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Poet, writer, teacher





I could no more know
myself than this flame
seated in the air
one quarter of an inch
above its burnt root
– so self-contained a form
you’d think it held in ice –


no more know that flame
than one drop of rain
or a single leaf
let alone this draught
slicing in across the sill
nudging the little
corpse-boat of a fly;


no more know you, fly,
than this cat – the cat
perhaps but what about
the way it holds us
in a gaze so void
of an idea of self
our own can only fail.


Were we to return
that look we might learn
to take something from
nothing, might begin
to steady and see,
figure who we are
in that slit black flame.





You drew breath


as a boy draws something silver from a river,
an angler from the sea a bale of weed;
as a woman draws herself from a bath,
as blood is drawn from a vein.
You drew breath as thread is drawn through
the eye of a needle, wet sheets through a mangle,
as steel is drawn through a die to make wire
and oil draws up through wick its flag of fire.
You drew breath as a reservoir draws from a well
of ink and a mouth and a nose and eyes are drawn,
as a sheet is drawn from under the dying
and over the heads of the dead.
You drew breath as the last wheezing pint is drawn,
as money and a bow and the tide are drawn;
as up over her head a woman draws
a dress and down onto her a man.
You drew breath as a cloud draws its pall
across the moon, across the car park
where a sky-blue line draws the way
all the way to Maternity; as all in blue
they drew a semi-circle round the bed,
a line and then a knife across the skin;
as in another room someone drew
a curtain round its runner, a hand across
a pair of finished eyes. You drew breath
as they drew you – besmeared and blue – out
and sublime was your fury at being drawn
into this air, this theatre; you drew breath
for the first time – for a second I held mine.





A Puzzle in Four Seasons


Look at us. It must be Christmas.
Our heads are bowed, the lamp close.
We could be cracking a code
or a body, so intent are we tonight


on Spring whose large foreground
of wild daffodils could take us all winter.
We check the lid from time to time like artists
more absorbed in what they’re doing than what’s there:


a village coming into itself
all at once, in all weathers;
yielding itself to nothing more
than the hours of its own slow resurrection.


It’s not often we come together like this.
Nor do we believe for one minute
in this village or its charmed stoicism.
We attend to it quietly, with quick fingers.



3 Poems from Salvation Jane