Juvenalia 1

I no longer have the exact dates for these poems; they are, however, part of my juvenalia, of the poetry I wrote before the age of 21. Some of them were originally published in a braodsheet, in a translation into Maltese done by Mario Azzopardi, one of the leading contemporary Maltese poets. I no longer have any copies of that broadsheet, but at least some of the original texts in English have managed to survive my peregrinations across the three continents I’ve lived on.

It is only now, almost 40 years on from the time these poems were composed, that I finally understand some of what they were about. My own original understanding of them remains, and still stands, but it is “only time” and the experiences I have had — Life, my own living of it — and the sort of learning I have done in the intervening four decades, that make my own work, finally, a lot more comprehensible to me (at least).

A History Lesson from Belgrade

In a field of weeds growing strong,
searching for my fathers
graved under that soil,
I heard the clatter
of naked bones
stitching a tapestry for my mind’s wall.

Five silver moons Ottoman blacksmiths lit,
five crows ripped the dawn,
five sickles bit into heart and limb and bone,
five rats ate the corn;
until we, until they,
until my fathers who conceived me
ten decades later
— as History books say —
burned the moons to ashes
and sowed the seeds alone.

A wheel cracked and fell to dust
in my grandfather’s field.
A wheel rolled in my uncle’s head
but he had no cart.
A wheel squealed under my father’s bones
when they painted his star black.
(There is a fist-deep scar
still etched into his back.)
My mother’s wheel turned to Freud,
and Jung, and Christ,
but they were long dead.

So when I, delivered on that field
ten decades after my fathers,
as History books aver,
had chased the five black crows away,
I had no wheel under the hammer of the proletariat.

Displaced Wayfarer

Her black-spotted eyes, sagged by the rain,
slid along the road to meet the crawling of the bus.
Six thirty.
Headlights a-leer, the blade-like wipers
cut through the squealing of the mud.

Displaced wayfarer, the girl watched it unroll.

Everyone feeds on the mother’s flesh.
At the Army & Navy Restaurant:
Virgin with daily prayers on the menu.

Like an unbalanced bat in a maze,
her reason hit against her skull:
with dim inquisitiveness, she saw a sign saying —
There’s a smaller road to the left,
followed by another of a man striding.
(The narrow gate was not in sight.)

The girl wiped off her black tears —
Mary Quant production —
and got off the bus to meet her lover.
The rain said: dissolved.

London Town

Blue tit, crystella,
ruffles of tuneful photosynthesis:
bass tones turning an appropriate purple.
And the sun slinks along Serpentine’s banks,
a mellow sun,
a pale-yellow sun
never pressed through noon ripeness.

They have marked it with an ugly X
just there under its vegetable breasts
growing twig-hairs, turning cancerous.
The indifferent light steals past its caked trunk,
anemic, tinny, matured — like stock —
in the tube-vaults
of London town.

Dream Grafts

Whose hands the spikes
of prickly pear
unmeshing Ophelia’s hair grafted on my head?

your scaleless skin I have touched
and gulped the drainage of your lying sky.

Then the scene changes
and we wade through the salt
emprisoned in his island-water,
facing the lynching crowd,
the grey concrete,
and white egg-pebbles
hurled into the storm.
But when we turn
the shutters are closed
and a new sun approaching…..

Those faces:
vacuous spaces,
blobs of air arrested on photograph paper.

Then it shifts again, delicate irony,
to a rainspider in descent,
effortless wind-devourer.

On a candled table,
behind a curtain caught in imprudence,
I saw shadows crunching my dead body.

You kissed the candlewick —
but I stole my eyes.

His Eyes, Two Clay Suns Baked

Fishermen’s nets sprawl dessicated:
the body of earth and the soul of the sea,
have mercy on the drowned boy
have mercy on the black woman without her mate
have mercy on the water
degorged by the falling body.

And I said to his soul
Let me dance the rite of spring
when October hits the baroque sky
of the Mediterranean;
I shall weave my arms
round last year’s sprouts
before winter breaks over the rocks
bringing the chill of their dying.

And I said to his soul
Let a mandarin moon chisel a shimmering curtain
and let it be our knowing.

House Cleaning

Our chrysanthemums thirst,
dry and persistent in the late heat.
Forgetful, we have kept them in our rooms too long–
green leaves not yellow with autumn
but grey.

Behind these tragic masks and
agonised groans of parting lovers,
there’s a ground we share, inwardly and still:
our stage Artaud brought in to lend
a fake decorum to that conspiracy.

Admit it, love, we both know what’s there,
the core of boredom we’ve cherished within ourselves.

The heart-chamber, swept clean of lies,
has room for one; no carrion for the flies.


I see
wild deer in mountain forests leaping
flames of summer-burnt leaves
we took for our innocent bedding.
And I hear
wild ducks shrieking,
old women keening, the funeral table
of a dissected past.
I touch
the autumn colours of your hairloom.
My fingers the shuttle,
caressing, I weave the mist into our clothing
and slip unseen.

The Sicilian Dawn

We stand on the platform
waiting for the Sicilian dawn
and a trainfull of sour armpits.
And there is emptiness
in our stomachs
that ramble on as our mouths are dry,
in our clumsy hands,
spread in a blank sheet of silence.

A calligraphy of strangeness
lodges into the lines of our palms,

I lie on the station bench, and make-believe:
flowers, wild flowers of home plains and
home mountains, lavender, rockrose, immortelles —
the green leaves of spring I promised you —
floating on the still sea of our indifference.

That Much

Tow the boat to the touch of the shore:
I do not want to wet my
departing feet
in the water I have watched with him.
Allow me that much.


Perhaps we shall meet
purely by chance — scuttling through afternoon crowds
near St. Mark’s Cathedral,
waves carried between the city’s shores.

Or the dawn will wake us
and we will run through memory streets
scaring pigeons and tramps —
meeting, purely by chance,

where the trees are dense
and the two rivers meet.

But Do

Here, you can have custody of the love
I have suckled four years
with the ache of an absence.

And, sure: go ahead, make your audit of a life
that’s held mock-rehearsals for a love
never consumed.

But do stop by to put this balm on the hands
that have searched strangers’ bodies
for the peace they forsook me.

Night Thoughts

As from a chipped glass
the water of life still overflows,
so the whites of my eyes
rise to met the moon.
And I see no more.

With the mark of pain
between my breasts,
and a darkness gaping over our bed,
I am numb before the three planes
converging on the wall above me.

And how can I know the moon
when it grins like an old man
munching the light lost in eternity?

If I spend a million years
with St. Paul’s fishermen,
I will never grow fins to swim under.
If I weave a golden thread around the moon,
the cave spider will unmesh my spinning.
If my hands furrow the waves deep
to plough the passage over,
how can I know
my crossing comes before the closing
of the waters?

But when the daybreak arrives,
stings wait taut
for someone’s fingers.


Hoist me to the sky,
you who have turned the wheel
and whirled it life-ward,
thinking the clay
of my being.

Hoist me to the sky,
long, long afterwards:
having performed the miracle
of my second metamorphosis.


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