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Jonathan Locke Hart

I.

 

The east and west of our skin

Comes and goes as in a dream

The wind rises and falls

And the crow perches on the sill

 

And the trees at Haslemere

Line the tracks and platforms

The chalk hills and cliffs ahead, behind

As we bore through to Portsmouth Harbour

 

The question of breath and touch lies

On the air that falls away

From the train that gains and glints,

The sun shimmering on steel and seats

 

The windows glaze, the eyes glaze.

The tint of autumn almost here.

This land and film are like the cases

Of maps, scores, manuscripts in the British

 

Library.  Hands make, mend, extend,

Ears hear and are deaf, eyes blind and are blind,

The fingers of scribes, musicians, print-makers,

Poets move and are moved, drift in time

 

And, like whispers of the flesh, evanesce

Into the time-space continuum

Like promises of childhood and love,

The clouds gathering over the hills.

III.

The evening settles down in the Solent

There the Mary Rose went down, the sky slates

The water, the memory of memory

Fades in the break of night, our aunt gone,

 

The era unlit, a dying star, bones

Resting their traces of the Big Bang, done

In the wake of time, as if time had a start

And a finish.  Her hair she put up, and full

 

Of winter the end came, after so much,

Dead in spring when all came back

The snow, sleet, rain, the after bloom of the moon,

And her laughter fleeing forever

 

In a night without stars or when the stars hide

From hiding itself. Eternity

Is a long time without time.  The clouds spread out,

Carpet the horizon as night falls.

 

She said, after her stroke, “Go home. Find room.”

Year in, year out.  Nature is hard.  Nature

Gives and takes. I would hold her hand while she

Cursed me, the fates, all that had left her

 

With such abandon.  The hand gives, the hand

Takes. In the wake of this love,

On the tongue, in hand, the ash gathers

Leading from the water: remember.

II.

 

Tunnels are the rest, lacuna, gulf,

Abyss, the mise en abȋme, the uncanny tell

Or maybe they are just tunnels still

An engineer this mythology

 

Of tunnels and he, she, might flinch

Or laugh. Humanists, poets, artists

Are such a lark, larks being such

Literary birds.  Tunnels are dark

 

And when two trains pass there they need trust

And good engineering, but a poet

Might imagine more, have his, her own

Dream of Scipio, not looking down

 

But blind, with tunnel vision, a human,

Losing perspective on empire and love

And why we live in a wild time that knows

Price but not value: in the sun we drench

 

And bleach away care. The crows are long gone

And their song we do not know because there is

So much we do not know.

Perhaps we live in a tunnel, the earth

 

Being a passage, perhaps from light

As in a mead hall through which the crow flew

Where warriors left their swords for books

The sun and moon at exit and entrance.

IV.

You told him lightning and forever

You let him down with a thump when he mentioned

The heat of a thunderstorm and all the time

You scoffed and scolded him as if he had made

 

 All this up.  You had told him the more he said

The more you would shun him. He stopped believing

In words, in anything you had ever said.

He was a fool.  That is the way it was

 

And what puzzled him most was how, except

For a few words here and there, you could

Drop him like a hot pan, to rattle

And bang on the floor.  Who the hell was he

 

To insist, to prolong, to annoy, to persevere

In the long night of the stars even as

Venus you would chase him all over the wastes?

But there are many sides to the geometry

 

Of love and you had your reasons and your heart

Is not the winter it seems in a season

Without boots, and he should remember you

As you said you were.

V.

The fact that you have done, gone and done,

The fit you threw when you were through, means

What it means it seems, like a tree given

To magpies, squawking and picking on lesser

 

Birds. There are no facts.  There is no heart.  Only

A dreamer would not notice that you said

You could not do without him, but really

Did not want anything much to do

 

With him. It was all so conversational,

So convincing, as if Demosthenes

Had spoken to an audience of one,

And the wind died as his heart died.

 

And so the long broken promise, the pleading,

Recedes as the tide.  So much debris

Is left on the sand.  Poetry

Is barely worthy to describe

 

The cold action of a thankless mind

Masquerading as a heart. You act well

For the stage of ambition’s empire, but

Then who really cares about a friend in ruin?

VI.

He gave you what he could, and you turned

They asked you to take something from   him

And you did and complained about the work

Of skinning and shaving his bones

 

For an ossuary for the almost

Living.  Teachers are museums

For a consuming world. The rain

It rains every day.  The wind

 

Howls. A wounded storm

On the downs, the cliffs

Precipitous, the insults gratuitous

The neglect a ruined barn.

 

The world is with us, the world dismisses us

The oak is broken on the hill

This sea rises high against the cliff

This ship a heart unkeeled. He stayed up

 

Nights to help and see what he got

A bevy of cowards brave in their words

Let  the birds sing in the hedges. See the wolves

So maligned,  when humans bay much more,

 

See how I might remake

A dunicad for thinking

There might be a bond

In the love of words, the jazz

 

Of ideas.  But instead this hand of dust

This scatter of earth on a dark sea

And leave the bones for gulls, this empire

A military-industrial graveyard.

jlh WeChat Image_20210722223826.jpg

Born in Canada, poet and literary scholar Jonathan Locke Hart earned a BA, MA, and PhD from the University of Toronto and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He has taught literary theory, intellectual and cultural history, and creative writing at universities in Canada, France, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

His collections include Unforgetting Private Charles Smith (2019), The Burning Lake (2016), Musing (2011), Dreamwork (2010), Dream Salvage (2003), Dream China (2002), and Breath and Dust (2000). His work has appeared in Harvard Review, Mattoid, Quarry, The Antigonish Review, among other journals, and has been translated to several languages, including Estonian, Slovenian, Chinese, Greek, Polish, and French.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/jonathan-locke-hart