Robert Peake is an American poet living in England. His newest short collection is The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013). His previous short collection was Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011). Robert studied poetry at the University of California, Berkeley and in the Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program at Pacific University, Oregon. In the 2010-2011 academic year, he was Senior Poetry Editor of Silk Road Review. He also recently finished editing a special feature on British poetry for Issue 8.1, due out in Spring/Summer 2013.
Apologies For All Seasons
(with apologies to T.S. Eliot)
So, fine, get warm and comfortable again, I don’t
mind a little cruelty, I myself have thumbed
ants into the tilework, teased a dog with a stick.
But must you wear that pale green mist, like a low-
cut dress and paint your toenails yellow? Take
your blue eyes off me. Unclouded, they burn.
It all starts up again, and like Job you expect
me to be grateful for the new, stop arguing
points of theology now that the weather’s nice.
I think we need some time apart, you know–
to see other seasons, stir our dull roots.
Don’t even get me started on the lilacs.
(with apologies to Dylan Thomas)
The moon might rise forever, out of sight,
a balloon ascending in fresh-made clouds
and the fruit trees go on curtseying,
while the willow sweeps low in obsequy.
Clear water from who-knows-where will bathe
the pebbles in white-gold light,
and the lamb’s coat give off its holy glow,
unstained, unattainable, and sustained.
But the distant hills and hedgerows blaze
with a green fire as brief as childhood.
(with apologies to John Keats)
Mist, there’s a bit. And I suppose the fruit
is ripening, though the blackberries still tang
like lemon, and the mown wheat stubble bristles
like a patient in remission or a military brat–
nothing mellow about it, slugs oozing in hedgerows
desperate for a drink, marrows swelling like goiters,
and the page keeps curling, brown at the edge then
black as the poppies shaking seed from their hair,
the air as sour as cider and filled with the sound
of bugs and swallows convening their secret societies.
(with apologies to William Shakespeare)
Here she comes, shouldering discontent,
tugging scarves like nooses, serving backhanders
of air on the uphill climb. Gird yourself, she
aims for the head. This is no way to navigate,
through pepperings of grit, the trash coalescing
in nooks as you shiver, and cope, and adapt
your desires down to the thought of the lush
kettle steam at the end of your walk, giving up
all ambition to see or be seen, make money, give
gifts, and go golfing–your kingdom, in fact
for the clink of a cup, and the drown-victim bag,
milk to lighten its amber to shoe-leather brown,
one thought: it is hot, it is tea, it is nigh.
Old St. Paul’s Church, Edinburgh
Here is an icon to brand in the brain,
flat-hammered iron, irregular, dark–
A rail spike for the journey ahead,
foetus uncurled, shackles bent open.
Here is the flat blade that dubbed,
helmet’s nosepiece, a horseshoe for luck.
With this you could bolt a door, wedge
out a draft, scrape a dust like dried blood.
Recall the two arms now tied behind you
flung wide to gather up your child.
Some die curled, some splayed, some dance.
And when you drop, this image ascends.
Here is a symbol to singe in the eyes,
spiking the track, hinging the door.
You navigate the Earth, head in hand.
Sometimes supplicant, precocious,
night-walkers among the damned,
but there are advantages: raising
your head in outstretched arms
to see over hills–no neck to strain.
Though mostly, you meet us waist-high,
hard-case for the brain tucked under
one arm, striding industriously down
the platform beside the purring train.
Yes, there was that show-off who twirled
himself by the hair, kids playing frisbee
with their haloes and such, but most prefer
the subtle intrigue of casual speech
issued from a mind detached of corporality–
the lofty air, the easy frights, how people
stare and secretly envy saints who can truly lose
themselves, and be found in two places at once.
It begins as a prick in the palm, an ache
at the roof of the foot, thorn at the brim
of your ball cap. Your feet rub together,
smoothing the mosquito itch. The unseen
needles enlarge to wood screws, making
the fingers want to curl. You drink
vinegar and play dice, indigestion stabs
at your side. Arms outstretched, you lie in bed,
reminiscing about lovers who abandoned you,
wiping the sweat from your forehead,
smearing the warm beads of blood.
All remarkable, as aways, but your Apologies were particularly fun. And the theft of style and words was so miniscule, that I am not sure an apology was necessary. Regards, Pat
Actually, you’re absolutely right–the apology is not so much for borrowing tone, style, or even phrases (though there is a bit of that)–but for playing fast and loose (and colloquially) with their ideas (April being cruel, etc.).
Thanks, glad you enjpyed these. In England, I’m finding that there’s always a good reason to say “sorry”.
Are you sure you weren’t English in a past life, Rob? The Apologies make me homesick for blackberry laden hedgerows, bundling up in woolly scarves, trees fat with apples and the unbelievable sight of a blue sky after a long winter…wonderful stuff!
Don’t we know it?
“one thought: it is hot, it is tea, it is nigh” Brilliant mate – tea is the thing that holds it all together!
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