Alison Croggon: A REQUIEM

INTROIT

      Cassandra: Useless; there is no god of healing in this story.
            Agamemnon, Aeschylus

o littlecunt your brows so even
slagged by war you stare a thousand fathoms

you walk the floor of a dead sea among
shrill bones the dust of bones the piping
wind your near companion you recollect

a word a shard of song a leaf the linking odour
missing

- her white throat sliced open
her black panic smoking on the stone
dragging you here

silenced nevertheless
or nevertheless unheard
or nevertheless muttered at knee height
to erupt through the bronze talk of weapons

you step
towards the fatal palace
steadily you know

longing for the gilled sleep
before the appalled womb spat you
into this shattered hall of mirrors

this the gate of love
and this of hatred

this the mouth of offense
and this of healing

this the portal of dream
and this of disenchantment

this the long farewell
and this the endless greeting

___________

      Already madness lifts its wing
      to cover half my soul.
      That taste of opiate wine!
      Lure of the dark valley!

            Requiem, 1935-1940 Anna Akhmatova

plates rattle on walls the dust the stink
day after day after day

through shivering walls the street talk burns us
none pity not one

I who policed my murder
and now I write my shame

but my wife went to the trains
but my daughter dies in my dreams again and again

how meekly I bargained with death
who will live to spit on my ashes?

through the wire her face emptied
my wife said nothing

those who died first were lucky

*

the inexorable bell widens its silence
a terrible wind flattening
buildings like grass

spoken always in a new argot
the million declensions of Sparta
our first pure state

back to the first sefiroth
nogod nobodaddy the jealously
concealed blasphemy

___________

DIES IRAE

      so light is the urging, so ordered the dark petals of iron
      we who have passed over Lethe.

            Canto LXXIV, Ezra Pound

I stand in the door of my house
I walk through its sleeping rooms
I number the beats of its breath

my hands brush
the shaft of a knife
the edge of a bowl of fruit
my daughter's tangled hair
the hair of my husband

animals that each night
embrace me with their scent
hands that clasp my neck
mouths that devour me

o livid planet pocked
by the veneration of wars
you are not innocent

___________

The child lay in his bed buttoned up for sleep
his hands folded under his head like a little boat
and I lay next to him on the raft of his breathing

All I could feel was the cold ocean under me
so deep that at the bottom no currents moved
the light bones that lay there

The steady vapour of fear drawing me closer
to the black water's unreflecting surface

___________

We toy with silence, that seductive bell - pouring its molten alloy into the pit of ourselves, holding our breath for the unflawed pitch - but the world is loquacious and diverts us with its spell. How many voices are we?

How impossible to be rid of the desire for a pure rebellion! What to do with that angel who boots me towards the absolute? Our passion is atomic and blasts all subtleties to ash.

Yet cunning cloaks us with reason. Imagining a world in a raindrop, we forget the world. A satellite among the chilly visions of stars sees nothing. The world flickers at our fingertips, a beautiful illusion that evades us. We press the button out of spite.

___________

This is utopia dreamt by the burnt visionaries

These are their hells where the pale rider pauses at his calculations one third and one third and one third and one third the infinite divisions

These are Machiavelli's subtle children these eyes are bleached on Richelieu's tables and here the Dominican judges construct their machines of pain o logical purity!

This is the hydra hand that breaks into millions and this is the one voice pricing the fruit of equations this is the mouth that gobbles the sweat of slaves this is the suit and the restaurant

This is the blind eye bloodied by ashen forests the revolting unstoppable flower

This is the pit of skulls and these are the trinkets of ears and teeth and here are the maps of human skin and screams in amber the prettiest of all

This is the one just man who died on the final day of a war that never finished

___________

the cloth is rent and the table is split and the appletrees are
    blackened and   broken
and the cradle is tipped and broken in the roofless bedroom

the chapel of tears is stained with foreheads pressed into their
    own blood
and bindweed creeps on the empty roads like a child afraid of the
    light

the sniper has left his casings to dry in his graffitied burrow
the daughters and sons return to cities that no longer see them

and daffodils sneer in meadows that behave as if nothing has happened
bursting from sleep to bless the mildest of skies

although bootless feet stopped at their rims to flower
in greens and blues and purples that signalled the end of exile

the earth is indifferent as usual
dissolving coffinless children far from the cities

where a bureaucrat's dream of greatness
pulsates in louseridden cinemas

where men are minted with crime and the president crouches with
      gangsters in his palatial casino
soldering minks and pearls to his women who fly through the streets
in     darkened limousines

as it was in the beginning and is now and ever shall be
world without end

___________

what moves through light and water?
o laughter and night
and what comes after

who is the slave or the master?
violins drown the slight
fingers in music's vaster

liberties, the wood's lost forest
axed into the flight
and warp of sorrows

a burned and chiselled violence
to amplify the bright
desolate silence

___________

OFFERTORY

      Praised be your name, no one.
      For your sake
      we shall flower.
      Towards
      you.

            Psalm, Paul Celan

the night's small teeth
ate my hands and my hair

I was a pebble of faith
the moon's little sister

storm blew open the door
but no one could find me

___________

who is asking questions?
throw them out

where is the ancient song?
forget it

what violets slumber still?
possess them

lock up safe
swallow the key

___________

hand digging the bloodroot
into alien soil

instinct tuned
to inverse constellations

how do you find your way
with this old language

poked full of perfidies
like a woman dissolving

on a solitary rock
as an elated god

swings towards her again
with his bucket of forgetting?

___________

the meadow is now dark
where the boy was running with his dog

he dreams of his father
in those empty halls

his cry rings out
unanswered

___________

the citadel is not taken
the citadel was never there

the beautiful Europeans
scribbled the earth with churches

they believed the text was immortal
and God heard their singing

who is to say they were wrong?
in the middle of nowhere

blue irises bulb
from the eyes of the dead

___________

the dreaming boy hears in his pillow
mad echoes of hoofbeats

the heart of Varus is eaten raw
his head grins from a stump

the trees blanch like a scream
untimely ended

___________

one candle bleeds enough warmth
to keep a body breathing

in the coldest
emergency

although the mind may be damaged
by the constant repetition

of lighting one candle
again and again

___________

when the chicken arrived
he couldn't withstand his hunger

light scattered its blessings
along the curious snake of her neck

and flushed the stroke of blood
laid in each pearl claw

and her feathers! how they fattened
his vision like split coals

that flashed primeval forests
every time she fluttered from the table

he put off dinner indefinitely
and painted her on a piece of wood

wrenched from the door
of a cupboard he had no use for

___________

a man is weeping in an alley of stone
the alien ground thickens with his noise

to his fathers it was a desert
and his mother is buried far away

and he doesn't know what angers him
or why his tears seem a refusal of blessing

except that at last something is clear
that he should have known before he left

when the household gods flew out
and the door swung shut behind him

___________

swallows shoot from the dull halls
their beaks purple with berries

volleyed from behind the night
where the sun lolls among the whispering dead

shadowy tongues that lick the summer
with intimate rumours of distance

___________

and you hear the ghosts
screaming in the depths of your ear

they are screaming for all time
a beauty hard and animal

driven beyond prayer
into the heaving gut of god

__________

the hand that touched you through the words
that wrote the words that vanished in their saying

the words that were spoken that were loved
the words that were sung and written down

the mind that stroked the hands that moved
the lyre that sang the words out of silence

the words that knew the mind that touched its heart
that pulses through the silence that is endless

the night that opened in the heart that sang
that opens in the night that is endless

___________

yellow star the trench is deep
that cowls your shyness

birches whiten as the spade
unveils your hair

yellow star your clean brow
leans over a black well

your eye opened and closed
the day stalks in

a blaze of witnesses
to consecrate your absence

___________

COMMUNION

      I show you a new world, risen,
      Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart's need.

            Taliesen 1952, RS Thomas

My flesh is sad with itself, it walks in the garden
heavy and opaque, an insoluble riddle.
The bruises on my arms are lightening
and a dew softens my mouth
as birds wink in and out of the trees.
But still I am sad.

The oranges are pale moons. The wind
sings them into eclipse and calls them
back from the black leaves.
I envy their voicelessness, their sweetness
that offers itself without stint, that falls
uncomplainingly to the grass.

I imagined a possible gentleness.
Now its agony flares into a kiss
that I can only forgive, although it kills me.
Even those who loved me are asleep.
The pigeons shift in the shade, the moon
floods me with waiting.

I have no sweetness in me tonight.
Tonight my calling is useless,
foreknown and foresuffered. If my face
chills in its blood, if my eyes remain open,
it is because all this sobbing will fall
to inhuman water.

They will say they are redeemed.
They will crown my absence with their suffering.
But I remember a crowded table
and a plate heaped with oranges
and how generous hands reached out and tore
open the common flesh.

`COMMUNION' appeared in an earlier issue of Lynx: Poetry from Bath.