‘I write a love letter, to write, and not because I love’ – Flaubert
These are the fragile hours, the bird-dominated silent hours
that dawn is too simple a word for.
For this Sunday morning light is pearl – pale and fragile
as it reveals the almost empty quay,
gulls that spire from the river to feast on Saturday night’s debris,
a drowsy street sweeper and you and me
standing almost still on a footbridge
as we stare into the masticating, stout-black Lee.
Because shutting up was never my strong point
I can’t resist staining the silence
with some remarks about how special you are.
But as I draw breath to speak,
as I inhale one waft of this sweet dirty morning,
I remember Flaubert’s lament
that language is a broken inadequate thing,
a toddler’s tune played on pots and pans,
that every poet’s words of love
tell us only of the poet himself,
for the lover resists description
as cliffs the devouring tide.
Because you are the mirror in which I see myself
without failure or defect
you reflect my words back at me
and whatever lines I shape with this breath
will scramble in air
like these greedy, hunting gulls
and circle your beauty
but never alight on you perfectly.
With this breath I could sketch some things for you:
children gathering stones on a beach in September,
plucking only smooth, round ones
from the infinitely varied layer
that conceals the sand like a second skin,
like beautiful, damp scales.
I could say your hair is honey
and your skin a sweeter, more translucent honey
and all this might even be true
but it is passé, just a cliche,
and says more about me than it does about you.
Or I could say: ‘Lady take my hand
and walk me through this sleeping world.
And we might risk it all, take one chance
on each other before the morning has unfurled
its curtain on the litter, the river, everything.’
But now the poem is sounding like a song
and as you know, too well, I cannot sing.
Or with this breath I could launch into a list again
mention the wooden room in which you live,
all the things you give to me without even meaning to
but sometimes intentionally,
that your every second thought is for somebody else
(in this, however, you have no choice)
how you dance, when you dance,
with rhythm with excellent poise,
that I have been woken by your heart’s easy rhythm
that the healthy part of you outweighs my own unhealthy part…
But that’s just talking about me again.
It’s all I can do.
Before this weary, new, hungover world
tilts another few degrees
I will unleash this breath into the morning I snatched it from,
not as praise or recollection
or in the form of some desperate plea
but into your own mouth
and I will taste the air
that has made your lungs bulge,
flooding their intricate networks
down to the endless forested alveoli
that has sampled the capillaried intimate dark
no-one will ever know
that tastes like your kisses tasted
when you kissed me dozens of times before
like millet, alfalfa, rosemary, and yarrow
of bread and lemon,
of salt or banana or the night before.