I really enjoy Brian Patten’s love poetry; he writes of joy and sadness and how the two can mingle, while never using words that you wouldn’t hear in an everyday conversation. He’s the only living poet whose works I regularly raid for my song lyrics. So when my battered old copy of his Love Poems fell apart, I invested in a shiny copy of his new Collected Love Poems.
Curiously, in a volume called “Collected Poems”, one of them is missing. It was in “Love Poems”, substantially revised from a previously published version, and revised for the better. But I can only assume Patten was still dissatisfied and so dropped it.
Because I’m talking online to some people about his poems (and who have bought his newest book on my recommendation), I’m copying the poem here so they have the text. Brian – if you want me to remove it, I will. But I think you’re mistaken; it’s a lovely piece. (And, sorry, but I stole the blue dress image for an unrecorded song called “The girl in the room”.)
The fruitful lady of dawn
She walks across the room and opens the skylight
thinking: “perhaps a bird will drop in
and teach me how to sing.”
She cannot speak easily of what she feels
nor can she fathom out
whose dawn her heart belongs in.
Among the men she knows
she knows few
who understand her freedom.
Baffled by her love and by
how she withdraws her love,
she remains an enigma,
and under the skylight
puts on her red dress calling it a blue one.
She approaches breakfast as she would a lover –
She is alive,
and one of her body’s commonest needs
I have made holy.
My university friend Richard was doing some paperwork at his house and found a magazine published in the late 80s with three of my poems in it, each of which I’d written to capture one single moment or emotion. For no other reasons than it’s fun for me to rediscover my younger self, and because right now it actually is a hot evening in July, and also because I want to pretend to be all sensitive’n’shit, here’s one of those poems:
It is a hot evening in July. You and I
lie, naked, on the bed. My cigarette smoke
dances in the sun’s fading rays, and hangs in the air
like angels, waiting. Are you awake?
Yes, it seems that you are.
You run your fingers through your raven-black hair,
slowly. Your eyes are half-closed. Your eyelashes are long.
Your skin is pale, glazed with sweat. Your lips are wet.
Stubble in your armpits. Nipples dark, erect.
One of your legs gently massages the other, so slowly.
I lie back, exhaling slowly, and kiss you.
But you do not kiss me.
I have often noticed this: you will reciprocate,
but not initiate. A clock ticks somewhere.
You retain fragments of a fractured innocence:
You remind me of a fallen angel. There are no words.
A smile comes to your lips and I say, What’s funny?
You do not reply.
It is a hot evening in July.
It is a hot evening in July:
humid; quiet. You sigh.
We breathe heavily, in unison.
The sound of next door’s radio
floats languidly through our window to the world.
You hum along, inaudibly. I light another cigarette as
you shift to your side to face me. I stare at the ceiling
and send a smoke ring drifting
which hangs over your head and dissipates.
Your hand rests on my stomach, your head on my chest.
My free arm around your shoulders.
I can hear your heart beat.
I can feel your heart beat.
Somewhere a clock is ticking.
You look up and smile to me; our eyes are solemn.
And then you kiss me and I could cry.
It is a hot evening in July.
When the train from the city finally stopped
It was three o’clock forever:
Past and future were stolen from me.
Nobody knows my name. I do not know my name.
At there o’clock we dance in the evenings
Once the ice is broken.
At three o’clock I do not eat much
Thinking of those who must carry me
Wandering and working as this world requires.
A broken toy a rag doll
That I had loved as a child
Once bright faced, now crumpled.
By her clothes I knew it was she.
I covered her face and broken eyes
And glanced back only once.
A punch-drunk puppet in pajamas
That dreams with open eyes said,
“I hear wilderness crying in your voice”.
I had not spoken a word.
Written 1987. (Found three months ago in a pile of papers in my Dad’s attic).
This poem was inspired by an article in the Partisan Review by an ex-inmate of the Treblinka extermination camp. In an attempt to preserve the fiction of ‘resettlement’ as long as possible, the Nazis had erected a false train station. In the interest of economy, none of the machinery there actually worked, so the station clock that the victims saw on arrival was permanently fixed at three o’clock.
Much of the poem’s imagery is derived from medieval wilderness poetry, especially the description of the dead in the fourteeth century poem Sir Orfeo, lines 389-408.
A poem that I wrote 20 years ago, and forgot about. But it came back to me, walking with the kids in the park today and seeing everything sweltering in this febrile July. Without being specific, it’s about a love affair that is time-limited, which makes it all the more piquant. You both know that promises to meet again won’t happen, because if they do, both of you will have had a world of seperate experiences and can never be together in the same way again. The poem is celebration, carpe diem, lyric and elegy.
(Sharp-eyed readers who know my love of Elizabethan drama will see a stolen line. There’s a free subscription to my RSS feed for the reader who can spot the source. )
The Ballad of Julie Blue
Jan left me cold and April cried
June came when I finished with May
through the signs and the seasons
with her rhymes and her reasons
Julie blew the clouds away
a perfect shadow in a sunshine day.
A month of summerday nights she stayed
blue skies all day each day clear
til the sun in her eyes began to fade
with every daisy chain she made
and she kissed me goodbye like a razor blade
singing I’ll return next year