January, by Jaya Savige

16 August 2017

for Peter Gizzi

We sit to a bowl of miso ramen,
same as the night before, only this time
you’re coming down with something
and need the chilli. Later we’ll sketch
a brief history of risk, the word’s
first appearance in a seventeenth-
century translation of the Lusiad,
the Portugese retelling of Homer
with da Gama as Odysseus; how
mortality data drawn from the plagues
in England gave birth to actuarial
science, and Halley, of comet fame
crunched the numbers for the seeds
of life insurance — the epistemic
shift from the providential view
that meant you’d sooner sacrifice
a goat before a trip than trust in
numbers. These days we rationalise:
what’s the probability of the plane
falling out of the sky? You’re far
more likely to be struck by lightning.
Did I tell you my father died in a plane
crash? you’ll say, and I — mortified
by my hypothetical, nodding as you
explain your penchant for Xanax
on cross-Atlantic flights — think back
to this moment, ladling miso into
our mouths, steam rising in winter,
you explaining how you nursed
your dying mother this September
and muttering, half under your breath:
Dying is so expensive in America.

[Read at and ripped from Jacket2.org]

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Toledo la rica, Salamanca la fuerte, Leon la bella,
Oviedo la sacra, y Sevilla la grande

Liverpool the impoverished, the liverish, the void, the full,
the self-besotted, the blarney-argoted, the blitzed and blackened,
the bella-brutta, the rag-rich, the moss-stained sandstoned,
the green-lung’d, the ricket-ridden, the loud and adenoidal.

Liverpool the last-to-be-served, the least-accounted,
the over-arched and undermined, the mother-tongued and plurilingual,
the Catholic-Protestant, the cap-in-hand, the hand-
to-mouth, the pub-encrusted and hovel-haunted.

Liverpool the riverine, the ocean-avid, the slaveship-tainted,
sugar-whitening, matchstick-making, slum and dockland
refuge of Lascars, Chinese, Irish, Jews, Somalians.

Liverpool the deserted, the polluted, the de bon aire,
the clinker-built and shipwrecked, the chameleon,
the edge-of-everywhere-and-nowhere’s-centre.

//

That final line could serve not just as an epithet for Liverpool, but as an epigram for Jan Morris’ Trieste and the Meaning of Nowherea longer meditation on somewhereness and nowhereness.

[Read in Selected Poems, published by Faber & Faber. poetryarchive.org has a recording of McKendrick reading the poem.]

(Baker Street station buffet)

Early Electric! With what radiant hope
Men formed this many-branched electrolier,
Twisted the flex around the iron rope
And let the dazzling vacuum globes hang clear,
And then with hearts the rich contrivance fill’d
Of copper, beaten by the Bromsgrove Guild.

Early Electric! Sit you down and see,
’Mid this fine woodwork and a smell of dinner,
A stained-glass windmill and a pot of tea,
And sepia views of leafy lanes in Pinner –
Then visualize, far down the shining lines,
Your parents’ homestead set in murmuring pines.

Smoothly from Harrow, passing Preston Road,
They saw the last green fields and misty sky,
At Neasden watched a workmen’s train unload,
And, with the morning villas sliding by,
They felt so sure on their electric trip
That Youth and Progress were in partnership.

And all that day in murky London Wall
The thought of Ruislip kept him warm inside;
At Farringdon that lunch hour at a stall
He bought a dozen plants of London Pride;
While she, in arc-lit Oxford Street adrift,
Soared through the sales by safe hydraulic lift.

Early Electric! Maybe even here
They met that evening at six-fifteen
Beneath the hearts of this electrolier
And caught the first non-stop to Willesden Green,
Then out and on, through rural Rayner’s Lane
To autumn-scented Middlesex again.

Cancer has killed him. Heart is killing her.
The trees are down. An Odeon flashes fire
Where stood their villa by the murmuring fir
When ” they would for their children’s good conspire. ”
Of their loves and hopes on hurrying feet
Thou art the worn memorial, Baker Street.

//

[Read in Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin – An anthology by Alan Bennett, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from middlesexcountypress.com]

Pain – has an Element of Blank –
It cannot recollect
When it begun – or if there were
A time when it was not –

It has no future – but itself –
Its infinite contain
Its past – enlightened to perceive
New Periods – of Pain.

[Read in Everyman’s Selected Poems.]

Discovered by listening to a BBC Radio 4 documentary by Jarvis Cocker on the album John Betjeman’s Banana Blush. The music by Jim Parker is remarkable, and Betjeman’s rhythm and intonation a joy.

//

Keep me from Thelma’s sister Pearl!
She puts my senses in a whirl,
Weakens my knees and keeps me waiting
Until my heart stops palpitating.

The debs may turn disdainful backs
On Pearl’s uncouth mechanic slacks,
And outraged see the fire that lies
And smoulders in her long-lashed eyes.

Have the such weather-freckled features,
The smooth sophisticated creatures?
Ah, not to them such limbs belong,
Such animal movements sure and strong.

Such arms to take a man and press
In agricultural caress
His head to hers, and hold him there
Deep buried in her chestnut hair.

God shrive me from this morning lust
For supple farm girls, if you must,
Send the cold daughter of an earl –
But spare me Thelma’s sister Pearl!

//

In searching for the words to the poem, I found them on a James May fan blog – truly a bizarre corner of the internet I never thought I would visit.

Marrying left your maiden name disused.
Its five light sounds no longer mean your face,
Your voice, and all your variants of grace;
For since you were so thankfully confused
By law with someone else, you cannot be
Semantically the same as that young beauty:
It was of her that these two words were used.

Now it’s a phrase applicable to no one,
Lying just where you left it, scattered through
Old lists, old programmes, a school prize or two,
Packets of letters tied with tartan ribbon –
Then is it scentless, weightless, strengthless, wholly
Untruthful? Try whispering it slowly.
No, it means you. Or, since you’re past and gone,

It means what we feel now about you then:
How beautiful you were, and near, and young,
So vivid, you might still be there among
Those first few days, unfingermarked again.
So your old name shelters our faithfulness,
Instead of losing shape and meaning less
With your depreciating luggage laden.

//

The inspiration for the poem is apparently Winifred Dawson, who died last year.

[Read in Collected Poems by Philip Larkin, published by Faber & Faber]

It was not a heart, beating,
That muted boom, that clangor
Far off, not blood in the ears
Drumming up and fever

To impose on the evening.
The noise came from outside:
A metal detonating
Native, evidently, to

These stilled suburbs: nobody
Startled at it, though the sound
Shook the ground with its pounding.
It took a root at my coming

Till the thudding source, exposed,
Counfounded in wept guesswork:
Framed in windows of Main Street’s
Silver factory, immense

Hammers hoisted, wheels turning,
Stalled, let fall their vertical
Tonnage of metal and wood;
Stunned in marrow. Men in white

Undershirts circled, tending
Without stop those greased machines,
Tending, without stop, the blunt
Indefatigable fact.

[Read in Collected Poems, published by Faber & Faber.]