Douglas Oliver: Three poems

Wealh People

Europe comes towards us like a giant
in a winter
arms outstretched stumbling along
through snow drifts
to sweep us up like a child
into his cashmere coat

We fear
to lose our childish coinage
a bright virtual minting
lies on the trail before us
and whitens on the snow
one snow road across Europe
simulated money
maketh snow

That snow road begins
for us in Celtish lands
where a black-rooted
nut tree
higher than the drifts
leans against bitter sky
words on the hardy tree
snug in their flesh husk
of green seal skin Welsh
as a walnut
a wealh nut in Snowdonia

a similar tree Scottish
on King Arthur's Seat
or in Cornwall
A black walnut
from crooked branches
lands in a ruinous drift
is too light
already wants to open
splits with an empty sound
like a clock

We the complainants
are the wealh people
we Celts earlier here
than Anglo-Saxons
of Wessex our words
before English a thin band
of Indic people
trailing across Europe
bringing the Celtic word
sheltering in caves

Snow-haired men strike chill
through Westminster
protecting their infantile
on English behalfs
against father Europe
Scottish and Welsh
we have long
served your English
greater past

We British are lesser
now, therefore kinder but
if we never grow
into kind
European kind
we will be permitted
every same cruelty
Scottish leader bowing
to American bombers
ignoring Europe's
clock ticking for peace

We condemn ourselves
to inquiries sheltering
in a cave with two computer screens
Our cave we'll find
is an old horseshoe tunnel
through a mountain pass
go in through win
and out through loss
then in through loss
and out through win

Beside us in the cave
a lover's modern eyes
still shine for us in the night
of the future She or he
is looking out for us
Our own screen snow bright

They meaning who
come to life at the side of our heads
people who lived once but aren't ghosts
the English
on trial in our inquiry
no longer judges
nor though accused
the accused
We're trying to find our birth
in its ignobilities
find its Celtic womb

A stone blocks the cave
of memories changing absolutely
all the time the fastest
lock imaginable
invented by Heraclitus
Surely it's uncrackable
But between changes
it's no lock at all
the stone's a haze
in the in-between

Outside the sky dirtied
with snow here
eye-shine in a glass
heart-shape cracks
with empty sound
like a clock
in a court-room
Our advocate heart
inside dark illuminates
a sunny change of screen


A purple-haired woman
with a paper handkerchief for a face
runs down the rue des Messageries.
Between the perspective of buildings
tall crane idle against the lines of morning
and a doleful green lion with navy-blue eyes
tattering down to emerald wraiths
dissipates its body in smoke.
Among the stream of Lubavitchers
this Saturday from the synagogue
floats a half-transparent gesture
with a hand that turns in mid-air
and comes back boldly dark blue.
Feminine ginger forearms
poke from a national marine's white blouse,
black slacks and sailor boy hat,
red-head squatting on the pavement bollard
where rue Faubourg Poissonniéres
widens for our supermarket;
could be any teenager's frail life,
enlisted to right our errors
of despair, aggression, superstition.
Cirrus on blue above.
Matt black fighter plane
dropped in the road by a child
sets its heel on the sparkling tarmac,
the silhouette of it skids about and becomes
curling tyre marks, or a relic of
a dangerous attitude, setting childrens' lives
at risk. Our corruption needs copious innocence
to work on: I remember green fields,
a cook crossing to the airmen's mess
at Innsbrook, cirrus on blue in that vignette.
They could enlist me then; they couldn't now.
That summer of '57, like a tornado
in my mind I tell you,
green imploding on black
like a green bomb splotch on the Suez Canal.
In this morning's sunshine,
a cook crossing now to the boulangerie
triggered that memory. Opening the Trib
two paces down from the Metro,
I see they opened fire on the President of Egypt
yesterday as his motorcade
drove to the Addis Ababa summit.
Nearly caused war with Sudan; young Egyptian
forearms writing out enlistment papers;
one day there's a youth's flayed arm but no youth,
green body tattering down in bomb smoke.


(By Which I Mean)

Fatuous headlights down boulevards,
exhausts stupid as cow's anuses,
Samedi/someday I'll
get a new car, ma mére,
a mere fucker, a tiddly wheel
a Toyota, yummy Toyota,
cocoa lacquer hood;
check the motor;
you'll find it full of yen,
hood up for the bent head,
slam down, driving free,
a melodious vowel over the abrupt
crunch of stone in mud
where rue Papillon caved in,
then all through town
clown boom radio
wick-wacking, big oil user
making oil producer rich, rich,
on the headlight route through Europe
a route B.W.I.M.
artificial human light.

You'll Americanise or British this,
call polluted Paris
graceful city, wheel-shaped
like a cow-pat.
But we Brits/Yanks
are those same boys
muddied on our trousers
where we knelt
by an adult's splashy Lancia,
our dirty brown shoes
striated with mud spots
the dotted paths of the possible
looking ahead to pocket money days.

Then off on a wing
hathchabacking whipping out
and round and back in the conquest
of loss of meaning by more
loss of meaning, B.W.I.M.
denial of verities.
Uh-oh verities,
flasher warning, flasher warning,
Well, B. "verities"
I.M. "uncertainty
plus truthfulness". Simply,
any time I want some truth it's higher
foolishness takes the other path it's lower:
headlights vs. Milky Way.

No wonder we want the anti-didactic
with anyone's truth-chariot
good as another's.
Who will be woman enough for it,
who man?
That harder sacrifice without glory,
without our little chariots,
our Britannia spears
and cross-thonged calves,
or blinkety-blank
imported battle cries
from the dashboard radio
idiot phone on the frontal shield.
Can't give them up, just can't.

I hole up on a narrow hill,
an ancient enclave,
boulevards thrumming below.
Surely at least in some
B.M.W.'s down there
bluebottles buzz in
drivers' interior thoughts,
B.W.I.M. fears
that they're driving carelessly?

Night frosts over
and the racing lights
of Lutece sparkle
under the Via Lactea.
If stars can be scornful
those are scornful stars.