‘Even clean hands damage surfaces.’

The soar of the human figure
The uncompromising thrust it makes
the fight it carries on with the force of gravity

      [David Smith, quoted at his show at Tate Modern 2006-07]

Thin flat forest   lumpy bird
Art shared out among the millions
They arrive   with their awkward bodies

Bodies that  strive to be different
Clay’s mystic mess, the garden of forms
‘This work and I whole nights together’

And now a sculpture, where it stands,
Among its seeming-still of shadows
There was water stretching in front, narrative glitter

Something came, breaking the surface –
And after so much silence
It arrived like a small mountain

Starting in on it
We could see the game it was playing
 ‘I’m making a name for myself up here.’

As the day gives out light shrinks to where we are
A plain prose surface, a comfortable-seeming
‘As if it were a city I’d befriended’

Imagine walking through it,texting the dead
But arriving at the event there was nobody there
Just these enormous empty photographs

And a world as if it knew itself without us
Its careful scatterings of leaves
Still, we survived the event

Here in the city we made, sculpture our fetishised sadness

            Tate Modern 2006-07

at home

Low trees bus drivers beware
Poor cornered animal

The face shines clear
Always read the label    grief

The way the other might
Return you to yourself

Anyway why do you need all those tunes?
A bird’s quizzical stare

And your life, a sort of
Half-hearted quest

Waking from time to time, to a
Happiness you hardly dare to touch?

And finds a
Kind of ground, to practise here being grateful

Out walking early was the best of it
Walking through London

As if the city
Breathed itself towards you

As if language a membrane were flexible
& the night leaning in

Like an intake of breath
Past the leaves that shelter my window –

Leaves of a strong-growing vine
With its useless ‘nephews’

Sirens are safely outside
A fox is calling

Too many words
Abrade the silence

Upbraid the silence?
Imagine the special part

And I only wanted to listen
To what the others see

As if we were travelling
All with one common purpose

Your gentle storm of breath in my ear
And the wind trying hard all night

Maybe I’m in the words like a thumbprint
At home in my strangeness


[John Welch lives in Hackney in London. His Collected Poems were published by Shearsman in 2008]

Copyright © 2009 by John Welch, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.