William Oxley: Three poems


This photograph of you
on the Isle of Wight, years back,
turning brown now, muddy
as the beach behind your beauty
and amazing leggy youth.

Leaning on a sea-decayed
stump -- I taste the salt, feel
barnacles like stone stars
and the wet seaweed's slime --
you were one of the young ones of time

endowed with looks and love.
From your shirt and shorts,
that woman with a fag near you,
the pier bracketing sea to shore
and the handful of deckchair folk
I can see, somehow, that age is gone:
though breeze and tide remain, of course,
and like you, unchanged, live on


Years ago, when I kissed the green edge of moorland
and drank the fell waters under the hawthorn tree
and the sky was both spiritual and sexy, there erupted
in me the white generosity of God. I fingered the sticky
sycamore leaf like a woman's part, and my heart
pledged itself, childlike, to such giving that
I could never, deep down, hate. How -- I do not know how -- I
knew that suffering was clay, and that even the wicked
eventually, through suffering, cease to be man or woman
and become human. And when I walked the winter lawns
of that marvellous old house under sour Lancashire skies,
and touched the ice-fragmented pond, marvelled at frost-furred
farmyard stumps, or felt such tender love for the stately
hung chestnut trees, I seeped with generosity and gratitude,
having met Nature. And it was some sort of mind
that stressed, like wind, the pink-red rhododendrons,
the furred catkins, and willowherb, and got up the noses
(in the best possible sense) of kids and animals,
beautiful-smelling as the woman you love, the rose
of all-time and none; and though there was suffering, cruelty
striping even the most workaday ordinary day,
it did not take a Jesus-genius to see, every dawn and
every sunset, each cool summer evening buzzing with insects,
or the white-blanketed winter fields and the sketched-in leafless hedges, dark rivers and pools, and
the smoking chimneys of the house where I lived,
were so beautiful -- let fools laugh -- that my heart warmed
as a light fell -- sun, eternal -- upon this bitter clay.


after Herman Hesse

Our belief is a belief in what perishes
the sea chews up even stones
in one enormous slavering gulp.
Nations are now shrinking parishes

and the alternative to passion
is to become a god of machines.
Once, though, sterner thoughts held us --
not considered factless bubbles --

threw the holy rope of myth across the void.
Days then were a different experience
consuming everything in those
wilder feelings we still have but avoid.

Searching for whatever silent science
will show me summer temples
of a new faith, I find only ruins.
Ruins and words that no longer convince.