Birthday Text

I wish you a very happy day.

A careful birthday text reminds me of
the value of friendship. Onto a current of being
my body found its way. And scarcely adult
(after a child-path like an obstacle-course)
it took me to quick waters: and I met you.
How far ago, down the blind trek of days
it all was – and how near
on a close line of knowing, still it flames,
a spark of recognition, in a dark seep
of change.

In a quiet line you greet me on my birthday.
All muted now, that spark, time-tempered, dulled,
eclipsed, abandoned, lost; yet not all out.
Across a space, as from another cosmos
a message blinks, whose every word is meant.

I wish you a very happy day.

As I you, three weeks hence. I shall go back
circuitously, like seagulls perched on the wind,
seeking, hovering, drifting, passing time.

What have I found? How can I describe
the slipway to a new life? A surprise
of over half a hundred years ago.

And still so close. I met a beautiful
young messenger of the time. Such qualities
she carried with her, I could only think
to be with her, on a transcendent voyage,
made riches and made magic and made sense.
Ah, but we did not know the blanket fog
that time is draped in, day on separate day.

And so we did time’s work. A millennium
of daily detail, like a massed slide of glinting
pebbles across a beach, witnessed a history,
a tide of waking and sleeping, and at length
the coming and going of a new-founded nation,
the venture of a quarter-century marriage.
Neither of us could ever describe it: yet
each knows it, utterly different, and the same.
Another quarter-century we stayed
in touch, yet not so close; and now,
expecting little and demanding nothing,
it is as if we emerged a pace or two
into a region where the fog has lifted.

Often we meet. The loveliness I saw,
an inalienable touch of swan-superb
beauty resting upon the bone, is yours yet:
and inwith it, the mind I loved, the humour,
the wisdom, and that quick delight in words;
and most of all the values that we shared.
And none of that has gone but only deepened.

Our minds met but our personalities
were distant. Each took the other’s burden
a little burdensomely. Neither complained.
We made do and a distance stayed. I dare say
you’d put it (if you cared to) differently;
and yet it might be not far from the same.

In truth it might. Who am I to assume
a smidgen of your outlook? I know only
a barrier reef, and what the poet called
the “salt estranging sea” between each island.

For which in age I value our meetings more.
But far back, when we were close and far each day,
I think we were an equal team perhaps,
and harnessed well enough for a mundane task,
to draw across a never-ending field
the extraordinary golden plough of parenting.

      Under the sun, beneath the moon
what is the tide doing, that we all labour
morning, evening and afternoon,
chivvying a new brood on from its birth
(nights too, early on), back and forth,
east and west and south and north,
riding the sea and settling the Earth,
farming a furrow that turns to vapour
where a far surface to spume is spun
      under the moon, beneath the sun?

Where is the tide going, that we all follow
      into the dark, beyond the stars,
from a sky-flame of colour into a hollow
      deepening of what is to was,
between each wave, why do we shelter
      in a swift space of the future, a field
of echoing chatter and helter-skelter,
      to be flung into foam, if briefly revealed?
Is it merely to send a spark
      into the stars, beyond the dark?

      Within the hour, outside the One
we take the turn of the tide. Then too
a natural rhythm was begun
to tend to others, as creatures do.
Under the stars and moon and sun
still now I trace my way by you . . .
till at the last, when all is done,
it shall have come to us, we two,
to rest upon the current’s power
      within the One, outside the hour.

Nothing is said. I visit. We discuss
the children, grandchildren, the world.
And then I read to you, as we did first
a thousand years ago, when first we met.
This novel or that. And the long history
falls away. I know we shall not repeat
that dizzying step, that headlong dive. I know
this is where we are. You have your reasons. But
if this, even this, is as good as it gets,
I can believe in something shared for good
(take it as you like), a touch of destiny.

Sometimes I glance up from the words.
My voice goes on. Always you are intent.
On rare occasion, too, I catch a smile
concomitant with the knowledge of a world
you have arrived at, something generous, splendid . . .
already I’m at the end of the next sentence.

Do you know, I treasure everything not said.
A cave unseen, to which no open sesame
can gain admittance. But what a wealth is there
of the royalty of existence, in that smile!

It is as if
you had gained the threshold
of a further vision.

It is as if
you stood in the doorway
of light’s wild spectrum
and took to yourself a radiance
of a race of shades (a sight more
than I shall ever know).

It is as if
you had travelled with Odysseus
‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’.

How tired you must be
of my confounded snippets of poetry!
No doubt the smile was merely of the moment,
for a descriptive phrase, or else a plot-twist . . .
yet I have glimpsed, within that visiting ray,
a gypsy of the present in a dance-step
towards the future.

And so to share with you is all my joy.
(And I accept your strictures as to how much.)

I lie on the stones on the beach and look at the clouds
and look back at our marriage. Strangely enough
a theatre of the sky presents itself
as to a child’s eye. Tall dark blustery forces
opening up to avenues of sunlight,
forever whirling aside to hidden regions,
the sun sailing up, circling away,
a patchwork of the seasons. It was good weather
to grow in. And I see the simplest truth
I had not seen before: that the dynamic
of children’s growth is the Big Wheel on which
all the fun of the fair is gathered up
and taken forward. Every home
in Nature says it: and the home of the world
says nothing other.

Laws and customs, trade and art and learning,
sports and prayers, and the great march of science,
and most of all the carpentry of work
across the globe – is it not all a plaything
of time itself? And are we not God’s children?

It is not a mindset I stay in for long.
Quite simply, life’s too serious. But the constructive
growth of children, to a positive end
yet with the capacity for going wrong,
for playing too much, yet profiting from the random,
forever learning and forever changing . . .
that guided and unguided process stays
as the most deep-set principle at work
across all groups, in all societies.
Who has not seen the circus at first hand
and taken part? Who has not been a child?
So you and I, without examining it
too much, took a deep breath, and re-engaged.

And that was it. We were a team in harness . . .
and there a mist descends.

                                          My mind is taken
by an incalculable weathered throng
of tiny fragments from the past.
                                                   Glinting, glinting,
all packed together yet distinguishable
in peering closely, a jumping cohort of colour,
a crackling mountain of pounded rock-shard strewn
in delicate shingle in a glistening stillness.
So much was good in the slow various
traverse of ours, an invisible hill of time
crumbled and half-seen now. I take up, hold
and let escape a slew of ordinary
moments and half-remembered incidents,
the bits and pieces of experience.

At last I can say thankyou and can look back
with unalloyed gladness. Never mind the blind turns
we made, we two who are no more than human
(and in my case, it might be said with justice,
from time to time identifiably less).
In the clear space of the present then to meet
on good terms, is enough.
                                          The other day
we trod the wooden walkway down at Shoreham,
along a Nature-rich inscrutable sea-front,
often meandering out over the pebbles
to investigate the flowery personnel
at opulent ease within the shore’s wild garden.
With a soft crunch as we entered among
those intimate living-quarters, I was reminded
of a hundred times when with you I would catch
the hint of a secret, in this garden or that.
Your knowledge and your care with a forest of flowers
has always opened an inner eye for me.
This time you showed me alliums in their gossipy
light purple, and Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon
listening in, spikily grinning; a clump
nearby of meditative valerian;
a retreat of silver ragwort lying low;
with here and there an exuberant horned poppy.
Even then, with you, I was part of a secret.

On the Hove shore I have written these words
      of a poem, these notes of a score
that would ebb and increase, sink back and soar
like the air-resting, like the wind-cresting sea-birds
            on the Hove shore.

Night after night I have heard a wind roar
      in my mind, and by day a compelling
gentle insistence of air, to add a touch more,
to be one with the lines of the sea, to go on with the telling
            on the Hove shore.

            What is it for,
this tremor, this tug of the sea, to a re-awaking
under the sky? A making is in store,
till out of the past a new light wave is breaking
            on the Hove shore.

You sent a text. In the passage of things
I responded, three weeks later, with a cliché:
Many happy returns of the day.
I mentioned at the time a simple pleasure
in the old word. You saw it too. And now
a while on, all the day has offered up
an invitation to a festival.
Within a concourse of the elements
life runs, life runs; not only in the space
of the world we know is there a flickering onrush,
a travelling wisp of flame, but everywhere
a state of fullness darts to emptiness
and back. There is a breathing – call it that –
to sense which is at once to recognise
and celebrate the universal being.

You, I know, would see it differently.
And yet we might not be so far apart
in how the day’s ‘returns’ may touch our minds.
And yet we might.

Too far, too far
I know it, is the island where you are.

I shall not try
to place it on a map, as if close by.

Yet still a spark
can ricochet up, against the falling dark.

To share some thoughts
is still, at rare times, like a confetti of sorts.


Even with this
occasional meeting of ways I am content.
Something has stayed. I shall not dwell on it further:
a love of old has had its birthday and aged.
I am content. There is a further meeting:
a current that moves in the mind with a moving current
in the last pattern of the Earth and beyond.
Even with this
I am content. And to lie on Earth’s floor,
where a poem came to meet me, on the Hove shore.

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