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World Poetry Portfolio #69

peterdanielsWorld Poetry Portfolio, edited by Sudeep Sen in association with ATLAS Magazine

Peter Daniels published his first full collection Counting Eggs with Mulfran Press in 2012, following pamphlets including Mr Luczinski Makes a Move (HappenStance, 2011) and three with Smith Doorstop, twice as a winner of the Poetry Business competition. He has won first prize in a number of other competitions including the Ledbury (2002), Arvon (2008) and TLS (2010). During a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2009 he began translations of Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939) from Russian, published as a book from Angel Classics in September 2013. Recently he has participated in the Modern Poets on Viking Poetry project based at Cambridge University, collaborated with the artist Lulu Allison, and published a pamphlet of his historically accurate not-safe-for-work  “Ballad of Captain Rigby,” illustrated by Peter Forster. He works as a freelance editor, and has MAs in Modern Literatures in English (Birkbeck, London) and in Creative Writing (Sheffield Hallam).

 

 

Rain-Coloured

It took me the whole weekend. The sky

so rain-coloured, the low-level dripping cloud.

Late in autumn and the fields were bare,

but the long paths between them clogged

with old undergrowth. From drizzle to shower

the air was tranquil and cool in the mouth.

 

The ground was still firm going from the drought.

It took so long to soak in, even with the rain

keeping on at it. I grudgingly conceded

the year had now entered another phase.

Telegraph poles on the straight path I trod

held the course through the long long wet.

 

Seafront

When I take a walk, there’s a slow dream

behind my breathing and heartbeat,

kept back there by the motion of the sea.

 

Along the seafront the little old railway

could be my commuter track, it’s handy

from A to B, no thrill but a few surprises

like the wild cabbages along the line.

 

Buildings from the time of Waterloo, gallant

and bright, creamily Parthenonical, disregarding

how much their upkeep, how overworked the servants.

 

No special business, so create some. Consult

the seafront astrologer, mingle with the trippers.

 

Twirling in waltz time. Trawling for custom.

Trailing a likely suspect. Three nuns

are standing by the breakwater,

throwing stones at the waves.

 

No special reason for coming to the strip of land

tumbling into shingle against the sea.

I fall towards it. Kiss it. Throw it off.

 

Emergency

Respectable ladies are raiding the shops

for regency figurines, red shoes, red meat,

and whose respect do they need, now?

 

Up on the castle terrace it’s unclear

which way to go. Skirts full of peaches

to pelt the palace walls, or to eat in the gardens.

 

[published in Eyewear]

 

January

Something pulls us in the winter sunshine,

as if a long string kept the world reaching

though our bodies mutter, “No, this is enough.”

 

Prophets in their graves wave back at us,

the sun on their monuments, warm sandstone,

or sparkling marble: they revive our spirits.

 

Trees throw shadows hung with dead kites, but

we keep steady. After the hollow economy,

we find our coins in the dry frozen ground.

 

[published in Cake]

 

The Consolation

Thanks for your letter.  I have to admit, I’m sad you said no:

it isn’t exactly the way I’d been hoping it was to have ended.

But though your final refusal turned out a bit of a blow,

I’ve been around long enough now: so I’m not too offended.

 

As a treat, a consolation, I went out and bought for myself

an enormous painted wooden frog, from a shop near the Zoo;

and whatever place I choose for it, pedestal, table or shelf

– I’d really like you to know – it will always remind me of you.

 

[published in Horizon Review]

0

Knickerbockers

You young again, caught in a state and

knickerbockers of velvet: speech incoherent.

 

You told me: It’s the future, my new look.

I’m welcomed into the new age, its inauguration.

 

A great wave of love came over me. I saw you

in pain yet above it, unbalanced, not ungraceful.

 

The breaking away, the scope of the impossible,

opening up your life of unguarded enquiry.

 

Standing there splendid in unashamed selfhood,

and this isn’t all, you’ve worlds to incorporate.

 

A shadow remains, your smile like a scroll

on a granite sarcophagus, moss-encrusted.

 

You’re more than your name, your undivided spirit

in space, but like a kite, riding at anchor.

 

[published in Counting Eggs, Mulfran 2012]

 

The Forge

Iron smelted in the furnace, poured out

and moulded as a ploughshare: the thing

the forge dreams up, and a fresh pond to cool it.

 

In their time, they’ll be called to this place

by the true anvil bell, and take their mandate

each with aching lips touched by a burning coal.

 

They’ll come out with prophecies like blades.

The blacksmith has overhauled their wagons:

I’ll watch them lining up for the great crossing,

 

the pilgrimage – a purer traffic, a longer

trail through the distance, the mountains

glistening like crystal when they think of them.

 

Offer what they bargained for, outcomes of their toil,

their wish-lists and votive offerings, grant them

a portion of the earth’s crust to harvest,

 

but hold me off from visions and touchings,

your slivers of life, your phials of spirit.

I might yet continue along this furrow for ever.

 

[published in Counting Eggs, Mulfran 2012]

0

Found

Hop. The chalk on the loosening concrete slabs,

marked out for the throw. Skip. Round the block,

skim free on the polished granite. Jump. Turn around

on the spot, chase it, catch it up, catch it: or lose it

into the space opening between the up and the down.

 

Some days the ticket jams in the slot, some days

a train comes in, caught like a ball in your palm.

Pay your coin for the music that carried you safely

off the wooden escalator. You have a guide,

and down in the filthy tunnels a warm wind pushes you

 

somewhere inside this earth where you might have come from,

somewhere you don’t know – you’re living on its outside,

dancing attendance on spinning opportunities, counting

the balls in the air, eyes open for the found penny

– but still you can go further. Come down this way,

 

there’s a thin gap, and a sloping passage descends

into an empty tomb – unfinished, or the rich goods

carted off by the robbers, the connoisseurs, the tourists,

the knowingly undersold: a whole city’s turnover,

brought down and squared off in marble corners.

 

Turn through a long dripping hallway, sideways

into a cavern. The floors are pools, and the walls

are alive under layers of crystal and slime,

luminous worms that shine like pips on a domino.

Here, bedded down in limescale, you find the stone token.

 

Chip it out, careful not to compromise the patina.

Wrap it, and bring it secretly back up into your life,

the day job oiling and turning the numbered wheel:

working for the right combination to break the bank,

shaking down for the once, the twice, the roll over and out.

 

[published in Counting Eggs, Mulfran 2012]

 

Being English

Farmers of Heathrow, my mother’s family were Anglo-Saxon,

but for one Scottish great-grandmother to leaven the English.

 

My Jewish father, raised and schooled in Edinburgh,

left Scotland and Judaism. Did that make him English?

 

Hitler would think me Jewish enough, the Chief Rabbi

(should I ask him) wouldn’t: default position – English.

 

I grew up in suburban Birmingham, my mixed blood

mingled with the soft Welsh water stolen by the English.

 

My language was delivered to me with the bottled milk

at the doorstep and at school. My greatest gift, my English.

 

By this blessing I’m entitled to take it all for granted,

and mutter under my breath at this land of the English.

 

Forgetfully arrogant, trying not to try too hard, proudly

we take up the cringe: pardon our empire, we’re English.

 

Understatement and gentle irony, you say, have sunk us

underneath fair play and self-blame. We can be just “too English”.

 

I’m afraid so – though, while you’re saying it, the ones

who like to be disliked will be counting up who counts as English.

 

Bury me elsewhere if you must, but I can claim the earth

beneath Terminal 3: a place to welcome you in English.

 

[published in Poetry London]

 

The Experts

Spread out in the clouds like seagulls, they glide

and converge on you, they recognise your guilt.

 

Offer them your soul –  they wouldn’t care.

They slip past again, unhurried and glad.

 

Facing the sun, they swivel in one easy turn:

the moon they face is full, dead and cold.

 

They’re the ones who do things you didn’t know

how to imagine: disciplined and skilled.

 

Commuters on the escalators, working their passage.

The holy city cultivates their hearts of gold.

 

In your ridiculous clumsy habits, your needs

you can’t express, you hop from clod to clod.

 

In your aspirations you hope for their blessings.

You are touched briefly as they pass by, sky-clad.

 

[published in Counting Eggs, Mulfran 2012]

 

Faces

These friends of yours, I’m envious:

how do you know them? That brown hairy

Neptune washed by foam on his bed of sand

– are you one of his nephews?

This novelist, star thistle of the slopes of Parnassus,

do you scratch back at her barbs?

Whoever introduced you, and how did you first

invest in their conversation?

Do you even like them? What’s your advice

to a novice? When you smile

at strangers, how do you judge their invisible

facial contractions? When do they

unfasten their knives? Should you expect

an invoice? Who’s underneath it? Nefarious

virus-inventors? The government? These awards nights

and tea parties they invite you to

– what are the rules for such events? What drugs,

what infusions of gin and herbs are they likely

to offer you? What’s the flavour this month,

and will you still like it when you’re dead?

Will all our faces go on and on for ever?

 

[published in Magma]

0

The Crater

Visiting Vulcano, the ideal of a volcano,

I climbed above the line of shrubs and cactuses,

past the chunks of friable sulphur fizzing like a lab,

over the ledge of rock and ash until I saw

the inner dish of grey volcanic powder.

It pulled at me; repelled me too; I knew why.

The dish was bare and open. I stayed away,

though two attractive men went down to look,

and ENZO had written his name extremely large,

there in the dry stuff at the bottom of the crater.

 

*

 

When you feel my chest, my hollow middle,

something empty drags at me. This anti-hump,

my secret sorrow, draws your hand inside, into myself,

and then my body crowds me like a circle of mountains,

my centre sinks into a map with no way out.

Once I watched the harvest in a field both

beside the North Sea and below it: but this place

inside me feels much lower: deeper than mean sea-level,

where all the atmospheres press further down

on Death Valley, or the shore of the Dead Sea.

 

*

 

I took a pleasant photograph of the crater,

masking the vandal’s name with convenient rocks,

and ate a perfect picnic of moist almond pastry.

 

Two yellow butterflies pottered across a ravine;

the giant crows were skimming round slowly on patrol.

 

I love you. I might let you in there, sometimes.

 

[published in Wordgathering]

 

The Twins

But I should tell you how I came to know the twins,

the ones you saw at the station. They were in shorts

and their blond beards were sparkling in the sun

just as when you saw them, madam.

 

Life stylists? I think maybe garden designers, not as if

they’d have to do the same job, but dandyism

shared every minute – could they work apart

at a distance of more than a metre?

 

Too much for me, or do I mean too little, in

my singleton’s envy of this harmony of unison.

Copying without a mirror, which one’s image

follows the other’s, finds a happy medium?

 

I met them at the station, where the trains,

indistinguishable, unannounced, regularly

left or reentered either platform, for the same

other destinations, other meetings.

 

[published in Saw]

 

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