To stop the car and get out is to grasp
At nothing: a prosperous, rather 'thirties suburb
In which with socks untwisted and our polished shoes
Gleaming in the chill, wet-sprinkled air
We walked those mornings to communal prayer —
Obediently, on the whole, or I did, but you
Of course were skipping about and chattering,
Impish, beguiling and not forgotten. Miss Twinkle
Toes, would you please tell me why the south wind blows
The deeper and the sadder for those cast-off clothes?

And it's not, as you would think it might be,
That much changed. There is the school, the pub
Half-timbered, and the loose, rough straggle of
The streets that sidled off, vacantly to
The far side, waste ground as it was, but now
A municipal car park and office block
Gleaming and heartless, where the scurrying feet
Know nothing, care nothing, that inches deep
Under concrete and tarmac is the shadowed keep
Of the lands we live in when asleep.

Perhaps it's that time and that time only,
Among the tracery of days that fan
Outward slowly as the green leaves open
In a garden suburb or on schoolroom ledge
That the small boy looking is half-entrammelled
In the cress uncurling in its effervescence,
The sticky-buds stretching, and most of all the thick red
Bean pushing through paper its tendrilled shoot. Down
To what sensing did the body, half-wanton,
Disclosed itself goddess when I was gone?

Perhaps I supposed so, or longed to, I do not know.
The fata morgana of such a child — pert ears,
Long neck, a strange way of walking, that the legs, deftly
Extended, should but touch on the ground
A half-moon of heel and five perfect toes. Away
Went the grasses, the gravel, and who can say
Whether the ankle, the instep or gangling thigh
Stepped the course carefully to what it knew — that out
Of the freckles, gobstoppers, and turned-up nose,
Should come in stemmed splendour the summer rose?

But that is to hasten through what I should say
Of the runaway child, the breakneck demon
Who won all the races and made havoc of games,
Stole bat, lost ball, was late and light-hearted.
Took ever the short cut and didn't care. If
I who was leader came always home laden first with
The birds' egg, the sixpence, the four-leaf clover — chaste
Huntress of meadowland, clay pit, of wasteland and brook,
Hold out your hands to me, close the book
Wherein it was written the paths we took.

Gone is that boyhood, and with it the seasons
Of running in gym shoes from brimstone to white,
Racing the field vole, looking for slow-worm, squirming
Through thickets still wet with the dew. These
Were our forests and hide-and-seek castles — cow
Parsley, burdock, goose strife and grasses. These
Were the sense of it, start of it, this remaining
For all that's written in the years that came after: under
The heaven's perpetual but not unclouding grace
You draw your legs up and you hide your face.

How did they put it in those costumed times —
That we must nothing do all day but pace
And speak with courtesy of our good morrow?
Something like that it was, and it will serve
For the rites of passage in our youth together.
I in awkward blazer, short grey trousers, you
As trussed in gymslip, top and lace-up shoes,
Schoolchildren only for all the coyness — wholesome,
Moreover, breathing from bodice and complexion
Only a compliant, raw, well-scrubbed affection.

How innocent it was when we two met
With only hopscotch on the heart at evenings
When our parents with their neighbours still
Were walking and meandering and slowly
Came back from garden fence to dark inside.
What was the drift then of the ice-cream vendor's
Glowing jingles through the sun-stilled street
But a promise and a listening and a blessing for
The words that you whispered, blushed at, said
Abruptly, till you stopped then, and you hung your head?

But admissions once uttered are not retracted
Lest the trusting affection have its purpose fail.
What did you think, my tomboy, my bandit, that I
Would declare with position made? Did you
Not hold to what I shortly would give you: words
At once true if indifferently spoken? Surely
You heard as with a noise of great waters the house,
Trees and the college let the good days out?
Listen — gathering onwards did there not start
The summertime fountaining of the heart?

What shall I say? With my sisters singing,
Up with the daybreak, as the sun was spreading
Its cascades of colours in luminous tints — touching
The cumulous, turning the tree tops, edging the sky
Line a fabulous blue. Did I not say that
Whatever we thought that the days would bring us, fuller
And more fragrant, to companionable ways. Yes
This was our compact as you my consort.
And if unwieldy as mountains are those shaded days
You would still hold me through your eyes' soft blaze?

Yes, all was forgiven, forgotten, when out with a short
Step, a skip, a flounce, you lifted the body
To springtime indifference in your first high-heals.
More than heel, or ankle or instep, I could imagine
Neatly tucked in the little toes — evenly
Pressing and spreading the tentative stepping
To the future, to the foreign, the world you knew
Would sway to your movement. It would — then you'd tremble
As though the intoxicating but yielding air
Contained more happiness than you could bear.

Bird-calls were filled with the watery note which
Irised the flowers, the leaf-tips, the trees in wanting
To thrust out their branches, to grasp at the air.
All moved with your moving, as though in your passion — then
I was happiest, not later with headlong wanting:
The heart in one's mouth, and all the having fevered:
That linkage so heavy, so hobbling, that all fell through.
Having is giving and thanking and ever returning.
Unwieldy as your body is that sideways dream
Of your stride and beneath and the body's brief.

If remembrance fill footprints and the rain
Re-order the springtime that once again
You give me your muddied foot to kiss — isthmus
As it must be to spoke-shaved thigh - did you
Not urge me impetuously and then but dither,
Call me your sweetheart and then never at all,
That I should press to my lips the driest of partings
As round me, repugnant, you must flail and twist?
After lightning much wonder. The river runs on
Through grey days, and more, though reached-for, is gone.

                 *         *           *

Strange, long afterwards, to be writing this,
Like old friends with thoughts that will come to sit with me,
To swell out a past that I have not wanted, like breezes
That sometimes will catch at an old umbrella, filling
This most drab of things with their own afflatus:
Dragging me here, beating against the sense,
To these streets, these houses that meet me with folded
Arms, censorious looks. The bus passes
Importantly on, whirling like dead leaves the fates
Of lives in factories, the shops and the raw estates.

Another town: two different lives. You
The actress, or soon to be, of film and theatre,
I the writer, traveller, scientist, many
Things but at that moment a young man only
Standing diffidently at your door, waiting and
Above all looking as the warm light widened
For a girl remembered who was now a woman,
Who might not recall, nor want to, but still in hope
That just as a smell will, suddenly and with tears
Bring all to mind, I should reach you across the years.

You clasped me, hugged me, brought me forward, round
The home that you had made — cooker, freezer,
All the accoutrements more real and true
Than I remembered, could do, clutching at
Someone vast but shifting slowly into you.
Yet I could see, as we went on talking, all
The words collected had repaid their debts.
Till like children pampered and with kisses fed
Slowly and so happily we trooped to bed.

For days, weeks, years together I could see you
Half-sfumato, languorous, nothing on
But that small crucifix and chain. Dear God
How avidly and tenderly again
And again with all concession I should kiss
The bulwarks and the crossing places, richest
Burgeoning of what the past had built
In taste of you, in breath of you — until
I knew the angels in all heaven sighed
Over us and tenderly as the daylight died.

My heart you were, my life, my sinews, so that
Even mornings on the tube-train travelling
I would make more space around me, be
Fearful lest though inadvertently
Touching others I should taste of them,
Absorb their sweat, their suspiration, all
The alchemy that made up you. Dear
First, dear last, dear soul of being, who
But you to kiss me, hug me, till the view
Of all I ever held to had been wholly you?

Huge days and warm days, coloured days on days!
In my office, walking lunchtimes, at
The weekends, travelling on the tube-train homeward
I would have the minutes, heart-beat seconds
Vacant till I clasped and held to you. Then
To bed and out of it, and so some
Party, then another, you more reckless
Laughing, wild and vagrant than before
Until under the warm sequins of the stars your feet
Danced their patterns down the quiet street.

In that rapture must I remember how
So briefly and so fitfully the sunlight
Passes in its brightness, streams away
In warmth of comfort, the convivial home?
Ours the country that is all around us
Still our heritage and common joy
Only the path that bears us here but stops
On the foreign always. I remember
You'd set them laughing on the homeward bus
To call out wistfully goodnight to us.

Things remarkable, what are they but
The wealth turned up by the duller cast
Of days as must be, and en masse returning
To a routine ordinary, sober, plain?
Surely I saw that in your downward glances,
In the eyes, home later and with lame excuses,
The looks grow keener and the pricking tears
Gathered disordered in the burning glass.
Our days to stop, permanently, unless
I should pull the truth out, acquiesce.

Like an old man faltering in his native haunts
Finding all different from what it was — filled
With thoughts still tender, though the outward flesh
Had wrinkled, had thickened, had grown grey hairs:
A poor man with nothing who must stand aside
From the tumbrel of legs that mount and press,
Urgent, resourceful, with their stockinged tops
From which as all else he must avert his glance.
A scandal, perversity, to even touch
The bodies in tumult that are known too much.

You knew how I felt — as leper or beggar
My forehead branded, with a heavy bell
Dragging and clanging behind me: make way! outcast!
One wondrously given I could not have, you
Who were severally present in all my thinking,
In waking, in sleeping, in breathing, in going about
On business or pleasure, wherever I looked,
Had changed, had reverted: in each move I made
Rose up, more determined, and from bed to bed
To a pleasure past coitus you smiled and fled.

Were there remissions? There were. Long weeks together
All was as loving and carefree as before.
The humour of those hours suspended, healed
The discord, word-torn, that had been. Only
Waiting always, still uncoiling, poising
To strike at all you said, and more the simplest,
Kindest or the most transparent lie,
Was that wretched flaring open, widest
Of my soiling still, as, underneath,
Writhed the vulva in its folds of teeth

Days of anger and of thundery heat
That filled the inmost process of my thought.
Yet once I remember in the evening, with the great
Reluctant and velvet plummets of the rain
Cascading, glittering and blurring on the pane,
You turned and said: Console me a little tonight,
I am not happy. And I heard, in the garden
Below, the one bird singing, still singing, on and on.
Today, as the inward and reflective man
I must look that much deeper to what I am.

But not for you, forward, and just as friendly
Through all those cocktails, lunches, parties,
Which I liked and loved you, had you walking,
Swirling, turning that full figure out.
Since they'd fete you, book you, surely, why
Should I reroute and have that love restrain?
Go you forward and lightly with all good fortune,
With all of heart I urged you on, and hoped
Only to see you as those beings are,
Shining as you will be and were a star.

As I grow older I cry the more for the
The long days past and the lingering stains that
The hands leave of course, and the body in surfeit
Of vigour impassions the faint stuff of air.
How the legs in decorum rise up and arch
Downwards to dwindle in such pretty feet. Splendour
Of shoulder and sinew, the dependence of breast:
All this to have known, and daily, and at night
In dewed and heavy gentleness sunk deep
Wrapped in the hem of angels, to smile and sleep.

But waking solitary, as I seek blindly
For a fragrant breathing and small heart beating
I am confounded, for a moment shaken
By these plain walls and this rough bed. I stand
At the basin, reproachful, and feel the shadows
Encroach and bunch up on this grizzled face.
Not ravaged, not handsome, but one with the weather
Erratic, still changeable, with gloomy spells.
How strange it all seems now, as the sunlight throws
Its far-off splendour on the summer rose.

And afterwards what is there but the harsh
Upbraidings of the wind, high trees, the surge
Like autumn languidly through streets, a sense
Of melancholy, of lights on water, all
Things to be denied, laid aside
And with a smile, like an old suit, a song
We knew the words of once, and shall forget
Completely, even that we knew them, you
And I in the long days following that pass
Unmarked as footsteps through the summer grass.

And in the infinite small matter that is our lives,
Sadnesses even in which our fates are written,
There is much ragged evanescence, blotched
Mortgages of things so undertaken
Late, half-heartedly or yet too soon
That all miscarries. Miseria. But
If I again the once may walk with you,
And take your hand and quietly talk with you,
You will come, won't you, and down these far-off streets
Run again laughing in our childhood heats?