The Gift by Peter Robinson
for Mark Ford
Taking a short cut, we both noticed
bananas, pineapples, a bunch of grapes
abandoned on a bricked-up window sill.
‘Yours,’ you said, as we wandered past,
commanding me to use it —
as if more bits of orange peel,
and I the thrifty poet
strolling from café to restaurant.
There didn’t seem anything in some fruit
left to rot where the back court turned
— except perhaps a mild taunt;
but you were the gift personified
and a friend I hadn’t seen in years
with three-day beard, some mad ideas
about how to make a living. Life?
You were waiting for inspiration.
Only then among pictures seen, or unseen,
was Carlo Crivelli’s Annunciation
(the one with, jutting from its frame,
a trompe l’oeil apple and cucumber)
and in that distant afternoon
as no doubts started up from chance’s
conjoining this and that, our time
folded back into its circumstances.
Still Life Portraits
Late November morning sun
comes low above the hills,
through pine branches, spills
across a block floor’s wooden
squares, and elongated
shadows from the furniture
make slatted patterns, pure
tone, a thing unsaid.
Table legs, the backs of chairs
and window frames have lent
forms for guitar strings, a fretboard,
chess moves; the spider plant
leaves are a world map’s air routes
to spots we had or hadn’t been
on the double-page spread
of a flight magazine.
But not off anywhere, for once,
with playing child and mother,
like a fern’s fresh, coiled shoots
you allow yourself this truce
in the season’s worsening weather:
our shadows all over the floor
for some minutes, an hour, more,
are displayed across these other
facets of existence.
In marking time, the errors come
so thick and fast we’re at a loss
to count or, laughing, to recount them;
some I recognize, because
they’re mine, mine word for word.
With only this to do, it’s hard
marking time until the baby’s born,
exams are over and I can return
to a family grown without me around.
I’m marking time to clear debts.
Across waste spaces comes the sound
of a high school marching band.
Freezing cold drum majorettes
stamp the dirt of a football pitch.
Beyond fogged windows in an overheated room
winter’s losing its grip: for days
the treacherous turned to wetness,
then froze, ice crazing a pane;
it retreated by inches, and what was
dead in us through these last years —
frost patches where the sun doesn’t reach,
ploughed piles of exhausted black snow —
wouldn’t die, but remained, and is still.
You watch your step down under the hill;
to encourage the others, make examples of words,
as in high-walled back gardens loud birds
mean changes, marking time, and here we go.