Let the Night In
Shut the night out or let it in,
it is a cat on the wrong side of the door
whichever side it is on. A black thing
with its implacable face.
—P.K. Page, from “Autumn”
Let us go to the moon, he says.
Such a relief to stand on that always
darkened face, cratered imperfect
cousin, beautiful sphere flying
into the celestial darkness.
We tire of the earth-tides, the salt-pull
on your bodies. But these vampires—
they often talk like that, as if every
statement came from a tipped top hat
and poetic frock coat, a white-shirted gleam.
Shut the night out or let it in, you wonder.
Make your mind up, invite him in to stay,
or firm your heart and door
to closing. It’s hard—when no one
else has known you, and your house
is empty even when you are there.
But then comes this thing, this strangeness,
with his lack of breath, his words stolen
from centuries, the cool hands
that you have let slip inside
because you yourself have always been
a cat on the wrong side of the door.
The moon, he says, let us fly there,
build our own dark cities on its unseen
face, rest in its comforting shadow.
You think of travelling, away
from the shopping malls and parades,
the smell of fried eggs, all the tickertape souls
that crowd you out of your own head
and you think, yes, let us go to the moon,
sail to its restful silence on a starlight
spaceship, restore this collapsed nova
inside you, this black thing.
We could go to the moon, he smiles,
I would always be awake; no sun could reach
those craters, nor our city with its own
dark cool heart. He has been charmed by the fairy
tale of physics in this century, the clear
voices from between the stars. Hush—he lays
you, bitten, down. The moon, like you,
is turning, its silvered breath stops,
curves to crimson joy, grave-fresh wakening.
Your eyes open—the moon and he both wait,
each with its implacable face.
as ever, for dear Mr. Bradbury
Those children who are born to autumn
do not suffer spring, nor its greening glance.
Our shuttered eyes abjure the flotsam
joy of the petal storm, the pale presence
of purple-buttered thistle or clover honey
spread over summer’s deranged-yellow heat.
We slip from the frozen grasp of winter’s cunny,
that pan-cracked, brittle, ice-slippered sweet,
deny the ceaseless renewal, the so-called grace
of each sorry songbird’s piercing April hymn,
and return to autumn’s apple-fired embrace,
its red-leaf-feathered, burnished golden limbs—
escaping winter, spring and summer’s treasons,
forswearing that tyranny of marching seasons.
We are come late to the love of birds
for we are come late to love.
Before we had been nothing:
a fossilized egg, a tired metaphor, old as mutton.
Now, the sharp twinge of middle age
and we are caught in love’s punctured balloon.
Its banana peel sobriety.
Furred epithet, feathered lash.
We are come late to the mythology of love,
the beefheart stain of the great winged roc
upon the ground of our imaginings,
soft like the centres of certain candies.
Soft like the quilted centres of our beds,
our quivering bird organs.
Give us the sweeping shadow,
down from the mountains of Araby.
Give us the claws that catch
us from the desert path, swoop us,
fat white sheep in the meadow,
into that prickled nest, high, up high.
You are black as bees,
dark as the spine of a prison tower.
Your mouth opens—night
falls from it like a scythe.
You stitch me into the ground.
Needle me with the rain
of your disappointments.
You’re a crow, trapped
under the weight
of your own feathers.
You’re the snapping cur,
the winding constrictor,
the hole that never fills.
Your unhinged jaw
swallows me up
to the knees,
your boa body vast
in its hungry capacity.
It’s these household rages that do me in,
fret me into a guitar-plucked hum,
a dissonance of dishes, roasting chickens
clucked quick into the oven, their crumb-
tossed, butter-paled bodies dimpling in glass pans,
heated caskets ready for the cremation
of Sunday dinner and the Monday dance,
the weekly pirouette of desperation.
There I am, humped in a chair by the window
in some nameless café, swallowing tea
by the styrofoam cupful, fat with sorrow
and dulled by a relentless certainty:
This clutching life, it ever groundward bends us,
makes us routine’s hostage; how watchfully it tends us.
for Angela Carter
These are the stories we tell ourselves
when the birds have fallen silent.
We tell ourselves that we have not seen
the dismembered bodies of our sisters.
We tell ourselves that the key never fit,
the egg remained clean, we were never touched
by the sorcerer at the door.
We say that doorways are safe, the entrance to our home
is clear, that the border between earth
and dirt has never been blurred.
But here’s the truth:
The sorcerer is always at the door,
a terrible magician whose close attention
will make you go limp.
He might tell you differently, but he has always
been there, with his basket—
a one-way trip to a strange marriage-bed,
a house of gold rooms
a skull in the window
wreathed with flowers.
But no girl ever asked, even when
tarred with honey and feathers:
What was inside Bluebeard’s egg?
Another key? A universe? A kiss?
What lies still in that ultimate womb-room?
Perhaps it’s just a bird. The beginnings of a bird,
the idea of a bird hatched from a fairy tale.
Perhaps love need not be murder,
the price of knowledge, not death
nor the dismemberment of siblings,
not the bloodied chamber,
but the clean, unbroken ovoid
of elliptical time.
Let us abandon eggs. Let us abandon
keys and locked rooms and stained
hearts and mattresses.
Let us go into memory
and marriage without fear.
for Ursula K. Le Guin,
who taught me to love the written word
Still the socks and spoons, the hollow rattle
of domestication; hush husbands to bed,
churn daughters toward their rooms, the battle
unending as the pages tick-turn in your head.
Still their voices, their terrible beloved voices,
entangling the shoelaces and the heart-valves;
daily life become molasses-dream slow, no choice
but to grit and grimace while longing for a salve
to soothe the gnawing landlocked beast inside
that strains and leaps toward solitary joy—
the balm of books, each a gloried ride
through a strange world—a key, a beacon, a buoy.
Let drop tea towels and houses and spouses;
let rain the imagination’s unruly carouses.
See? Here is freedom, strange as irregular
knitting. The other side of the wall is static
with bald poets, wry madmen and bizarre
women flapping their arms in the attic.
Compasses whirl past north and back again.
Roads take or don’t take, forests fly through space
and the islands are beset by dragons.
Dragons! Each gold-flickered eye, each trace
of translucent wing, a saw or song to the heart.
Is this the key, then? The door unclicked and swung
open, the oracle with her lips apart?
Or is it shut? Oiled and locked and the last bell rung?
Open the door, close the door, no matter—
the key turns both ways, toward before and after.
A flock of thoughts curves down the horizon:
you back at your kitchen window, congealed
as a waxen effigy amongst the pans,
your head full of the latest invented world.
Foxgloves dip and foxpaws pad in the gloaming;
the hums and haws of crickets haven’t quite
begun, nor the varied voices combing
through the house. For now, a slow respite,
time enough for keys to soften doorways,
to lie between the clean white leaves of books,
spoon and nibble dappled words and graze
on chapters caught without net or hook.
Let pages turn as they may and locks come undone;
Let one world unravel, as another’s begun.