<< constantine << eclectic england cover
Eclectic England: Poetry by
David J. Constantine
'Untitled 11 excerpt' by Fitkin Wall:
Graham Fitkin & Ruth Wall
Narrative - Charon II 2000 | Oil on canvas © 2007 George Blacklock
Narrative - Charon II 2000 | Oil on canvas by George Blacklock

Lilith's Children

Spawned in water how should this love be otherwise
Than teeming? Some nights
In the waking whirlpool, the nearest I get to stillness,
Between two rapids of dreams
It feels like Lilith’s children
Howling around for a warmer life in me.
She was so fecund, so lubricious
The wishes of life in her exceeded the cast of sperm.
There is always more to say
There are not enough dots and strokes to make up the letters
To make up the words
To say. Both of us plural
And multiplying
We spawned in water
We milted the rivers and the seas
You and I
We shall haunt the globe
As summer mist off the sea, our seed
Will keep in the ice.


My warm man, unglove your hand
On a winter mountain and reach for his bare hand
It feels like a small rough animal
Of body heat. He is good in bed
For thawing your toes, he takes them
In at the top of between his thighs and nothing
Delights him more than warmly eclipsing
Your cold bum. Strange then
How he chatters afterwards
This warm creature, the teeth in his head
As though he had gulped a gallon of ice
The way a fire-eater
Does fire by force of will, clenching himself
And what you can hear on the pillow next to you,
Both of you warm, hand-in-glove warm, I tell you
That raddling cold, that clatter of shards of ice in the bucket of his head
As though he were hugging nothing but himself
Naked on the bare mountain, that clacking sound
Is him unclenching, him not trying any more
After the warming, it makes me smile, I don’t mind telling you
I drift away sleeping smiling to myself
Over the secret of that warm man of mine.

Choruses for Saint Lucy’s Day

King Oedipus, he saw too much
He had an eye too many perhaps
He saw so much he could not bear
The look of his face with his eyes still there

And stabbed them. But there was in him
Another eye, a Cyclops eye,
That under the sun, under the moon
Sank and filled and rose again

Full of sights so he still wept
Through the empty holes, imagine that,
At things the eye inside him saw
Down there in him, the bathysphere

Day by day and night by night
The silver bucket of his sight
Scooped up things he could not bear
To contemplate. The world outside

The polis still was beautiful
And through it blinded Oedipus
Felt his way and could not close
The eye of the unbearable.

Monstrous a lot
But nothing so monstrous
As this that a child
Becoming a biped
Stands up with the world at her feet
To begin her adventures
And almost at once
Scarcely begun
Encountering you
And raising to you
Eyes that believe
You friendly you prove
Her wrong. Believe me, friend
It were better for you
You were sunk out of sight
Headfirst with a rock at your throat
And tolled with the tides
A clapper for crabs
Than have done what you did
To her look that believed you kind.

The retinas took it
Can’t be deleted
And here you come
Light in our darkness
Saint of our winter
Offering us more.
Must we see more?
Better you gave us
Deeper darkness
Sleep without dreams
Oh unseeing sleep
For a while at least
A passage of winter
Sealing the eyes
Quietening the heart
Almost to stopping
Lessening our heat
Almost to zero
But here you come
Like that girl on the tube
With stumps, that boy
Who could barely see over our table
That dot on the pavement
And offer us eyes
On a platter

Girl, will it help to learn from us
Here mouthing again
Eternally treading the sidelines again and again
To learn from us
The wringers of hands
The peepers through horrified fingers, that you
Are not the first
And won’t be the last.
Will it help? It will not
But listen.

There was a man, a dreamer
A builder of beautiful buildings
To live in, to work in, it lifted the mind
Even to think of
Their windows, the air
Came playing, the hills and the waters
Welcomed them. So
(It follows) Tyrannus said
Build me one good, one better, the best
And he did as he must and when he had done
And Tyrannus saw it was good
You know what they did
Tyrannus’s men
When Tyrannus saw that his home was the best?
What he said they must.
They cooled a rod
With a scream and a hiss
In the builder’s eyes
So he would never
For anyone else
Build anything like. Does that comfort you, girl?

It was after your time. It goes on and on.
Hear of another
Long after your time.

There was a woman, an actress
Good at her art, the best in her day
Beloved and Tyrannus sat
Night after night front row in his sepulchre suit
With his men and watched. And he saw
How long she had watched, how much she had seen
Watching the tyrants, suffering them, exciting them
Their hands on her throat, oh marrying them
How much she had learned. He saw
How once at least in every performance she paused
Like a gap in the surf
Between wave and wave
Of incoming verse
And looked
The thinking look
The what-do-you-think-about-that sort of look
And all of the eyes in the dark at his back
Were looking at hers
Her seeing face, her omniscient eyes
That had played every part
And behind her eyes
Was a woman who knew. You know what Tyrannus
Did? He rose from his seat
When the show was done
And ascended to her on stage in the public view
And gave her roses
Heavy as twins
An armful of roses
Flown in from wherever the last red roses grew
And bowed and left
Immaculate white
In his evening wear and up came his men
And there and then
Everyone watching
His men with knives
Cut out her eyes.

You are not the first.
You won’t be the last.
The show goes on.

Nine Fathom Deep
(After Gustave Doré after Coleridge)

Couched where they are, on the seabed
They feel no colder for the draught of the ship
And the glacial spirit passing over them. Lucky you
Say the living dead, to have got

Into the harbour of one another’s arms
Not having lodged behind your lids
The rotting sea, the dead hands working nor conceived
Remorse, remorse, the canker.

Love, luckier still, we shall imagine this pair
Nine fathom deep are dreaming
One dream, the hooves of nightmare are battering
Round and round in their encircled hearts

But they wake, they open, and the crime dissolves
No one needs shriving, nobody
Must trudge through the frontiers of a sickened world
Spouting horrors, but by these lovers waking

The good ship sets her sails, the ice opens
And ahead goes the white bird, friendly and clever
And is the selfsame bird we every morning
Called and it came and showed us more

Than we deserved what grace is like
Wheeling on wings very near, very high
Very near again, oh on the strength of this
The man and woman waking and their astonished eyes

Viewing a clean ship whispering down
The arcades of ice, with a kick
Will freshen the sea, unharm the inhabited earth
And surface like flyers in a rush of bubbles

And every man jack of us will imagine children at home
He will go on his knees to and be level with
And into whose wide eyes and open mouths
He will tell tales as true and nourishing as loaves and fishes.

The Mountains in the Mirror

Along that road and I could show you where
Leaving suddenly the mountains appear
The head and shoulders and skirts of them are there
White on the cold blue in the mirror and it is clear

Without mercy what you are leaving and you know
Those sharply in focus, framed, are only the few
At the hub of a wheel of many more so that the sum
Of loss you turn on is times and times of them.

Paths climbing, streams falling without number
The next bend wipes the place and at your back
You feel the passenger you must chauffeur
Into the flatlands, she is cold, she is wearing black.

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