[from The Price of Everything (1994) , Faber and Faber ]
by Andrew Motion, 1952
1 The last time I fell to earth
2 was north again, colder, nearer the country of my birth.
3 You want to know exactly where?
4 All I can tell you is there and there and there and there .
5 You want to know exactly when?
6 Now and then I can tell you, now and then .
7 But let me be clear. I dispersed like a shower of rain
8 anywhere in the world you care to name,
9 anywhere, that is, as long as you remember I was still Joe,
10 the Joe everyone knows
11 and has read about, listened to, seen on TV
12 every time the earth changes its worn-out history
13 and frontiers break, seas boil, mountains explode,
14 people block what should be free-travelling roads,
15 and I am sent out to die in some shit-hole basement lair.
16 Don’t say you don’t know what I mean. You’ve seen me there.
17 I have been here for ever—
18 I won’t name the town,
19 you take your pick—
20 in a basement-cave
21 one flight below ground
22 of a high-rise block.
23 with its eyes burnt out.
24 There’s a pillar-box slit
25 high in one wall
26 so half each day
27 I can see into space:
28 smashed crests of tile,
29 and beyond them a ridge
30 of scrawny trees.
31 I don’t need to look
32 to know what else:
33 quick rifle smoke
34 like a man who coughs
35 on a bitter morning;
36 the sapling lash
37 when artillery fires.
38 The last things you’ll know
39 will be how I have lived,
40 and what I believed—
41 oh yes, and my name,
42 which I’d tell you now
43 if you didn’t yet know
44 and I thought it would help.
45 Down here, you see,
46 the world has dissolved
47 and I cannot decide
48 what matters, what not.
49 I might once have said ‘love’
50 when people could hear
51 and make something change.
52 Today I’ll say ‘food’,
53 something simple like that—
54 food and the sense
55 that the turning earth
56 might wind itself back
57 then start once more
58 on a different course.
59 Ah, here’s the sun now
60 posting in through its slit,
61 and another day stirs
62 with smoke on the hills.
63 I’m at home here, yes.
64 This is all I possess.
65 I am trying to live.
66 Then dark comes back with storms against the sun—
67 at least, I think it does: my pillar-box window’s blank,
68 my basement-cave a vault of rancid air
69 where everything’s made up except my life.
70 My life; my life. Above, among the streets
71 and market squares, I’d have to rack my brains
72 to float off anywhere outside myself.
73 Down here it’s easy. I might not exist.
74 I see a flock of families on a beach somewhere.
75 They were my neighbours. Now they’re dressed for snow
76 in overcoats and hats and prickly suits
77 but suffering in a silly press of heat.
78 Along the dunes behind them stands their stuff
79 or some of it—a flock of suitcases,
80 a bureau with a smashed-in top, a typewriter,
81 whatever they could carry when the whistle went.
82 They love each other, you can tell they do—
83 they have to, since they lost so much at once;
84 each other’s lives are all that they’ve got left;
85 they are the past and everything ahead.
86 So when a boy breaks ranks and doodles off
87 to sit down weeping at the water’s edge,
88 the last thing I expect is what comes next:
89 his mother narrowing her mouth, then crouched
90 and skating down the sand to pull him back,
91 whip off his hopeless cap (his father’s size),
92 and thrash him for his sadness: Don’t you dare!
93 I cannot hear the rest, but what I know, I know.
94 I had parents, but I don’t remember.
95 I had a woman who loved me but she disappeared.
96 The streets
97 wherever I am
98 are all strange to me
99 with their ripped-up wiry roots,
100 and the parks all closed
101 although their beautifully wrought iron gates no longer shut.
102 I put these words down carefully side by side
103 like a child building a sentence—
104 parents, woman, streets, parks —
105 and they just lie there.
106 They never become a story.
107 Perhaps I have lived for too long.
108 You can do that, you know.
109 You can spend all your life thinking
110 More room! More room!
111 and Not here but here!
112 then one day learn a single minute
113 can hurt so much it lasts for ever.
114 That’s when you wish everything over.
115 I mean:
116 think of the patient with gangrene
117 who has watched the disease munch its way up his leg
118 like a slug eating lettuce,
119 and knows it has finally worked right through.
120 Think of the young man taken out to be shot
121 who stands with his back to the gun
122 and his shoulders hunched
123 like a boy about to be slapped.
124 Both these know they have lived for too long.
125 On the other hand forget them
126 and think instead of the thunder
127 which is in fact the noise of hand-carts trundled by refugees.
128 They have piled up the words left to them
129 and are off somewhere, they don’t know where,
130 to lay them out carefully side by side
131 and make their first sentence in a new language.
132 This is what I have done
133 watching the hand-carts trailing past my window-slit,
134 imagining the prayers said on the off-chance,
135 hearing the slap , slap of slippers on wet pavements,
136 the gunfire pausing then starting again.
137 One of my arms has been jolted off due west,
138 the other east,
139 my legs have been dispatched across different oceans.
140 Much more of this and I shall lose my head.
141 Then I will know for certain that I have lived too long.
142 In the meantime I shall stay put,
143 wherever I am,
144 no story left,
145 waiting for a miracle.
146 A satellite-eye reports on the earth
147 to a listening dish,
148 its silver messages filtering down:
149 shoosh, shoosh.
150 Will it see me next? Will it see me?
151 It sees a dark stain in the mountains
152 —disease in a lung—
153 then the camera whirrs into close-up and look
154 the stain is a town.
155 What will it see next? What will it see?
156 It sees two dug-in lines of artillery firing
157 either side of a river,
158 ant columns wriggling from house to house,
159 and no bridge over.
160 Will it see me next? Will it see me?
161 It sees factory chimneys minus their heads
162 a trench in a park,
163 sandbag castles turning the town hall yellow,
164 a traffic jam of tanks.
165 What will it see next? What will it see?
166 It sees a minuscule dot among high-rise rubble
167 which looks like a fire,
168 but might be the terrified, rolled back, rearing
169 white of my eye.
170 Will it see me next? Will it see me?
171 Yes of course it’s my eye,
172 my wriggling eye,
173 at its pillar-box slit
174 which squirms to escape
175 the world of things
176 and leap straight to the sun
177 like dew of a morning.
178 Look back? No point.
179 The hills of the past
180 heave out of each other
181 like waves in the wake
182 of a queasy yacht:
183 each one means another,
184 each death is the same.
185 Look forward? I can’t.
186 My life still ahead
187 glares like the ice
188 some North Pole fool
189 thinks he can cross
190 on his wits alone:
191 of course he can’t.
192 I’m trapped, you see,
193 trapped in the heart
194 of each glassy second:
195 I might be the hands
196 of a watch in their circle;
197 a fly in a jam jar
198 unhinging itself.
199 But it’s worse than that.
200 Trapped with me here
201 (trapped in my head)
202 are the things I want not
203 to have seen in the world,
204 things I cannot tear out
205 behind my eyes:
206 the carpenter’s son
207 some men took in half
208 with a well-loved saw
210 a market garden
211 planted with heads;
212 that child’s tongue;
213 the woman whose life
214 was wrenched to an O
215 too painful to speak.
216 Yes of course it’s my eye
217 at its pillar-box slit,
218 my wriggling eye
219 which squirms to escape.
220 Let me tell you about the time before this,
221 when I could travel at will,
222 and a storm suddenly brewed up and boiled over,
223 drowning the sun.
224 It caught me half way over the local mountains
225 in a tired car,
226 and washed away whole loops of the road in red mud,
227 so I stopped at this café
228 —a whitewashed shack I’d noticed before but never entered—
229 and ordered a coke;
230 the owner, let’s call him X, had his right hand missing
231 and wouldn’t speak.
232 Cornered, I looked at the knobbly wall over his shoulder
233 and there was a photo
234 of men among rocks, swaddled with ammunition belts,
235 grinning like monkeys.
236 One of them was obviously X although it was years ago,
237 before his café days,
238 when the mountain road was only a zig-zag for goats,
239 and he still had his hand.
240 I might have wanted to hear his story and show pity
241 for all he knew,
242 but the one time our eyes met I knew it was wrong even
243 to ask for a second drink.
244 In fact he whisked my glass away before I’d quite finished
245 but I said nothing,
246 stepping out onto the drenched earth just as the sun
247 burnt back into place.
248 I saw near the car a stone cross I’d missed coming in.
249 It was covered with names—
250 codgers, boys, every age in between: all men, and all
251 killed the same day.
252 Across the road was another memorial, this one
253 a heraldic beast,
254 and something carved round the base in a language
255 no one here speaks.
256 X stood in his dark café, watching to make sure
257 I bowed my head at the first.
258 Then he lifted his stump in some sort of salute to show
259 I could now drive away.
260 You see, I have been above ground—and more
261 than once. At other times I have seen the builder
262 who crept out to stand patiently in a bread queue
263 and came home with both his legs blown off;
264 I have seen the doctor fucked by so many men
265 she must cry out her eyes for the rest of her life
266 and her children as well; I have seen the family
267 wheeling all they possess to a drab check-point
268 where one soldier, a boy really, turns them away
269 but keeps their grandfather clock and their money.
270 Yes I have seen all these things and brought them back
271 to my hole underground, my earth, my lair, my set,
272 where I have flicked through and through them
273 in the same way that I have also turned over the pages
274 of history books which have pointed out to me in the space
275 of a few moments how I might as well have been a refugee
276 a million times, or a red-faced soldier who was fired on
277 by the first tank ever, or a spy wearing a parachute,
278 or an executioner, or a patriot in the hills who has
279 what he has but leaves everyone else with nothing.
280 Yes I might have been any of these things and still
281 feel certain that not one of their lessons is learnt,
282 none of their patterns broken, their vocabularies lost,
283 even though we have started to run out of words ourselves
284 or letters at least (which means the words will follow)
285 as I saw with my own eyes on my last trip into the open
286 at the funeral of Anna, a girl who trod on a land mine
287 but is one of so many dead that when the time came
288 to hammer the letters of her name up on her cross
289 there were no As left, so now she is just -nn-, like that.
290 O and one more thing:
291 from the rubble of a dead bungalow a father
292 wearing a blood-shadow on his jersey.
293 Don’t ask me how it got there.
294 O and one more thing:
295 in the dawn smoke of a bare street a soldier
296 heaving a black plastic bag which still twitches.
297 Don’t ask me what is in there.
298 O and one more thing:
299 beneath the skin of the harbour basin a wound
300 leaking pus which boils when it meets the surface.
301 Don’t ask me what goes on there.
302 O and one more thing:
303 on the wind through the whole city a blizzard
304 of human cinders which are warm and taste sweet.
305 Don’t ask me how to live there.
306 I let my face fall
307 from the window-slit;
308 now there’s nothing to see
309 but the tree-covered hills
310 and the vulture sun
311 on a dangerous perch
312 rearranging its wings.
313 I recite the names
314 of my self and my home,
315 which cling to their map
316 with no more strength
317 than warm breath
318 on a window pane;
319 I breathe, I breathe.
320 I try to forget
321 the wounds I have heard
322 burst open and sob,
323 the tears I have watched
324 melt out of eyes
325 whose lids have gone
326 and can no longer sleep.
327 I do all these things
328 and feel I am tramping
329 through heart’s blood
330 to reach a border
331 which someone has said
332 I have only to cross
333 to lose my life
334 and be given another.
335 The moment I get there
336 I stand to attention
337 and strain to discover
338 what lies ahead,
339 my hand to my brow
340 in a trembling salute.
341 But no, no,
342 there is nothing to see;
343 I have left the world
344 and come to the darkness
345 which surges through space,
346 the darkness which falls
347 when the very last star
348 has imploded and died,
349 and all that remains
350 are unliveable planets
351 hunting through nowhere,
352 rocking the air
353 with the hiss and rush
354 of their gas-cloud skirts.
© Copyright Andrew Motion, 1994, reproduced under licence from Faber and Faber Ltd