A poem by David Harsent
How would it be to live without whisky, without wine –
an even tread in chequered sunlight? Or live without music
and nothing to fill the hollow of your heart? Poetry corrupts,
we know. As a child he gloried God with song and lived in fear.
He fell and was lifted up to fall again. He is lost now as then.
Women of the house: he lay in the dark and listened to their voices.
He knew they bled because he saw them at the wash, found blood
in the water-trap. Their voices were a constant: soft, overlapping,
under and over music, soft questions, soft laughter, diminuendo.
Or live without love, bones drying under your skin, skin
pulling back from fingerbones and cheekbones, bald at heel and toe,
your eyeballs gone to a crust, your arsehole a pinprick, all
for want of love. He knew they bled. It was magical, beyond him,
they said as much. Soft hands on him. God was in the reckoning:
There are false starts
as ever. There are words
as yet unspoken. There are
chances lost twice lost.
There are fevers under
the skin. There are doors
opening on vacancy.
Without whisky without wine
diet of piss and pabulum:
teeth loosening: a debit of flux
no less than your due
long reaches of the night
given over to listening:
the footfall in the hallway
the cry from the garden
little deaths: hidden theatre
those changes that go
unnoticed: how memory weeps.
Unspoken: heavy with truth
and sorrow. The way out
now lost: doors opening
on vacancy or some kind
of timeslip: heavy traffic
on the ring-road HGV,
Class 8 dump-truck D-Max
pickup: music playing
(her late gift to you)
the head-on crash symphonic
a white dissolve: though if
you look again it plays out
as a frame-by-frame-
cartwheel of sparks and parts
wet debris: torn: face
uppermost… Such dreams
as narrative not prophecy
as record not warning
the worst already with us
dogfight politics barrel-bombs
children scorched faceless
deluge and wildfire. There’s
the puppet-clown virtuoso
of filibuster and farce.
His teeth chatter with rage
and glee his eyes rattle
in his head. And there’s
her figleaf basque and fishnets
purple lug-worm veins
on her inner thigh
yourself to yourself as you look in
herself to herself as she looks out.
And there’s the demagogue
aut Caesar aut nihil
coming down to the footlights
to take his curtain call. The young
might hold the streets but what
they want they’ll never get:
unauthorised love: the risen Christ
Quirks of history: the births of evil men: a sudden rise
in willing blindness among the best of us: some loss
of shadow. We live with it day by day: the one surprise
how vainglorious our response how raw how crass.
David Harsent has published twelve volumes of poetry, including the Forward Prize winning Legion (2005) and Night (2011) which received the Griffin International Poetry Prize. This poem is excerpted from Harsent’s new collection, Loss, which will appear in January 2020. Harsent has collaborated with several composers, though most often with Harrison Birtwistle. davidharsent.com/