‘Recension Day’ appeared in Taking Liberties (1993)
Unburn the boat, rebuild the bridge,
Reconsecrate the sacrilege,
Unspill the milk, decry the tears,
Turn back the clock, relive the years,
Replace the smoke inside the fire,
Unite fulfilment with desire,
Undo the done, gainsay the said,
Revitalize the buried dead,
Revoke the penalty and clause,
Reconstitute unwritten laws,
Repair the heart, untie the tongue,
Change faithless old to hopeful young,
Inure the body to disease
And help me to forget you please.
‘La Brea’ and ‘Job Description’ were published in Voice Mail (2002)
I am the tarred and feathered stork
Who flapped its limbs until they stuck.
I am a tapir ancestor
Who came for water, swallowed tar.
This is the asphalt killing-ground,
A lake that thirsts. Beware. Be warned.
His trunk a blowhole out of reach,
A mammoth trumpets liquid pitch.
We are a pack of dire wolves
Who scented death and mired ourselves
I am the grief of a giant sloth
Who drank the waters of black death.
Lion and lioness salivate
At bison ready trapped to eat.
Coyote, jaguar and puma
Die for a taste of dying llama.
A squirrel bleating in distress
Allures a rattlesnake to death.
The tar immobilizes both
The short-faced bear and sabretooth.
The water winnows skeletons
Caught in a trap of sun and rain.
I am the skull of the only human,
Anonymous La Brea Woman.
The sump of ancient swamp-remains
Swallows the battles of old bones.
The eagle and the condor drown
In liquid nightfall underground.
Dogsbody. Despot. Saint and martyr.
Diplomat. Bureaucrat. Creep and tartar.
Tamer of lions, cobra-charmer.
Nuclear warhead and disarmer.
Expert with parents, sons and daughters,
Weasel words and troubled waters.
Menagerie manager/ manageress,
A human dynamo hooked on stress.
An innovative facilitator,
Proactive professional loyalist traitor.
Workaholic with sense of balance,
Renaissance figure with multi-talents,
Gravitas and a winning smile,
Impeccable manners and perfect style.
A drudge, a drone, a worker ant,
A meek impoverished sycophant
Who craves acceptance and admittance,
Suffers fools gladly, works for a pittance.
Name two referees, one of them God.
No weirdos please. Apply in blood.
‘Old Master’ and ‘Tanga’ appeared in Vision Mixer (2006)
God took up painting again.
It was more difficult than ever to create a masterpiece
and where should the oldest of masters begin
now that there was also the problem of belatedness,
as well as the new techniques and the critics?
Painting is Dead. God is Dead. They said, they said.
Well, he would prove them wrong himself.
Look, look around at my installations,
the kinetic verve of my constellations,
the videos of my action paintings,
the fluid sculptures in the clouds
and watercolours on every ocean,
but all the self-portraits shook their heads.
They wanted to be the gods instead.
Looked like underpants but more so
judging from the pictured torso.
Got my tanga on me now,
rather tight from stern to prow,
tighter than a thong from Tonga,
wish its arms and legs were longer.
Need to be a slimmer swimmer
to tango in this Tesco’s tanga,
tangle with the jet-black jockstrap,
strangulating cotton mantrap.
Wish were better hung and younger
when I bought them for a song,
had no inkling when was tinkling
I’d be throttled by a thong.
Looked the word up, eeny-meeny,
‘type of very brief bikini’,
gives my brief-case other meaning,
breathe in now for paunchy preening.
Half-price bargain tempts a shopper,
now no longer teenybopper
but a grumpy 50 something,
likes home comforts round his whatsit
not a loin-cloth up his coccyx.
Fashion victim inadvertent
not by boxer shorts am curtained
but by tangas left al fresco.
Never underpant at Tesco.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
told me pride preceded fall.
Silly me. I’m hardly broke.
Caveat emptor. Pig in poke.
Ponderous buttock, waist-high thigh.
Careful owner, much confused.
Anybody like to buy
six black tangas barely used?
Each of these poems above appears in Lifelines: Selected Poems (Enitharmon, 2009).
Here is a selection of poems published in The Spectator since 2012: ‘A Moment’, ‘By Air’ and ‘Small Hours’. They are all collected in Human Time (2020).
There it is, the wren.
Keep still. Breathe in.
The tiny bird
with stumpy tail
has landed near
and moves from twig to stem
as quietly as rain.
Feathered and breathing,
it matches its portrait
on the bronze farthings
of my childhood
sixty years ago
but look away
and it has gone again
from then to now.
Astonishing to think
That not so long ago
First the Brothers Wright
Then Louis Blériot
And strapped into a seat
Now we can choose a drink,
Tomato juice, red wine,
Some music or a film
At 30, 000 feet.
Remarkable to know
That aviation fuel,
Once vegetable remains,
Comes from the earth as oil
And energises planes.
Comforting to presume
The cabin’s pressurised
And instruments of flight
Are skilfully devised
To navigate the night.
Consoling to believe
The forces that can heave
The weight of this machine
Above the ocean waves
And alpine mountain scene.
Strange to be conscious of
The distant sea below
And absent sky above
Where cloud formations flow
Detached from all we love.
Go back to sleep again.
What you have woken from
Is only a private dream,
An introspective film
Projected by the brain.
Do not become depressed,
Nor mindful of the worst
Reproaches of the past
Which need not be rehearsed.
Think only of the best.
Welcome the sunlit mind.
Let now and future time
Relinquish any claim
To undermine or blame
The chances choice declined.
Go back to sleep again.
See www.stephen-spender.org for translations published in 2006 (Michelangelo Sonnet) and 2010 (‘Confession’ by The Archpoet).
WHY I WRITE
To evade the void and annul the non-entity.
To look at the why and find the I in it.
To examine today and discover the infinite.
To colour the anger and flavour the angst.
To hide in the hurt, explore and exploit it.
To meet with defeat undaunted, undoubted.
To re-read the dead and revitalise voices.
To refute the certitudes and certify doubts.
To define inhumane by refining the human.
To dissemble, re-assemble and find treasures in jumble.
To talk to my selves and hear their inner lives.
Sing songs without words and in worlds without ends.
To question assumptions and reassert quests.
To verify versions and vivify visions.
To understand others and utter their otherness,
Creating new creatures and ditto fresh data.
To grasp in new gratitude the grace of the given.
To venerate flora and reverence fauna.
To cultivate cultures and contemplate cults.
To avoid the unwritten illegible horrors.
To transcend the grievance and vindicate hope.
To perceive the perceptible in the perpetual.
To attempt the impossible and effect the perfectible.
To translate the transient into the intricate.
Verbalise verities and eschew the aversion.
To hint at the gist with hymns to the intimate.
To render the reader both finder and keeper.
To be what I can and become what I am.
To fail and to feel an infallible failure.
To improvise symphonies and solemnize silence.
To love and believe in what all must be leaving.
To know now is ever until it is over.
Please remember that all the original material available here remains copyright ©Duncan Forbes