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LETTER TO A MOTH, DYING IN A LIGHT FIXTURE OUTSIDE
Weíve both made bad decisions.
And so what? Itís not the end of the world
until it is.
The way weíve yearned
looks like the jaws of a steel trap
as it takes the leg of the animal, like the animal
who gnaws through its leg to free the body
from the leg, the way blood flutters
from that leg then eats into the snow,
how the snow offers up its life as it turns
to steam, how the steam enters the night air
to touch whatever flies through it.
The beginning of time. You.
The trillion stars as they rip
through the dark to devour the dark.
But the dark is without end,
isnít it, dear Moth?
Itís warm, patient, and slings a little ďWelcomeĒ sign
above its balcony. Letís say, itís not just you:
everything flies into that flame.
Letís say a man enters a motel room and weeps
his secrets into the neck of a woman heís just met.
The light outside bangs on and off.
Have you ever entered that room?
Have you ever been that man? No.
There was no man.
Just the lantern swaying in the heat.
Just the body. Six legs and crumpled wings.
You, with no mouth to beg for what you want.
Mail transported at a specified transportation rate in containers (owned by carriers)
on airline flights scheduled to depart between 6:01 a.m. and 8:59 p.m.
ó United States Postal Service, ďGlossary of Postal TermsĒ
Do not place other types of light in the Daylight Container.
Not the blue light of the TV that glows and sighs like loneliness
into living room after living room across the country.
Not the illuminated billboards as they promise
a Jaguar and lottery tickets. Only daylight.
Not the strings of Christmas bulbs your neighbor leaves
up through July. Not the bonfires on the horizon
or the moon that puckers like a poison apple. Only daylight.
Only light that flits through clouds, circles you
and trembles like a hummingbird. Only light
from the sun gathered in preapproved mason jars,
insulated coolers, or padded envelopes.
Did you think this was elusive, holy, impossible
to contain? Maybe it is.
But if you manage capture some, you can take it
to a Daylight Container to be saved for later usage,
or sent to anyone you love. But only between
the hours of 6:01 a.m. and 8:59 p.m. Send it too early,
the light will falter forward, wheeze and totter,
collapse like a bad knee. And if you send it too lateó
then itís just too late.
Unicorn milk is unbelievable stuff; the highest of the twenty-nine angelical liquors in the enumeration of Averroes. The resolutely bovine get a spiteful buzz in the small of their backs by saying it's no better than cow's milk, and that a unicorn far from being more than a cow, is but a cow, one horn the less. Still, purists compare it with a womanís milk and to the upbeat it gives joy. And, but like most incredible things, itís hard to come by. This is how you must get it. First, go into the woods, the darker the better, though not too dark to see. Clawing wet cobwebs from your face, find a place where curdled fog-streamers are lapped in the inguinal folds of branches, and it smells of mud, fern, Spanish chestnut and honeysuckle. The thrushes and the blackbirds sing, but quietly and sadly, and slowly, and at a deeper pitch, so that it sounds not like singing at all, but moaning.
The unicorns at first will look like mist, but glowing brighter than mist. Sometimes their horn is gilded and their mane is blond. This is a trick of the light tumbling as if down a chimney through the forestís needles, webs, dusts, nests and leaves. What you have to do is to look fazed, in trouble, malfunctioning, forlorn. Tangled strands of thick hair blown across your face; some drops of blood tugged from your cheek by a bramble thorn; burrs, sedge and torn nettle-leaves caught both on your crushed-velvet skirt, which is a becoming bottle-green embroidered with wildflowers, and on your flame-coloured jerkin crudely sewn from enormous dead leaves. Something either back to front, upside-down or inside-out to your eyes. And even a fizz and soft sparks from the mussed or felted wiring, fine as hair and wrung by life from a rent in your neck. People who donít know what they are talking about say it is better to be a virgin. They are like those mushroom fanciers who spread self-interested disinformation. Because, no offence intended, soon a unicorn will come, perhaps several.
So Ė express delight, but in no more than a whimper, because however confidently they cluster round you, they are shy creatures and will soon bolt, even at the thudding of your own heart. Most unicorns have green, grey or brown eyes with vertical pupils and an alert, kindly gleam, not like a target or a cat. But what you want if possible is one with one green and one grey, one grey and one brown, or one brown and one green eye, shaded by thick white lashes. The black ones with dark green eyes are also special. So choose your unicorn, choose the very most best, and take it with you ever deeper into the forest, leading it by the kiss curl that curls down its forehead like a rill, until you find a glade where the sun glares through a sink-hole in the blackish, bluish canopy and warms and illuminates plump grass. Which, exactly like your skirt, is studded and spangled with cornflowers, bull-rushes and Indian corn, and pansies with smudged eyes, and dawn-coloured crocuses and unripe strawberries; and which looks as if lit from beneath, shining its own lime-green light (with purple patches) on the underside of the unicornís belly and the frog of your chin. But which gives with a shuddering squelch making brown water trickle around your unicornís feverish hooves, clumsy and much too big, not canted but drummed, shaded with white fetlock, and the colour of scorched amber. A hollow boom betrays, beneath the saturated grass, the existence of dry rooms filled with twigs and leaves.
Now, curry comb, hoof pick, dandy brush. Fetlock, withers, pastern, rump. There is a Dobbin or even Boxer quality to unicorns, and they will stand still, their legs planted wide and their ears swivelling pleasantly, to be groomed or, later, when you have their trust, ridden. The next bit is the tricky bit. Can you bear to kiss their hot, pink lips, not glazed like our lips, but made of marshmallow skin with stray white hairs, and flobbery. Though mild, they are simple beasts, and sometimes they will think you are giving them sugar and try to bite off your nose not out of malice but stupidity. Kiss their lips, caress their ears, suck on curly strands of mane, and even tail, out of which if you like you can fashion a living wig and a false moustache, and make them close their eyes by kissing their felted eyelids and blowing along their lashes, whilst all the time (behind your back) hiding a suede bridle inlaid with silver suns and copper crescent moons and fitted with a silver-gilt art-nouveau Pelham bit adorned with figurines of wood and water nymphs or, if you cannot afford one of those, a bridle made from binder-twine, its reins not plaited but strung, more loosely than a violin bow, with not blond but blonde hair, or black or auburn or grey. The bit must not jingle, nor must your nerves. So, go on caressing the unicornís ears, but quietly slip the bridle up its face, over the rifled, twisted, barley-sugar-scented horn, clear as a feverish icicle of Coca-Cola, and not frosted but as polished as a lolly already sucked. Rub its kiss-closed eyes and caressed yet swivelling ears.
Then use your gentle thumb and forefinger in the corners of its lips to open the mouth for the bit. It will shake its head, breathe grassy breath in your face, and pull back, and rear perhaps, but this is a formality. Last but not least, the milk. If you go on caressing your unicornís ears, it will grow languid and lie itself down in the grass, tuck its hooves with their polished copper shoes under its neat belly, and dreaming it stumbles, will twitch and brace itself in a hypnic jerk. Its breathing slows and you can slip the bridle off (you wonít need that anymore) and the unicorn, bridle-less and suddenly resembling a naked woman without her glasses, will toss its head, though without conviction. Then you can blow the conch you have hidden in your clothes, part your own legs, lifting crushed-velvet skirts in ruched swags like a safety curtain to your two hips, one on each side, as milky as unicorn pelt themselves and forming with your milky legs a kind of proscenium arch with a high escutcheon or cartouche. Then, after coating it in your living spit, just as you slick an udder with its own milk, impale yourself so, so slowly, in starts and fits. The sensation for the unicorn is the sweetest in the universe, and it will be yours to take home and keep. But be careful. The point is sharp. Unicorn horn can be really, really sharp.
Brian Waltham (1925-2002)
Four more unpublished late poems
May there in Heaven
If not, it will be
An eternity trying
To explain to the
Dry Gleaming Ones
What wetness is,
That where I came from
It was all water before
My mother screamed
And there was the
Breaking of the water,
That staring at a
Puddle in a carpark
Or one small drop
Shivering in a leaf
Was staring at
That if Heaven is
To be itself, then
Not too far from the
There must be a wood,
Untended, damp, rife
With the smell of damp,
And in it the sound
Of water falling an
Inch or two on water.
For one thing, although they move slower,
Your hands get clumsier, brush a fork off a
Table, are less than pin-point accurate in
Reaching for a cup, shave what the mirror
Says is there, but among folds and hollows,
Leave unfarmed too many holts and hangers.
And you look at these vein-proud, blotchy tools
And very quietly kiss them.
For another, although they move slower,
Your feet, by just that crucial much,
Underlap/overlap a downward stair, behead
A treasured toy, tread sideways unbidden,
Fail to miss the edge of pavement dogshit,
Donít like shoes, get cold without them.
And you look at these, your servants, and want
To bend near enough to kiss them too.
Oh come on! Letís spend more time on
Shirtbuttons and bootlaces, letís admit that
Putting on a sock is not at all easy, letís
Read what for the first time we understand
And will forget before the week is out.
Egypt, in its pride, put other heads on us
So that we could be Gods.
Lion or Hawk to get a kingdom,
Cobra to seat a throne,
Dog Anubis to guard a tomb.
Bast came late, not much before the end
Of the whole glorious all of it.
Bast, from Bubastis, mistress of love
And matters feminine.
A local Goddess, never major,
Small images, but always with
Two cat-ears that wouldnít miss
The drawing of your breath.
Goddesses canít die, but when
They buried her they gave her
Mice, mummified mice.
They thought hard about
That journey, cat here to cat there.
THE TOMB WALLS OF SETEKHY 1
They go sideways:
Princes and priests, masters slaves
Measurers scribes sleek large-eyed
Tending women, even the
Animal-headed Gods, all
Cardboard cut-outs going left
Or right to where their faces point.
Nobody looks at the dead king.
Dead of night behind the church, a gibbous moon is riding high,
Giant leeks like monstrous phalluses, assault a starry sky,
Onions glisten, fat as footballs, whiter than the breasts of houris,
Vicarís digging, digging, digging, sweating like a thousand furies.
Peapods stuffed like bookiesí wallets, beanstalks broad as Hattie Jacques,
Tender tendrils twisting, twining, groping, grasping at their stakes,
Vicarís forking dripping, dropping tons of dark, nutritious mulch
Down gigantic steaming trenches gaping like the Devilís gulch.
Beetroot rooting, parsnips titillating as the rain comes hissing,
Passionate potato tubers, grinding, gasping, gagging, kissing,
Lettuce lusts like sails a-billow, copulating radish roots,
Vicarís stamping, stumping, stomping in his massive hob-nailed boots.
Swampy stench of Sex and Violence makes the darkness fierce and feral,
Any kids who cross the heaving churchyard cross it at their peril,
Gravestones steam with vegetable couplings, but our vicarís shed
Bulges with the horrid little skulls of the untimely dead.
EDGAR ALLAN POEíS RECIPE FOR HAGGIS
Sausage in a stomach bag is what a Scotsman calls a haggis.
Haggis makes the Scotsman hairy. Haggis makes the Scotsman brave.
Follow closely my instruction, you can test it to destruction,
Home-made haggis in a bag is such a dish as heroes crave,
Such a dish is so delicious, what they wish and what they crave,
Heroes risen from the grave.
Get your butcher to deliver, of a sheep, heart, lungs and liver,
Chop them finely with an onion, oatmeal, suet, salt and spice.
Boil with water in a copper for as long as you think proper.
Stuff your stomach, boil your sausage for as long as will suffice,
Boil with turnips and potatoes for as long as will suffice.
ĎNeeps and tattiesí mashed are nice.