“‘What have you got there?’ ‘It’s snapper.’/“Did you catch it?’ ‘No, my dad caught it—/He says to watch out for any tiny bones.'”
1 Jacob and the Angel
There’s a certain posture a person takes
Pushing a lawnmower up a slope:
Like nothing so much, to my mind,
As that of Jacob, in the painting by Delacroix,
Wrestling with the angel. The differences,
Of course, are more than obvious:
One, for sure, the weightless certainty,
The whole ease and abstract capability
Of the angel in containing Jacob’s energy.
It’s quite a different picture I see here,
But the lawns, the driveways, tend to run
From or down to our suburban road,
And we neighbors strain against gravity
And our machines in material exertion,
Maintaining acceptable normality
In the visible: with, it has to be added,
No transcendent blessing to follow, but
Nor, it’s true, reprisal of Jacob’s injury.
And where then do any of us meet with
The self-transforming contest? How are we
Wounded, so that the wound has value?
It is for each, as for me—whose grassy drive
Is steep and long—in encounter with
The implacable opponent, death, in a grasp
Of no weakening until admitted surrender,
When hurt and surrender become a grace,
And the grass greener than any painted.
2 Fresh Snapper
A knock on the door is always sudden—and
This is determined, loud—thump, thump,
Thump—revealing a neighbor’s little girl
With a big piece of fish in a clear plastic bag:
“What have you got there?” “It’s snapper.”
“Did you catch it?” “No, my dad caught it—
He says to watch out for any tiny bones.”
“It’s wonderful! Thank you so much and
Thank your dad!” “We hope you enjoy it!”
And she’s gone, tearing down the driveway.
What a thing for dinner! And not the first
Such gift, for other neighboring children,
Boys and girls, older and younger than this,
Have been at the door with their mothers’ dishes—
Lasagnes, soups, quiches, and more—and
Their own baking too, straight from the oven:
Cookies, scones once with whipped cream
And home-made plum jam. And why this?
I could say, my wife has died, but this would be
Half an explanation. There is another half.
There’s no choice to death, but in life, choice
Is what we have: though no promises—none—
To ambition, capability, or prayer (were there,
You would be here tonight), nor is there truth
In making of it what we will, but in what
We can: and we can only where life itself is—
Within—all else the external, the material,
The transient physicality of things: nourished
For the sake of spirit, as in these children.
3 The Freight Wagons
That noise there—a low, distant rumble—
Felt almost as much as heard—comes
In certain winds or qualities of atmosphere
Around this time, eleven at night, when
The district—excepting a rare siren or
Motorcycle—is dead quiet: A freight train
Is crossing the long iron-built railway bridge
Spanning the harbor a mile from here.
It’s one of the sounds we came to know,
Having a certain solidity, penetrating and
Shaping apparent emptiness: so usual,
It might have been your voice, the words
Freighted with thought and feeling—
In mutual air, in the closeness of night,
In assurance of reception, understanding.
And now the train has gone. And it was
Not us that heard it, but me alone, and
Its noise has followed all that we said
Or thought to say, across a bridge where
The words will not carry, or bear the weight
Of entrusted meaning—are no longer
Sayable—but are, like these I join one to
Another now, a punctuation in the dark.
4 Marie Antoinette
A thin man—bearded, lank-haired—sitting
Cross-legged on the scruffy grass verge
By the shops—is setting out a collection
Of old-looking decorative female figurines
On a smallish piece of cloth: “Would you,”
He calls to me, “like a Marie Antoinette?”
“What about the chess pieces there in the bag?
Can I see those?” But he answers, “They’re
Kind of pegs that fit here.” Spacers of sorts,
I see, for a small wooden multi-level table,
Shaped for a corner, that he begins to assemble.
The objects must have stood on it. But where?
Would I like a Marie Antoinette? Probably
Not, but I would like the sight and company
Again of bare smooth legs, high heels—
A woman’s presence, looks, scent, dress,
Her difference—the usual and entrancing acts
And beauties of the other, as I knew them.
But perhaps this is, after all, Marie Antoinette?
And were you this? It was a part—the visible,
Touchable—of you, and this has gone, been
Taken with you, as I presume the corner table
Was removed with its display: precious
Once in sight to someone, as you were to me.
5 Above the Estuary
A man and a woman walking with a dog
Are half-way around a circuit of the park:
It’s cooler at that corner (when you’re above
The estuary, you usually feel a breeze),
And now the dog sprints off, perhaps after
The magpies, and they go on, holding hands.
They are a distance from me and heading away.
My excursion is alone. But—no—as soon as said,
I know this to be as foolish a sentence as any:
Can I, can anyone, be alone? So many must be
With me in the lee of the waving casuarina trees,
High above the dull mangroves, the ruffled water.
To speak at all, even to think, is to join oneself
With countless multitudes—all those that are,
Have been, or will come—for nothing of thought
Or speech is our own, but is inherited, borrowed,
And left aside again for others to sort through,
Pick apart, recombine, possibly shift a little.
And is this true of feeling too? Then self is what?
A moment of combination in place and time,
And this shared with the known and unknown,
Alive, dead, unborn—a family as this gambolling
Dog enjoys—so they, I, and, all we stand together
In the breeze, looking on the incoming tide.
Harold Jones is a New Zealander, educated at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an Exhibition to read English. For 20 years and, more recently, another ten, he sent no work for publication, preferring to work at its development. His work has appeared in major poetry journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and has won the attention of leading critics and poets, among them, Ted Hughes: “I hear a real voice, a real movement of mind cutting through resistances.” Recent work appears in Merion West and VoegelinView.