Damian Love is a freelance copy-editor in Wellington, New Zealand. Previous poems have appeared in Poetry Ireland Review and the British journals Dreamcatcher and Insight. He studied at Otago, St Andrews and Oxford, and has written on the literature of various periods from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. He also translates Old English poetry.
The father of a family will sell a daughter or two or three, if required, for a musket each.
- John Boultbee
This speech that happens is the amazing
thing. Smiling or what you will she sits there
and speaks and the words empty themselves
out on the air elaborately,
fluent as the quick hands of a pianist,
and I think what a piece of work is a man.
Perhaps she is telling me about herself.
I must have chosen her because she was there
and no one else was there so much.
I can’t explain it. The plain fact of a musket
purchased a superfluity of choice.
It is something we have to laugh about
so we try to. Solemnity is a piece
of specie cobbled in a ring round her
finger, she thinks it is hilarious.
I push against her presence like a ram
butting a ewe, this crude nose is all I have,
I scarcely remember how to breathe through it.
We break our shins against the King’s English.
She is a treacherous shifting of limbs
over an unstable hypothesis,
perhaps we will be shaken into grace,
it does not seem to be predictable.
I whisper about Dan Cupid in her ear,
she says things back, I listen for the iambs,
they make statues in the air, little sculpted
opacities, they dance along together
like an undeciphered barbarian frieze.
I don’t know what to do with all this sanity.
I can tell a true tale about dead
languages. They are going on somewhere
without us, beyond us, we get there and
they are going on somewhere else, the hard
oars of grammar transport me leerily
over the inscrutable centuries
towards an impossible conclusion.
Bearded, frostbitten, lifting heavy oars,
a man who does not exist sails through
the mind of an anonymous cleric
into the loneliness of the North Sea,
naming the waves, the ice, naming the shrill
sea birds, enunciations of the tribe,
he comes home into the particular
sayings of exile. Storms precipitate
his loss with the precision of a song.
What we have made concrete here is concrete.
Our ventilated solipsisms hang
together in prefabricated towers.
Spring substantiates itself on campus,
the heavy sap of rhetoric flushes
our bureaucracy, suns go up and down
like providential abacuses, this
dead life on land enumerates itself.
Therefore our life hangs on a conjunction,
the heart of the hearer turns in his breast,
his thoughts wander out on the restless tide,
come to him again, sobbing over the sea,
coming between his dry words and himself.
The great apology of my apparatus
sails into the generations.
Because it is spring, and spring
comes folding its hands seasonably
in birdsong, and scabs that
itch in the warm norwester begin
again on the hands and feet, and
because there is never enough
room in the doss and in the
opening of each street there is
room for everything that was
this sends us through the Valley
and over the suburban hills,
shambling through the birdsong
and the impetuous leaves, the
blooming rectilinear verges, the
crocus-ridden lawns, in hope of
sloughed off butts and redeemable
lager cans, sensual detritus, and
the sky’s cloudy odds and ends.
Six haiku for the briddes
When the bellbirds bumped
into each other there were
Because it was so
important the tui had
to say it again.
The verdict on the
bread was delivered by twelve
This is the ursa
minor quipped the fantail
over the woodshed.
On frosty mornings
take a handful of sparrows
The tractors went home
in single file and so
did the pukekos.
Essentially it is
getting a fix on the hills
before they slip away
in the sunset or other
for instance as the death
of the author. There is
no saying how long
the job will take.
River and plain and
the arrested stone
curtain, the Ochils, the
sky finally: one
another. Here the sun
exercises its poetic
diction, going down
under the horizon
it lifts up the hills into
the light, it illustrates
them, it is the last
word in the golden style.
Plain and river go dark.
The arrested stone
curtain, the Ochils, the
particular hills float
a little above the
running out of the
light in the queer
vision of the species.
Lulu from ten angles out of the conventional three hundred and sixty
Lulu is amazing,
she is the only
one of her kind, she is
Lulu blinks, and is she a
moth pretending to be a
flame or a flame pretending
to be a moth?
Lulu is shaped
like a question mark,
sway inside it.
Lulu is intellectual, feels
a breeze from other planets,
her infidelities are
The eternal-feminine puts
away a pickle sandwich
en deshabille and calls itself
Bearing her triumphal
mammaries before her,
Lulu is weighed down by
the responsibilities of empire.
Lulu is in despair
because the myth
has been discontinued
in the larger sizes.
Suddenly Lulu understands
and cries and cries
because time says
it is not on her side.
She looks and it has
been doing its thing again
round the edges a little
Lulu wears her bluff
like the fag-end
of a perfume bottle
Lulu always puts
the cart before the horse
because she is
an incorrigible empiricist.