SELECTED LATER POEMS
The Evergreen Tree
Joe Foot: Tonsorial Artist
Spain (August '75)
In the Hospital Grounds
In the Second-Hand Bookshop 1
In the Second-Hand Bookshop 2
News from Indonesia
Nocturnes, Swansea Bay
THE EVERGREEN TREE
When I was small on the steps to our house
there was a tree standing three streets away
behind roofs, which I thought was God.
It was dark-green, square-shaped like a head;
it was the tallest thing around.
I used to say sorry to it often
and often couldn't look it in the face.
For ages that went on,
until they cut it down
to build a car park
When I was young I slept in a room
with an eye in the corner:
egg-white it was and always watching
high up on the ceiling's plaster.
Night after night, year after year it stared,
until, thank God, we moved.
And in my new bedroom
there was no white eye,
only a great big bear
frozen night after night
in the wardrobe's thin veneer
Now I am wed
I live in a house by the sea:
three up, three down, two kids, garden and shed
and an inside W.C.
I lie at night with Love for company.
No god or ghost I see
only the spurious spectre of my shirt
and the soundless Tide
at the foot of the bed -
pitch-black and all-enveloping
JOE FOOT: TONSORIAL ARTIST
Bound, manacled and gagged
one Saturday in four
on a stool on a chair
in his shack of a shop
shrouded in white you sat
with nothing to stare at
but a sink
a sleek-haired Dennis Compton
on an ancient Brylcreem ad
and row upon row of creams, age-old pomades.
He did me a James Dean, once:
quiffed like Stan Laurel
I remember the clippers' cold clip clip
the bare boards' harvest
of lifeless locks: the curly black
mixed with the silver-grey;
Joe's permanent sniff: an allergy
to all things hairy
I hated the groped-in oil
the clouds of talc
I hated to catch me in the mirror
as he held aglass behind my head
to show me infinity
SPAIN AUGUST '75)
Half past seven. Unable to sleep all night
for the coast road traffic
and the vol-au-vent
I stand and watch
a tinker grinding knives
seven stories below in the yard -
and dream that this is Spain.
Blunt and dull
scissors and shears and more knives wait
on the concrete wall.
Sparks spray back, blades gleam and narrow
as the wound-up tinker pedals nowhere mindlessly.
Across the way, towels and beachwear hang from balconies,
a waiter drags a pole
along the pool's blue bottom
I breathe in deep. Barcelona today: Museo Picasso,
Fuente Luminosa, Pueblo Espanol...
I will look for the Ramblas' twin observatories
where Orwell sat guard with a pocketful of Penguins,
tired, ravenous and bored - for a cause.
IN THE HOSPITAL GROUNDS
...in the glorious afternoon
across the gravel path
between new-mown lawns, shrub-lined
past sun-drenched rhododendrons, murmur of leaves
bird-whistle, motorway hum
and Summer everywhere
the trolley comes
a nurse with flowers
at its head
a trainee porter pushing
on castored wheels
the perfect likeness under wraps
The nurse is crying. The boy steers nimbly
up the hill
brushes a hedge
swings round a bend
Minutes pass. Seconds tick away...then they return
still to a dazzle of sun:
she first, bearing the crumpled sheet;
he tripping behind, trolley light as air,
IN THE SECOND-HAND BOOKSHOP 1
The bell rings
and the flyweight sidesteps in
with his deadweight cardboard box.
It is Saturday afternoon -
pavements faceless and dull, shadows
hurrying home to flickering front rooms
and cosy Locals.
There is only me
idling through Poetry
and the woman by the till - Sphinx-like, vacant and still
dreaming of closing time.
He dumps his burden down
on Sex and Thrillers, leans
on one elbow on the counter: cool, confidential:
"Two hundred and fifty copies of 'The Ring',
May '53 to January '72 - inclusive."
She doesn't bat a lid: "Never touch them," she says
and returns to the hard womb of her dream.
- Bring goes the bell:
sidelong I note the made-to-measure shoulders,
faded trousers, cartoon ears and nose -
He hugs his awful load,
his nineteen worthless years, and goes -
out-punched, out-classed, K.O.'d.
IN THE SECOND-HAND BOOKSHOP 2
Out of the long lost afternoon
a schoolboy loiters, seeking a replacement Iliad.
Upstairs, in Theology, unseen, unheard
a rare volume is stuffed up the clerical jumper...
The cold back room is always bare.
Here lies the stuff they've too much of:
hundredth edition Ridouts, Shakespeare, Whittier
odd-volume Histories, Home Doctors, Year Books, Enquire Withins
- all mutely mouldering.
The City ends. Time stands still - and reputations.
In seven years this twilit inner tomb
has yielded little: a few unmatching shards, chaotic scraps
in the immense Mosaic:
Who are we? Why are we here? What are we searching for?
The woman flip-flops in in slippered feet
pulls back the screen and shuts a door.
Silence a moment - then a rumbling:
her lonely water-music fills the air like distant thunder...
Abruptly a chain flushes: us, her,
The People's Physician, Crowned Masterpieces of Eloquence,
Wordsworth, Clare, and the whole dull dusky afternoon
After they'd gone
- done for the day -
leaving the ripped innards
a rib-cage of joists,
I knelt down
into the dark:
dust and rubble
than Mars or Jupiter.
A faint draught
wafted up at me -
a long last breath.
I listened for
I didn't know what...
On a scrap of paper,
with hasty heart
and arrow, I scribbled
our love, added
time and date
and left it there.
they'd board it up
and in a hundred years
some other hand
the silence, discover
NEWS FROM INDONESIA
Today his second postcard came.
I stood reading it by the stove
absent-mindedly turning the bacon
'...shipped at midnight from Padang past Krakatoa...'
You come downstairs
barefoot in nightie, snapping at the kids
and shuddering with cold
'...food cheap: lobsters, frog legs...In remote villages
women still go round barebreasted...'
You strip your nightie off, clip on your bra and groan:
'Oh Christ! Don't show me egg.
Don't show me bloody egg - I'll spew!'
'...a weekly stay in Bali was crowned
by visits to the local brothels: altogether very pleasant,
confirming, rather, my romantic pre-conceived ideas
I turn down the tiny indelible hand: PALINGGIH
the seat for the gods - a peasant, mushroom-hatted,
7a.m. October Monday morning:
I tip the shrivelled food out onto plates
and pour the tea
Grandfather in the hill
hands long-ago folded
dreaming no dream
under the dumbfound stone
not young not old
not warm not cold -
snow-blind and still
and thickly blanketed
My father up a pole
not daring to look down
feeling for his fingers
blasting with the blow-torch
of his breath,
splicing and mending,
the whole world slipped invisible
beneath his feet
My mother in the kitchen
hands wash-day red
shaking the frail-white flakes
of Lux, scouring
and the shell
long after we have gone,
gazing at blankness
through the clouded glass
We three thigh-deep
with ragged breath
hands snow-ball numb
wending our blank-white ways
with leaky Wellingtons
probing for yesterday's
pavements and streets
our dinasaur feet
lost in no avalanche
not happy not sad
not good not bad
but sheltered and still
two germs untadpoling -
less than an inkling
in the living cell
NOCTURNES, SWANSEA BAY
side by side
beneath an arch -
two shadows in the dark:
Flotsam and Jetsam,
sitting on cold wet stone
each nursing a bottle
Rain finely falls
Dream traffic passes...
the man gets up, goes
an empty at the sea.
She watches hopelessly.
as in a dream
- the past rolled ever forward
a piece of driftwood, recognize at once
its dark black knot of face
its smooth forbearance
its frozen scream