Download PDF Here Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Two Sept-October 2022.
Charles Simic, poems by Justin Lowe
for Kristen “Krip” Cherry *
Dear Charles. Thank you for the games of chess:
I still owe you one ivory tiger.
Thank you for pulling me from that dark pond:
insomniacs seem to make reluctant heroes.
You pulled me out and whispered something in my ear
a little canticle of nonsense, or maybe Serbian;
I am not very good with languages,
or epistles, it would seem.
You often whisper when I am a little lost, Mr Simic,
like a well-oiled door opening onto a warm room
where there is bread baking in an oven
and a girl with heavy breasts gneads dough,
and your old pal Ristovic raises a glass
and watches the girl while a T-train rattles past the window.
You have seen me through some good times and some bad, Charles,
but mostly bad because that’s when we call on our muses,
the dripping tap days in a room full of echoes,
fevered while the cold gnaws at you like a monstrous rat.
But there have been the plush days too,
the warm bread smell of her as I stirred the covers
and the light breaking through
where her face melted onto the pillow
as I read you to her
and as she lay on her side
a single tear rolled down, a morning tear,
like the last star falling.
Thank you, Mr Simic, for reminding me of her
who no longer lives and breathes like your poems,
and of the trees so still they seem afraid of themselves
and of the Spirit that is nowhere and everywhere.
* This poem borrows lines from “Romantic Landscape” by Charles Simic
(from “A Wedding in Hell”)
like the ancient tillerman
holding up a damp finger to the wind
weighing up his options
whether to keep hugging the coast
or to tack against the wind
before it builds
and the white foam starts
to gnash like Gorgon’s teeth in the gathering gloom
so I put it to you
that my slow response
is not a sign
of indifference or neglect
but a mark of my respect
for the advantages and pitfalls
of charting a course
while the heavens are still brooding
while the wind is still wheeling
in the rigging
I have given a lot of thought
to how she enters a room
the way her eyes fix, the copper of spent shells,
an inch above our heads
where the whispers die, presumably
where the ink finally dries on the column inches,
scowling the room for the sibilant source
until she seems to run out of parting shots for the rebarbative.
I have mapped her movements in a disinterested way:
how she walks taller off stage than on,
how she insists on the olive and then takes it out
the second the barman sets her drink down
with a look in her eye that says:
the rim catching fire with each slow sip
at that liminal hour
when the sun clears the elderberry
and evening ruffles the crows on the wire
when pen touches paper
and the wine fires my blood
and the neighbour’s dogs surf the pickets
as the commuters sleepwalk by
and the bower birds tick in the sapling
constructing their future one twig at a time
when the dying hermit labours uphill
all his voices in tow
a kind man harbouring a cruel disease
and a cough he has carried all winter
for Georgina Woods
last night I joined a gang.
a group of hooded spectres said:
“grandpa, would you like to join us?”
and so I did. there was a ruffling of feathers as we shook.
they mulled verbs swelled like cake batter
in the pale fire of their insouciance.
they flicked their hands at nouns
I had lived in all my days.
they asked: “grandpa, when did wars begin?”
they asked: “grandpa, why did you chew up the world?”
they circled the fire with their hooded heads bowed
as though traversing a narrow ledge.
I wanted to apologise but I could not.
the dream sewed my mouth shut.
I hummed like a moth in the pale light of their questions.
for the old to apologise to the young
requires an act of Parliament, a Papal Bull.
thus I deflected like the old do with their soft skin.
like when the first whale decided
that the sea was a far safer option
and so returned to where their songs carried farthest.
© Justin Lowe
Justin Lowe lives in a house called Doug where he edits poetry blog Bluepepper.