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This poem is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.Three Sisters
1. The Dry Tree
Baron, as your fingers untie music,
Four seasons ebb and flow, the migrant cranes
Wind their slow skeins from climate into climate
And the dry tree shakes in its dance-measure:
Green arms, brown arms, linked in amity
Though bark strips from the cracked and polished bole.
A hover of dust: the patterned air discloses
Leaves shivered with light, gardens whose pages
Open or shut as dawn or dusk require.
But then the dissonance, the stopped movement.
The room withdraws to its four corners
And no God speaks a word of grace or power.
For now the windows thicken to a snow
Obscure and vast, with powers to impress
The old and unborn armies foundering there,
And a green Maenad dances out her frenzy
About the sapless branchwork of her fellow;
The soldiers break step on the silting road.
A dead bird, loosed from the retaining sky,
Stiffens: a twig of clouded foliage,
Eyes fathomless beneath their cooling hoods.
2. Wild Grass
In corners where a bird repeats one note
And clouds make blank faces over garden walls,
Hoisting into the blue and beyond the blue,
Time is a study in continuations.
But for you, Masha, should meaning cloud and fail,
Life, you say, becomes wild grass, wild grass.
In such corners, that is the wind's concern.
The bird repeats one note chack chack;
The wall dangles with sour and vivid cherries
Whose notes are discontinuous, abrupt.
The child at the keyboard picks, unpicks a tune,
Coding the air with lost ends and beginnings.
Here is the wild grass: a speechless city
Where threads of life are plied into a sampler.
Errands are run by the quick-dying creatures,
Each movement bright and urgent as the call-sign
Of child or bird tapping their counterpoint
Against the clock, the poppy-head's oblivion.
Listen to the soft thresh of their ground-bass:
Time and the wild grass working, this way, that way,
Their tingling feather-heads, their cutting blades.
3. The Curving Shore
If only we knew. The garden fills with partings,
Rustling in summer silks and coloured streamers.
The green shell brims with music, and with pain.
A dance of insects, and the sun's gold beaten
Too thin for use: from all their cooling shrines
The little gods of place absent themselves
And broken paths return upon their traces.
A hopeless fork tricks out the garden seat;
The leaves are talking in dead languages.
Cloud upon cloud, the open skies re-forming:
Their echelons move off to the horizon,
Dipping westwards over the rim of the world.
Hand falls from hand; our eyes are looking down
Long avenues of falling trees. Apart,
The maple weighs its shadow out and down
On birds caught in a cage of air and grass
At work about their chartered liberties,
On pram-tracks lining out the sullen ground,
And music silvering the middle-distance
Whose bright airs tarnish as the bandsmen play.
The soldiers pass along the curving shore.
Peter Scupham's most recent book, The Hinterland, was published by Oxford University Press in 1977.
This poem is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.