27 April 2014

The Pure Gold Baby

                    by Margaret Drabble

The children appear before us, the children of Stirling Hall Nursery and Plimsoll Primary and Highbury Barn. Ollie, Nick, Harry, Chloe, Ben, Polly, Becky Flora, Stuart, Josh, Tim, Tom . . .

We had all thought that Sally's Ollie was the bad boy, for whom we feared the worst, but Ollie, after years of teasing Anna and committing other minor misdemeanours, had made good. He now owns a company selling organic vegetables, and a chain of up-market market gardens. He pioneers new eco-friendly planet-preserving glossy shining crops whose leaves deflect and reflect the violent sun. He is a success story of our time.

Big brother Stuart was Sylvie's drop-out boy as a teenager, but he dropped in again, and he;s now a highly paid if moody and dark-tempered barrister. He wears old-fashioned clothes but sports a pigtail. It's a strong message, a strong look.

It was pretty Josh Raven who had hit the headlines, for all the wrong reasons.

I'm afraid to say that we blamed Sylvie and Rick Raven for taking Joshua out of the state schools, to which we were all so loyal, and sending him to a private school, where he was bound to get into the wrong set. How smug we were and how self[righteous. What ideological prigs we were. Yes, he got into the wrong set -- drugs, theft, fraud, remand, court, conviction, jail. The choir-boy turned crook, the toxic luminous lamb, the public-school swindler. It was quite a story. We blamed the school, we blamed Sylvie and Rick for sending him there. The had to blame somebody. It was hard to blame Josh, whom we had known when he was so very little, when he was in a state of grace, before he went to the bad. We had known him as a baby in a pushchair, as an angel in a nativity play, as a child gazing rapt at modest indoor fireworks at Christmas. There had been no harm in him then, no sign of Original Sin.

Young Harry Grigson, Harry with the strawberry birth mark on this face, had also been blame less. But at the age of twenty he had climbed into the lions' den at London Zoo in Regent's Park, confident that he could lie down with the lion like a lamb. There was no harm in that faith, only delusion. The lion mauled him and he nearly died. He now spends his days in an institution, on one of those many institutions. It is not as pleasant as Halliday Hall was in the old days. The doctors say he is schizophrenic, but what is in a word? He is heavily medicated. We don't know if he still hears voices. We haven't seen him in years

* * * * * *

Our little children, what becomes of them? They set off so innocently on their long journey. It is hard to bear, it is hard to grow old and see the children age and suffer. It is hard to see them grow bald, and estranged, and some of them lonely.

* * * * * *

from Margaret Drabble, The Pure Gold Baby (2013).

20 April 2014

Easter Wings

                             Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
                                    Though foolishly he lost the same,
                                         Decaying more and more,
                                                 Till he became
                                                   Most poore:
                                                   With Thee
                                                O let me rise,
                                        As larks, harmoniously,
                                   And sing this day Thy victories:
                            Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
                            My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
                                  And still with sicknesses and shame
                                       Thou didst so punish sinne,
                                                 That I became
                                                  Most thinne.
                                                  With Thee
                                               Let me combine,
                                    And feel this day Thy victorie;
                                 For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
                             Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

                                  by George Herbert (1593–1633)

13 April 2014



                by Bob Hicok

Tiptoeing through the grass
not to wake the grass, sheet music
for the laments all over the field
like wings of moonlight, crickets
hushing their banter around my ankles.
then remembering they're an ocean
once I've passed, I enjoy thinking of solitude
when I'm alone as the spouse of living
with others, who are often sharp
in my experience and pointy, people
are like scissors, you shouldn't run with them,
I should go back and tell my wife
my skin is a photograph, a slow exposure
of stars she can touch
with the swirls, the galaxies
of her fingerprints when she wakes
and gives me the dream report,
decades she's been late for a test
or taken it naked, I would go
to that school, I would major
in Yes, the dark is my favorite suite to wear
where bear are also
sometimes, and coyote, and the dead
get to be whatever they want as far
as I can tell, the less I can see,
the more personally I take the little
I can make out with,
holding what I am held by, the night
and I almost the same smudge
of whatever this is, it is seductive
to wade into and slip away and not drown,
my life the only thing that has been with me

my whole life   

From Bob Hicok, Elegy Owed (2013).

06 April 2014

The nosy cherubs on the lamps

           by Abigail Cloud


Something on the water. Something
wholesome, like spoiling corn crops
or sparking a tri-state wildfire. Or
a bit of glamour, like stopping glass
elevators in casinos, between floors,

then dropping them. I'm tired
of small catastrophe, the delicate
balance between shrugged-off accident
and tiny horror. Fits of pique, bursts
of desperate memory, tireless, dull

annoyance: How many brittle ankles
can be wrenched in holes? How many
jugs of milk can be soured before time?
How many smashed heirlooms, rained-
out parades, singed fingertips, coins

dropped in grates, stained blouses
before business meetings? How
many shiny balloons are there still
to burst?


The whirlybird moon, the spangles
int he cloud of her skirt, a leopard
pump hide-and-seeking in a curl
of the blankets. Her nerves banged
an anthem to the sexy Bartlett
pears, the sexy palm plant draped
in the corner, the mirror like a mouth
on the wall. She made her excuses
to the nosy cherubs on the lamps,
muffled their commentary with scarves.
She knew there would be mock
goodnights, a fractional vocabulary.
She knew a belt would get looped
around the bedpost, a candle snuffed
out with a thumbpad. The sexy china
bull. The sexy coat rack. The cherubs

knew it would all end in smoke.   

From The American Poetry Review, March/April 2014.