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A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind  

and floats downstream  

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and  

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings  

with a fearful trill  

of things unknown  

but longed for still  

and his tune is heard  

on the distant hill  

for the caged bird  

sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams  

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream  

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied  

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings  

with a fearful trill  

of things unknown  

but longed for still  

and his tune is heard  

on the distant hill  

for the caged bird  

sings of freedom.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

You will see him light a cigarette

At the hall door careless, leaning his back

Against the wall, or telling some new joke

To a friend, or looking out into the secret night.

But always his eyes turn

To the dance floor and the girls drifting like flowers

Before the music that tears

Slowly in his mind an old wound open.

His red sunburnt face and hairy hands

Were not made for dancing or love-making

But rather the earth wave breaking

To the plough, and crops slow-growing as his mind.

He has no girl to run her fingers through

His sandy hair, and giggle at his side

When Sunday couples walk. Instead

He has his awkward hopes, his envious dreams to yarn to.

But ah in harvest watch him

Forking stooks, effortless and strong –

Or listening like a lover to the song

Clear, without fault, of a new tractor engine.

I have thought so much about the girl

who gathered cow-dung in a wide, round basket

along the main road passing by our house

and the Radhavallabh temple in Maninagar.

I have thought so much about the way she

moved her hands and her waist

and the smell of cow-dung and road-dust and wet canna lilies,

the smell of monkey breath and freshly washed clothes

and the dust from crows’ wings which smells different –

and again the smell of cow-dung as the girl scoops

it up, all these smells surrounding me separately

and simultaneously – I have thought so much

but have been unwilling to use her for a metaphor,

for a nice image – but most of all unwilling

to forget her or to explain to anyone the greatness

and the power glistening through her cheekbones

each time she found a particularly promising

mound of dung –

When I was young and there were five of us,

all running riot to my mother’s quiet despair,

our old enamel tub, age-stained and pocked

upon its griffin claws, was never full.

Such plenty was too dear in our expanse of drought

where dams leaked dry and windmills stalled.

Like Mommy’s smile.  Her lips stretched back

and anchored down, in anger at some fault –

of mine, I thought – not knowing then

it was a clasp to keep us all from chaos.

She saw it always, snapping locks and straps,

the spilling: sums and worries, shopping lists

for aspirin, porridge, petrol, bread.

Even the toilet paper counted,

and each month was weeks too long.

Her mouth a lid clamped hard on this.

We thought her mean. Skipped chores,

swiped biscuits – best of all

when she was out of earshot

stole another precious inch

up to our chests, such lovely sin,

lolling luxuriant in secret warmth

disgorged from fat brass taps,

our old compliant co-conspirators.

Now bubbles lap my chin.  I am a sybarite.

The shower’s a hot cascade

and water’s plentiful, to excess, almost, here.

I leave the heating on.

And miss my scattered sisters,

all those bathroom squabbles and, at last,

my mother’s smile, loosed from the bonds

of lean, dry times and our long childhood.

At the instant of drowning he invoked the three sisters.

It was a mistake, an aberration, to cry out for

Life everlasting.

He came up like a cork and back to the river-bank,

Put on his clothes in reverse order,

Returned to the house

He suffered the enormous agonies of passion

Writing poems from the end backwards,

Brushing away tears that had not yet fallen.

Loving her wildly as the day regressed towards morning

He watched her swinging in the garden, growing younger,

Bare-foot, straw-hatted.

And when she was gone and the house and the swing and daylight

There was an instant’s pause before it began all over,

The reel unrolling towards the river.

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

I sat all morning in the college sick bay

Counting bells knelling classes to a close.

At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying—

He had always taken funerals in his stride—

And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram

When I came in, and I was embarrassed

By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.

Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,

Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.

At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived

With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops

And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him

For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,

He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four-foot box, a foot for every year.

Your mouth contorting in brief spite and hurt,

your laughter metamorphosed into howls,

your frame so recently relaxed now tight

with three-year old frustration, your bright eyes

swimming tears, splashing your bare feet,

you stand there angling for a moment’s hint

of guilt or sorrow for the quick slap struck.

The ogre towers above you, that grim giant, empty of feeling, a colossal cruel

soon victim of the tale’s conclusion, dead

at last. You hate him, you imagine

chopping clean the tree he’s scrambling down

or plotting deeper pits to trap him in.

You cannot understand, not yet,

the hurt your easy tears can scald him with,

nor guess the wavering hidden behind that mask.

This fierce man longs to lift you, curb your sadness

with piggy-back or bull-fight, anything,

but dare not ruin the lessons you should learn.

You must not make a plaything of the rain.

 “I’m rising five” he said

“Not four” and the little coils of hair

Un-clicked themselves upon his head.

His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare

At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light

Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He’d been alive

Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more;

Not four

But rising five.

Around him in the field, the cells of spring

Bubbled and doubled; buds unbuttoned; shoot

And stem shook out the creases from their frills,

And every tree was swilled with green.

It was the season after blossoming,

Before the forming of the fruit:

Not May

But rising June.

And in the sky

The dust dissected the tangential light:

Not day

But rising night;

Not now

But rising soon.

The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.

We drop our youth behind us like a boy

Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,

But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,

But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed

In the baby’s cradle; we look for the grave in the bed;

Not living

But rising dead.

Nights like this: on the cold apple-bough

a white star, then another

exlploading out of the bark:

on the ground, moonlight picking at small stones

as it picks at greater stones as it rises with the surf

laying its cheeck for moments on the sand

as it licks the broken ledge, as it flows up the cliffs,

as it flicks across the tracks

as it unavailing pours into gash

of the sand-and-gravel quarry

as it leans across the hangared fuselage

of the crop dusting plane

as it soaks through cracks into trailers

tremulous wit sleep

as it dwells upon the eyelids of sleepers

as if to make amends.

Pity me not because the light of day

At close of day no longer walks the sky;

Pity me not for beauties passed away

From field to thicket as the year goes by;

Pity me not the waning of the moon,

Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea.

Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon.

And you no longer look with love on me.

This have I known always: Love is no more

Than the wide blossom which the wind assails.

Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore.

Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:

Pity me that the heart is slow to learn

When the swift mind beholds at every turn.

He never learned her, quite. Year after year

That territory, without seasons, shifted

under his eye. An hour he could be lost

in the walled anger of her quarried hurt

on turning, see cool water laughing where

the day before there were stones in her voice.

He charted. She made wilderness again.

Roads disappeared. The map was never true.

Wind brought him rain sometimes, tasting of sea –

and suddenly she would change the shape of shores

faultlessly calm. All, all was each day new;

the shadows of her love shortened or grew

like trees seen from an unexpected hill,

new country at each jaunty helpless journey.

So he accepted that geography, constantly strange.

Wondered. Stayed home increasingly to find

his way among the landscapes of her mind.

Not Waving but Drowning 

By Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,   

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought   

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   

(Still the dead one lay moaning)   

I was much too far out all my life   

And not waving but drowning.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,   

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought   

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   

(Still the dead one lay moaning)   

I was much too far out all my life   

And not waving but drowning.

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove,

A Maid whom there were none to praise

And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone

Half hidden from the eye!

—Fair as a star, when only one

Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;

But she is in her grave, and, oh,

The difference to me!