from LOSS

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
     the store-front-whore
     red-lipped wide-hipped
     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.

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