Sunday, 27 May 2012


It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who'd showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed;
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

Thom Gunn

Thursday, 24 May 2012


I sit down on the floor of a school for the retarded,
a writer of magazine articles accompanying a band
that was met at the door by a man in a child's body
who asked them, 'Are you the surprise they promised us?'

It's Ryan's Fancy, Dermot on guitar,
Fergus on banjo, Denis on penny-whstle.
In the eyes of this audience, they're everybody
who has ever appeared on TV. I've been telling lies
to a boy who cried because his favourite detective
hadn't come with us; I said he had sent his love
and, no, I didn't think he'd mind if I signed his name
to a scrap of paper; when the boy took it, he said,
'Nobody will ever get this away from me,'
in the voice, more hopeless than defiant,
of one accustomed to finding that his hiding places
have been discovered, used to having objects snatched
out of his hands. Weeks from now I'll send him
another autograph, this one genuine
in the sense of having been signed by somebody
on the same payroll as the star.
Then I'll feel less ashamed. Now everybody is singing,
'Old MacDonald had a farm,' and I don't know what to do

about the young woman (I call her a woman
because she's twenty-five at least, but think of her
as a little girl, she plays that part so well,
having known no other), about the young woman who
sits down beside me and, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world, rests her head on my shoulder.

It's nine o'clock in the morning, not an hour for music.
And, at the best of times, I'm uncomfortable
in situations where I'm ignorant
of the accepted etiquette; it's one thing
to jump a fence, quite another to blunder
into one in the dark. I look around me
for a teacher to whom to smile out my distress.
They're all busy elsewhere. 'Hold me,' she whispers, 'hold me.'

I put my arm round her. 'Hold me tighter.'
I do, and she snuggles closer. I half-expect
someone in authority to grab her
or me; I can imagined this being remembered
for ever as the time the sex-crazed writer
publicly fondled the poor retarded girl.
'Hold me,' she says again. What does it matter
what anybody thinks? I put my other arm around her,
rest my chin in her hair, thinking of children
real children, and of how they say it, 'Hold me,'
and of a patient in a geriatric ward
I once heard crying out to his mother, dead
for half a century, 'I'm frightened! Hold me!'
and of a boy-soldier screaming it on the beach
at Dieppe, of Nelson in Hardy's arms,
of Frieda gripping Lawrence's ankle
until he sailed off in his Ship of Death.

It's what we all want, in the end,
to be held, merely to be held,
to be kissed (not necessarily with the lips,
for every touching is a kind of kiss).

She hugs me now, this retarded woman, and I hug her.
We are brother and sister, father and daughter,
mother and son, husband and wife.
We are lovers. We are two human beings
huddled together for a little while by the fire
in the Ice Age, two hundred thousand  years ago.

Alden Nowlan

Sunday, 20 May 2012


A woman is reading a poem on the street 
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too. 
with our arms around each other. The poem 
is being read and listened to out here 
in the open. Behind us 
no one is entering or leaving the houses. 

Suddenly a hug comes over me and I’m 
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light 
off to make itself comfortable, then 
subsiding. I finish but keep on holding 
you. A man walks up to us and we know he hasn’t 
come out of nowhere, but if he could, he 
would have. He looks homeless because of how 
he needs. “Can I have one of those?” he asks you, 
and I feel you nod. I’m surprised, 
surprised you don’t tell him how 
it is – that I’m yours, only 
yours, etc., exclusive as a nose to 
its face. Love – that’s what we’re talking about, love 
that nabs you with “for me 
only” and holds on. 

So I walk over to him and put my 
arms around him and try to 
hug him like I mean it. He’s got an overcoat on 
so thick I can’t feel 
him past it. I’m starting the hug 
and thinking, “How big a hug is this supposed to be? 
How long shall I hold this hug?” Already 
we could be eternal, his arms falling over my 
shoulders, my hands not 
meeting behind his back, he is so big! 

I put my head into his chest and snuggle 
in. I lean into him. I lean my blood and my wishes 
into him. He stands for it. This is his 
and he’s starting to give it back so well I know he’s 
getting it. This hug. So truly, so tenderly 
we stop having arms and I don’t know if 
my lover has walked away or what, or 
if the woman is still reading the poem, or the houses – 
what about them? – the houses. 

Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing. 
But when you hug someone you want it 
to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button 
on his coat will leave the imprint of 
a planet in my cheek 
when I walk away. When I try to find some place 
to go back to. 

Tess Galagher

Thursday, 10 May 2012


When the child was a child 
It walked with its arms swinging, 
wanted the brook to be a river, 
the river to be a torrent, 
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child, 
it didn’t know that it was a child, 
everything was soulful, 
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child, 
it had no opinion about anything, 
had no habits, 
it often sat cross-legged, 
took off running, 
had a cowlick in its hair, 
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child, 
It was the time for these questions: 
Why am I me, and why not you? 
Why am I here, and why not there? 
When did time begin, and where does space end? 
Is life under the sun not just a dream? 
Is what I see and hear and smell 
not just an illusion of a world before the world? 
Given the facts of evil and people. 
does evil really exist? 
How can it be that I, who I am, 
didn’t exist before I came to be, 
and that, someday, I, who I am, 
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child, 
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding, 
and on steamed cauliflower, 
and eats all of those now, and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child, 
it awoke once in a strange bed, 
and now does so again and again. 
Many people, then, seemed beautiful, 
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had visualized a clear image of Paradise, 
and now can at most guess, 
could not conceive of nothingness, 
and shudders today at the thought.

When the child was a child, 
It played with enthusiasm, 
and, now, has just as much excitement as then, 
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child, 
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread, 
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child, 
Berries filled its hand as only berries do, 
and do even now, 
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw, 
and do even now, 
it had, on every mountaintop, 
the longing for a higher mountain yet, 
and in every city, 
the longing for an even greater city, 
and that is still so, 
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees 
with an elation it still has today, 
has a shyness in front of strangers, 
and has that even now. 
It awaited the first snow, 
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child, 
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree, 
And it quivers there still today.

Peter Handke

From Wings of Desire, 1987
Dir. Wim Wenders

Monday, 7 May 2012


The blessed stretch and ease of it -
heart's ease. The hills blue. All the flowering weeds
bursting open. Balm in the air. The birdsong
bouncing back out of the sky. The cattle
lain down in the meadow, forgetting to feed.
The horses swishing their tails.
The yellow flare of furze on the near hill.
And the first cream splatters of blossom
high on the thorns where the day rests longest.

All hardship, hunger, treachery of winter
This unfounded conviction: forgiveness, hope.

Kerry Hardie