Harold J Wilson
 

 

Carmen de la Vida

 

I put my songs to rest sometimes,
La Guitarra sleeps along the sand,
One cannot always court the rhymes
The muse holds hidden in her hand.

Nor can I always court the flow
Of life that still may beckon me
To a force that stems above, below,
From the mountains, from the sea.

Life must take its pathway sure,
Though we like infants left behind,
Cry in hunger or in anger
Till sleep slake the restless mind.

Sure life must take its way with us,
I am both child to you and father,
Most perhaps when you come close,
Woman and child and mother.

And we have to take life up,
Offer it up then to the light,
Whether we have the gift of help
Or sing by ourselves in the night.

Be easy, love, then, oh be well,
You are the most of all I own,
And you I may own least of all.
Life is a song and yet a stone.

So I awaken the guitar and play
Of what we may still bring to birth
From the night and from the day
Of all our echo in the earth.

 

 

Moondog Memories

I shot  an arrow in the sky;
Where it fell I could not well descry,
But Eros aimed it for me, standing by.
Ash met me at the train and drove us on
To her farmhouse in the country.
Her driving was the worst that I have known,
Two fingers clutching at the wheel,
Two others at a water bottle,
A cell phone in her right hand.
The road we drove was empty full ahead
Otherwise we would both be dead.
.
Whoever Ash was talking to
I had no idea, but she stopped at a 7/11
And the phone was handed me.
“Hi,”said I, feigning some kind of
Familiar acquaintance.
“Hello there,” a voice
Replied out of nowhere,
“You know, it would be
So lovely to see you again.”
When Ash returned we then
Continued on our way.

Came Wednesday and Cynthia the Huntress
Arrived from Philly for the night.
Toughest woman that I ever knew,
Once she punched a Catholic Nun out
Right in front of her class which led
To a rapid exit from her high school.
Cynthia the moon goddess with
Sicilianesque proportions;
Round face, full lips, full breasts,
Round Hips. That  was her voice
On the other end of the line.

So I was the ultimate quarry
For all that telephonic game
And I found out fast that when
Artemis takes you hunting,
You need to carry a long spear.
But, like the moon, her womanhood
Was just too round and full
For one man’s imagination.
To quite take the measure of.
Next time I fire an arrow in the air,
Please Eros, don’t let it fall so near.

 

Night Noises

I wake to the tune of an old man walking
Back and forth and up and down
As if across some upstairs floor.
His pace is steady, slow, then halting
As if he turned to look below
At all the gardens as they lie
On either side of our bungalow.

I become aware then of the clock
And its small whining whir as each
Nervous hand pursues its brother
Down one side and up the other,
And then beyond, the electric purr
Of the buzzing blood stream, never far
From my waking or my sleeping ear.

On the nocturnal passage to my
Garden study, in the bright sky
Orion wheels from west to east
As the stars dance through their nightly
Polar figures and the winter
Weather stirs from the Atlantic.
Today is the shortest day of the year.

Each petal and branch is glinting white
Where the frost has painted them.
Only a few spare shafts of sun
Will penetrate dawn’s frozen mist;
They seek my breath, chill sky and sea,
My pulse a ticking clock of blood
That paces while it wakens me.

 

 

Tides of Marriage

You lose me at night in the coughing dark
Or in your morning coffee ritual,
In the building workday or the stark
Failure to recognize my footfall.

Then you complain that I have lost you,
Do not comprehend your life, its cost
Of mother, sister, approval of those who
Have passed beyond your need, almost.

I take on board this old complaint,
Then lose it all, become abusive,
The prophesied one come but to disappoint.
Then suddenly I slope off, elusive,
To the pub where I sit still, alone,
To reawake our mutual fascination.

 

Twenty-four Years Remind Me

That it’s always different, loving you,
Despite the scripted trawl through
The erogenous tropes, slopes,
The fighting, the cradling, and
Bringing of new life to birth
In your kitchen, in your mind,
Believe, or do you not, still
It’s always different, not
The same as all the last times.

Believe me or go on, don’t.
But the page is still renewed and who
Knows what you will
Write on it or never. Well,
Whatever you will or no,
At the end of the day
You welcome me back to
That same hearth where my tides
Anchored me long ago.

 

The Creche

It is always a second coming, even somehow
Amid our squalid waste of riches, neon hung,
Saturnalian in its elder season. Now again,
The ancient tunes are all unpacked and sung
As choirs of pretty choristers make mowe
To surging mobs of shoppers. Even so,
Amidst some hidden byre, a child from heaven
Draws his first breath, a promise given tongue.

There needs no pilgrim king nor priestly wight,
To bear him riches that he cannot spend,
Nor any choir besides wind in the croft.
Though the shepherds are all down the pub tonight,
He will turn out to be our shepherd in the end,
And reach beyond us all, afar, aloft.

 

The Remembered

One eve I saw Hurqalya’s gleaming sight
Unveiled in a shining morning, perhaps still
Distant, but somehow not too far
For me to view green towers crystalline
Refract a thousand thousand shards of light.

Knowing the risk, I tried to look away,
But the power of it overruled and drew
My gaze until, only one moment more,
The vision paled and faded, and anew,
I awoke into the ruins of the day.

It is still out there, the shining vision,
Within its distance. Though we have gone blind,
Home is still centered for us in its prism,
And the way is lost, but it is there to find.

 

Lesvos

Where burning Sappho hid from the midday sun,
And like the faint sweet shudder of the tides
In the loins of the eastern Aegean,
After the centuries, her muse still hides.

Her life is lost to history and the pages
Of learned books, but the fragments that remain
Still kindle flame, and some lost passion rages
Out of the ashes of her joy and pain.

We know that she became a teacher, one
Who turned her hand to what would inculcate
A desire in girls to compass what she’d done,
Tend to more than hearth fires, and the young.

Who knows how out of silence she was sung
Until at length her heart and tongue grew great.

 

 

Easter 2084

It’s so nice to be here for the end of England,
The faithful are surging round Trafalgar Square,
Excuse me, Imam Ali Place. Hussein Strand
Leads up to Abu Bakr Mosque
Where the muezzin utters its commanding sound.

Ah Christopher Wren, if you could only be here
To see true worship in your old cathedral.
Christians are allowed the right of prayer
In one side chapel so long as they praise Allah
And  Mohammad. Jews are also welcome there.

Well, you cannot expect the rights so long denied us
When you ruled over us out in the colonies.
Rights as you must know are for the ‘Righteous’
And the Faithful are the ones we know as ‘we’.

 

Willie

Willie, you were our friend, old wondrous fellow,
A drover dog with hair down in your eyes,
And you drove my little boys with bark and bellow,
As you bashed into them to their joyful cries.

It’s long years now that you are gone before us,
Old Sheepies die at about the age thirteen,
But we will not forget you and our chorus
Of barks and bellows will still live between.

You couldn’t walk much as you got there, son.
And smelt like an old rug, I have to say.
I carried you outside for each excretion,
Until it was just a question of the day.

As we drove to the vet’s place, pal, I wept so bad;
And you grieved too, but about how I was sad.

 

Lahori Princess

Bibi Godiva, we gave you that description,
You were part Afghan, a Cocker, auburn hair,
Beautiful nose, a winning disposition,
And when the cameras clicked, girl, you were there.

Nighttimes, you used to leap up on the bedclothes,
Then settle down to a carpet somewhere nigh.
Mornings you would snuggle up to us close;
We took you to our hearts and kept you by.

Problem was that we weren’t there for long.
And didn’t see how we could somehow send
Or bring you to our country. It went wrong.
I left, and you cried at night until the end.

Then forgot me as your humanness left too,
And you didn’t know us when we next met you.

 

Where Are the Days

Where are the days that burned so bright
Where is the fever that took the fire,
Where is the melody caught in flight,
Alive in the dream of our heart’s desire.

I remember the riverbanks we strayed
And the battlefield that was made a park,
And the simple feast that was served and laid
Where we lay in the shade of the trees till dark.

I wrote your face into every song
And sang them each as the days slipped by
Until our time had both come and gone
Like a tune that lingers into a sigh.

Where are the days that burned so bright,
Where is the tinder that took the flame,
Where is the melody caught in flight?
Could we but kindle it all again.

The riverbanks are still full of sun
And of lovers under the shading trees.
Where we once wandered, now they, so young,
Believe that they are the same as we.

But remember the song and remember the time,
You were once lovely and we were gay,
I praised your beauty in every rhyme,
And what we were cannot fade away.

But where are the days that burned so bright,
Where is the fever that took the fire,
Where is the melody caught in flight?
Alive in the dream of our hearts’ desire.

 

 

Jesus Elder Brother

Jesus, elder brother, what do you see in the sun ,
Why do you always go apart to pray?
What are the voices calling you up this road we run,
Why can’t we understand the things you say ?
Teach us to know the father as you do.

Jesus, elder brother, we’ve gone and followed you,
Left our families and come away;
Since we’ve left our nets and boats and come and followed you,
We don’t know what to think or what to say.
Teach us, master, how we need to pray.

Jerusalem is a lonely house with strangers on the stairs,
A place where neighbours never come to call,
A forest full of peering eyes
And each one unawares
How lost our voices sound amongst them all.

Lord of the life of cities, whose blood runs in our veins,
Walk with us and teach us how to be
Hands to hold another hand and eyes to share their pain,
And feet to walk the way from Galilee
The long hot road that leads from Galilee.

Jesus, elder brother, what do you see in the sky,
At the end of this the journey gone with you,
Where three crosses spread their wings, and hold
Three hours for you to die,
Three days for us to wait and pray and flee.
Three days for us to see and not to see?

 

 

Sonnets from Symi

I

Their lives so marked by buried pain,
Brave faces of my uncles, aunt,
Parents who taught me over again
The route through manhood, need and want.

Their generations vanish down
A pathway marked by photographs,
Old voice recordings, goings on,
Remembered echoes of a laugh.

They saw us through two major wars,
Outlived the Great Depression too,
And they were well-taught by their years
To lend us some of what they knew.

When we have followed on our way,
What will we leave for those who stay?

 

II

Would I could give the gift of tears
To those whose generations crowd
So close upon my own slow years,
Good friends who cannot weep aloud.

There stems within us all who feel
A need to grieve the bitter days
We each inherited, to heal
What grows within us that betrays

All that is worthy and that shows
The best we had and from us stood
Up into marriage and bestowed
The gift of father-motherhood.

Those turning seasons, at their fall
We need salt tears to season all.

 

Auto Issues

Well you say you’ve had your license
From way back in early years,
And you’ve never had it lifted
And you’ve never ground your gears

But you were drivin’automatic and
Each year some hundred mile,
So when you’re braggin’ that your drivin’
Is just as good as mine is, smile.

When you’re braggin’ that your drivin’
Is just as good as mine can be,
Sweetheart, won’t you smile a little,
Just for sweet humility?

Because I’ve driven many thousands
To each hundred that you’ve done,
Across Europe and America
For sixty circles of the sun;

I’ve driven hills and backroads –
That’s where I learned to drive,
And I’ve battled New York traffic
And somehow still survived.

I’ve driven all America,
Six days from shore to shore
More times than I recall now
And I can drive them more.

I drove gears and automatic, love,
Long routes from sea to sea.
They aren’t just miles but years, love,
Just be easy then, let be.

 

At Our Edges

Sometimes there gather round us
At the hour of the wolf,
Those twilight spectral figures
Of the frightened childer-elf
Who wandered out of life before
Its spirit was made self.

And they rest in our slow breathing
As we share the quiet dark,
And we scarcely hear their grieving
As they tell us of their stark
Physicality and hunger
Which can never find enough.

And they call us to come playing
In their hungry shadow-game
Where they are beyond praying
And have no way to gain
Any sense that life is given
As a debt we have for paying.

 

A Long Day

My father’s life, a long goodbye,
I punctuated with arrivals,
Departures to some school away,
And sometime summers in the hills.

He took his lifetime to be gone,
And even so is with me still.
His face counts back to me each morn
Across the mirrored razor’s till.

I miss him more than I can say,
And missed him much while in his mind
He could not wake up to the brain
His blood had failed; but yet, some way,
Could reach back somewhere still to find
Stories that lived beyond his pain.

 

Stand

We all go into the dark alone;
Rise up and take it like a man,
Stand up out of your grave again.

No one to hear me make my moan;
Stand up and spit out all the phlegm,
Try to draw a clear breath again.

My name will soon be written on stone,
A couple of dates and a name and then …
We all go into the dark alone.

The nurses are laughing down at the bend,
Idling the time they have to spend,
Waiting to go home with a friend.

Yeats carved his tombstone’s grave goodbye
For endless tourists to descry,
There are no horsemen to pass him by.

So suck it up and spit, and then
Pay what little you have, my man,
Stand up and take it to the end.

 

Solitude

Solitude is like a hidden garden,
Somehow a little frightening for those
Who have only come to it quite late .
They do not notice the hummingbirds and
The honey lies uneaten on their plate.

There are harvests ripe for every season
In this panoply of riches now and hereafter
With a music for the eye as for the ear,
But there is no feast for those whose nervous laughter
Shows that they hold their loneliness too dear.

The seasons change us so, past all accounting,
Yet for me who rooted here much earlier,
Somehow I find the beauty in it mounting,
Past those horizons that my flesh may fear.

 

Dream Logics

So I’m locked outside of Philly
In some west suburban tract,
All the buses have gone missing and
I’m well lost, that’s a fact.
But there’s always hope and traffic
And I’m hitching every way,
Maybe I’ll hit a streak of luck
And make it back today.

In the alternative scenario,
I’m in South Philly again,
All those little streets and alleys
That I used to know back when
But I never somehow make it out,
Though I know what I should know,
I’m wanted in West Philly
But I have no way to go.

Some portion in a flat there
I must hang on to still
Along with nameless strangers
For whatever good or ill.
Hey, did you ever meet me
Back in those those years ago?
I’m sending all my signals out
To anyone I might know.

And I need to get back somehow
To West Philly before night.
Nobody’s waiting for me
But my place is there alright;
A room or two is ready in
Some house that knows my name,
The simple name I’m waiting for
That owns no praise or blame.

But I’m lost outside of Philly
And it’s getting on towards late.
I can’t find transportation
And I tell you now dead straight,
Nobody’s waiting for me,
All the ones I know are gone.
And I think I may have missed it, just,
The last bus headed home.

 

Unknowing Britannia

We are only a second country now
For those who never had a home and
Those who perhaps sought none,
Muslim, oriental, black,
The young bred of our blood and bone.

Like a new planetary colony or
A satellite station offering
The pure richness of space without
Limit, at the dices’ throw
Of education and employment,

They come from everywhere and lo,
Unpack the bedroll of their years,
While we who lived the past of our great sky
Now hold it as the land of time-gone-by.

 

Slugs/Bud

I got thirteen canary-coloured yellow plastic
Shot glasses from a Schweppes g-ale
Promo sitting here behind my back
From the Co-op; no, not on sale,

I paid a full .49 for each of these little
Beauties plus the g-ale, and I have
No regrets about it and reasons still,
Come Spring and Summer, why they’re saved.

Slugs every night crawl out and eat
All the green foliage of our garden,
But these yellow vessels in the ground,
Brimmed with Budweiser will defeat
Their vegetal appetites and then,
The morn behold, all slugs be drowned!

 

Magisterial

You are never risible, my dear,
Angry, I’ve not seen you much,
And your second Counselling career
Seems to serve a caring touch.

But Athena or Minerva, you,
Absit the Greek or Etruscan verve,
Long thoughtful touring walks will do
Nicely to track your lack of swerve.

And caring ? Yes, I do believe,
Colleagues and wives of dips may owe
You more than they can say or share
To one, who before her final leave,
Assured them of some mental care.
But once, I would glimpse you all aglow.

 

 

Notes on the Poems

Carmen is a birthday song for Susannah, my much loved wife.

Moondog is a semi-rueful reflection on what might be called a chance meeting after many years.

Night Noise is about how Blood Pressure wakes you and about aging and living in England.

Tides is a sort of description of marital exchanges and how they go back and forth and then return in a kind of gravitational magnetism

Creche is an ironic reference to the hidden Christ of the public ‘Christmas Season’ as well as to the inward journey and epiphany which the prevailing consumer carnival conceals from us.

Hurqalya is the visionary city of Ibn Arabi, the Sufi mystic. It may well be ‘The City of God’ but it is certainly an adjacent municipality if not the same place. I saw it in a dream before I ever heard of its name. It is our imaginal home.

Lesvos commemorates ten days which I spent there some years ago as well as my own response to the potent poetic fragments of Sappho.

Easter is just a small satiric reflection on the present Jamaati Muslim crusade for cultural hegemony in Europe.
Sonnets on former pets. I dislike the word ‘pet’ and in some ways heartily disbelieve in the whole institution of keeping animals as emotional surrogate-humans. However, these dog-persons were very real people to me.

Where Are the Days is a plain old imitation of an ‘Ou Sont les Neiges’ sort of ballad. It is somewhat of a tour de force but I set a decent guitar tune to it.
Jesus Elder Brother I have worked on over the years. I think this is the final product.

The Symi Sonnets were written on that little island off the SW coast of Turkey and concern my notion that the celebration and grieving of life are both very necessary parts of the same ball of wax. This you learn from your people if you are fortunate.

The Driving poem is just a little C&W light relief concerning an ongoing difference between Susie and me about preferred styles of driving and who can speak with authority on this subject. We go round and round. But we drive together.

Edges refers to those incomplete souls whose lives - and deaths - did not enable them enough to go on ‘to the light’ as it were. Father Martin Israel wrote about these souls.

Accounting is somewhat on the same theme. My father was a fine priest, and though cut down by galloping diabetes at the age of forty-one he lived on, in a rather abbreviated way, until he was seventy-six. As limited as he was by depression and, finally, dementia, his stories reached beyond all that, and sometimes he would actually resurrect as his old expansive self for perhaps half an hour.

Stand is a poem about ‘tough love,’ for yourself, for your own life. Yeats’ epitaph reads, “Cast a cold eye on life, on Death/ Horseman, pass by.” An endless series of tour buses pause and pass at his grave in the Irish summer season, but no horsemen .

Solitude talks about the joys of aloneness. The men in my family tend to be ‘gregarious solitaries.’ So be it. But it doesn’t exclude having and loving families. Not everyone may understand this. But we just have to live it.

Dream Logics concerns the varied but highly repetitive dreams I have about getting back or ‘home’ to West Philly. I lived a number of years there but have never consciously desired to revisit the area. In my opinion, I have already served my time there but …maybe there’s something in those years which I have to revisit. One dream was rather doom-laden. Who can say.

Tides has to do with the alternating moods, tones, and shifts of feeling in even a very solid and loving marriage.  Twentyfour Years is an anniversary poem for my wife, Susannah who has created such a lovely home for us here in Oxford.

Britannia is a poem about the changing populations of this migrant world. It could have been written about America. Slugs is my concession to the English preoccupation with gardens, while Magisterial is a sort of homage to a friend of some years who is a retired Foreign Office person and a lovely caring woman.