Renege: A Story

He’s a renegade, it says so on his Jeep.
He’s a man reflective as fluorescent paint.
He’s proud of what he has: the talk, the walk,
the replica hair-shirt that a drunken saint
gave him one time for a cocktail and a song.
Reneging not an everyday complaint
in his world, he is flabbergasted when
she stops, says going further is a sin.

He says they both aren’t married any more
than when he’d said ‘Outside’ and she had smiled
and followed him from Tucson to the sea.
‘I thought you were a priest, then, one who whiled
away his inter-sacramental hours
enjoying beauty: temples, birdsong, me.’
‘I am,’ he said, ‘both priest and renegade,
but neither knows what motivation made

me speak to you in Tucson. Was I bored?
Were spirits from a bottle in my blood?
There is something in your beauty I adored
when I had feelings, and an ancient flood
of what you call emotion made me call
the first word out that came to me. That’s good.
Analysis prevents me, quieter days,
from any action. Can this be a phase?’

‘An undertaking, while the undertaker
still disappoints by hovering offstage?’
she asks, and sitting up, moves feet away.
‘You hanker for me, but I’m half your age,
and you were born already twice that old.
Perhaps I am the ink set on the page
and spine of books you substitute for life.’
But you, not I, said No.’ ‘Don’t twist the knife

I handed you,’ he importunes. She laughs
and moving further off, she cries, and stands.
And he stands too, relieved, again alone
inside his thoughts, until one of them hands
him what she wishes he would call emotion,
as he listens to receding angel bands
and knows the moment thought about has passed,
and that soulless resurrections cannot last.

Election Dayse

The goats go from the sun to shade
and those with collars nibble grass
while their kids, uncollared, pass
along the paths their elders made.

The voters vote in every town
while those who own the wealth of Spain
show an interest or feign one
in how the votes go down.

The almond and the medlar trees
shade the flock of goats and sheep
and frame the fields where shepherds sleep
off lunches of light wine and cheese

Miami eats the Everglades.
The hot swamp’s old talaria,
mosquitoes and malaria,
can’t match the workmen’s boots and spades.

A goat springs from a terrace wall.
A wasp eats an entire bee
except its eyes and one bent knee.
A sheep can’t cope and takes a fall.

The votes Dade County owners count
are those that help them win
the war on nature, do it in
and build a better bank account.

Dogs fight each other for a yard
that one of them is tied in
Bees build a hive in earth that’s hard
in the field where sheep get dyed in.

We fly down south and order goat.
We buy the best-priced dream.
We laugh that we don’t need a coat
and eat fresh figs with cream.

Vincent

Noting the 30 March 1990 opening by Queen Beatrix of the commemorative exposition ‘Vincent van Gogh his Centenary Year’ at the Kröller-Müller museum.

Sunlight in a miles-long forest,
and the Queen.
No fantasy, it’s the Opening
for his centenary year.
Someone says some words
then She goes in,
and all of us troop after,
passing glass walls
letting sun stream
on his pictures and drawings
and sketches and studies
that impress and
outnumber us
even though he started late
and at thirty-seven he died.

He never visited Kröller-Müller,
this airy, blocky museum,
centrepiece
of the Hoge Veluwe state park,
where, outside,
Barbara Hepworth’s
heavier pieces
and those of
counted others
punctuate sandy spaces
grazed by deer, rooted
by sus scrofa,
and overseen by hawks;
but he hangs here.

We hang around
and pretend to listen
to those that we talk to,
enjoying the wine
that isn’t good
or at all bad
but is here
where he hangs

sometimes on loan
from other places,
the permanent collection
augmented for these days
of celebration
with canvasses, papers,
pigments, palette smears
and also some letters
to his brother for money,
which he got.
Almost nothing sold then.
All’s sold out now.

With all this output,
this outpouring,
how many of his paintings
did he do daily?

All of them:
the three begun
and finished yesterday
except for drying,
the greys-and-browns
earthen people of then,
the riotous colours
of Arles to come;

nights of loud talking
and visitors,
someone’s urgencies;

mornings’ cover-ups
confusing roles
and gender.

All of them:
myriad paintings
waving himon
the thin end
of brushes
that scored their
surfaces
with visual sounds
that consumed him,

ignoring his cries
and the small hint
of blood under nails.

He hangs here
in them all,
the creations
that used him
as gateway
into what
passes
for our souls.

And when they’d
had enough
they laid him down.

Capitulation

When a story starts up like this one did this morning I have to puzzle it out to see how it ends… and to give it a ‘working’ title.

Capitulation
‘One can pull a rabbit from a hat,’ the jackdaw said.
‘I wish,’ the fox replied.
The encapsulated bunny shivered.
I took its cage inside.

‘I set my cap at Mr. Hare,’
the hungry vixen growled.
The jackdaw said, ‘The man’s at fault.
He took the cage inside.’

The bunny quivered, ‘I’m not here.’
‘Nor hare,’ he quickly added.
The jackdaw said, ‘This caps it all.’
She eyed a cat who prowled

around the end of the last line
and lay down in the weeds.
The mortarboard that adorned its crown
had cutouts for its ears.

‘I think,’ the bird said sharply, ‘that
it’s catnip this cat needs.’
The fox responded, ‘Let me fix that!’
The weedy cat recedes.

We’ve had peak oil and deforestation
and now we’ve pandemonium.
The bunny dons an all-over cap
and transmutes into plutonium.

At Sea in Dreamland

These two squirrels are the size of squirrels. I find that strange.
Shep, my dog, is too big for the door
and I stand half a metre high, if that.
We’re off the windward side of Reason aboard a barge
of a houseboat with a rain-ruined squirrel as lookout
and another at the power-steering helm.
Shep barks and growls. He’s drenched and wants inside.
The tea things tumble from a pitching table.
A houseboat is not yar when it’s not home.
A klaxon awoogas! It’s time to relieve the watch.
Will I be lookout or hang ten on the rudder?
I hear a roaring surf. This won’t end well.

Good Morning

I check the time and see that it is now.
Outside as far as I can see is here.
What I can choose to do comes down to how
I evaluate and act upon this dear

and precious present — what a perfect word.
Here-and-now is all we have in the absurd
cat’s cradle we construct from might-have-beens
that curdle while we conjure larger skeins

of wished-for lies that we fantasise are wool
that, if we weave it well, will give us full
control and meaning for the lives we lead —
or, better, follow — out of some daft need

to imagine our existences are more
than moments to experience and adore.