He was broken open to life, a tin of riches
rusted at the lid, its jagged edge torn, bleeding
where the hand of the world had touched it. So he did wrong
he thought, so he did wrong
he knew. So he knew wrong.
Suddenly an old tin’s contents are let go hang –
off-seal blink out –
and dramatised into thin air. What is this handful
of the air’s fineness? For what is this presence-on-stage,
this lingering no one? Where is the other?
Where is the voice, where are those bright eyes?
Where is the ocean-mind, that housed
a rippling world? God, where is that world?
A breath-of-truth stays. I turn to breathe it.
Father, if I should touch in words a richness
of love and knowledge and pain, surpassing words,
I do it to touch you again – to pause
again at that rough goodness. Still a sense
of trespass slivers the air. A torn-lid tin
is no bar now. But whose blood is it there,
always fresh, where the hand of the world has touched it?
Whose blood? By some terrible accident
the harm that humans do, touched by your mind,
became the harm you did as others touched you.
And yet that lid is you. I let it cut me
as I turn to you now.
Go outside and look for three stars in the sky.
I see you gallop on three-year-old legs
into a skyey field, and stand stock-still.
The Sabbath ends. It is baked potatoes and herring.
You trot indoors with the news. Still you are there
in the clear dusk, out on a skyey field,
a counting child. Always you roamed that field,
the planets’ wonder; a where-are-we lightning quiver
stabbing your feet, even in the blades’ freshness;
the separate blades, the lovely things of the land.
Where is that spark in space? Where is that sight, that knew
the inner firmament? Where is that field, that child?
Gone, gone, all gone. My Sabbath is ended.
Still I see you look for stars in the sky.
Story-time. A great cake of words
for you to nibble, turn as sweet as, soul-consume
entire. Breathed sickeningly
down a vast spittle-mouth tunnel, set rock-hard
with repetition. Hard as teeth, hard as mountains
the word of God, crumb-forced down your gullet
each blessèd syllable. And God said to Moses
in Hebrew Yiddish Hebrew blurt your sentence
blurt boy blurt your cloying word
of an all-ancient mixture set in stone
in foetid vapour blurt boy blurt
the Pentateuch roared by a mountain’s throat
in a single expulsion of breath blurt your sentence
enter the tunnel echo the sweetness boy
in the mouth-sweat and slime of thousands of years
of the same throat-cavern. And God said to Moses
blurt my sentence swallow this pure syllable
be the chosen boy.
At the College of the Tree of Life in Whitechapel
you tasted bark.
Mishna Gemorra Rashi and the tiny-prints
scroll within creaking scroll
ramming the Talmud into the hall of your skull
that frowned and puckered
if an ox eats grass outside its owner’s field
all the rights and wrongs of it, thousands of hours
learning the law and the law’s learning
Story-time. Thousands of hours, a careless slaughter
of childhood, a sapling’s axing, a boy’s de-braining –
till the skull emptied itself. You stood up. Free.
“Hey Shifferblatt! The compass-point!”
“Got it in the buttock, the Jew-baiter – good shot!”
“But then I beat it, left you to it,
my good friend Shifferblatt . . . ”
Comical dark cloud, all-day-bobbing
down a bare sky-way, skirting the sun-space,
moving to man-shape, richly-minded,
remembering the wrong thing.
Inimical dark cloud, nucleus-damaged,
fitful, erratic, freighted with danger,
charged with too much choosing, unchoosing,
doing the wrong thing.
So he did wrong
he thought. So he did wrong
he knew. So he knew wrong.
Damn it Jack did you never get drunk
grind the brick-dust of the head to a dark gold powder
and let go the self in relief? Too deep
the stray homunculus swam, too dirty-deep
a virus bloomed. Did you never disturb
that silt? Dismiss
a subatomic messenger? Disprove
a zero nestling in the eye? O my poor father
I sing the clear-eyed man. Who saw
the trickiness of the time. Boom-and-bust rhetoric
jobs slung into a vortex
the labour market shanghaied by a quack hope
student of the Depression whose mind soared
a global slide, a shift of tectonic plates
Earth’s moving carpentry
who sensed the struggling shape
of Frankenstein’s monster, the decontrolled flaw
in capital, the enemy-citied empire
and all the pauperised mob
Who shouted out against a Mosleyite
cranking a crowd up to run down the Jews –
and hospitalised by black-shirt thugs
and photographed, head-swathed, in the News of the World
could only murmur to his sister:
“Now Mother knows I’m not in South Africa.”
A crafty scheme of letter on letter sent
to Mother from South Africa via a friend
to escape her fury at his skipping synagogue –
was all up now. This hurt his head the most.
“Aach,” his sister yelled, “she’s known all along!”
Who forced a way
to Moscow, to find out. Camp-bed, overcoat and typewriter,
holed-up-in-corners, darted here twisted there,
this job that job, nosed up against the side
bolted through the depths, nibbled the poison
Inform Inform, unnibbled, to risk more
(my father could only inform on himself) –
and circling dark water, smelt out the silence,
dolgonochnaya mrachnost, the long sombre night –
and shoal-close in trams, or at trade union meetings,
learnt, learnt, learnt, learnt, like a fish leaping.
Bureaucratic malice. State horror. You had a friend
who had stayed free to say “To hell with Stalin” –
no family tie. Not unfree to say it,
he might never say it. You might not yet say it,
still driven, dream-driven to paradise, still
a ticket-carrying passenger on the Planned Economy Express,
despite the tracks. An eighteen-month sojourn
and you knew the lie of the land, of the system.
Now you steered free of it. Later you said it.
with women. If Groucho Marx
saw fit to behave seriously for a moment,
he could do no more than take your part. Pursued, pursuing,
certain only of the wrong direction, overtaken by sunlight,
escaping to coldness. Time after time
you settled on barren ground. Your woman a planet
that froze you out. A homestead was founded
to be lived in alone. An aloneness of two.
It was the only closeness you knew.
A silent dead field of space. Child-tragedies.
I was released elsewhere, space-stranded.
O fugitive of love
who turned your back on the great heart of my mother,
to tether yourself to a black widow spider,
and then again to a black widow spider,
at last in a sweet sham of love, even glad
to be picked asunder and slowly eaten –
what a comedy you made! High-gravel-blind,
my true-begotten father, what a comedy you made!
as if the pages turned, the unquiet story
of hunter-gatherer man.
Who saw the city-state star-dot the Earth.
Who saw a tournament of super-powers
jousting into the future; and half-saw
the terms of disengagement.
Who commented, as at a listening-post,
upon the iliad of the human race,
its raging fortune. Who could tell
a story of the world.
Where is that voice, where are those bright eyes?
Born in a twister
no centre space bent in known walls disappearing
the ground wave-cratered
born lucky, flicked off-stage
in a twitch of the dervish sky
born least and lucky
After the War I missed a few hours
of the day. Back in orbit
first round the father star, then round the mother star
gifted my going, I was given a bearing
again. Lucky in the constellations
always I knew the twin poles of my journey,
the far-apart stars. Because I had lost them
I did not lose them. And now for ever
a meeting, mis-meeting, close and unclose,
an unknowable nearness, not ransomed, not staked
to a childhood tethering. It was my fortune
to find you later.
I see you now
out of the rubble of war: a whirlwind behind you
of work, and women, and a child’s whereabouts: I see you
(blind to you then, blind now)
far from a fiefdom, out of a tribe: I see you
bent like a bow with knowledge. Father I see you
set to the future. I see a young man
take a deep breath in a new town.
Here is a room
for books, here is a room
to teach. The mind has a room.
If, in time, the idea of a university
takes a true shape, someone like you will be at it:
someone who cared for thought as he cared for people,
who did not interfere with the growth of a flower,
but saw to its grounding; in whom the shoots of learning
rose forest-high. Who tendered truth to a student.
Out of these days there flowered-forth a journal,
your truest child. You battled for its each page.
‘Soviet Studies’ spoke out in the silence
on the Earth-trembling experiment. A new science,
in decades of a fine discussion, bloomed.
Now in the very dark that was your day
it is as if a quality breathes still.
If, as I think, a life brings forth a flower
extant in some wild garden – there is a grace that speaks
your name. A quality you lived. A kind of respect.
So you went on.
The compass-needle swung across the years
to end due west.
In the Scargill-Thatcher match of ’84
you saw a take-over bid for the U.K.
kicked out. You did not hear the homes of miners sobbing.
By now your own internal war
was at a stand-still. Weary of disgust
with the tired self, you waited . . .
still a fresh eye lit on the page of the world,
still you re-read ‘Hamlet’ and the Sonnets.
And there’s a casting-list where still
the planet had you as its resident comic.
Who else has woken up in heaven and raged
because it was true? Damned angels, even? To be wrong
all one’s damned life – and to know one was, for ever?
To be in hell in heaven – at last to see
one was in hospital on Christmas Eve
with nurses dressed up. If there is a heaven
God knows you are there – and God help God, say I.
I have dabbled in the unappetising contents
of a great life. An unbearable sharpness
at the edge of being. A scimitar of knowing
gleams out in Nature’s chance: it caught you head-on.
But whose blood is it there? Jarred a little at core,
lacerated a touch by the outside,
you took the charge of that light. A trust of truth.
The harm of knowing
done by the hand of the world
somewhere is stayed: the harm is handed on
entire: and yet as if in less alarm
by that illumination.
At the end
you thought more of your childhood, gentle Jew.
And now if I come to the Song of Solomon or the Kaddish prayer
I see you again, out in a skyey field.
All’s gone, my disrespect and your disinterest:
I have come to know you. My Sabbath is begun.
What is this handful
of the air’s fineness? A breath-of-truth stays,
I turn to breathe it.
Abba it is your healing touch I take
as I turn to you now.