Found Poem

The lines of the following poem are all subheadings introducing quotes for the term ‘Love’ in an 1884 book: The Student’s Topical Shakespeare: Thirty-Seven Plays, Analyzed and Topically Arranged for the Use of Clergymen, Lawyers, Students, Etc.

Love

Its absurd Vows
Its Avowal Desired
Its bewildering Power
Its bewitching Tyranny
Its Conquests
Its contradictory Character
Its Dart not invisible
Its Difficulties
Its Effect on Time
Its Infatuation
Its Jealousy
Its Messengers should be swift
Its monstrous Promises
Its own Dowry
Its pacifying Power
Its Reason no Reason
Its Shadows
Its Treasures

Missing the Perseids (for three years running)

It’s Perseids Week, and Slate has a guide on how to watch the meteor shower: essentially ‘on your back, after midnight’ today seems to be the consensus. Two years ago, I stayed with my lovely friend Natasha Frost and saw the meteors from a French farmhouse, and ended up writing this poem, which came out in The Emmores a few months later. If you’re stargazing tonight, then don’t read this, go outside! But if you happen to be indoors, this might give the general idea.

 

Missing The Perseids

for Natasha

Five of us supine on the patio,
waiting, frustrated, for a cloud to clear –
keeping our expectations low
like fans at a belated come-back show.
For twenty minutes, nothing seems to come.

Then, glancing off Maria’s eye,
a sketchy autograph in fading steam;
a spark of self-destructive reassurance,
burnt to a crisp as soon as seen, but there
enough to hold our restless bodies flat

in stationary pursuit. Follow that.
Once, whale-watching off from Chéticamp,
a boat of strangers waited for an hour
and shivered for a second’s flash of fin,
then jammed frostbitten buttons as it sank

through our viewfinders, knew that it was lost:
experience evading shutter-speed.
And here, outside a house outside Uzès,
an orchard at our feet and overhead,
untended, each dropped pin

a hundred thousand orchards up in flames.
We all agreed we hadn’t really seen the stars
in years; had let them fade to something tired, tame.
(Too long a journey, from too far away
to find the town shut-up, your host blasé)

Scouring the stratosphere for pizzazz,
its background of explosions left on mute,
I knew I hadn’t texted you all day.
No, we are not always glittering display,
nor do we give the static stars their due.
Familiar, they ought to floor us, too.

 

 

 

Four-Coned Ruth

A poem about how people sometimes see things differently. Originally published by Valley Press / Dead Ink, and inspired by Radiolab.

Four-Coned Ruth

Ruth was a tetrachromat
in a small town by the sea,
which meant she saw a colour more
than her neighbours’ eyes could see;

or rather, more than a colour more
than the common red, blue, green –
she saw the shades those mixtures made
and the secret shades between.

So: red for Ruth had a glint of green,
green was a grade of red,
and yellow grew from the bluest blue
like flowers from the dead.

If in every lie lay an anagram
which assembled, spelt the truth –
that was the way the world conveyed
its light to four-coned Ruth.

But Ruth kept quiet, mostly –
in that small town by the sea
one didn’t boast about the almost
extra-sensory.

See, what was known was what was felt,
and what was seen made sense,
and sense was shared. People were scared
of Ruth. She made them tense.

By implication, all their lives
they’d seen the rainbow wrong,
or not enough. If her cones were buds
on wagging small-town tongues

water would taste like sparkling wine,
sweet wine like dry vermouth;
you would be thirsty, fit to burst
if you were four-coned Ruth.

Let’s say she took a lover, Ruth,
in that small town by the sea –
and for argument’s sake, and to up the stakes,
let’s say that it was me –

and suppose her skin was as sensitive
as her irises to light,
then twice as much. Dark doubles touch;
we only met at night.

Then imagine a feeling, next to which
the times all tension spilled
to a shiver so pure it verged on air
would seem like a dentist’s drill

to a patient without anaesthesia,
turned in a rotten tooth –
let’s say my body felt that way
in the arms of four-coned Ruth.

Or so she’d tell me, when we met
in that small town by the sea,
where the sky would spit, and us within it,
iridescently.

But Ruth grew tired, eventually,
of the limits of my view –
I guess we saw things differently,
as lovers sometimes do,

and lasers can’t correct all defects
– trust me, friends, I’ve tried –
or even most; but come close.
Closer. Look into my eyes:

if you believe, for confirmation,
if you don’t, for proof.
You’d see what’s hid beneath these lids
if you were four-coned Ruth.

Personal Injury

A few months ago I forgot to renew the domain for this site – richardtobrien.com – and the URL was taken over by a Los Angeles-based personal injury lawyer. In an attempt to re-inject some poetry into the pretty bleak and sinister text now replacing my site, here’s a found poem created from what’s written there.

Personal Injury

No matter where,
in the State of California
you have been injured.

Of course, there is no correct amount.
It all depends
on how you calculate it:

pain and suffering,
and even emotional distress,
if you did have that –

that’s even better.
Of course, there is no correct amount,
most of the time.

If you make a mistake,
it cannot be undone,
most of the time.

Your violation
is what caused the accident,
most of the time.

Other times,
it is not so specific,
which is also dangerous.

No matter why you stopped,
no matter where
you are on your own,

most of the time.
If someone hits you from behind
that doesn’t mean that

you are going to get paid.
You should also keep in mind
your own recklessness.

You will have to go after
the driver personally.
You will have to start talking.

You don’t have to wait until the morning.
Even if it’s night now,
we are awake.

Why us?

You don’t want to do this alone.

‘There are many great reasons to make a rubber band ball…’

A new poem, for National Poetry Day.

*

‘There are many great reasons to make a rubber band ball…’

and you can start with almost nothing – scrunched
paper, or a hollow shell. Whatever core
you choose will be obscured, stretch after stretch,
as tension tightens into architecture.

In time, the structure will become so taut
that this is what maintains it. What an art:
how things are held together by the force
of endlessly pulling themselves apart.

And if the surface wears through to the brink,
take strait-jackets of stress and bundle through
the tangle clustered underneath your hand.

One day, you’ll feel it: that familiar kink
between the shoulders of the person who
stoops down to you, and peels back each band.

Confessions of an Accidental Arsonist

from 2011’s  The Salt Book of Younger Poets, edited by Roddy Lumsden and Eloise Stonborough, & with thanks to Ash magazine.

How can I say what made me miss the embers
as I came to you, bun-heavy, fingers derelict with yeast?
Our sheets that night were warm as plague, a pie crust,
and I felt your sleeping ribcage rise like loaves.
Outside, they didn’t know our names, they turned
on spits of fitful sleep, but we were golden.
Slowly, love, we burned.

That night I dreamed I walked along the wharves.
The stars were crumbs, or fish too far away to catch;
the air played Chinese whispers, double-Dutch,
kissed me with salt it rubbed into my elbow crooks
that stung like creaking timber, and a vast
sense of my littleness broke over me. I remember
the stories. Light in the east.

Our daughter reads incendiary books.
The wrinkles kneaded in her face are politics,
the new astrology. Her crossed eyes are a crucifix
and her virginity reminds me I will die.
I stroke her inky head. Her hair invents the match.
The rotten weight drowsing across the rooves
lifts its head like a latch.

Now something is rising in this half-baked city;
the morning light does a roaring trade, sold on
until every street is a red hand holding
another hand, the Thames a boiling butter churn,
the houses dribbling new red humours. Look.
The future kindles cupolas and kilns and bricks.
We jump. Too many cooks

will spoil anything. That much we’ve learnt.
Blow on your fingers, shake off flour and slumber.
Now the news joyrides the wind. Unnumbered
wooden dotages collapse, choking, and the river heaves
a red-hot vomit. They are counting casualties.
My lungs breathe in all the ash of London, and it sticks.
I breathe out, but it sticks to me.