Bust of Camille

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I am exhausted, can’t you see it,
How my eyes are so ripe with lassitude,

And you call them beautiful.

I have created too much,
And what is yet unborn wells up in me

And becomes the disease of my mind.

And you think I have become so secretive,
But what could I now say?

The things that I fashion grow so frightening,

And speak on my behalf with
Distorted mouths.

And see my hand,
What you once so fondly called

The coil of my creation,
See how monstrous it has grown,

And it already shapes my famed madness,
And it is as though I was no more than hand,

Brutal instrument of my genius
That would one day smother me.

But then you remember my lips,
Which have always been so childlike,

Fragile,

A sensuality wholly reserved for me alone
And waiting to break.

The Burghers of Calais

The-Burghers-of-Calais

Some with eyes of bold acceptance
Of impending horrors
That cancel others.
And this one turning back,

With open pleading mouth
To the city that
Already goes about its daily business,
And hears the hawkers in the streets,
And sees the watchmen at the wall.

And this one with grim determined cheeks,
Gazing straight ahead
At the arrayed captors,
While the condemned hour
Dances on his lips

And he almost smiles.
And at last, the key holder,
In the centre,
around whom the others
Revolve like abandoned stars,

His head bowed with the weight
Of the sacredness of his death,
While it is not despair, but
A sense of release
That floats across his gaunt face.

That the city may be saved,
These five must go away.
And so, like one without a homeland,
Whose body is no longer chained

To anything,
His feet move toward the open field
As though they were
Of another’s volition,

And how light,
How pleasant the wet grass
As he gazes into immense distances,

Eyes filled with reverence,
Far beyond the bristling soldiers
And the walls of the surrendered city.

The Waltz

La_Valse

Your arm,
With full surety that air
And movement never fail,
Clasps my waist.

Your mouth,
As if you knew that
I had finally surrendered,
Pressed to my neck,
Which already ever so lightly
Retreats.

And as if to assert that this
Dance should be anchored
In known things;
Turn, rhythm, embrace,
Release,
The dominant and subordinate one,
You pull back my loosening grip.

But notice how,
Like one who nonchalantly
Throws off her dress,
I have already abandoned equilibrium.

Headlong we will fall
In a chaos of unraveling distances;
Only then will I see what lies
Behind your poise.

Danaïd

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You were cruel to leave me alone,
With only my hands, and
Only my art.
In your absence I turned the chisel
Against my own longing,

My despair entered this stone,
And like nerve pulling at nerve
I retrieved your impossible, naked
Soul from its guts.

See how your shoulders arch here,
Where the light becomes sharp and unforgiving,
This is where I first cut my heart out
With your touch.

And here, where your hair plunges
Like a leviathan of caresses,
Down into the unhewn rock,
Here my belief in the separateness
Of our bodies finally fails.

I am curled into every curve,
And surge and retreat of your terrible absence.

When you return, you
Will discover I have gone quite mad.
Night after night in my atelier
I have disemboweled myself,
A dozen new figures to worship your savagery.

Margins

There was, even in the earliest arrivals,
that element in their souls
which shrunk from the purely urban,
the pinched living,
the tripping over each other
in the dark courtyards
of old Europe,
from which they had fled.

No, here in this land,
that knew nothing
of cesspools running deep
in the nostrils and the mind,

they pushed the new cities out
to arms length or more,
and kept gardens, rolling lawns,
undies flying like flags of independence
from the line.

This wild land soon enough
de-civilized the new comers,
in the call of the mist,
and the folds of endless ranges
to the vast, un-hedged isolation.

And they grew more reticent,
lost the eloquence of the mother tongue,
steeped in its crushing epochs of speech,
lost in the thick silence,
pierced only by the tui,
a rush of wings from the bush,
untutored voices.

The forests dispossessed them,
those so-called colonizers,
but they gained in return.
On that margin between
the bach and the sea,
the mountain hut and the infinite south,
they pushed out from the pale,
the left behind, walled up centuries.

The threads tore
in the purer, turbulent skies,
while they kept the essentials,
wooley jersey, gumboots,
and tin of beef,
things to take with them
when they went off
to learn from the cataracts of the bush.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014