CAUGHT IN THE NET 168 - POETRY BY DOMINIC JAMES
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It chimes strangely, then Yggdrasil, the giant Ash,
from The Nones by Dominic James
1 - BIOGRAPHY
2 – POETRY
3 - PUBLISHING HISTORY
4 - AFTERWORD
1 – BIOGRAPHY: Dominic James
Dominic James turned from short story writing to poetry
nearly 10 years ago and attends readings up and down the M4 corridor. A member
of the Bright Scarf group, he has been involved in open mic events from Stroud
to Norwich and his poems have been widely published widely at home and abroad.
His collection, Pilgrim Station, was published by SPM Publications in December,
2 - POETRY
The same lawn toys are still outside
for downstairs boy is now too ill;
the paper’s peeled away in strips,
the kettle: broken weeks ago.
Isolation is a bag of tricks
now Tallulah’s come, since when
my time is hers, and love
unwinds in increments.
At my sill, blue-painted poles
stand on guard in the gardens,
bounded by silent houses.
Season by season, they seem
to swell, press even harder-in.
No easy path this time of year,
on the empties weeds grow over.
The lift’s carriage doors run-to;
its ageing pulleys grind to start
iron gates slide shut, shut fast.
My fingers on the chair arm drum,
I am waiting on my final cue
and at the crucial moment, flag.
The stage was set months ago.
My heart hooked on the last
high note of Miles’s gallows horn,
time drags on his dying blast -
the wait has been too long.
A weary patience plays me out.
The storm’s passed on and leaves behind
wet canopies strung with points of brightness
counted out like amber beads, ponderous
on shiny branches.
an oily babble mimics well the human tongue’s
gullet-leak, softens in blind passages,
rubs brick-faced clay and drain-deep stone:
vast, internal system, capillaried in taps
and cisterns, rising through the inky homes
locked in sprays of light.
To a pedestrian,
quicker than the leaves’ plump drops, more certain
than that surface patter is the spoken song
of tender oratory that clatters
on the liquid dark:
draws upon the eddied memory
in under-waters’ one direction:
as if the puddled paths in their rank depths
of long familiar fragrances, released,
lead down and would entirely disappear.
Sad, wild winter flower,
nodding palely on the snow,
meltwater and an hour of sun
nourished you below the Rowan
high among cold barren ways.
Your petals are the same sky blue
as your short, still while of day
and now chill breezes capture you,
child, night is your domain.
Unmoved, she cannot smile.
The Embankment, down from Waterloo
where many skyline spires include
St Bride’s own bell-stopped spike of stone
beneath which I could smoke a fag,
take coffee breaks on afternoons
escape grey Fleet Street’s drag, oh,
many years ago…
that I knew, St Giles-in-the-fields,
after long hours on the phone, Richard,
fresh from Amsterdam, Brighton Radio,
regaled the bums with drinking songs,
an irregular charm alarmed them all,
I watched his corduroys, flight bag
through the scrawny summer rose,
heard his voice, so rich, knew his look
so well when he moved in on the drunks.
One came up to me and said: That guy,
you know he’s fucking nuts? I know, I know.
I have left too many friends behind.
Today I’m lost by Monument, winter’s come,
new renovations puzzle me
from Waterloo East then all around
the haunted stones of London town;
their dismal symmetry.
Half way through the collection
and it is ample, ample,
almost excessive really R.S.
is more than generous
in handing out life’s coin
and still to learn he’d more to say
and better when younger
I see he has met God in the
grounds of the mind,
in the mind’s eye. Speaking
Thomas knew Him and no doubt
the cup of love passed back
and forth between those two
and they have had their share
of moods which is, of course,
the common thing but, if God
is also then isn’t everyone
a Welshman? And if there is
a machine, so to speak,
God is in that too.
In winter the tree is a small thing, a pulled root,
with earth kicked off on the heel of the boot
but in the summer, vastly garnered in green,
I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely
It chimes strangely, then Yggdrasil, the giant Ash,
tree of life, in the roots of words comes back
a gallows, above the shield shine of Valhalla’s roof
a goat, chomping down its wild shoots, those compound leaves,
to make strong milk.
The barrows tree long signified the rise of man:
flowering in Spring, his generations in the Fall,
un-bound this tree – as the race – grows tall, its branches
reach into the eye’s deep well, blot out the sun,
where birds nest
and Ratatock, a chattering squirrel, runs the trunk
from eagle to worm: most like the rat in the brain
that defeats us all. Three weird sisters tend the great tree.
Witches at the well of fate dredge up white mud to salve
a wilted stalk.
Give me, three girls at a drain, drinking cider,
Overhead, the call of crooked parliament;
he heard their raw escrow convert to words
and at once blond-bearded Sigurd understood
that birdsong is all talk.
The yellow nuthatch shuttled past, its cry
of panic, doubt: Sigurd secured no no no!
Burnt fingers to his mouth, the hero
started at the whistle:
the trees had filled with wild birds. Maytime’s
tapestry of leaves bristled where sparrows
stropped and wove, intoning precedent
to his eternal woe.
Further in, a scented rope mashed underfoot
uncoiled on shadow, Fafnir the dying serpent
A face untouched by
fear, young man
you look so brave, take out my treasure,
in this race – like Ayrton Senna –
you’ve cut across and wronged my brother.
Despite his own forked tongue, beware,
he’s bound to pay a debt of honour.
Since he had trapped and killed the snake his course
was set in blood. Not one to court regret, Sigurd
quit the noisome grove, which canted on revenge,
the laws of brotherhood.
Returning to his quarry’s twin – the brother –
sprawled in heather near the wood, asleep,
coins from the iron keep to hand, smiles on
his curling lip:
Sigurd cut the sleeper’s heart. No pause above
his mentor’s corpse: unstemmed the flow of his
sword-sweat was poured and cooled to half prevent
the cries which led him on,
and in the woods a dragon slain, looping
on his bed of gold. Death hung in the air.
Cool Sigurd mounted on his quiet grey
and rode on ahead.
The week before this early evening’s murmuring
gouched out in a cheap hotel
with liquor tumblers, cigarettes
and from our chamber, shabby chic,
a view of the Medici Chapel –
one night I watched as Helen’s ghost, serene
got up for a peaceful dream, her bottom
glimpsed in moth-devoured moonlight beams
that seared our ragged holes of drapes;
it is man’s privilege to watch
a naked girl escape his bed.
While still asleep she joined her Tuscan shade
on lofty frescoes high above the congregation
her spirit sang Radiohead, sparsely arranged:
‘No surprises please.’
Helen glanced-in at our local chapel,
joined with Night (by Michelangelo)
curled in her polished limbs the python
of her lust, her owl and masks:
dead calm beneath those long eyelashes.
Her ghost tipped the brush of Masolino.
I saw her peeping from the placid faces
of Mishka and the serpent in a world new born
and, in the Baptistery, share in our redemption
even as the comic graves gave up their nimble dead:
stick figures at their crazy dance with bogeymen,
creatures of the underworld, below the mosaic
ceiling’s gold –
melted in this yellow land
where we have found, at once, content.
Late sunlight painted on parasol pine,
Helen sings in our acoustic bathroom;
it is some coincidence this house
has pets like her own cat and dog,
like Oscar and the ginger Howard,
as if her ghost had come here first
and happily moved on.
Along the curving beak of its shadow
the eye of the flame tracks light on the muzzle,
sockets that gleam, mosaic front teeth:
the goat’s skull is rapt, in mesmerised interest,
by the empty tilt of its skull,
the skull is akin to the bottle,
both calcified down, like the skin of the wall
nothing is brittle. The bottle, half full or empty,
in the glass of its heart holds a vertical drill,
an ink-blotted pupil, the goat flame.
All things conform to the hinges and horns,
shards of a brain, the empty-headedness of the thing,
this animal sense of a skull, lit by a candle
in a bottle on a table otherwise dark:
still life where there is none at all.
On the river bed of night
I have laid with a pebble
pressed into the middle vertebrae
where spades paddled my ribs,
I awake. Last
year’s dinner gong
reverberates in my ears
my nose is red, my hair
further receded, belly more big
throat dry, nose blocked:
I have got a cold
from the weekend’s snot-nosed kid,
Oscar, two and a half years old.
When he has had 20 times as long
he will find, unless he eschews:
cigarettes, red wine, late nights
and a drowning idleness
he’ll feel a little ropey too,
but then, I suppose, he already does,
but does not complain. Oscar,
what did I read just yesterday?
Surely the lives of the old
are briefer than the young.
Last lines from Robert Lowell’s “Soft Wood.”
3 - PUBLISHING HISTORY
– Highly Commended, Sentinel Quarterly Competition, 2016
LATE HOME – Pilgrim Station, 2016
ANEMONE – Published in The Dawntreader, 2012
SAINT BRIDE – Included in Ver Poets Competition Anthology, 2017
ON RS THOMAS, COLLECTED POEMS – Published in The Cannon’s Mouth, iss 54
THE NONES – leaves of ink, online 2014
SIGURD AND THE NUTHATCH – 2nd prize, Wirral Festival of Firsts 2017
STILL LIFE, and HELEN’S GHOST – Pilgrim Station, 2016
TO OSCAR – Ink Sweat and Tears, online 2013
4 - Afterword
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