“The citruses will still bear fruit, and if not these,/There will be others to form the soft flesh/Of oranges, new limes: all creating in their rot.”
I watch the wind—invisible presence—tearing
Bright white blossom from the orange trees,
Setting a straying trail of brown decaying petals
Along the grey wet concrete of the drive.
I ask, what could matter to me in this I see?
The boughs create their own display, maintain
Still a show of flowers: No attention of mine
Acts to restrain or hasten the season’s wastage.
Urgent observer, though, I pretend there is some
Natural artistry arranging and disarranging
The petals as they fall. But, no, it is my very presence
That is pretense. I, like you, exist in the invisible.
And was all this for nothing? Our close clasping
One to one? Such communion in so many words
Between us? I see all this, and more, being
Stripped from a living bough, perishing in memory.
Does anything remain? Another time, then
Another, rise into mind—times that were and
That have been—all following on these flowers.
What is it that is, that is and is enduring?
Love, we say, we said—and not ours only—
But love, when it is love, when it is its own energy,
We say, we said, endures, is always there, as
Life itself, as some principle of replenishment.
So loss of this fragile blossom will be no matter:
The citruses will still bear fruit, and if not these,
There will be others to form the soft flesh
Of oranges, new limes: all creating in their rot.
Time was when this long rain, these storms,
Were retribution: a levelling of the score
Downward for humanity, upward for what
Was worshipped, until it came out on top.
So your cancer would be understood as a signal
Of deserving: some wrong of thought, of action
Or inheritance that would be no longer
Be borne in private hiding but wanted out.
And every such response is admission of human
Inadequacy: not guilt, not sin—secondary,
Primitive, explanations—but recognition
That we are unequal to this place, this life.
If we were, we would accept illness, death,
As circumstance of the wind, the rain: no matter
For regret, but greeted as steps towards renewal:
Embodiments, as they are, of the natural, the cyclical.
But this would be to do away with love. And yet
This complexity, this achievement, in the human
Is impossible to conceive without the certainty
Of mortality. And so the cycle rounds again.
I imagine a God might say, “Take this small
Crab-apple tree—not a leaf to show—press
A foot on these roots here—feel the give,
The sponge in the wood, the hollowing soil.”
“Rotting within, out of sight, no spring now
Will visit it. Let’s walk on, for I am tired
Of things that die. In my creation there
Should be something more resembling me.”
The tree is finished, earlier than it should be,
And this is my own doing, in a kind of care:
Care all wrong. It was too late in the season
To be pruning it; it had a truly human touch.
And this is the price we pay: infection inhabits
Everything, gets purchase at any mistake,
Indeed needs none. What will blossom into
The enduring are the things, surely, never made.
Remember the great blue cedar—what a thump
That was! The whole house shook, the nearby
Chainsaw whine stopped in its tracks—strange
Silence—a double vacancy as we stepped outside.
The air was still. A distant aero engine ground
Its way into insignificance, a pair of cabbage
Butterflies in their haphazard faltering were
Visiting the brassicas, a bird somewhere called.
Every garden leaf was poised in glowing
Green or yellowing—some on taller branches
Flickering—and, above us, the clear sky declining
From its high deep blue down to nothingness.
Now the quiet crackle of kindling wood,
The ticking of the clock: and why should I listen—
Seek—for anything more when these
Could be all my music, all reality?
But, still, I wait on a thought that will transcend
All such common noise, as a voice might,
Were there words able to give meaning to this:
That we were not, we are, and will not be.
Why you or I were born is always mystery—
Avoidable, perhaps, if we delete the why
And accept the fact in its simplicity: that we
Too are flimsy blossom, set on some other tree.
Can any sufficient meaning lie here—in the light
Of mid—afternoon, in the swinging agitation
Of leaves caught in the bluster of the air—
In the luxury of all this budding, this decay?
Again and again, I turn from this engagement
In the general thrill and wastage of the material
To follow the mind’s passage elsewhere,
Away from the physical, the rain, the cold.
Mind on mind—the wind turning on itself—
Rounds unceasingly on what has no existence,
None but the intangible. And this may be my own
Pressing at death, the place where you reside.
These half dozen bees—the other dozens further
Along the border—hovering, landing—small,
Busy things, have a purpose in attention
To the salvia. You were this kind of draw to me.
And we too have played our parts, as it were,
In this creative depredation—the gathering
Of pollen, its chance of dispersal flower to flower.
We have known the gentle motion of the bees.
So I pretend—pretend again, in noticing—to be
Involved in the activities of the morning, joining
The bees in the reckless exuberance of the sun,
The garden border. But, like you, I am elsewhere.
There is no reason I know why this forgotten
Feeling comes on me—one that can, in truth,
Never be repeated. It is a mystery of the moment,
Mysterious in itself, emerging out of nothing.
It is of mixed acceptance and apprehension,
Distance and proximity, closeness and
Estrangement—beyond words, this wordiness—
And felt in sudden vagueness and intensity:
It is being with you, in the first of our settlings
Into night—and it is not lovemaking—but being
Side by side, under our shared coverings,
Within our separate lives and their dreaming.
At the very moment I drew the curtains back
A bird sped, bouncing on the air, heading from
The crab—apple to the right, as a flat stone
Might, flung to skim its way above lapping water.
It was a moment such as this that you sped too,
In an instant of loosened connection, away
From the warmth, the hold, the press, of my hand,
Away from the swinging boughs in the garden.
Indifferent to this, the wind will toss fresh
Blossom—insensible of its falling—into the pools
Shivering on the drive. And you, neither bird
Nor stone, have been lost to the streaming air.
Is this what it is to be alone? To sit where no other
Human presence takes up a portion of space?
Where there is, there can be, no consciousness
Of another’s physicality, warmth, breathing?
But this is to see the person wholly in materiality—
Thus, a thing—akin to a possession treasured
For a period of value: one that might, in life,
Be bought, enjoyed, and in death sold.
The mystery is not in death—not yours, nor that
Of any, in illness, age, accident or chosen solace—
No, it is in the beginning, the setting forth, of life
In its separateness, its solitude of self, as now.
Round and round, these silly winds swirl east
And west around the house, drive their gatherings
Of petals, leaves, to other piles, drop new
Pickings where they soak a while, then disappear.
I will leave this place too, as you have done, and
It is as ready for my leaving as it is for every
Such departure, for what it gave in liberality
Of existence, will return to seep into other being.
And what of this place when we depart? How
Should it be because of you or me? Surely there
Must be something more of use or worth
In us than mere absorption into other.
With you gone, loosened like these flowerings,
And me to follow, it will lose the consciousness
It introduced in us—yours, mine, and ours—and
Everything that was of you and me will be forgotten.
Now it is the sound of gulls—their high calling—
That moves me, where nothing moves,
Where the full-leaved branches barely stir,
And crickets rasp beneath a brighter chirping.
In this solid heat and stillness, the calling
Of gulls—high, passing—is the waking moment,
The entry of dislocating voice. And such is all
Voice in its traversing of the earth. Gone now.
Harold Jones is a New Zealander, educated at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an Exhibition to read English. His poetry has been reviewed as “downright incredible,” has appeared in major poetry journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and drawn the praise of leading poets (among others, Ted Hughes: “I find a lot in it to admire”). For a period of 20 years, and now another ten, he sent no work for publication, preferring to work at its development. In his own words, “It is only recently I have felt I have something of value to offer.”