1: Bath of Dreams

Could I Ramesside luxury provide,

I’d bathe with you, in true Pharaonic style.

You’d be my Isis, my beloved bride

And I the Son of Ra upon the Nile.

Or did I over Caesar’s empire rule,

Were I, in all, Marc Antony again,

Like him, my Gypsy love, I’d play the fool,

All passions else and power itself disdain.

Alas, such ancient evenings are not ours.

They are but dreams, of which you’re redolent.

Your eyes and limbs are my Nilotic bowers;

My foolishness your breasts, your hair, your scent.

So, bathe me ‘til I get recall to duty.

Intoxicate me! Drown me in your beauty!

2: Nutcracker Man

Paranthropa went looking for Nutcracker Man

Boisei in the Oldowan Woods.

She hadn’t in mind a particular plan;

Just to get him to give her the goods.

 

Her Nutcracker Man, a promising youth,

Sat gazing aloft at the Sun;

Delighted, and even astonished, in truth,

On account of the thing he had done.

 

She found him, at last, by the Olduvai stream;

She cooed to him, sitting alone.

He turned to her slowly, as if in a dream,

And showed her a curious stone.

 

‘I can see,’ Paranthropa then teasingly laughed,

‘That I’ve caught you down here again knapping.

I admire, I suppose, your neat handicraft,

But you should be out hunting and trapping!’

 

Boisei was cut and, in some disbelief,

Exclaimed ‘Oh, you’re clueless, by Jimbo!

You’d be more impressed by my almond-shaped leaf’

If you weren’t such a Palaeobimbo!

 

I’d thought that the genius of my chips and cuts

Would light up your mind and connect us;

But I see all you want is fresh meat and rich nuts.

Well, look here, I’m now Homo erectus!

3: Fire and the Wheel

I’ve loved you from the beginning,

With the simplest of gestures;

With inarticulate cries,

With unselfconscious mimicry.

 

I’ve loved you since the first fire-wielding,

When we yelled together at encircling beasts,

Feasted on fire-roasted insects and nuts;

Huddle around the flames in awe.

 

Was that Eden, that long-ago aeon;

As the hand formed and the inner eye,

The larynx and Broca’s brain;

Before ever we sang to one another?

 

Or was Eden the time of hand-axes,

As all this came together

In our hearths and hunting,

From old Andalusia to the Chinese rivers?

 

What years those were of wide exploring!

Eurasia was ours with new spears!

Exulting in our uncanny craft,

We wondered at what we were.

Our long days fell like forest leaves;

They endured like ever-greens.

Our fire-circles lit the long nights;

Changing our dreams.

 

Were those shimmering years,

Those many hundred millennia,

Before our love made music,

Truly our Golden Age?

 

Did you feel loved then,

As the wide seas rose and fell;

As the ice advanced and retreated;

As the giant forests shifted, again and again?

 

Or was it only later, only later

That sentiment came and crooning;

Coaxed by oxytocin out of the flicker

Of long light under the waxing Moon?

 

Was I a caricature, to your mind,

Of all that was possible – possible –

For a singing hominid under the Sun?

Was I stone in need of shaping?

 

Ah! We buried each other many times,

Again and again, with grief and ochre,

Over ages under the ageless stars,

From Jebel Qafzeh to Beringia.

 

Remember the times, sheltered from

The harsh climate shift in the north,

When we relished our little piece of Africa

In Andalusia? Those idyllic coasts and caves?

 

But your love transformed me:

Your call for songs and stories;

Your playing to me on bone flutes;

Your vivid arts of changing forms.

 

We shook the shackles of the ancient trees,

Hailed the Sky god with high hands;

We took to the open horizon;

Pitched bold camp on the stark steppe.

 

There, at last, you carved me into shape!

Your love cut antler into a figurine;

And I, deer hunter, roamed forth Gravettian,

Making long lasting legends on the plains.

 

You wove me a coat of wool,

Dyed in wondrous new colours;

Finer than any cured skin and

I revelled in your home-spun beauty.

 

Even that was a long age of ardour

Under the high wheeling stars;

Rich with rumour of far mountains,

With mammoth hunts and possibilities.

 

Then the revolution came, at last: the Wheel;

The mastery and mustering of horses,

The making of wains and war-chariots,

The being of bright, burnished bronze.

 

Ah, Sky gods! The Wheel and the horse

Brought an end to our long cycles!

Ah! My lover with golden hair,

The Wheel set us rolling, riding, racing

  

In the chariot of the Sun, did it not?

Since then, everything has gone in a flash:

A riotous blur of songs and innovations;

A nightmare of blood and terror.

 

I’ve loved you from the beginning.

Let’s not now go under the Wheel.

All our myths are confused.

I long only for your beauty.

4: The Bell and the Choir

There are hymns to be heard

On the Isle of the Dead,

Or such is the word

That is still being spread.

 

Neither brimstone nor fire,

As threatened of old;

But an angelic choir

With voices of gold.

 

The singing will start

With a high, ringing bell

And conclude with a chant

That will solemnly tell

 

Of salvation history,

Wonders made plain,

And of life’s inner mystery,

Its glory and pain.

 

Our labours all done

Past the portals of night,

We’ll rejoice in the One

And repose in His sight.

 

Oh, if life would end so,

On that Isle in the West,

Under Evenstar’s glow,

Then I’d go to my rest.

 

But we all should beware

Of the sirens of death

And resist going there,

While still we have breath.

 

For in truth all the Muses

Of rest and delight

Demand that one chooses

The noon, not the night.

 

The bell and the choir,

The chanting of story

To be heard all require

The world’s ‘passing glory’.

 

So, I’ll not dream of songs

On the Isle of the Dead,

But proclaim what belongs

To the living, instead.

 

For I am a being

Of flesh and of bone;

Not a soul that is fleeing

To star and to stone.

 

It is here, it is here

And not in the West,

That what touches the ear

Can make it feel blest.

 

It’s through metaphors drawn

From our love of the world

That our souls are reborn

And our hopes are unfurled.

 

And so we conceive,

With extravagant eye,

An eternal reprieve

For all those who die.

 

Too often this tends

To a fervent belief

That the visionary bends

To delusion and grief.

 

So, though we must die,

Let us love, while we may,

The light in the sky,

The sensations of day.

 

Let life be renewed

By the joys that we find

In what saints have construed

As ‘the world’ of our kind.

 

Our religion should nourish

The flowers and trees;

The creatures that flourish

In the skies and the seas.

 

Our solemnest vow

Of our purpose and worth

Should centre on how

We have sprung from the Earth;

 

Nor should we yet long

To flee from this green,

With the thought we belong

In places unseen.

 

For indeed we do not;

But have gardens to tend

On our aqueous plot

At the Milky Way’s end.

 

Let’s cherish, then, all

Of the gifts of the Muses;

No longer in thrall

To the One, who refuses

 

To grant us surcease

From predation and strife,

Except through release

From the pleasures of life;

 

And, with Orphic intent,

With sublime orchestration,

Spend all we’ve been lent

In the brilliant creation

 

Of a culture profound

With its halls full of song,

In which will resound

The cry, ‘We belong!’

 

Ah, that is an Isle

Of cypresses high

Where I’d live well awhile,

Then peacefully die.

 

5: Listening to Chopin

The combination of protracted convalescence,

Bouts of exhaustion halting all my projects,

Melancholy news of Venezuela

And wintry thoughts of my relentless aging;

Have me, lately, turning down the lights

And listening intently to some Chopin -

Chiefly to his nocturnes, late at nights -

And feeling deeply privileged, overall,

To be myself, disposed oneirically,

Equipped with such advanced technology;

 

To have the scope, in quiet, private space,

The means, the education and good grace,

The access to such high fidelity

Recordings, by the Warsaw Philharmonic;

But, not least, our love, my bold, creative muse,

My own George Sand, with her cigars and trousers –

At least if we see them as metonyms –

Whose novels outsold those of Victor Hugo;

Who’s been with me to lakes up in the mountains

And taken her composer to Mallorca.

 

Yet Chopin never wrote a book on China,

Or a book of thirty essays on the West;

Or a book of sonnets, set in B Flat minor;

Or political opinions in the press.

There’s much, in short, that Frederic didn’t do,

Even with Amanthe Lucile Dupin,

That I’ve done, in my fleeting years with you

And, having cheated death, perhaps still can.

But when I’m gone, if your lone psyche yearns

For all we were, read these – my own nocturnes.

6: Pantheon

We reached the fabled Pantheon at dusk,

Meandering down from the Borghese Gardens,

Where we’d lingered on the Pincio,

Discoursing on the villa of Lucullus,

As the sun declined above the Vatican.

 

We made our way past Trinita dei Monti

And through the crowds upon the Spanish Steps,

With passing thoughts of dying Keats and Shelley;

We cast our coins into the Trevi Fountain,

Then came, at last, to the Sanctissimum.

 

Remember Nietzsche’s madman sagely asking,

When hauled out from a church for having chanted

His requiem for the eternal God,

‘What are these buildings now, if not the tombs

And sepulchres of what we thought divine?’

 

In just that spirit, surely, Hadrian,

The Empire’s ruler at its apogee,

Reconceived what M. Agrippa built;

Bequeathing us a truly stunning shrine

To all the seven planetary gods.

 

But, as with other monuments that day,

What most impressed itself upon my mind

Was less the awesome structure in itself

Than your naively beautiful response

To all the layered meanings of that space.

 

And how, in Catholic pews beneath the dome,

That Michelangelo himself described

As the work of nothing less than angels,

We sat by candlelight and spoke in earnest

Of all our deepest thoughts and future plans.

7: Tokyo Blonde, 1985

My encounter with Ms Rand was existential:

She was blond and statuesque and twenty-four,

Fluent in Chinese and very bright

And, as we strolled the streets of Tokyo,

Where she, of course, was looked at goggle-eyed

By many avid, stressed out little men;

And after we had danced through Ueno Park

And lunched with Hunter and Christine in Habaraku -

He an engineer and she an artist –

Urged that just we two run off together.

 

Let’s go, she said, to Hamamatsu-cho

To a coffee shop she knew and talk of dreams,

Of Jung, especially, and of my Anima.

How could I decline, on any count,

Especially as she plainly seemed to think

That, as Christine had said, I was a genius –

Imagine how surprised I felt at that!

And what young genius, fresh in Tokyo,

Could conceivably turn down a striking blond,

Who proposed a blend of dreams and coffee beans?

 

Politeness strangely held me by the toes:

We spoke in caffeinated animation

Of archetypes and of my tangled loves;

She dug my dreams and made good sense of them;

Enchanted, it was plain, by my persona,

She said to me, with flagrant sexual candour,

That I shouldn’t feel confined to just one Muse.

Even now, when I’m no longer young,

My memories of her shy, seductive words

Tantalize my still ingenuous tongue.

8: Cleis Scamandros

Dark Cleis sat across the room from me

She shared her table with some learned Greeks

My eye was caught by flowers in her hair

And then I caught her eye

 

That night we dined and spoke of Sappho’s verse

She led me deep within the labyrinth

She told me that the Popes burned Sappho’s books

And saying so she sighed

 

“Come to Mytilene”, she then breathed

“You can join me on a boat, if you so choose

I’m going to research the ancient songs

Of the only mortal Muse”

 

We climbed through cypress groves up from the port

To where they staged the comedies of old

And sat beneath the trees with Lesbian wine

At noon in flowering spring

 

She murmured, then, ‘Eressos’ in my ear;

And, once there, told of Lilley’s play

Of Sappho’s silence, Phaon’s spotless vow

And urged I learn these lines

 

The evening was beguiled in her soft lounge

Where after drinks she put some music on

An opera: “Gounod’s Sappho”, she announced

And asked me of my loves

 

I lost myself in wine-enchanted talk

Of all the great Dembowskis of my life

Their beauty, their intelligence, my loss

She lay and urged me on

 

Tell me more, she breathed, of your desire

Of why these long haired lovelies turned you down

And whether they have quite put out your fire

Oh tell me everything!

 

I told her of the greatest of my loves

Of Catriona, Nathalie, and Weili Wu

And then I spoke of Buenos Aires and you

While she removed her clothes

 

In retrospect, she’d played me like a lyre

And how could mortal man resist such hands?

The conversation turned to her desire

To sate my pent up needs

 

Her long hair tossing, wild and open mouthed

She told me that she thirsted for my seed

And fell on me with reckless, ardent kisses

My manhood stood up well

 

For all my recent weariness in Austin

For all my chaste and funerary vows

I could not flee like Phaon from her snare

We coupled then til dawn

 

Those hours on Lesbos will not quickly fade

The taste of Cleis lingers on my tongue

But when, at last, the Sun had risen high

She washed and bade me leave

 

Be quick, she urged, your craft will leave at noon

White flower petals rain upon my heart

I’ve swallowed all your loss and grief and fear

But now you must depart

 

And so I left bright Sappho on the coast

Of bitten mouth, of shouts and twining limbs

Of copulation fraught with life and force

And took to sea again