(1930 - 1998)





My mother in her feathers of flame
Grows taller. Every May Thirteenth
I see her with her sister Miriam. I lift
The torn-off diary page where my brother jotted
“Ma died today” – and there they are.

She is now as tall as Miriam.
In the perpetual Sunday Morning
Of everlasting, they are strolling together
Listening to the larks
Ringing in their orbits. The work of the cosmos,
Creation and destruction of matter
And of anti-matter
Pulses and flares, shudders and fades
Like the Northern Lights in their feathers.

My mother is telling Miriam
About her life, which was mine. Her voice comes, piping,
Down a deep gorge of woodland echoes:
“This is the water-line, dark on my dress, look,
Where I dragged him from the reservoir.
And that is the horse on which I galloped
Through the brick wall
And out over the heather simply
To bring him a new pen. This is the pen
I laid on the altar. And these
Are the mass marriages of him and his brother
Where I was not once a guest.” Then suddenly
She is scattering the red coals with her fingers
To find where I had fallen
For the third time. She laughs
Helplessly till she weeps. Miriam
Who died at eighteen
Is Madonna-like with pure wonder
To hear of all she missed. Now my mother
Shows her the rosary prayers of unending worry,
Like pairs of shoes, or one dress after another
“This is the sort of thing”, she is saying,
“I liked to wear best.” And: “Much of it,
You know, was simply sitting at the window
Watching the horizon. Truly
Wonderful it was, day after day,
Knowing they were somewhere. It still is.

And they pause, on the brink
Of the starry dew. They are looking at me.
My mother, darker with her life,
Her Red Indian hair, her skin
So strangely olive and other-worldly,
Miriam now sheer flame beside her.
Their feathers throb softly, iridescent.
My mother’s face is glistening
As if she held it into the skyline wind
Looking towards me. I do this for her.

She is using me to tune finer
Her weeping love for my brother, through mine,
As if I were the shadow cast by this approach.

As when I came a mile over fields and walls
Towards her, and found her weeping for him –
Able for all that distance to think me him.

From New Selected Poems 1957-1994





I felt a strange fear when the war-talk,
Like a creeping barrage, approached you.
Jig and jag I’d fitted much of it together.
Our treasure, your D.C.M.
** – again and again
Carrying in the wounded
Collapsing with exhaustion. And as you collapsed
A shell-burst
Just in front of you lifting you upright
For the last somnambulist yards
Before you fell under your load into the trench.
The shell, some other time, that buried itself
Between your feet as you walked
And thoughtfully failed to go off.
The shrapnel hole, over your heart – how it spun you.
The blue scar of the bullet at your ankle
From a traversing machine-gun that tripped you
As you cleared the parapet. Meanwhile
The horrors were doled out, everybody
Had his appalling tale.
But what alarmed me most
Was your silence. Your refusal to tell.
I had to hear from others
What you survived and what you did.

Maybe you didn’t want to frighten me.
Now it’s too late.
Now I’d ask you shamelessly.
But then I felt ashamed.
What was my shame? Why couldn’t I have borne
To hear you telling what you underwent?
Why was your war so much more unbearable
Than anybody else’s? As if nobody else
Knew how to remember. After some uncle’s
Virtuoso tale of survival
That made me marvel and laugh-
I looked at your face, your cigarette
Like a dial-finger. And my mind
Stopped with numbness.

Your day-silence was the coma
Out of which your night-dreams rose shouting.
I could hear you from my bedroom –
The whole hopelessness still going on,
No man’s land still crying and burning
Inside our house, and you climbing again
Out of the trench, and wading back into the glare

As if you might still not manage to reach us
And carry us to safety.


* "For the duration" meant an enlistment for the duration of the war.

 ** D.C.M. is Distinguished Conduct Medal


Prometheus in His Crag



Pondered the vulture. Was this bird

His unborn half-self, some hyena

Afterbirth, some lump of his mother?


Or was it condemned human ballast –

His dying and his death, torn daily

From his immortality?


Or his blowtorch godhead

Puncturing those horrendous holes

In his human limits?


Was it his prophetic familiar?

The Knowledge, pebble-eyed,

Of the fates to be suffered in his image?


Was it the flapping, tattered hole –

The nothing door

Of his entry, draughting through him?


Or was it atomic law –

Was Life his transgression?

Was he the punished criminal aberration?


Was it the fire he had stolen?

Nowhere to go and now his pet,

And only him to feed on?


Or the supernatural spirit itself

That he had stolen from,

Now stealing from him the natural flesh?


Or was it the earth’s enlightenment –

Was he an uninitiated infant

Mutilated towards alignment?


Or was it anti-self –

The him-shaped vacuum

In unbeing, pulling to empty him?


Or was it, after all, the Helper

Coming again to pick the crucial knot

Of all his bonds…?


Image after image. Image after image. As the vulture






Prometeu no penhasco



Ponderou o abutre. Seria esta ave

A metade do seu eu por nascer, alguma hiena

Pós-natal, algum bocado da mãe?


Ou seria o seu lastro humano condenado? –

O seu morrer e a sua morte, arrancados dia a dia

À imortalidade dele?


O seu deus, qual maçarico

Abrindo aqueles horrendos buracos

Nos seus limites humanos?


Seria o seu profético demónio familiar?

O Conhecimento, como óculo,

Dos fados a ser suportado à sua imagem?


Seria o buraco em ruínas a bater –

A porta nada

Da sua entrada, fazendo corrente de ar através dele?


Ou seria lei atómica –

Seria a Vida a sua transgressão?

Seria ele a punida aberração criminosa?


Seria o fogo que roubara?

Sem lugar para onde ir, e agora o seu animal de estimação

Que só o tem a ele para se alimentar?


Ou o próprio espírito sobrenatural

De onde, furtivo, saíra,

Furtando-lhe ele agora a carne natural?


Ou seria a iluminação da terra –

Seria ele uma criança por iniciar

Que a mutilação faz conformar?


Ou seria o antieu –

O vácuo em forma dele

No não ser, puxando para o esvaziar?


Ou seria, afinal, O-Que-Auxilia,

Voltando para bicar o nó crucial

De todos os grilhões…?


Imagem após imagem. Imagem após imagem. E o abutre

Voava em círculos.


Em círculos.




Tradução de João Ferreira Duarte, em "LEITURAS

poemas do inglês", Relógio de Água, 1993.

ISBN 972-708-204-1



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