Night Out

Rose-brambles in winter and spikes of leafless trees,
barbed wire and railings. Yellow is not the word
for street-light sodium that taunts the night;
nor is the thriving bus that roars along –
a breath of town, a live warm animal –
to be a cold dead “bus”. These things are,
and cars have eyes. It is a speaking city:
great blocks of flats their eloquent profiles show:
the sense of touch is the river: machines at work
are tasting all the rough and elegant foods
that they can lay their hands to. In a field
or patch of park, hang empty listening
five swings. And seats are there, and a children’s chute,
ready for sound-waves. You can walk in the city,
and it’s a sleeping, waking, lumbering beast
of all and every pain and pleasure and wit,
and dullness too, areas of numbness;
sombre graveyards and amusement arcades;
stamp albums of shop windows with their trinkets
junketed round. The knowledge of this being
is like a cave from which more treasures come,
more jewels and finely-lettered ornaments,
goblets, rubies and great counting-machines
for each searched ounce of darkness. And the cave
had no beginning, as it has no ending.

Girl who sits sad on a tube-station bench,
I’ll say a grace for you. The train comes in,
and you can go in, and sit down again.

Beard-boy with a record in your hand,
I’ll say a grace for you. The girl looks up –
with you and her on a miraculous island.

Lady wrapped up tight against the cold,
white-haired, firm-booted, with a shrewd lean to your face –
I’ll say a grace for you. The city will
spare you a quiet thought, and pleasant rooms,
a garden visited by birds and sometimes grandchildren.

The city ploughs on through night, pursuing its ways.
It has no question or answer, its clocks mean nothing:
but a nervous system is there, of traffic-lights,
street-names and number-plates and one-way signs,
roundabouts and bollards and Go Slows:
directions for the eyes. This quivering beast
sees in his sleep, as here he sends the trains home,
keeps wheels and legs going safe, and there he triumphs
in a square blazing with water and columned splendour,
the floodlit fountains, and lions laughed out of stone –
one of his jesting-grounds, where he splashes and frolics,
riding the horse of his dreams.

Where are you now,
sailor who bit the seas in the high war,
and going home, drank the sweet air of land,
to find no work, and then to find wrong work –
where are you now?

I amble round and tidy up machines.

Gunner who trained so fine then suddenly fought,
was shot in the stomach and knocked out of the war,
to find no work, and then to find wrong work –
where are you now?

I stand outside the theatre in a peaked cap.

There is no question or answer, its clocks mean nothing.
Specks of dust that the earth spins out, excretes
till clouds are formed. Or stacked like books on shelves,
thumped out from the city’s presses, grasped and clasped
in spines and jackets. Each one has his pages;
each dust-speck is its own encyclopaedia;
each double row of street-lights, high, suspended,
marks its own mind. Walk down the road of the air
and vanish into nothing. One and twos
and histories of people, where are you now.

We are in the city: the city is going on.
We are by the theatres and we are the theatres,
plots, stage and actors. We are by the machines
and know the machines, and the minds of machines
are the continuing sparks of our own minds…
the old have minds, and the old dead have minds.
The sparking-plugs are the young ones’ finger-tips.

The animal turns in his sleep, the train roars in
and halts under the moon. Will that shine wake him?
No, for the torch is now not turned on us,
the craters are in our pockets, and that high landscape
cracked with age and bare with youth, is our
chunk. A marble, or a brick in the city.
No new thing, and nothing at all can stay
individual, or a thing-in-itself –
and yet it stays so. And the moon shines down,
the animal breathes, the train sweeps on its journey.

Slobber-man asleep on the opposite seat,
tell of your madness.
Student with a newspaper keenly awake,
tell of your madness.
Girl in a green coat glimmering in the night,
tell of your madness.

Tall stumbling tramp flap-footing it down the train,
tell of your madness.
Gent with his season-ticket stuck on his briefcase,
old fierce old dear browbeating her way through a thriller,
young girl who runs from the station to the chip-shop –
tell of your madness.

The beast is up and growling: thousands of cars
are belching smoke; on cinema-screens the stars
are doing the splits in grapefruit gratification;
waiters are eating humble pie on ice;
the radio roars with refinement, or sleep-talks,
or throbs blind music. Teaspoons bang inside cups
as thought takes place. Pages turn in a book
slowly, as one man reads a library’s gift,
takes a mosaic of coloured stones to him –
and makes Earth’s jigsaw again. Yet from his temple
to the old man whose eyes are mad and ninety,
glancing nowhere along the street from his wheelchair,
is an inch to the beast. Listen to his great howling
because he knows this and he cannot move –
except in parallels and circling patterns,
as wildness keeps the distance. (A tribal dance
still revelled in and improvised upon
by people in the train.) So the beast turns round –
then like all beasts, lies down.

Now standing on
an escalator’s step, I take the plunge
to know a city’s dreaming. On the deep pavements
it is more regular, and peaceful too,
than most are used to call the Underground.
A man stands whistling; slab runs neat by slab;
doors open and shut. Half a dozen arm-rests
like four posts of a bed, are always there.
But now as I sit, the beast draws in his breath
outside. I dream of a dry storm, spades are banging
about my head. In the clear of the station
I see their fears are only fanciful
who warn all of the subterranean mind –
the world has built the main part of our dreams.

Look at the massive body of the sleeper,
the many vertebrae, the pair of bellows
that fits the flame. Look, too, at the shoulders,
arms and legs, and finely structured feet,
familiar head with the face turned away –
do you know who lies there? Soon that person wakes.

His voice speaks from the Stone Age and the Space Age.

Hear the animal Man.

A blackthorn petal drops
where I was scratching words
to cover all full stops…
that worthless wonder falls
and I am with the herds
pushing their great legs
to get them into stalls
a field of many crops
(where I was scratching words)
has been dug back and back
hedge-ridden soil and black
a timber dwelling, a call
for breakfast of ducks’ eggs

but the old dark sounds appal

the watchdog hears a stranger
and barks, in case the wall
of loose stone is disordered –
the stone that guards them all –
but then the dog is murdered
the wall has let in danger

a blackthorn petal drops
into a stable-manger

and many have watched it lie,
but I know it goes past
into the thoughts of streams
and winds – into the blast
of whirlwind, tidal wave –
the black tree-breaking sky –

the petal springs from the grave

it pierces all men’s thoughts

as it floats on and by

The traffic has ceased: the night is suddenly still.
The wind is cold as shine on a car. A torn
notice-corner scutters on wood like a pebble
shot along stone. Somewhere the beast is howling,
from across a sea, or under the earth, the note
of wildness, rancid, overtaking silence –
badgering up, snaking along the night –
filling the open head of town and air
and aimless sky. Crumple down, great buildings,
swish petrol into faces, under wheels,
let the most beautiful part of a woman’s body,
her throat be buckled – then as a beer-can’s punched open,
let the blood jump on her child. I cannot bear
the consequences of that squeal of tyres
as man runs into wildness. (The rhythmic chant,
now ululation, bursts into blind act –
the dance is over. Now again the drums
flourish, mount up – and voices turn to flame
till all dies down.) Blood runs down the walls
of each man’s head that ever lived; the gates
of speaking laugh inanely in the skull;
the windows are smashed in and hollow and dark
and no-one lives there. Blood runs down the walls
of cave and modern home: strip lighting shows
it yet more clearly. Blood runs down the walls
of monastery and city.

Why are your cheeks
pale, you slugged, inert, too-heavy sleeper?
Unshakeable, unwakeable – so you sway
in canvas of a chair. Only the lightest sound
has reached you of our frenzy, as we see
a power that might be raised – to our extinction –
but lies in wait. Madly we try and wake you,
madly we keep you asleep. We look elsewhere
but always we are drawn to our own power.

Senile, vacant, paralysed from the waist,
become the scholar.
Black-robed priest, laughing and working hard,
be the queer criminal.
Healthy baby, bright boy and smartly-dressed soldier,
shoot down a village.

Clap the logic of war

Girl who gives the alphabet to children,
spell “live” backwards.
Athlete on the track from a flying start –
where are the nations?
Gentle and wise householder who designs bombs,
could you fill in this form please…

Clap the logic of war

… What do the tealeaves say?
What’s the motto in the cracker?
What was carved on the Tree?
What stares from our tombstone?

Amoeba Ape Adam



Weep for the logic of war – the roof to everything shattered,
the hammer that drives its statement into the brain
till the nail is lost between the eyes, and the joint holds:
and sanity’s crucified.
Each one, each one –
the hammer gives each the same swing.
Each one, each one –
some are numbed early.

Oh cover the ground with snow, to hide those mad thoughts
still playing about the ground. (Some are numbed early.)
Send a wind sharp as a fork’s points over the ground,
trace a design our minds have never found.
But we are all huddled in one mass burial mound.
Death numbed us early.

Accept the sky is torn in half
accept that nothing has the last laugh
nothing nothing

A great man’s speaking in the road
but not too clear and not too loud
mouthing mouthing

Prehistoric horse and dog
come out of the fog back into the fog
creatures creatures

Let it shake with hideous grin,
the world – as man amuck in its brain
butchers butchers

In the cave’s darkness let us creep and lie
and still give birth. As dwarfed and pollard trees
pinprick to springtime in a thrusting-through,
the race may live. In bowls of mud and stone
store the pure water of knowledge. Watch the child’s face
as he sees the quartz in stone, washed clean by water…
held by the mud of food and drink and life,
ingenuity shiveringly gleams. In an ancient basin
water has climbed three thousand million years –
as high as a man’s little finger might stand,
ingenious-handed man, ingenuous head.
In the cave’s darkness let a fire be laid;
oddments of skins, sticks and rushes thrown on –
then sparked, with the many faces in a circle.

In a hole in the road
the water flows, and sewer pipes gust away
into the sea. And so we waste the past
in denigrating and destroying the present.
But go with the tide.

In a hole in the mind
the sewer pipes from the body whistle and arch,
as hot and acrid as cat-screech. If they burst open
now, are we cleaner than the clamped-in past,
more honest than our furred and matted parents?
But go with the tide.

In a hole in life
all that we could have been is siphoned off,
and men’s good future left to pour down the road,
while the worst stales and courses through the mind
till we ourselves are the drain. I remember, from nowhere, a fire,
and cheeks and eyes and hair; two people were talking
and one was singing; the rest of us were silent.
We were minutes not lost from the hour – but the hours are wasted;
the dark is stabbed with heavens that do not stay
but go with the tide.

Raised up under the sun
sea-wrack of centuries extends.

jammed-tight, smashed-in, a ludicrous assortment:
a garage for the dead, a hell of cars.
Tyres scattered, seats torn out; some on their backs,
dead insects; some still crazily in the race,
pitched in the heap, dare-devilry of inaction –
and all the twisted metal like crumpled paper.
God’s gawky scarecrow lies there, tangled, grinning,
bone-jagged, dead.

Raised up under the sun,
on a deserted site the sea’s brushed smooth,
Man’s litter stands.

The cave-child holds a piece of lichenous bark
and keeps it.
The growing tree has flint stuck in its roots
and keeps it.
The old painter has an hour in a beech wood
and keeps it.

Let the fire burn
the wood be gone
fir-frond and fern
Let the fire burn
each in its turn
if it flame on
Let the fire burn
the wood be gone

The fire is the beast
both body and mind
from reason released
The fire is the beast
to frolic and feast
to blaze and be blind
The fire is the beast
both body and mind

If nothing we know
at least this we learn
its pure warmth can glow
If nothing we know
as fodder we go
as claws mock and burn
If nothing we know
at least this we learn

The fire in the cave
we tended, and tend
the sun in its grave
The fire in the cave
can scorch up, deprave –
yet can its warmth end?
The fire in the cave
we tended and tend

It bites and it yaps
mad dog in our eyes
and it feeds on scraps
It bites and it yaps
and may tame, perhaps
though god knows who tries
It bites and it yaps
mad dog in our eyes

Let the fire burn
the wood be gone
fir-frond and fern
Let the fire burn
each in its turn
if it flame on
Let the fire burn
the wood be gone

There is no question and answer, the clocks mean nothing,
all that is saved is sawn in half – yet something
stays in the saving. Look through the dark at day.
A letter-box gleams dull red. Dozens of pints
are stacked up on the pavement in full whiteness:
the morning’s of new bread, with a light steam
above the crust.

A breezy broom-thin boy
delivers papers. Shop windows and fronts are cleaned.
A tramp in greatcoat and boots pushes a pram
piled high as his beard. Banter rattles in cafés.
The road is alive; road-names have their meaning;
a train beats in the distance; the blathering birds
kick up from nowhere as the mood is on them;
six new cars are taken on a trailer;
the wheel of love goes round.

Now from that cycle
rivers have been filled in and forests cleared.
A stretch of estuary becomes a car-forge.
A top computer firm makes memory banks
of stifled sea. And trim groves have been planted,
raised eyebrows, where the forest was shorn smooth.

In knowing baldness now we stand and wait
for the monkey to return with scuttling gait –
the wheel frisks by. Behind it, in full spate
night shutters down.

Because we cannot move we stand and wait
for the holly leaf to drop; for time without a date
to cover all our bearings. And thus I state
what I do not believe

The beast lies poleaxed. In its blanket power
the nations snore. Ship and bridge and tower
do nothing more than while away the hour
and keep the beast alive

But there is pleasure in them and in us,
and even that it lives is counted plus,
the beast: for in the blessing of the bus
is animal love

Which way lies our action? It is both –
both twisting turns through the town, both opposite paths;
both open and shut, ignorant and all-knowing.
The lamp-posts bow to each other over the street:
chimney-work in the landscape stands on guard:
and as it strikes the dumb clock almost sings.

Back in the train back in night
the gleaming ore’s not out of sight

All we are all we have known
is hurtled past and yet our own

Pictures splayed against the walls
are colour-doodles words are scrawls

No space no taken seat denies
continuance in a pair of eyes

A thread has led the crowd out of the cave,
a single thread whose all-important issue
was eyes nose teeth and ears to man: he followed
the ways it led and outfaced that grim past.
And yet in him there always intertwine
the parent opposites of fear and need.

The thread can gleam as it runs into light –
and each and all desire to be caught up
in shoeshine happiness: fashions of clothes,
and needles of record-players in pink cases
whirling out tunes; quick colours in a garden;
and all the spins, the sports and drinks and dances
that make the casual order of delight.

The thread is lovely: it has led to songs.
It draws us with it here, into the deep
combining and co-ordinating stars
across the sky of our experience.
And then we move with certainty, alone
or in a number, like a constellation.
We go towards the far shine of great songs.

And it can sear and burn
and charged with electricity cannot be dropped

and it can be twisted by others
and cut a foot off, choke the neck

sawing through bone is not stopped
when it assists and starts to guide the movement

not cut or snapped, it can be cast aside
the switch thrown, the power off

We fear and go to murder-suicide

because the wire’s power

has beaten us, and is not understood.

The legend has it wrong: the monster in the cave
is stronger than ever; and as vicious and senseless;
no hero killed him. The monster holds the thread
one side, and love the other.

Strings go through the eye-sockets of people,
holding them up on lines, crossed over and under,
secured to nowhere that we’ll ever see.

So we bump and slide on.

Because he saw this circus as an ark –
tap at the skull of man, sift out that spark
The windows are smashed in and hollow and dark
and no-one lives there.

The thread has tensile strength, and is slung out
up mountains, over seas, out to the planets…
it may survive the monster’s maddened arm.
The crowd has left the cave, and can sun-bathe –
but has not left behind that dark control.
How will the struggle for supremacy go,
half-man, half-beast, both set blind for completion?
It is still both ways for us – but at the showdown,
the individual’s voice against the crowd’s
is heard again and again. I do not know
whether one, or both, stays on – but when I see
the thread woven with care and joy and richness,
I think we will not let the tapestry go.

This was written in 1971. I used to go out in the late evening and take an underground train into the heart of London, get off anywhere and walk anywhere, returning after an hour or two when I happened to pass a tube station.

The other poems in this volume were all written in 1967.

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