poems from SALT
If warm blood has a salt tang, and if sunlight were to fetch
a bright seam to the curtain’s overlap, or a chainsaw
had been at work somewhere nearby, it might be said
that she lay flat out face up legs spread
as if she had fallen from a great height, the breath
driven out of her and music in the room of her own devising.
A kite at work on roadkill, the thing unfolded
and thrown open: by-blow, a second self.
Fear of hidden illness took him, and this was bred in the bone.
His night-walks mapped the city. Nowhere was far enough.
A sidestep in the street; a soft-shoe shuffle; a hand
comes out to fend you off and then it’s over.
Now rain is pocking the pavement where you walked
in that lost moment, slow city-rain breaking as splash and smut.
Once and once only, a Brocken spectre, mere luck,
or else his mirror image stepping down and reaching out.
A hand in front of your face, they say, or else: There’s none so blind…
The place was picturesque, everyone agreed on that.
A cat walked through unseen. You could stand with one foot
in— the other in— but report nothing, no, write nothing down.
A place where the sun never quite comes up, where birds
are white-eyed, where all water is salt-water. They go naked,
the ‘inhabitants’; their voices might be machine-made, a sweet
soft hum that will draw you on before you’ve had time for that.
As pen to paper, so razor to strop; it’s written in blood.
Macula: he noted everything, he scanned his skin.
He set himself up to explain it all away.
You might hear it from anyone, but you’ll be hearing it from him.
In this, he is held against his will. In this
he finds a means to an end.
In this, there will be nothing left to do.
The room is empty and smells of smoke.
Into that other place, a bright machine, ratchets
clicking thickly, the engine tiny for all that mass
of metal, crank-and-shunt, letting go a rich blue-black
skirl of smoke, its tracks a long meandros through the orchard,
apples falling, the reek of it bringing a shiver to the leaves.
The woman stood at the gates, her children by her.
A brass plaque gave certain information.
The children were a match: one girl, one boy.
No one came. All they could do was wait.
David Harsent has published eleven volumes of poetry. (The forthcoming Salt, from which these poems are taken, is available for pre-order HERE). Legion won the Forward Prize for best collection 2005; Night (2011) was triple short-listed in the UK and won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. His most recent collection, Fire Songs, won the 2014 T.S. Eliot Prize.
Harsent has collaborated with a number of composers, though most often with Harrison Birtwistle, on pieces that have been performed at venues including the Royal Opera House, BBC Proms, the Aldeburgh Festival, The Concertgebouw, The London South Bank Centre, The Salzburg Festival, The Holland Festival and Carnegie Hall.
Harsent is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton.