part two of basil bunting’s epic poem, “briggflatts”

“It tastes good, garlic and salt in it,

with the half-sweet white wine of Orvieto

on scanty grass under great trees

where the ramparts cuddle Lucca.

It sounds right, spoken on the ridge

between marine olives and hillside

blue figs, under the breeze fresh

with pollen of Apennine sage.

It feels soft, weed thick in the cave

and the smooth wet riddance of Antonietta’s

bathing suit, mouth ajar for

submarine Amalfitan kisses.

It looks well on the page, but never

well enough. Something is lost

when wind, sun, sea upbraid

justly an unconvinced deserter.

White marble stained like a urinal

cleft in Apuan Alps,

always trickling . . .”  

 

 

 

 

II

 

Poet appointed dare not decline

to walk among the bogus, nothing to authenticate

the mission imposed, despised

by toadies, confidence men, kept boys,

shopped and jailed, cleaned out by whores,

touching acquaintance for food and tobacco.

Secret, solitary, a spy, he gauges

lines of a Flemish horse

hauling beer, the angle, obtuse,

a slut’s blouse draws on her chest,

counts beat against beat, bus conductor

against engine against wheels against

the pedal, Tottenham Court Road, decodes

thunder, scans

porridge bubbling, pipes clanking, feels

Buddha’s basalt cheek

but cannot name the ratio of its curves

to the half-pint

left breast of a girl who bared it in Kleinfeldt’s.

He lies with one to long for another,

sick, self-maimed, self-hating,

obstinate, mating

beauty with squalor to beget lines still-born.

You who can calculate the course

of a biased bowl,

shall I come near the jack?

What twist can counter the force

that holds back

woods I roll?

You who elucidate the disk

hubbed by the sun,

shall I see autumn out

or the fifty years at risk

be lost, doubt

end what’s begun?

Under his right oxter the loom of his sweep

the pilot turns from the wake.

Thole-pins shred where the oar leans,

grommets renewed, tallowed;

halliards frapped to the shrouds.

Crew grunt and gasp. Nothing he sees

they see, but hate and serve. Unscarred ocean,

day’s swerve, swell’s poise, pursuit,

he blends, balances, drawing leagues under the keel

to raise cold cliffs where tides

knot fringes of weed.

No tilled acre, gold scarce,

walrus tusk, whalebone, white bear’s liver.

Scurvy gnaws, steading smell, hearth’s crackle.

Crabs, shingle, seracs on the icefall.

Summer is bergs and fogs, lichen on rocks.

Who cares to remember a name cut in ice

or be remembered?

Wind writes in foam on the sea:

Who sang, sea takes,

brawn brine, bone grit.

Keener the kittiwake.

Fells forget him.

Fathoms dull the dale,

gulfweed voices …

About ship! Sweat in the south. Go bare

because the soil is adorned,

sunset the colour of a boiled louse.

Steep sluice or level,

parts of the sewer ferment faster.

Days jerk, dawdle, fidget

towards the cesspit.

Love is a vapour, we’re soon through it.

Flying fish follow the boat,

delicate wings blue, grace

on flick of a tissue tail,

the water’s surface between

appetite and attainment.

Flexible, unrepetitive line

to sing, not paint; sing, sing,

laying the tune on the air,

nimble and easy as a lizard,

still and sudden as a gecko,

to humiliate love, remember

nothing.

It tastes good, garlic and salt in it,

with the half-sweet white wine of Orvieto

on scanty grass under great trees

where the ramparts cuddle Lucca.

It sounds right, spoken on the ridge

between marine olives and hillside

blue figs, under the breeze fresh

with pollen of Apennine sage.

It feels soft, weed thick in the cave

and the smooth wet riddance of Antonietta’s

bathing suit, mouth ajar for

submarine Amalfitan kisses.

It looks well on the page, but never

well enough. Something is lost

when wind, sun, sea upbraid

justly an unconvinced deserter.

White marble stained like a urinal

cleft in Apuan Alps,

always trickling, apt to the saw. Ice and wedge

split it or well-measured cordite shots,

while paraffin pistons rap, saws, rip

and clamour is clad in stillness:

clouds echo marble middens, sugar-white,

that cumber the road stones travel

to list the names of the dead.

There is a lot of Italy in churchyards,

sea on the left, the Garfagnana

over the wall, la Cisa flaking

to hillside fiddlers above Parma,

melancholy, swift,

with light bow blanching the dance.

Grease mingles with sweat

on the threshing floor. Frogs, grasshoppers

drape the rice in sound.

Tortoise deep in dust or

muzzled bear capering

punctuate a text whose initial,

lost in Lindisfarne plaited lines,

stands for discarded love.

Win from rock

flame and ore.

Crucibles pour

sanded ingots.

Heat and hammer

draw out a bar.

Wheel and water

grind an edge.

No worn tool

whittles stone;

but a reproached

uneasy mason

shaping evasive

ornament

litters his yard

with flawed fragments.

Loaded with mail of linked lies,

what weapon can the king lift to fight

when chance-met enemies employ sly

sword and shoulder-piercing pike,

pressed into the mire,

trampled and hewn till a knife

—in whose hand?—severs tight

neck cords? Axe rusts. Spine

picked bare by ravens, agile

maggots devour the slack side

and inert brain, never wise.

What witnesses he had life,

ravelled and worn past splice,

yarns falling to staple? Rime

on the bent, the beck ice,

there will be nothing on Stainmore to hide

void, no sable to disguise

what he wore under the lies,

king of Orkney, king of Dublin, twice

king of York, where the tide

stopped till long flight

from who knows what smile,

scowl, disgust or delight

ended in bale on the fellside.

Starfish, poinsettia on a half-tide crag,

a galliard by Byrd.

Anemones spite cullers of ornament

but design the pool

to their grouping. The hermit crab

is no grotesque in such company.

Asian vultures riding on a spiral

column of dust

or swift desert ass startled by the

camels’ dogged saunter

figures sudden flight of the descant

on a madrigal by Monteverdi.

But who will entune a bogged orchard,

its blossom gone,

fruit unformed, where hunger and

damp hush the hive?

A disappointed July full of codling

moth and ragged lettuces?

Yet roe are there, rise to the fence, insolent;

a scared vixen cringes

red against privet stems as a mazurka;

and rat, grey, rummaging

behind the compost heap has daring

to thread, lithe and alert, Schoenberg’s maze.

Riding silk, adrift on noon,

a spider gleams like a berry

less black than cannibal slug

but no less pat under elders

where shadows themselves are a web.

So is summer held to its contract

and the year solvent;but men

driven by storm fret,

reminded of sweltering Crete

and Pasiphae’s pungent sweat,

who heard the god-bull’s feet

scattering sand,

breathed byre stink, yet stood

with expectant hand

to guide his seed to its soil;

nor did flesh flinch

distended by the brute

nor loaded spirit sink

till it had gloried in unlike creation.

 

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