Craig Raine


In Modern Dress


A pair of blackbirds
warring in the roses,
one or two poppies

losing their heads,
the trampled lawn
a battlefield of dolls.

Branch by pruned branch,
a child has climbed
the family tree

to queen it over us:
we groundlings search
the flowering cherry

till we find her face,
its pale prerogative
to rule our hearts.

Sir Walter Raleigh
trails his comforter
about the muddy garden,

a full-length Hilliard
in miniature hose
and padded pants.

How rakishly upturned
his fine moustache
of oxtail soup,

foreshadowing, perhaps,
some future time
of altered favour,

stuck in the high chair
like a pillory, features
pelted with food.

So many expeditions
to learn the history
of this little world:

I watch him grub
in the vegetable patch
and ponder the potato

in its natural state
for the very first time,
or found a settlement

of leaves and sticks,
cleverly protected
by a circle of stones.

But where on earth
did he manage to find
that cigarette end?

Rain and wind.
The day disintegrates.
I observe the lengthy

inquisition of a worm
then go indoors to face
a scattered armada

of picture hooks
on the dining room floor,
the remains of a ruff

on my glass of beer,
Sylvia Plath's Ariel
drowned in the bath.

Washing hair, I kneel
to supervise a second rinse
and act the courtier:

tiny seed pearls,
tingling into sight,
confer a kind of majesty.

And I am author
of this toga'd tribune
on my aproned lap,

who plays his part
to an audience of two,
repeating my words.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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