These poems are for the following friends:
Susanne and Bridgit
Two Theatre Poems for Wendy Benge, on the occasion of her birthday, 2005.
Wendy in the Wings
I have watched her,
This actress – whom I know so well
and love as a friend –
busy as Weigel tending her props,
before the doors are open,
touching the candle, the taper, the book,
moving the chair a vital half-inch,
and smoothing the cover (already smooth)
where soon a woman mad with grief
will find her rest and sanctuary.
Mother Courage and Julian.
How alike these two survivors,
(and Wendy in her plain grey dress
could play them both,)
and yet how different!
The one will never learn,
and that is her tragedy.
The other not only learns but shares,
affirming life and love and hope,
offering peace to a troubled time.
One last glance round, and all is done.
A practical nod, a hint of a smile,
and Wendy is gone,
back through the arched wooden door,
into the quiet room, there to scan her text
and await the call.
Michael now, more nervous than she,
asks, “Shall I open the doors?
Shall I let them all in? Is it time?”
It is time, and time moves quickly now..
The musician plays and just on cue,
– though none but us would know-
she enters, humble as a serving girl,
and takes her place.
Watch closely now and you will see
how she wraps peace round her
wearing it like a shawl.
Nothing can disturb that peace,
nor fiend, nor plague, nor civic unrest.
Thus almost by stealth the play’s begun.
And we can relax now.
For all shall be well,
and all manner of thing
shall be well.
Dame Julian’s in charge.
Shes a tale to tell.
(recalling the time we met)
I remember first, the mad woman,
the crazy and demented Agave,
storming on stage with the head of her son,
held high in triumph.
“See father, see the lion I have caught
for I am queen of the hunters.”
And I recall, now long ago
how glad I was, that finally
someone had stepped out of the wings
to take this role by the scruff of its neck
and give it form and presence:
that I had met an actress who,
quick of mind and of spirit too
knew in her secret art the joy
that lies at the heart of tragedy.
I watched as Wendy, never faltering,
allowed Agave’s madness drain away
Like water from a flooded town,
discovering the awful human truth
Of what had happened there.
It is the restraint that reveals the depths.
It is the artist who says, “Don’t just watch,
but come and share with me,”
and who talks us gently down…
And that takes courage as well as skill.
Later in the dressing room,
hair in a bob, and wiping off face cream,
it comes, that sudden look, that bright eyed pause,
– a Julian moment, I’ve come to know –
and Wendy says, “Tell me Phil, was it OK?”
Not wanting praise but quite severe.
And I, echoing her own restraint
reply, “The best I’ve ever seen.”
For LLOYD SCOTT
On Hearing his Good News.
How good to know that Lloyd is on the mend.
I have often thought back,
on the quiet way
in which he spilled his news…
as though announcing a trip to Oz
or the arrival of friends…
except that some words
carry a charge of their own.
“Cancer!” he said. “An operation needed.
Had problems for a while. Doctor’s orders.”
“When?” I asked. “Soon,” he replied,
with just the smallest flicker in his voice…
which I, because we are
inmates of the rehearsal room,
because I know his voice so well,
The bravery of one who usually
consoles others with his art
whether on stage or on the air
has a special strength.
It is the bravery of those who
though defenceless and afraid,
hearing the howl of a dog in the night
open wide the door.
And now dear Lloyd is on the mend.
“Take care,” I say. “Take time. Have time.
Make Time your servant now
for all those things you thought about
that give our Life its special savour,
FOR THE ARTIST FRANK WYLIE,
WHO HAS NOW, (AND NOT BEFORE TIME,) FULFILLED HIMSELF…..
AND FALLEN IN LOVE.
It was as I expected,
surprising – for that is Frank,
and wily with it too.
This time it was brown paper kites
transformed his room and made it home
Abstract shapes to tease the mind,
perfected curves of gravity,
But mind your head, and mind your mind
for lodged within, you’ll always find
in careful script, choice quips from Joyce
designed to make you think.
That too is Frank.
We talked, with ease, we always do
like soapy hands before they’re rinsed
he of his art and new ideas,
I of the Caribbean.
For Frank understands adventures,
has never wished the tide stand still
accepting change, both good and bad,
while holding firm to liberty.
A work room, a sleep room,
a friendly cup of tea room,
we talked, pealing back time.
Sharing the things we remember.
China… Before China…
Loves remembered…Loves lost….
Books remembered, books lost,
Poverty, change, and age advancing,
How strange it seemed, and yet,
Though strange, how right!
“Notwithstanding all,” I thought,
“Here is a man of Light.”
I have always known this.
Frank is the true Pioneer,
Politically wise, but vulnerable too,
as all great spirits are.
So finally, when we came to part
I told him of my great event –
of drifting through the wild Cunuku,
despite of stones and thorns that cut.
Frank listened, and his blue eyes –
eyes that both his daughters share –
shone with understanding.
And he said, “I too have a secret!
for I, after how many years,
after how many disappointments,
after such a long journey,
have fallen in love.”
My joy in that news beggared parallel.
though why, I am at a loss to say,
for every lad finds his lass,
tomorrow or today
My wish is for your happiness,
for that, as the Ancients know,
is the first step to eternal bliss.
As above, so below.
FOR SUSANNE and BRIDGIT
Charlwood St, in Pimlico, London
1. ON SUSANNE’S STUDIO
It is a quiet place, this room
and when the door closes behind you,
(excluding cats and the kitchen kettle)
the room resumes its quiet work…
of which you are now a part.
white walls, green floor,
a slab of sunlight revealing
paintings in process, facing you boldly,
paintings completed, facing the wall..
Between the two the Buddah sits,
riding the balance.
It is a place of lines, this room,
the straight and the curved:
logic and intuition,
the shortest path between two points… and yes,
the sensual meander.
However, while many lines are visible
most are of the mind.
Those curves, for instance, dive to mystery.
I think of the bending horizon,
beyond which, Terra Incognita,
the great mystery….
Let us be simple and just talk of Death.
I am thinking too of resonance.
Tuned strings sounding, though octaves apart.
All things resounding, to the unheard tolling,
of a bell that chimes, in the deeps of our ocean.
Let us be simple and just talk of Life.
Is that not what we seek in art?
And that which art can best deliver?
I am thinking of how those things we feel
But which have no name, can not be seen
or scarcely thought, our resonances,
become manifest with the flick of a brush,
a dab of bright paint and a steady hand,
while the patient Buddha,
alert and at rest, abides
in his corner, hearing still
the last, firm strike of the gong.
2. ON THE SPACE WITH PAINTINGS.
It is a tranquil place, this room.
Safe behind flowers
On guard at the window,
I stare at a bright bold work
Of squares and angles and rings within rings,
Noting how when the sun streams in
This painting expands, filling the room.
But what are these chasms that split up the unity,
taking their colour from the neutral back wall?
They belong… have a purpose… no doubt about it
But what? What and why?
There I have given myself one, you see?
In a poem such spaces give readers a rest
And writers a chance to change their direction.
In painting they point to
a further dimension. They are:
a balm for hot colour
a bridgeless white river
a limit to turmoil
containing all colours
pathways of energy
white hot and molten
potent and waiting
they give the eye rest
while leading it forwards.
But there is more. A pause is a time for
reflection, a time to be mindful,
a time between events and certainties.
Let us be clear, I am talking about Life and Death.
Hamlet’s phrase comes to mind.
“The readiness is all.”
Meet it is I set it down.
“If it be now, t’is not to come.
If it be not to come, it shall be now.
If it be not now, yet it will come.
The readiness is….”
Now did I see that crafty Buddha wink?
3 BEYOND the STUDIO
It is a lively place, this house
where the tight firm lines of the female form
share their energy with the great Z20.
Where a matron in armour stares sternly down
as you climb up the stairs
and step by the cats.
Faces abound in room and passage,
but one captivates, above all others.
She looks through you, this woman in white,
fierce as an angel, and so, so beautiful,
she fills the room with her presence.
But who is the boy lingering there?
And what is the gap in that hedge?
We are back to spaces again.
Such spaces are vital, because incomplete,
allowing the viewer, room to manoeuvre,
room for the viewer to offer his mite.
And for that reason we feel at home.
Amid the fierce art we can be at ease.
Sunday, 25 August 2002
2 Poems for RH – who ponders on such things
You say, “Two plus two makes four.”
I say, “Two added to two is four.”
We are both right,
but our fours are
Your four is turned,
(tuned I might say)
to the darkness,
unblinking and unbowed,
facing the challenge,
responding to anger,
with courage undefeated
though tired, but yet
seeing there something
I too face the darkness,
but my four sees it
as a presage of light,
a coming to be,
of form, revealing…
Lux Umbra Dei.
For RH – an ongoing debate.
CHAOS THEORY 2
Is there somewhere
that folds its wings
like hands at prayer
– now of silver,
then gold –
when moon or sun
rule the skies?
But in my garden
I sit still, and watch.
I do not want
to spoil the universe,
disturb our peace.