Emerging into the bright sunlight of Stall Street
from buying birthday cards in W.H.Smith
I see a youthful string quartet busking Haydn outside the Disney store
just up the road from the Colonnades and the Roman Baths.
Returning home I unpack the groceries from Sainsbury's
into the kitchen cupboards and the fridge;
then I put Alan Stivell's Breton folk-rock `Brian Boru' onto the CD-player.
His electric harp leads the rhythm.
I walk out into the back garden amongst the long weeds and overgrown creeper
And look over the wooded hillscapes of Bath at the smooth summit of Solsbury
It was there that Arthur and his men stood all night waiting
for the last assault of the English Kings, at Badon: Batheaston.
Urging their shaggy Saxon infantry up the steep slope in
one final desperate throw at Arthur's horsemen to decide who ruled Britain.
Aelle, forty years since he leapt into the sea, leading his men
from Angle to the dry land of Britain; senior king of Sussex; old.
And Oesc of Kent, with his imperialist ambitions, who called his son Eormenric
after that great raider. And Cerdic the West Saxon, with
his British name; in the year 492 they vanish from history.
Dead because Arthur's horsemen charged. The last battle.
Then for over sixty years the English penned into their little kingdoms
whilst Arthur's peace ruled over Britain from Colchester. Imperator. Roman.
`Give me a hundred horsemen and I will rule Britain'.
Three hundred dead at Catraeth. They had no Arthur.
And after Dyrham in 577 Bath was the Ruined City of the Saxons
for over a hundred years. Until the Irish monks and nuns came to renew it.
This is Aquae Sulis and has been civilised for ten thousand years.
The blood is a mongrel English and British. The culture West Country.
A Celt of Huguenot stock I walk up to the Englishcombe Inn
to drink German Hölsten lager with my friends.
We kept the flame kindling through the Dark Ages
and created the modern West. We are Europe.
Old words drift back into my mind:
`The books are written, love spent,
My question: Whither?'
I wrote you out of me,
Now I have nothing to say.
The kitchen floor fragments,
The weeds grow high in the garden;
I will not compete with Yeats,
This is a time for silence.
I sit in the night and stare into space.
Another winter's journey beckons.
I have no poetry,
Coatham Mundeville an absent dream.
And the faces that have followed me
Dissolve in the memory.
I will be a little local poet of Bath,
When occasionally I write.
The grand ambition is over.
My unread books in the libraries
A lasting memento.
Thirty years of the game
And I have learnt sense.
Words make nothing happen,
They just add to the misery.
I will be drinking at the world's end.
There is no `after Susan'.
I want to go home,
Twenty years I have lived in this house without her,
I want to go home
To Coatham Hall at Coatham Mundeville
High on its sacred hill.
I want to go home,
For twenty years I have written her out of me,
I want to go home
By dawn's early light,
In twilight's last deadly gleaming,
I want to go home.
Englishcombe Lane, Beechen Cliff,
I want to go home.
There is no `after Susan'.
The dogs are barking on the lawn,
Mummy and daddy will be there,
I want to go home.
It is time to break up the campfires,
Head for home.
I would trade all my published books and paltry fame
For an afternoon spent with you
Drinking tea and chewing on cucumber sandwiches.
There is so much to talk about.
Twenty years of trouble and travel;
Your children, my cats.
My studies with the doctors
And the slow collapse of my body and mind,
There is no poetry left in me.
And how you must have prospered
Secure in your station,
A professor's wife.
You always made the right decisions,
To me you were always wrong.
Yet then I had nothing to offer
But the electric gleam of magic,
You were a staid soul.
I explode people's minds, like yours.
Just remember it was all done for you,
I want you to live forever.
We are linked 'til the end of time.
No more orgasms, No more Poetry Readings,
The retreat from poetry commences.
I have no dreams. I have no imagination.
I sit in Ralph Wilkinson's Alehouse at Twentytwo,
Coniscliffe Road, Darlington
And drink my pint of Old Raby from Ralph's Village Brewery
At Aldbrough St John, Richmondshire, brewed by Hambleton for him.
I was born a mile from here, in Eastbourne Road,
As was Ralph Hodgson, the Georgian poet, in Garden Street.
I have had enough of poetry.
My books don't sell and seldom get reviews.
I have written what I wanted to,
There is no point in continuing.
The words don't come the way they used to,
Not vintage Clark say the poetry editors,
I cannot compete with my younger self.
I will now be a little local poet
Writing rhymes about my friends,
The glory days are over.
Back to Bath and enjoy life.
`Yes', the undertaker says, `I don't need a tape';
`I can measure them standing up or lying down'.
He looks me in the eye then reels off a set of figures.
I am bemused.
Nobody dresses better than the undertaker.
I had just told Charles I preferred a country churchyard.
`Gray's Elegy', he said,
`I've dug up dead cats,
`The worms! Horrible.
`They're going to burn me'.
Andy, the little Welshman with the pretty wife,
Died yesterday. Daft on rugby and golf.
And Dave found his father Brian dead this morning.
The wake has continued all day. Practising.
We are a shrinking band.
One day we won't be here anymore.
There will be an empty space, silence.
That is why I put myself into my poems,
I want to survive.
Death wasn't made for me.
My life is a success because it is a total failure.
My mother would have been delighted.
I couldn't hold a job but I finished up with a fat pension.
I couldn't find a wife but it made me the best since Donne.
My poetry books don't sell. I am an idiot for publishing them.
But the work is done. And I have money in my pocket for the pub.
I resolve to study gardening. I must put my time to effect.
Now I will go and buy me a beer.
When I write I am all the poets in history.
We have to suffer, be in love with love,
So that when we have words in us we can write it down.
Why do you write? Because it is what I do,
I come from silence and I go to silence. A Dichter.
The poem hasn't started yet but it will always be about myself,
Nothing exists that I don't know about.
A flash in the pan that has lasted thirty years,
The lines jumping into my head.
Always in the background the grand old house and the brilliant eyes,
I base my world on reality.
We need greatness, not a penny-pinch less,
We little people that populate the Earth.
My books of poems are for the delight and study of archangels.
Other people move on
But I am always here.
Reading newsgroups, listening to Dylan,
Talking in the pub.
I don't understand where they go,
My one-time friends.
My long-time friends I bury dead
Because I still have years to travel,
I am young.
Retirement means too much time
To do too little.
I word-process `Tam O' Shanter',
Transcribe a Newsletter for the Web,
But basically I dream.
Of girls in the morning-years,
Of what might have been,
But I know I am happiest by myself.
As I have always been.
The brilliant dreamer has found his home.
Obituary: Joseph Brodsky
I turned the page,
Saw your name at its head,
And let out a gasp of grief.
W.L.Webb had documented your life
in masterly `Guardian' broadsheet space.
I was dubious about you in the English language
But in Russian poetry you were Mandelstam's heir;
Born a God, as you told the Soviet judge.
Winner of the Nobel, Auden's favoured,
Writer of those marvellous Essays,
Son of `Peter', a true Russian;
In English I saw few classic poems from you;
Your genius must be untranslatable,
As of The Four.
These days we live to eighty,
But you pegged out at fiftyfive,
A victim of the camps.
Was the work complete?
Are you contained forever in your poems?
I hope so.
Some are born with a spark that never dies
Which they must put into words.
You knew you were such.
I believe your life was sacred, complete;
A lifetime is a lifetime, however short.
1. The Oxus, 1 January 1256
Hulagu, grandson to Chingis,
brother to Mongke Khan, the Lord of All the World,
Two years to collect the army at Samarkand
For the campaign.
Whilst Mongke, at Karakorum,
Prepares simultaneously against the Sung.
Hulagu, `as far as the borders of Egypt',
The year breaks and the horsemen ride,
Europe so unimportant,
The fabulous world of Islam exposed,
The most beautiful civilisation extant.
My father died 20th February 1983
Of a heart attack.
It ripped my soul as I realised
I was the only one who understood his miserable life,
And how he had left nothing behind
To demonstrate his existence.
One day that summer I went mad,
One of the most marvellous experiences of my life,
Susan's voice and the mandalas,
The men in their blue jeans and the women in pink dresses,
The underlying pattern to the world.
That day cannot be described because of the horror.
Later, in hospital, diagnosed with incurable blood disease,
My time was short.
But the moment I was well the design and writing
Of my first book `Troubador', a cathedral to Susan.
And the setting-up of The Benjamin Press.
I was going to live forever.
Hulagu, the Buddhist, had the Christian
Ked-Buqa as commander.
The Mongol leadership was heavily Christian.
The great campaign against Islam commences.
The skills learnt at the feet of Chingis and Subotei
Were to be realised.
Sultans, emirs, atabaks pay homage,
From as far apart as Asia Minor and Herat.
2. The Assassins
First the Elburz.
Through Balkh and Gerdkuh in Khurasan.
The Chinese engineers besiege the fortress of Alamut.
The Grand Master of the Assassins,
Rukh ad-Din, negotiates.
Imprisoned, and two hundred castles fall,
The garrisons executed.
Rukh ad-Din paraded before the walls
To encourage surrender.
Gibbon rejoiced at the destruction of the Assassins:
`a service to mankind.'
`the world has been cleansed', commented Juvaini.
The Assassins expunged from Persia.
For my mother's 80th birthday, 8th July 1988, `Horsemen'.
I designed the book in my head on the beach at Crete,
with many `Cat Poems' still to write,
My present to her, with love.
My mother with her lack of adult emotion,
Who constructed a wealthy material world around me
`Horsemen', fantasies to avoid the absence of Susan,
`The Mong', written in the summer of '72 for Fiona.
3. Baghdad, 13 February 1358
Georgian Christians, Baiju's petty warlords,
The touman ride on Baghdad.
Caliph Mustasim's minister Ibn al-Alkami assures
`The danger is not great'.
The Sunni world would have mustered from as far as Morocco
To defend Baghdad, jewel of Islam.
al-Alkami, an isolate Shia, ignores them.
The sack of Baghdad begins.
Vast libraries of Persian and Arabic literature,
The greatest university in the world,
Palaces, palaces, palaces.
Burnt and the men killed.
Women and children herded to Karakorum as slaves,
With all the treasure of the Abbasids.
The Caliph and his family invited to a banquet by Hulagu.
Afterwards sewn in the customary Mongol carpet,
Trampled to death by the hooves of Mongol horses.
Treacherous al-Alkami keeps his position.
The dynasty of the Abbasids ends after 500 years.
In 1988, after `Horsemen', my blood disease acted up,
And wasn't diagnosed by my Australian GP.
My walking became erratic.
Something was wrong in my head, my arm, my balance.
I had a stroke.
Double vision, paralysis, not in one piece anymore,
Treated, the desperate race against time in full flood.
I set out my life in the poems of `Coatham'.
Written in one continuous surge,
As Patricia recovered from her operation.
The story of the great house from which I came.
I thought that would be the end of me.
4. Aleppo, 20 January 1260
East of the Tigris, taken. Now Syria.
Kamil Muhammad of Mayyafarakin treacherous.
Slice off pieces of his flesh
And stuff it down his living throat.
The Prince of Mosul places gold earings on Hulagu's lobes.
A private joke that he will take the upstart by his ears.
al-Nasir, Sultan of Syria, is `doomed to fall'.
Surrender and be executed.
The Sultan turns to his enemy Cairo. The Mamluks ignore him.
Hulagu over the Tigris,
Harran, Nasibin, Edessa.
A pontoon bridge over the Euphrates at Manbij.
A staggering 300,000 men.
Turan Shah defends Aleppo, and surrendering
Is spared. A rare event. A brave old man.
The men killed. Women and children to Karakorum as slaves.
Damascus surrenders to Ked-Buqa.
A unique Christian alliance
Ked-Buqa, King Hayton of Armenia, Count Bohemund of Antioch,
A celebratory Mass held in a converted mosque.
Through Samaria south to Gaza. captured. killed.
To the Mamluks of Egypt:
`At present you are the only enemy against
whom we have to ride.'
`Disbanded', the extra book, the history of Susan.
The dreadful race to finish it through 1990
The blood clots looking over my shoulder.
The relief at completion and the rush to publish
After my mother's death. Dying cursing me.
The joy in the final poems. Exultant.
The lifetime's crown achieved.
Now nothing would ever matter again.
5. Ayn Jalut, 3 September 1260
From crusader castles Krak des Chevaliers to Acre
The argument rages.
Throw in your lot with the Mongols or be impartial.
Anno von Sangherhausen, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights,
Berke Khan sends Burundai to destroy Poland and they think again.
Mongke Khan's death saves Islam, as Ogedei's saved Europe.
Hulagu withdraws from Syria to Maragheh.
But Ked-Buqa left in Damascus.
Crusader lords Julian of Sidon and John of Beirut
Raid the Mongols.
Ked-Buqa sacks Sidon. Destroy's John's Templars.
The Mamluks ponder Hulagu's demand for surrender
And learn that the Mongols are weakened.
Qutuz, Mamluk commander, is fired to serve Islam and civilisation.
Sends emissaries to the crusaders asking for alliance.
The crusaders do not impede Qutuz' ride north
Through Gaza to Acre.
Ked-Buqa, with two touman out of Damascus, crosses the Jordan.
At Ayn Jalut, Goliath's spring, where David triumphed
The Mamluks out-general the Mongols.
Ked-Buqa's head on a staff to Cairo.
The Mongol myth broken,
Fallible as any other army.
But Hulagu will never return.
I am made redundant and publish `Dysholm',
The postscript to the four books of the Trilogy,
`Disbanded' being the coda.
Listed in the TLS but never reviewed.
Then the writing of `Skiathos' and the
Assembling of the `Selected Poems'.
The life-work complete.
The drugs for my `thick blood' seem to be working.
The biochemists are on my side.
Debility vanishes as I have pills for my hiatus hernia.
Schizophrenia is far away because of the injections.
There I saw farther into life than any man alive.
I am enjoying my lovely time.
I might even grow old.
Hulagu: `You have heard how we have conquered a vast empire and have
purified the earth of disorders which tainted it. It is for you to fly
and us to pursue, and whither will you fly, and by what road will you
escape us? Our horses are swift, our arrows sharp, our swords like
thunderbolts, our hearts as hard as the mountains, our soldiers as
numerous as the sand. Fortresses will not detain us, nor arms stop
us: your prayers to heaven will not avail against us.'
In the early morning hour
The ambulance comes to my door as summoned,
The paramedics in their green uniforms lead me to it,
Strap me in and start monitoring my heart ---
Which is sound --- the pain is something else.
`Hunt for the bloodclot', I say to myself and to them.
`There must be a bloodclot; there always is'.
Wired up in Casualty my heart blips away.
The exhaustive search through my medical history.
Then enlightenment from the pretty Spanish SHO:
`It's your hiatus hernia' --- everybody collapses into laughter.
I have been caught out. The chest pains and the spasms
Were all so trivial. I wait a couple of hours in the hospital
Then take a taxi home.
That afternoon, still shaken, I am back drinking beer in the pub.
I drive past the brand-new sign to the village
And think of you twenty years ago
Lying in your bed
Listening to the thunder
Rumbling up Limpley Stoke valley.
You were always there to see me next morning
That the shapes in the night
Would not be tempting you again
And leading you to disaster.
Those nights green lightning under the moon
Shone in at my window
And I would lie awake thinking of you
Knowing your awareness
A presence in the dawn.
These nights I see your eyes
Sparkling and brilliant
Enchanted forever by a dream,
The two of us,
Closer than the closest skin.
I have my silence,
I sit and remember in it,
Read poetry, think.
There is only me here.
There is history, civilisation,
The cultivation of Pierian roses,
The mob baying in the streets.
There is only me here.
I must re-read my library of thirty years,
See if I have been right or wrong,
A Dutch girl with a Scots bladder could tell me.
There is only me here.
And off to the pub to talk life,
That meaningless stream
Where God plays dice.
There is only me here. And love.
I talked to a man
Who had talked to a man
Who had talked to Tennyson.
It was at Fred Beake's evening class
On the poetry of Thomas Hardy.
The man I talked with was 86.
He remembered how boyish
The sad female households were
After the Great War.
And he met a man
Who as a boy
Walked on the Down at Freshwater
Where Tennyson took his morning stroll.
`Good morning' the boy said to Tennyson.
`Good morning' said Lord Tennyson,
For he was a kindly soul.
I have walked that Down,
Now Tennyson Down on the Isle of Wight,
From where they looked out for the Armada.
A giant Celtic cross at its head as Tennyson's memorial.
The walk on the close-cut grass goes on forever,
As Mary will remember.
After my first nervous breakdown
In the summer of '65
Driving back from the psychiatrist
My father said to me
`You'll never be the same again ---
I never was'.
That year I lost my Finals,
The next year I got a Second.
But my thoughts always went back
To that session with the psychiatrist
When he asked me
`Is there anything you want to talk about?'
I thought about my parents and was silent.
My father was his colleague.
My father was the brilliant boy from the lowly background
Pushed on by his arid mother
To win all the scholarships,
A classics degree, a medical degree,
The world was his oyster.
But he couldn't live with the smooth confidence
Of the English middle classes
And collapsed into a vegetable hunched over the TV set.
The only praise I ever got from him was after an exam result
`He's better than I ever was'.
He never received the medical treatment that saved me.
`When did the day-dreaming start?' asked Dr Iqbal.
`When I was thirteen or fourteen' I answered.
I had been picked up in Casualty
And deposited in the Professorial Unit.
This was the summer of '68.
For eleven weeks I sweated in mental agony
As the first affection I had received in my life
And the drugs took their work.
My parents visited and tried to convince themselves
That it wasn't their fault.
`What did you expect?' asked Iqbal.
`Buckets of blood' I answered.
We were talking about the ache in my heart.
No psychiatrist in the hospital dared probe
The depth of my wounds.
I emerged into the sunlight that November
Determined to change my life.
No more actuarial. No more exams.
Only the poetry and time to write it.
But it wasn't until after Susan
That the words broke through
And I became myself.
Nowadays I live in my words.
I am a fighter.
I go down fighting.
I don't know how Susan
Can look at her own face in the mirror.
`Take your hand away from there'
Said my mother.
I was feeling the pulse in my neck
To check that my heart was still beating.
I used to rabbit across the bedroom floor
Gasping that I wasn't there anymore.
My mother would run out of the room
When I had my attacks.
At that time I was constructing
The delicate mosaic of `Roncesvalles'.
Little poem after little poem
combined to tell the story of Fiona.
But the pressure was too much for me to hold onto my job.
I had to arrange to leave next year for Bath.
Then that summer with the drugs inside me
I wrote `The Mong' in salute to Fief.
The destruction of our world.
Onwards to meet Susan.
My mother said
`No matter how old you get you never change inside'.
I haven't seen Susan in twenty years.
Joe asks me for a poem of Agincourt,
The slaughter of the moneyless French prisoners,
The thousand Welsh archers, whose arrows darkened skies,
Firing faster than the eye could see.
I think of Branagh's triumphal desolate march through the mud
To the funereal sound of the music's song.
I think of Olivier's Crispian day.
I think of Shakespeare.
There was no nation then.
Just the Plantagenet hawks swooping on France.
Great families squabbling over trinkets, tennis balls.
England was invented in Falstaff,
The Bard created the modern mind.
I think of Stirling Bridge and the Declaration of Arbroath,
Wallace and Murray.
Nations are very new in the world. Eh, Marianne?
Always before that there was the individual virtu.
Coxcomb Pistol not the social conscience.
The tears are for the dead French knights at Agincourt.
So gallant. So arrogant. Galloping to doom.
And Branagh walks away from it all through Flanders mud,
Oh Shakespeare I wish you could have written that.
The European camaraderie triumphing over the isolate individual.
Nasty woman that Jane Austen.
She didn't like Bath
And Bath didn't like her.
She said that it rained every day
For the five years that she lived here.
She was a dumpy little thing,
Nobody would dance with her
When she went to the Pump Room
Or the Assembly Rooms.
She hated Bath.
They arrested her aunt for shoplifting.
And what she did to those poor girls
In her books. Cruel cruel woman.
Nobody liked her.
Nasty woman that Jane Austen.
Everybody in Bath knows she was lesbian.
Douglas Clark /Poems96/
Benjamin Press, 69 Hillcrest Drive, Bath BA2 1HD, UK/