Read sample poems and listen to audio recordings (*) of Sean Haldane reading.

Something Like Love

 Lake Monroe, Indiana

 

The grass is worn and beaten down

By snow just gone,

Each tree in the wood alone.

 

We sit, us two,

On a fallen log above a view

Of ice sheets fraying into water.

 

Gulls shriek

And crows cry out in desperation.

A pair of cardinals flit in a naked oak.

A blue jay picks at the ground,

A party of scuttling killdeers call their names,

A dove goes ‘tink tink’ like a muted bell.

A long ago hell

Comes to mind, a Spring without promise.

Now there is nothing to miss.

Is this perfection?

Expectation, the ice melting.

Is our long time of despair really over?

 

We make

Something like love before we fall asleep

And as we awake.

 

Will this hush

Of nothing happening before the Spring

Tempt these New World birds to sing?

 

Buds will burst and shoots like arrows leap.

Melting will push

Volumes of sap up through the waiting bush.

 

We shall make

Something like love again by the shimmering lake.

From Chair to Chair *


I sit in your chair and I look at my chair and despair

At the lack of a view of us both, as above in the air

A vee of geese honking veers down to the park and its lake

And I don’t know if ever I’ll love you without a mistake.

You know what I am but whatever I am is not clear.

All I know in your chair is I wish me in mine and you here.

Chair is flesh in your language ma Chère, I am able

To envision my body, to see me from you across the table.

But this is taboo to my mind.  I would usually think

It schizoid in a void to see me through your eyes, in a blink.

(What pain will he cause the next time he moves off and comes back?)

When I look at my chair opposite its pressed back is a rack

Where my body is stretched – seen from you – or (another view)

I am back in my own self there in that chair and see you

Bleeding slowly for me – as I bleed for you now: face to face,

I don’t know which way the directions of time or of space.

As I look at you in my mind are you looking at me?

In a warp of the universe not here or there we

Are two knobs – a tube in between – a dumb-bell

Tumbling over and over it seems between heaven and hell.

Your email: I love you very much. But here in your chair

With nobody there in my chair my existence is bare

As if I’m alone in a pew in a dusty old church,

Ready to pray you won’t stay far off and leave me in the lurch.

Where is our azimuth? When can we stop

The tumbling? – and still stay connected and drop

As one down to earth and just be you and me

Each in our chair sitting here with the locust tree

And the usual Constable clouds to look at, and we

Both North both South, each an alternating pole

Of a vast rolling world we don’t need to control.

In Baulk Lane

Three rabbits, one pheasant, eight sheep,

Naked oaks along the field’s far edge,

Clumps of primroses in twos and threes.

 

The rabbits are doing their number:

Tumbling, tearing, leaping head over fluff tail,

Brown ballet dancers. The pheasant plods,

Pauses, struts, pecks into sods.

The sheep don’t exactly sleep,

But all but: they stand, they nudge, they graze.

(Where are the lambs to gambol with the rabbits

In the stiff March breeze?)

 

We look at this stage-set over the hedge,

A stall of green frieze –

Leaflets from the ashes, holly,

And here the black-thorn,

Its white blossom. World reborn.

The Sound of the Sound *


The sound of the wind in the trees, and of the sound…

Let me explain. We are in a clearing

In the woods – birch, maple, spruce, fir – and the breeze

Bends and sweeps, twists and turns the trees.

They hiss, rustle, swish with unvoiced sound

(The only voices ours). So far so good:

These are the sounds of the wood.

But the other sound, from out in the bay

(The sound) – not with us at low tide, a mile away,

Then more like a change in the background:

Not a roar (that cliché) nor the boom

Of waves, it’s a steady rushing

As the tide engulfs the sandy, muddy ground.

This is the sound of the sound.

Rogues and Whores*

Where on earth is Hand Trough Creek?

Where are Cuckold’s Haven,

Clap’s Gate Lane and Gallions Reach?

Names on a map of Dockland,

To you, a rogue, they promise heaven.

Outside St Paul’s, gaze

At this puddle in the lap

Of a black marble woman

Reclining. The water glistens.

Let John Donne speak:

Not a minute left to do it

(Repent, he means, not love –

The Dean is not a poet).

Not a minute’s sand.

(An hour glass on his pulpit).

His shrouded death-mask listens.

The hour glass

Is just a frozen shape

In a quantum landscape:

Time doesn’t pass.
The sermon doesn’t teach,

But endures like the walls

Of old St Paul’s

And blitzed houses ablaze.

All that moves is mind.

Here, rogue, stand

By the black woman,

Share her daze,

Frozen in the East wind

From Cannon Street.

Out at Cuckold’s Haven

Wives spread their legs

To take on the dregs

Of Gallions Reach

And pass on the clap.

Spend all the coins

From a pocket without holes,

Lie in their loins

And on their breasts blubber

In convulsive emotion:

In the life of dove-tailing souls,

A quiver if not of matter

Of, yes, love.

That can prove

White and black, rogues and whores move.

The Hugger Mugger*

The Hugger Mugger is under the bed,

In the top of the wardrobe, behind the door,

Along the walls and across the floor,

He pushes in on my sleeping head,

Big and smelly, smothers my breath,

Blindfolds me, presses to death,

I can’t get out from under him.

HELP!

HELP!

I scream but nobody hears

HELP!

HELP!

I call, my voice is dry

I know that I’m about to die,

The Hugger Mugger is on my face!

I heave him off, my blindfold is stuck,

Adhesive, I have to peel and rip

To see if I can give him the slip.

Now YOU are here.

PLEASE! PLEASE!

He’s here in the room!

He is, you say,

He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere

You are. You think he’s gone but he’s not.

That’s it, struggle up and turn on the light,

Short of breath in the dead of the night,

Stagger up to the open window,

Look at your watch, it’s ten to two,

The Hugger Mugger is still with you.

His tender fingers ripple your hair,

He leers from behind the easy chair.

Wherever you are, you are in his grip,

You can’t escape him, he is your shame,

Out on the prowl under your name,

The side of you you don’t want to know,

Your inside turned outside, rampant,

Grimpant, and grinning with rage and fear

As his razor slashes from ear to ear.

You can scream all you want till your voice will crack,

The Hugger Mugger is on your back.

You can cry all you want till the tears run down,

The Hugger Mugger is on your crown.

The Hugger Mugger will sit on your head,

He will bugger you as you lie in bed.

Why, look where he goes! He’s under your feet

As you dash to escape him down the street.

Bare-bummed with dangling dick, in a sweat,

As I run I smell a familiar stench.

There he is sitting on a park bench

In the pool of a glow from one street lamp,

And there beside him sits his vamp,

Her lips gape wide in a sickening grin,

She shares with him, she shares his sin –

Her lips are blue, her lipstick is red,

She snuggles down and gives him head,

She sucks and sucks, she licks and licks

Until at the end she sticks and sticks

And he jumps to his feet and runs down the street

Pursued by this shadow who clings and clings

Crooning and muttering ceaseless things.

He pounds her into a pavement crack,

She sinks with a sigh – but she’ll be back.

The Hugger Mugger is on me too,

He’s here, he’s there, whenever he’s you:
Sometimes I catch him in my hair –

A trace of slime that sticks on my comb.

I wipe him off with a tissue and throw him

Into the bin. I’ve got rid of you.

I am dead to you, I am dead to him.

There you go, gloomy and grim

Looking for your next victim.

But clean up your act, stand tall and bare,

Comb the Hugger Mugger out of your hair.

You will sleep on your front, you will sleep on your back

With a smile on your lips, and if I am kind

You will find me beside you, my flesh at your side,

The corrugated soft ridge of my sole

Just touching yours as we spin and glide

Like a sycamore seed through breezy air.

The Hugger Mugger was in your dreams.

Be here in me. ALL IS WHAT IT SEEMS.

Now is the end of your nightmare.

Now I have you in my care

Clinging to my night-dark hair.

Canadian WarMemorial, Green Park

I think of Bertram Warr,

A leaf fallen from a plane

In the year I was born –

Another poet gone –

And Isaac Rosenberg.

If they were to meet

(Wherever they might be)

They might talk of Stepney:

Life in a slum,

A rat in a bombed house carrying a crumb.

Xmas Day 2001, Devon

Death is everywhere – in the gorse preternaturally

Flowering in December, in the slanting

Of the sun across the green-gold coombe.

My love so far over the lavender sea,

I think of doom.

Lichen ochre on church stone, fern blackening,

Shingle on the beach growling,

Beech hedges rusty lines across the hills.

The heart fills, and fills.

The veins empty.

Mumm’s Champagne*

When you cracked open the Mumm’s champagne

To celebrate our first whole night –

In the new sheets you had bought, striped blue and white –

You didn’t know how much pain

Would follow from being together.

But our love has not turned vinegar,

Though it’s no longer bubbly – a blood red wine

Pressed from the last grapes of two ageing vines

Whose limbs would have to be snapped

To get them apart.

We have grown around each other, and here

Are the same sheets, the stripes faded and worn,

And a bottle of something more modest than Mumm’s.

The champagne spurts

And though we forget nothing, nothing hurts.

Die Standige Vertretung / The Permanent Mission*

1

Blackbirds in a Berlin square

At dusk from bare trees talk

Back and forth as I walk.

Blackbirds talking in my head

Back and forth say I’m dead

Until I hear you say you care.

2

This is separation distress by the book.

Panic: where are you?

(I know very well where you are – not here.)

Loss: on the edge of tears, grief gnaws

At the heart. And fear:

My eyes widening to find a way through

The flickering woods of separation to you.

Take a look

In your own heart’s half open book.

Do you miss me too?

3

The sight of golden crocuses by the Spree

Puts a new spring in my tread.

(I had given myself up for dead.)

And although you are far away

I imagine you at the end of a long Allee

And my step quickens. I shall arrive

Sooner or later, alive.

4

I don’t want to leave Die Ständige Vertretung,

Although I am alone, and no one will come

To meet me here. All is well. After my Weissbier

And lunch I sit happily with a Kirsch and a black coffee.

If I were on my way I fear

The images would fade in my head
That keep me from going dead.

Our Own Worlds

We make our own worlds. Let’s begin where we are.

In this garden I breathe, I pulsate. That tree grows.

It began with a seed from another tree.

I began with a seed from another me.

The grains of sand in the golden bricks of that wall

Began with a grinding together of all against all

As the world made itself. And all we know

Is where we are. Movement a dream, the world is still.

There are many moons hidden behind that hill.

Soon after dawn I hear the cheep of a robin

From the tall birch top where green-finches play in the branches.

At dusk he is back again, green-finches are gone.

As I kiss your neck I know the feel of your skin

As I always (all ways) do – then, now, and to be.

We create this world together, alone, apart, almost one.

We never die: the moment we stop is illusion.

The world, our world, without us (you and I,

Trees, bricks, green-finches, robin) doesn’t move. Nor do we

Feel it roll. Look it’s there! And there in the sky!

Behind that cloud the evening gold of the sun leads us on.

The Sound of a Smile

There are noises at the limits of the ears,

I’m not sure always if imagined or heard.

For example the sound of a smile,

Or the upper harmonics of a third.

The first is an almost silent swish,

The second an almost seen sound.

I can’t recreate them as I wish.

They slice across the usual ringing background.

The rustle of the dead in their graves,

The hiss of an anthill that seethes.

The hum of an aurora’s waves.

The sough of a baby as it breathes.

These sounds aren’t like the chewing of the cud

By a cow in a distant field, which peering

One deduces. I mean a real noise

Out at the edges of my hearing –

Or inside my head – I don’t care.

The sound of a smile is surely there –

As much as the harmonics of a third –

As truly heard.

Antrim 1798*

With James (Jim) Fenton

 

[A first version of this poem was written in 1994 in English including

some Ulster-Scots words. This version is a cooperative poem

written in 2006 with James Fenton, in Ulster-Scots. In the historical record:

‘As a cart load of dead and dying arrived at the sand pit a yeoman

officer asked the driver, “Where the devil did these rascals come

from?” A poor wretch raised his gory head from the cart and

feebly answered “I come from Balleyboley.” He was buried

with the rest.’ In popular history the man is usually quoted as

saying in true Ulster Scots, ‘A’m frae Ballyboley.’ Our poem aims

to be true to this voice.]

A’m frae Bellyboley.

Bae a’ that’s holy,

Daenae cope me

Inty thon pit:
The cowl an slimy

Corps lie on me

Wae blid an shit.

The jowltin o this cairt

Haes rived mae hairt.

A’m daen, A know.

A hear the craik

O thon ald crow.

Tak me ooty here,

For the love o God,

An lee me on the grass

O thon green sod.

Go an fin mae lass:

A lang tae feel

Hir warm han on mae broo,

An wush her weel

Afore A grue an go.

For Irelan’s sake

A focht an fell.

But A’d rether wak

Wae hir tae the bricht bell

O the mornin on the brae,

An nae daith knell

For me the day.

Weltschmertz

Pain of the world – Weltschmertz.

Turning toward extinction

So intense the red

Berry clusters of the rowan,

New paint on the pillar box,

Last geraniums of the year.

All will be leached, all bled –

As from her lovely flesh, this dear

Who walks in joyous pride

As if there were no wintertide.

The world hurts.