Glyn Maxwell

Glyn Maxwell Poems

1.
Museum

Sundays, like a stanza break
Or shower's end of all applause,
For some old unexplaining sake
The optimistic tread these shores,
As lonely as the dead awake
Or God among the dinosaurs.
...

2.
A PLAY OF THE WORD

Something was done and she ran from a town
and I'm glad it was done or she wouldn't have come,
but she wouldn't have gone and she's long gone now,
so I'm wondering why and remembering how.

Her hair was the various colours of leaves
in the fall in a heap as we watched her asleep
and we stood there like words with the ink still wet,
as reminders of something she'd likely forget,

or read in the morning and scrunch in a ball.
Her eyes were so wide that they had a seaside
and a faraway sail in one eye then the other
till I envied my brother and I've not got a brother.

Her mouth had his shape that it made and you can't,
we tried it all week and our lower lips ached
as we pointed this out and she didn't know how
she was doing it. I'm sort of doing it now.

Her hands were so delicate delicate things
were careful with them and the length of her arm
was an hour when I saw it at rest on a sill
with a twig in its hand that's in my hand still

Her body was everything nobody knew
and discussed in the dark till it wasn't that dark
but her feet were so callused they made it clear
We two will be getting her out here.

Something was done and she ran from a town
and I'm glad it was done or she wouldn't have come,
but she wouldn't have gone and she's long gone now,
so I'm wondering why and remembering how.

You all have your tales and we too have a tale
in the form of a play that we stage in the day,
it's a play of the Lord, it's a play of the Word:
if it had to be written it has to be heard.

And we opened the barn for the costumes and sets
that have always been there and the dust on the air
would set us all sneezing and telling old jokes
of old times and old shows in old years with old folks.

And one was the Maker and one was the Man,
and one was the Angel and one was the Stranger,
and all the old lines were as fresh as cold beer
in a morning in March in that field over there.

But she was so puzzled her mouth did that thing
and her eyes were a mist and her hand was a fist
that she held to her chin till our play was complete.
Then she started to laugh. She was right by that gate.

It isn't for laughter we play in our show,
it's not at all funny. It isn't for money,
it isn't for love. But she laughed and her eyes
were the fog as it shrugs in the face of sunrise,

and her ribs were the sea in the shirt she wore:
we were sickened to follow its suck and its swell,
she was out of our reach, she had always been,
but that was our choice, if you see what I mean.

Something was done and she ran from a town
and I'm glad it was done or she wouldn't have come
but she wouldn't have gone and she's long gone now,
so I'm wondering why and remembering how.

Why are you laughing, we wanted to say
till one of us did and wanted to hide,
and her glistening eyes had no answer to that,
so we waited like birds for her swallowing throat

to be still and it was, and she stared at the ground
like a book of her own to be counted upon.
Everything here is made out of card.
Take light from the World and you're left with the Word

which she seemed to be trying to show in the dust
as we crowded to see and could never agree
what she said after that - that our Maker was sick
of his word? That our souls could be drawn with a stick?

That our Man was a rainbow, our Angel should hang?
Or the other way round? But whichever way round
there was nothing to do but the next thing we did,
which was take it in turns to repeat what she said

having tiptoed unnoticed away on our own
to the elders and olders who had to be told
what a creature she was and how little she knew
and how hard she was laughing and what she should do.

But I was among the ones crowding her light
so her shadow was gone but I wasn't the one
who asked her to tell us what should have been done,
in a voice with arms folded and uniform on.

Something was done and she ran from a town
and I'm glad it was done or she wouldn't have come,
but she wouldn't have gone and she's long gone now,
so I'm wondering why and remembering how.

And she asked her to say what the Maker would say
and a few ran away. I did not run away
but I want to have done, so I sit on this gate
where there's nothing to wait for at all and I wait.

And she looked at who'd said it and looked at who'd not
and she stood and she started to speak from her heart
what the Maker would say. I can say this to you.
For who lives in this shell of a town but we two?

The elders assembled like stones in a boat
but it sailed as it could, while it could, when it could,
and then I saw nothing and now I see all
and I wait and there's nothing to wait for at all.

And the wind caught the fire with the last of its strength,
the fire they began for what had to be done,
but the fire caught the town and it burned in my eyes
till my eyes were the desert an hour from sunrise.

And I talk of we two, but it's me on this gate,
with an echo of wind when the song has an end,
but the wind didn't do what I too didn't do,
and we won't breathe a word till there's reason to.
...

3.
HOMETOWN MYSTERY CYCLE

For Claire Messud and James Wood
But I was one of the children told
they play the Creation on Applecroft Road
while Abel is battered on Barleycroft Lane
and if I go with him he'll cop it again

at the top of Old Drive. If I stay with the Ark
I'll have seen a good twenty-one Floods before dark,
but I know the place well as the front of my hand
so I watch it in zigzag and still understand.

The dawn's coming up over Handside Green
As Hell's being harrowed by Christ in sunscreen,
But another one rising by pulley-and-rope
At the corner of Mannicotts isn't the bloke

who Thomas is gaping at over his eggs
on a little white trestle on wobbly legs
by the scout hut on Guessens. The stone's rolled away
as slowly as you can roll papier-mâché,

and Judas is keeping his anorak zipped
as he checks on his lines in a ragged old script.
Pilate is bicycling by. If we're quick
we can leg it to Lazarus, set up our picnic,

still be in time for the beauty they've got to
assault with tomatoes till Jesus says not to.
Over the chimneys we hear as we hurry
the loudspeaker crackle the usual story

about a lost child, and we chuckle and say
You'll be late to an angel we pass on the way.
We hop all the hedges of Attimore Street,
where a girl who got rid of me rinses His feet,

and it's too much to take so I plod to the pool,
for the Slaughter of half my old nursery school,
but they lie there and giggle, they're clearly okay,
to the fury of someone who's Herod today

and gone tomorrow I joke to my mates
but they've spotted the Virgin in wraparound shades,
and we pass the Three Wise Men, muddled by props
in the shade of an alleyway down by the shops.

Afternoon tires of us, everyone tires;
I hang around people who hand around fires;
three mothers attempt to look vaguely surprised
he is striding already up Mandeville Rise;

but the little girl chosen Star-Girl for the day -
Has anyone seen her? - the drunken PA
is trying to be serious and nobody has.
The imbecile doing Balaam and his Ass

is playing for laughs so he's not getting any.
Judgment is here, they've unloaded already.
Satan is making a meal of a yawn.
We rush up to God hey we saw you at dawn!

So how's the day been? And to illustrate how,
He ploughs an old finger across an old brow
and puffs out His cheeks like we might blow away
but we don't understand so we nod and we stay;

we are gravely observing the fools in their cart,
them they go and it's quiet and he says Can we start?
to nobody really. Just one more to go,
but we've ticked every box so we've seen every show

and it's chaos again as it is every year
with the carts in a ditch and Whose bloody idea
was this in the first place? Somebody bawls
in the queue for the luminous-necklace stalls,

but he can't really mean it he has paper wings
that his daughters deface with embarrassing things;
he's played about every last role in the Cycle
(he'd never been Michael but now he's been Michael)

and someone is holding a ladder that trembles
and someone has wound a great zero of cables
around his strong arm, and he stares in my eyes
as I say Weren't you Peter? which yes he denies

and someone is binding the Cross to a Jeep
and someone I bearing a burden asleep
with a garland of foil and cellophane star,
who, in other versions, is found in a bar

and in at least one is found stabbed in a pit.
You know your own villages: write your own shit.
I've never done much and I didn't do this,
But you asked where I come from and that's where it is.
...

4.
FLAGS AND CANDLES

Flags line up an hour before they're chosen,
wave back along the row at others like them.
Candles sit in boxes or lie still,

sealed, and each imagines what will happen.
Flags will not accept the explanation
of why they were not needed as they are now.

Candles feel they're made of stuff that's soft
for a good cause, though maybe not their own cause.
Tall flags love all flags if it's their flags.

Small flags are okay about immense flags.
Candles doze in xylophones of colour,
Thrilled their purpose maybe merely pattern.

Flags are picked out one by one. The others
muster in the gap and say Gap, What gap?
Candles dream of something that will change them,

that is the making of and death of candles.
Flags don't dream of anything but more flags.
The wind is blowing; only the landscape changes.

Candles have the ghost of an idea
exactly what the wick is for: they hope so.
Flags have learned you can't see flags at nighttime,

no way, not even giants in a windstorm.
Candles learn that they may do their damnedest
and go unnoticed even by old candles.

When I wave flags, flags think it's the world waving
while flags are holding fast. When I light candles,
candles hold the breath that if it came

would kill them; then we tremble like our shadows.
Flags know nothing but they thump all morning.
Candles shed a light and burn to darkness.
...

5.
THE LION'S FACE

MR D

the doctor was my doctor
the doctor was
there was the different doctor
the different doctor there
the different
he had the best results
he had the best results
he had the best
they never come the same
people never come here
people come here
two ladies held the picture
of the boy beside the seaside
to be beside
to be beside I
buy him the ice-cream!
buy him the ice-cream
beside the side I
said I have the things
I have the things
there's money in the land
to buy the things but no
beside they say no
they fold the boy away
in the white ice-cream book
in the white book
the different doctor closing
time in the white book
the doctor is my doctor
where is my white doctor
who comes who came before
no one ever
comes who came before
...

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Glyn Maxwell Biography

Glyn Maxwell (born in 1962) is a British poet, playwright, librettist, and lecturer.
Though his parents are Welsh - his mother Buddug-Mair Powell acted in the original stage show of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood in the West End and on Broadway in 1956 - Maxwell was born and raised in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. He studied English at Worc ...

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