by Iain James Robb

It's morning, and the cold black hull of branches sets my resting pier,

Amid this drizzle, underneath the poignant pain of birches, wrecked

By floods of midyear grieving; wraithlike, Dawn's been becked

To paint in shafts of faded rose that shades the fen with specious cheer.


My feet are clad in broken veils of water, and my throat's been cracked

By thirsts I can't eradicate: this drowning deluge first found wrack

Upon me with my drought's first sorrow, put me stripped upon my back

A sapling in pale mindless spaces, boat among oars the gale has hacked


On land that has no armour; still it seems to me, those lifeless planks

I've picked out as my shelter, weep their wetness in remembrance' wise,

In empathy for golden days when Grecian vaults flocked Persian skies,

When gilded gables faced the bays and laurel-yards' terranean flanks.  


The wetland breathes in beads of mist that wraps along my ragged throne,

That paint sweat where the coolness sits, where one branch or another had

Engraved its name across my head; my thoughts retire to some lost maid

Who rose upon the conch-shell's bed, her seat carved by her cousin sun.


There's one stone prison of a face deciphered where the reeds are lying;

I imagine her who presaged Helen's doleful sake for worship's arms,

Her bust set in these marshes, where no foeman's gore distils her charms,

And pale yellow has replaced the shade, of air once grey as dying.


Once forgotten wars were staged not here, but for the blame of that

Sublime lust for Mars' patent beauty, patron guide to Florentine:

My supine state is nurtured by the hairshirt crown of eglantine

That bleeds me by your china side, where boyish gods and soldiers sat,


Remembering the purpose of desire; the poisoned arrows struck

With hint of endless perfumes, the indemnity kept blood as seal

And innocence experience made keeper; should the spear reveal

Where nectar makes the spirit frozen, youth's long pike unstuck?


Venus, now your august brow that was as white as heaven's cars

Has lain to rest with age, your gaze is levelled, lost inside your sight,

And fails to find a way to bend to other days when eyes made bright

Two angels, laughing, dancing, caught at chase between two stars.


Your marble hair is serenaded by the teardrops of the snow,

That weaves at fall a marriage-gown: would any men of any age

Still further court on those affections, play the misdirected page?

My sweet, they have forgotten you; your name has lost its prior show.


Once lust-befuddled by the youth who chastened you with aimless face

Of chastity, that paled before the boar took blood with jealous tusk,

Once love's sweet sin had held him in the place where day returns to dusk,

And now no lover clasps your brow, or seeks to break your surface-place.


Venus, now the August's prow takes anchor in your frozen gaze,

The melting poultice of the snow becomes your groom one lonely hour:

Upon its footsteps comes the rain, four seasons in the same day's glaze,

The tropic breeze against your face anointing with your vanished dower.


I'll stay here, a stalk in the aspens, too long forlorn yet to fade,

And sing to you of mystic towers, guide your graces with a tale

Of days remoter than your smile, find you memories more pale

Than any absent-gestured mimer's art against your still heart's glade.


I'll sleep here, in broken leaves, whose raggedness belies my deeds,

In wanting to paint Nature: no, there seems no blend for oils and grit,

But elegance in death: a lone wren ended forth, her throat is cut:

I puzzle in your place, and watch your cheekbones crossed by aphids.


Life has long abandoned you: I have no space along these margins,

Not here in the swallowing woods, not there trapped on a hilltop's peak,

My powers like yours too anodyne, to make weight on the world's reins,

My gifts on stilts at stillborn giving, headlong flung at birth's first seek.


Your face like mine would be remote, from all men of this weak domain,

Where prostituted zeal succeeds the bright sail of your diamond age,

Where simple-minded virtues take the place of high adventure's stage,

And minds dulled by vacuous brush are dead to the far-tempered pen.


My gift's a curse, I never asked, to pine with this condition's grip,

Its virtues caught by no-one, pain transmuted for no greater cause,

The journey took for nothing: should I throw off this autistic gauze,

And take my soul to somewhere nowhere, sail burned down along with ship?


Venus, I will seek you, stung by frozen dew on the edge of the river:

                  Atici amoris ergo: ne pas impune lacessit me.

Your Adon, I will lie in your lap and realise we were like the weather,

                  Permanent, for someone else: oh seasons, don't push me.


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It's morning, and the useless crows teem, picking ravaged berries

From the sockets of skulls of sightless dead things: falling down in fog

The clouds make moats of greyish bowers: dry and brown-grown ferries

Stall in the depth of the pool where one sad scarecrow sits: a brittle plug


Among poplars, scared by silence: then the raucous stench appears

Of rawkish voices I can't reach to throttle, since I drench more deep

Each time I move to veer against the pain: the black encroachers creep

Their feet on sense' more hallowed soil, that I would rip out both my ears,


Not drowning yet, but moored too fast to tear these vile tormenting wings,

Which leave my world in such pollution; now that sound has lent reprieve

By going back to absence, I hear strains, of strange music, dealt of things

My withered state instructs me of, kindness, lent to me that I should grieve


With sweeter voice upon its deeper tune; dead Helen, I've known yours,

I've swallowed grievance from your sort and lost respect for fickle wiles:

My statue's tired affections are more open, still invites with smiles,

And still yearns for her monuments, her marble plinths, her corridors. 


My Venus, let us both be lifeless points the frost snares as its bed,

Your pallid final lover's arms will hide you: here's no prophet's bulk,

But one who only wished to give new feeling, his malaise of head

That only dead ears find the space to witness, to his banished sulk 


Cast out in exile a flayed angel; stalks of sunlight, on this open hearth

Where all the dye of day bakes, flood chrysanthemums, of purple, blue,

Around the moat of freezing thighs: anon, there slides one dappled flue

Beside me that has lost its tone, set distant where the mirrored earth


Now taunts with its promise, more than knee deep in the orbit of water,

Reflecting the dark boughs, flank of the tarn; how I vegetate strangely,

And always the hail, that was never my friend, and the calm surface-play

Of hard beads in the wetness insults me; weird melody, render me her


And deseat the strained wheeze, from the top of my chest, to the wind's moan,

Through the copse' maze that whistles, that curls with clangour of bagpipes;

Let poverty plead with desire to relieve me, back lashed hard: the ruby stripes

Have bled my flesh like venison: you holding growths, you're not my own.


Have greener breath of she support me, Venus, join me at the stream,

Which merges by my static kingdom: thunder sings its song for three,

Both I, my mistress and this island, knowing we've outworn our dream,

                   Both dreaming of another isle: please, seasons, leave me be.