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the idea is not to strive

to be permeable to everything

to stand out of the shade and brave

the fullness of the sun

just as a fern conducting moisture

becomes the river

like a mother-whale on her four-thousand

mile transit

gives her body,

bones and all, to the calf

or petals thick and full like blushing faces

jaundiced by the sun

doing nothing

though remaining star-like

metaphors for beauty

forget the lilies, we say,

that’s only what the mystics know

fresh from eating locusts in the desert and speaking

with demons on some

allegorical hill

we’re harder people than that


about the sharp fructose

scent of cow-shit on the late planted

fields of barley, of wheat, and rape

if we don’t dig the lamb

from the snow

it freezes

and we must draw

water from the earth

or a child thirsts to death

forget what the ancients said

about the providence of things

this is reality; this

is the substance

living is made of

and yet,

like a film on our teeth,

there is still some residue of Rome,

and before, some glimmering

of Greece

the Iliad made, as it is,

of all its scrambled fuss

and now we cannot go a day

without working for our breath

now we are the captives of each hour

and yet

think of Patroclus, stealing the armour,

and how Achilles, capable and strong

as any in his time,

sat idly on that white Aegean shore

waiting for Thetis, his mother, to return

from the shambolic centre of the sea

bringing with her

a breastplate, a bronze-headed spear

and greaves with only half

the cover he required