific task to be completed before dawn
for the sake of humanity, the earth-bound music
that buds from the withered rosebush, called
back from the wild places, dark stone in hand.
From the black fates of Europe, the acres of despair just
round the corner, may wisdom protect us and lead us in
a linked circle for we have given thought and
worked hard. But have we stood on the ridgetop in
snow as the winter blaze dies down and viewed the harm?
No. But we have joined in the singing in the church,
Haydn in Hungarian from the days of the Empire
and felt the pull of intellection towards peace. If only
the gypsies too had been there the offer
would have been a crowning.
The daily ferry pulls into the harbour
as the shadows contract. Next time you look
it’s gone, down the coast, sailing
soft seas full of light, normal living.
There is no other access except footpaths
which are hell without a mule. The mountains rise
almost from the shoreline. The sea spilling
light proposes equity across the land, as usual.
Poseidon groans in the dark medium, the wash
against the shore in the empty bay where the ships came
in 1941 to rescue an army. The runners turned their
backs on the sea and headed for the summits on
almost vertical goat tracks, carrying radios on their backs.
Their fears are not ours. We await the news,
the pain of the earthly concept. The ferry lights
come round the headland again, on earth and on time.
with gamelan notes
No longer for ears -- sound
that, like a deeper ear
hears us, the apparent hearers.
We change places. Inner worlds
sketched onto the outside...
A temple before there were temples,
a solution saturated with
insoluble gods...: gong!
The big gong must never be damped
-- there is a god inside it who mustn’t be interfered with.
Sum of our silences,
making known only to itself,
roar that inturns to itself
silenced by itself
a duration wrung out of fading,
re-poured star: gong!
The gong controls the end of every piece--
You, whom we never forget,
who gave birth to yourself in loss,
a no longer understood festival,
wine at invisible mouth,
storm in the supporting column,
the wanderer’s fall into the route,
betrayal, ours, of everything...: gong!
slow to the penultimate note, stop, short
pause, and gong.
Then the orchestra casually concedes the final note.
There is only one gong.
Dispersed droning, perverted silence,
the whole ambience transformed into a thousand sounds,
goes away and comes back: strange closeness
of the tide of infinity.
The smaller ‘gongs’ hung near it
are called swnkam and kempul.
Best to close eyes and renounce mouth,
remain mute, blind, dazzled:
the whole space sounding, touching us,
wanting nothing of us but our hearing.
They have to
bear, with us,
the indignity of producing notes of music.
Who would tolerate it? The shallow ear
quickly overflows and, full of all the sounds,
don’t we press against our own ear
the vast shell of the ear of the world?
The big knobbed gong, gong agen,
can be said to have an audible pitch
As if one were in the process of
melting down the bronze gods
in order to add to them
the enormous Gods, all gold,
who destroy themselves in droning.
And from all these gods
emerging in metallic flares
arise the ultimate
but so low it is as much felt as heard.
And it oscillates (ombak: ‘ocean waves’)
(... bronze trees, which listening make
the round fruit ripen
by their resonating season...)
But who is this, off-course, lost among shrubs...?
The hedge closes behind him,
the grass stands up again,
the waste ground eats him up.
Who will heal his pains, since
balm became poison, peace war, since
fullness of love became hatred?
First scorned, now scorns,
feeds secretly on his
pride, his ingathering self-love
and suppresses compassion.
Is there not then one note in all your music
to turn his head for a moment
and draw his breath, one plea for
the pavements to stay unblooded,
and open his revolutionary cataracts
to the thousand springs
all round him, where his heart lies.
[Peter Riley lives in retirement in Hebden Bridge, having been a teacher, lecturer, bookseller, and a few other things. He is the author of fifteen books of poetry, and some of prose concerning travel and music. His most recent book is The Glacial Stairway (Carcanet 2011).]
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