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Cockcrow at midwinter dark, air moving,
and then a slow
incantation from each tree,
as when the light comes slowly, crossing
centuries of dark on dark moving, slowly
the candour of the sun, as water
almost pauses for the brim, waiting
one slow moment, then goes beyond
a hesitation not its own,
steeping a new element,
so the light, so the fire
on water, earth and air: slow
the genesis.

Into each trick
of your head,
deft heiress, into
each cry
or reaching out
your fingers make,
each glance that blurs
about our awe,
come the centuries:
the spirit and mortality,
the virtue of our kind,
come random through
the strict inheritance,
the wide
deep ending of our past.

I watch you now and watch
how once a saint bent with your knee,
ghost-cosseted: and I may feel
the mad or innocent
throbbing in your pulse
or think that one who paints
an orange beast upon a rock
lingers in your smile. Newly-born,
here are those they hanged
and those who brought the harvest in:
the men at battle, grinning,
who learned the dialect of death,
who now lie buried, blank,
beneath the peat or bush.

It was for you the women died,
who, starved, and sick with hate,
have you for triumph now, you
once more their birth. Here
is ghostly policy and rage,
the labour and the knowledge.
O small thing, made, that lies
within your mother's arms,
you are the coming from, and all
that is to be.

Small and yet
a thing that bubbles
in itself, considering
itself: is godly
in its way, its
knowledge of the path
to take, the openings
of fate: and it will lose
that blest
and vague
that impotent serenity,
will, in itself
and as itself, choose
just what to know,
at what
will find
the posture fit
for day and night,
a fresh dexterity
of hand and heart, new
reachings of the will, within,

This shortest day in which
we saw you first
will send its light and shadow
through long seasons
of your own. Sleep now,
granddaughter, sleep
in the sanctity of birth:
you hold within your fist
the blessing and the curse,

all growing and all blight.
Hold your testament,
hold it as you must
within a fist
as blind and potent as a nut,
hold us,
all those whom Adam
or the older gods begat.
All afternoon across the next-door garden
two men are calling to each other,
imitating birds (first the doves).
I am recuperating. One of them,
I imagine from the sound, is raking leaves
while the other
clips an ornamental shrub or rosebush.

I narcotise myself in sun,
absorbing all the bubble of their noise,
the cooing, whistle and odd chirrups,
and cannot tell what man is bird
or bird is man, only that here is life,
a casual, pleasing thing
that takes its quality from wit.
Lazily, I glory in the noise,
half-smiling fall asleep
or fall into a hush or daydream
where all at once there is no sound,
a silence so acute the garden quivers.

Intensive Care:
I woke one night and saw a man
explode with death, a snorting arch of agony:
around his bed the nurses
tried to beat him back to life.
There was such silence in the ward,
blue neon-lit:
drugged, I fell asleep
and when I woke the bed was vacant,
neatly made.

I wake and hear the double calls once more:
sunbirds in a bush
and then the cry of starlings -
surely they are real this time
or do I long for imitation,
a greed of mimicry,
humour that makes art?

The lawns unblur in sun,
the trees become clear-cut:
I hear each sound give way to sound
and then once more a bubbling laugh
that only just could be a dove,
is human only by its fun and craft.

From the street I hear them shout goodbye.
A shadow crawls across my chair,
a touch of cold,
and yet the green is now so vivid, quickly bright,
amid the smoke of dusk.

Suddenly intense the silence floods the colour
And nothing sings in the hush.
The play of his power,
the living, you can smell
it in this room: the cues glitter like weapons,
the green nap of the table
was a battle ground for him where conflicts broke
in the strategy of a game.

And I remember hearing,
at night above my head,
the sound of a glass breaking and a burst
of rich laughter: then silence,
except for the powerful tread, the pacing
from angle to angle,
and the crack of a cannon
as the white slammed into the red. It's
all snuffed out now of course, like a long
Havana cigar, a Hoyo de Monterey perhaps,
smoked down for an inch or two, and never
much more. The act has gone, his gesture,
casual on an evening thirty years ago,
is obsolete: now
only a sense of ritual
pervades the room and feeds
familiar on the tokens of his power:

a German ceremonial sword,
he captured in South West, stands rigid
in a shell case: against one wall an old
propeller rots (and somewhere stuck in a drawer
there's an album showing photographs of the crash)
so that objects of steel and brass, records
of dead encounter, have made this room
a potent place, the temple of my caste
where I must pay homage, the sour pietas
of son to father, the unforgiving
love that looks for only one thing in the past:
conflict as barren as dust. I have no God
but a giant who paces above my head,
who blusters nightly that in his turn
my son shall have his saga of Fee, Fie, Fum,
to grind my bones to make his bread.

Though I stand by a half opened window
and breathe in the air,
the dust still stirs about me,
raised by a step on the floor,
and the smell that comes up is the smell of old power,
unbreaking love, unfinished war.

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