Poems

The Blue Dressing Gown
It hung in my boy's wardrobe,
an army regulation item
no one could throw out.
 
And it would be hard, wouldn't it,
to discard the only thing left
in something like the shape of him.
 
It hung on a wire hanger,
skeleton of his shoulder
cutting across collar bone,
 
the drape of it swinging side to side
if nudged into a shy dance,
or if asked up by a breeze.
 
I used to wear it, with no sense
of feeling weird or spooky,
alternating with a practical flannel,
 
yet at night sometimes woke
frightened by its doorway shadow,
a man hanging on the moon's hook.
 
I never realized I'd outgrown him
walking tall through one summer
while his shoulders rode my back.
 
The tassels swung like incense
as I walked in his shape
trying to sense the being inside him.

Midsummer Night
for Ingeborg Kroll
In Ålvik the festival of Midsummer Night is at eight o’clock
but there’s a sense of displacement or disorientation,
expectation of fantasy beneath a screen of fact.
We visitors want it to be midnight
but it’s still broad daylight on an overcast day,
clouds like fallen towers edge along the fjord.
Fine films of rain keep the scene shifting,
new images drift over the wooden reels piled like an altar;
a foreshore pyre billows next to the town’s fire truck;
a fireman in protective gear slews fuel on the flames.
 
We expected other signs along the fjord,
other torches along the picturesque rim,
other symbols as the night came on,
perhaps a romance of paganism,
primal fire before the light of Christianity,
but the water only smoked with rain.
 
Enough witches were burned in Christian Norway,
some in Bergen, eighteen once up north in Vardø
to warrant two monuments. Both are in the guides.
All were women condemned by strange weather,
town hysteria and the encouragement of torture.
Being Norway, there’s an architect-designed
memorial in Vardø. The illusion of an empty chair
is consumed by flames inside a glass space,
as though regret for what happened in 1621
must be never ending, the constant, almost animate fire
more awful, more alive, than stone.
 
In Vardø only Ingeborg Kroll refused to confess
to flying, drowning sailors or having a tour of hell
before her body gave up to white hot iron,
her chest burning with sulphur.
Buried on an island opposite the gallows
the shape stretches like another judgement.
 
In Ålvik, children gather in the roped front row
sitting cross-legged, themselves tiny idols
who look up and down from the cameras
they nurse and touch as tenderly as manikins.
 
Most settle to watch the digital version
once removed from reality,
able to edit and save the furnace of wheels on fire.
 
Eventually the reels begin to topple
and roll into themselves.
Their round faces look up burning
before rows of screens, a smiling crowd,
and one thousand years of shadows
while small boys as ever cry,
 
 
More diesel. More diesel.

Meisboller
after the woodcut by Judith de Haan
The curiously named meisboller — miceballs
look like the small, red-chested birds
which are eating them this winter morning.
 
Both have breasts bright as traffic lights,
all are hanging like Christmas lanterns
inside a maze of thin birch branches.
 
The four birds, four meisboller, glow
like the tips of cigars in winter
as eight friends walk up a country road
 
where they might see inside the wood
acrobat birds who flutter, land and hang,
then dangle to eat, claws steadying
 
the swinging food of golf ball fat
someone kindly left, a gift
in a tangle of cross hatch branches.
 
Remove the birds and winter fare
and the image is a whiteout wasteland.
Together the heartbeat of the art
 
makes seven hearths in a winter landscape.

With Her
and at last she comes to bed
the blue nightie
caught below her knees
and as she bends — like a girl picking flowers —
her breast moves with the movement down
her hair falls to one side
 
there’s a scent of rose and jasmine
and her nightcream glows
as she switches off the light
and climbs towards me
while I wait in my singlet and skin
with a useless book and glasses
 
nearly sixty
yet we slide beneath the sheet
like children slipping beneath the first wave of summer
and it’s she who turns first
to fold her hair before it’s caught
as I turn to hold her
my palm floating across her back
 
pausing then stroking again
like soothing something young and wild
shifting her thigh across mine
kissing her lips like a kiss before sleep
when it’s really hello how are you tonight?
as she sighs and says
this is nice
and our bodies move together
like an answer