In a Chinese Garden

Finally, the erasing hour of the rain.
The garden lost behind a paper screen,
and what returns is never the same.
I have known a vast, bright, burning summer,
reduced to the silence of the listening stones.
The rain thrusts me
into these corners of solitude with a grey palm.
But see how the hydrangeas remain,
and rise like a rebellion of scent and colour,
from the darkened pond.
Blue, through folds of purple, to breathless pink,
they climb, until there is no colour at all,
only this defiant song of insects
that not even the rain could wash away.
For there is nothing in these flowers that
grows despondent, as we sometimes do,
and accepts the finality of water.
Like a breath of infinite pigment,
they leap and dive
in circles of unquenchable joy
without decay,
to the very edge of the garden wall.

Apple Picking

By mid-morning my hand ached
from the repetitive rhythm
of the cutting and pulling,
and the sun beat its way into my head,
and expanded like a seed of heat.
The work still hadn’t broken me in,
and I was greener than the baby shoots.

But everywhere, the others,
more seasoned than I,
worked to the rhythm of the grass
and the pollen,
and a music of wind sometimes swelled
and cooled their broad necks.
Everyone was tawny there,

and even the young women of the orchard,
loved more by the sun than the men,
looked like the reddened, beautiful girls
I have seen in pictures of the
people of the wild steppes.

At lunch time, I talked with the
old guy who works the tractor.
His voice was full of salt and dust,
and he spoke of last season’s work,
and of tea trees and pears
and his 44 years under
this corner of the sun.

If you are here long enough,
the orchard will shape your speech,
so that it rises just loud enough
above the breeze,
and there’s not much to say
beyond the hedges and the slow road,
and the hills that are already
a foreign land.

In the morning,
as I picked among the too close branches,
I thought of things beyond me,
debts, women, cities, ships and
also death.
But come afternoon, in the heat
that quells all words,
I thought of nothing,
and was simply a rustling through the trees.


I am the subdued carp of aquatic frenzy,
moored to your secret moon.

After the despairs of ecstasy,
I float in the blossoms of your dangerous calm.

Love sheathed, night a memory,
we are a single rising chest, a unison of silence.

What we were is slowly rousing.
But let it outreach us,

let it be a foreign thing we no longer recognise,
while we fade in the absence of dawn.

Japanese Villa

This old villa, long abandoned,

ringed by a crumbling wall,

unkempt trees pushing out,

bursting the seems

of the respectable street,

defiantly shows its rags, its decay.

It’s already given up

the mad business of getting on

and surrendered to

the fearless grasses

that reclaim the lost time

and the nights of the drunken moon.

The world spins on and on

around it

like a hurt animal

licking over its wounds,

villages, towns, cities,

itch upon itch,

the beat men reeling in the gutters

and the multiplied fevers.

But the villa just takes

all that clamour to be something

deep into the wide leaves

of the banana tree,

the long buried stepping stones,

the slipping tiles,

the strangled gutters,

and sends out the cicadas’ song

louder than anything you’ve heard.


Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014


At this silver pavilion
a shogun
once put away his robes of state,
and while embers fell with snow
on the elegant little ways
of old Kyoto,
he whittled his country
into this breath taking
and gaudy masterpiece.
How many millions became shavings
for Yoshimasa’s
detached and graceful poems
from a floating world?