Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Poems

Here is a selection of poems from my two most recent collections, Selected Poems and Playing With Fire, both of which are available from Carcanet Press or via Amazon, and which I hope soon to have available for direct purchase from this site.

MANTRA

Everything turns away,

All things arise and fall -

The buzzard turning the hill

Through the jewelled mill of his eye,

The seashell turned to stone

In the slow tides of shale,

The larch lost in cloud,

The shepherd’s call on the air.

The pirouetting hare

Patrols the high wood,

Rain polishes rock,

The stone bridge swallows the stream:

Nothing is still the same.

Where is stillness found?

All things arise and turn,

Everything falls away.

(from Selected Poems)

THE TATTOOIST

She asked me for a butterfly

there, on her shoulder. No one knows

what goes on under the skin.

I was a man with time to kill

for money, and an art to sell,

patient enough with my line

to take the minimum of pain

filling a chosen space

and never choosing the design.

I worked at a square inch,

a needle nuzzling the skin.

I wiped the blood off where the line

was drawn, a blue embroidery

in the margin of her world.

She left, and I am free to stay

like the icecream man and the clairovyante

and the others who sell their addictions,

and she goes wrapped in the new web of her body:

she will never be naked again.

(from Selected Poems)

RECUMBENT BUDDHA AT POLONNARUWA

A grain like marbling or like watered silk

flows without movement through the sleeping face,

rock-ripples tinged with rose and ash and milk,

known tastes of being, calmed, finding their place.

It is as though the rock itself had slept

to dream this shape, the eyelid’s curve, the lip

smoother than any natural form, except

maybe the moon’s rim or a water -drop;

or as if we had sought a word to speak

out of pour nature, suffering, changeable,

empty, and found at last simply this cheek

relaxing on clasped hands, and this half-smile

that flowers from more than a child’s unblemished seeing

or a god’s detachment. Massive, lightly creased,

the carved silk pillows a wholly human being

whose last breath has perhaps this moment ceased.

(from Selected Poems)

FIVE LEMONS

Here are five lemons from the poet’s garden,

the colour of white gold and icy sunshine,

flooded with green around the pointed nipples.

My younger daughter cuts one into quarters,

careful of fingers, bites the white-furred pith out,

devours the quartz-white segments with her eyes shut,

sighing and swaying in the sharp enjoyment.

Here are four lemons from the poet’s garden:

one perched on three, a perfect tetrahedron.

The poet’s widow showed me where to pick them,

kindly and shrewd, helping me find the best ones,

holding the branch down while I snapped the stalks off,

the cold breeze in our faces from the mountain.

We’ll halve this one and squeeze it over couscous.

Here are three lemons from the poet’s garden

still in the bowl, turned in a neat triangle,

yellower now. My elder daughter chooses,

after long thought, one for her still-life painting,

the twisted leaves like green airplane-propellers

with a Cezanne pear and a Braque violin,

fractured into art-deco Cubist slices.

Here are two lemons from the poet’s garden

below his tall house on the terraced hillside,

red earth black-pitted with his fallen olives

between the gnarled trunks trailing silver foliage,

beside the boulders of the dusty torrent

rainless above that sea of sparkling turquoise.

The juice is perfect for a tuna salad.

Here is a lemon from the poet’s garden,

the last of them. Long is the poet gone,

silent his grave on the hilltop under the cypress,

long the shadows drawn by moon and sun

out from the low walls and high gate of the graveyard.

I press the waxy peel to my face and breathe it.

There are no words for what the fragrance tells me.

(from Playing With Fire)

SCATTERING THE ASHES

At last the rain cleared and we found a barley-field

where the crop was knee-high, and in our town shoes

paced the lumpy furrows along the edge

until our trousers were soaked. My brother held it out,

open, and I pushed my hand in. It was like

dark corn, or oatmeal, or both, the fine dust

surprisingly heavy as it sighed through the green

blades and hit the earth. And like the sower

in that nursery picture (‘To bed with the lamb,

and up with the laverock’) we strode on, flinging it

broadcast, left and right, out over the field.

And there was no doubt that things were all in their places,

the tumbled clouds moving back, light in the wheel-ruts

and puddles of the lane as we walked to the car;

and yes, there were larks scribbling their songs on the sky

as the air warmed up. We noticed small steps

by a pool in the stream where a boy might have played

and people fetched water once, and wild watercress

that streamed like green hair inside the ribbed gloss of the current.

And then I was swinging the wheel as we found our way

round the lane corners in a maze of tall hedges

patched with wild roses, under steep slopes of larch

and sycamore, glimpsing the red sandstone of castles

hidden high in the woods. And the grit under our nails

was the midpoint of a spectrum that ran from the pattern in our cells

to the memories of two children, and it was all right.

(from Playing With Fire)