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Paul Mills poems

Spring in February

This clear day,
at sixteen months
she slips from my hands
yards off the path
to the lambs.
Zipped up tight
in her all-in-one suit
which shines silver and grey
in the morning rays
she wobbles out to what`s there,
a space walker
making her first descent.
Grass on hard ground,
the earth inhaling
a whole still inrush,
she steps just conscious
that the world is present.
I look at a line
of rocks in a stream
that ripples before it cascades
in a gloss of current.
My glance runs like a hand across
the texture of leaden glass
without breaking the surface.

 

The White Mountains

Animal cities crowded to deep time
fointing and unsheeting out of the sea,
flowers of the sea whose petals changed
to mica where they fell.

Nothing contracted from softness is alive
but moves towards a region we can`t reach

That scarp, down
from Sierra ice
in setting light on Nevada.
Our camp in the Whiye Mountains.
The road from the valley winding
out to some high empty place.

I watch the moon`s half-hub increase its shine
from fading cones of snow.
Out of this world it`s daylight,
the stars grow.

Three hundred miles from the Humbolt River
whose trail dried into salt,
trees are still the oldest things that live,
twisted to the rock with iron threads.

Shone out on the dark my flashbeam ends.

The children wriggle and dream in their blue tent.

That eyes ever opened is an occurrence,
no more than an accident of occurrence.

The mountains are ridged like cone bristles opening
in the sun. It`s still early. The seam
of our air is blue-layered, soft
fine-grained rock for miles, untreacherous,
a breathable piece of time. Our shoe-prints
are loose-scuffed in the gravel,
not yet squeezed to marble.

Heat on bark flecks
In my eyes

the granite unfinished. In a million years all
daylight is the same, landslides of light,
ice from dislodged clouds.

Today we`ll see what the sun does south of here
the road, the minutes contracting in seams
behind us, tpo memory, each various

second fused to sulphur, to creosote,
to distances without shade.

from Half Moon Bay

 

Deja Vu

Early morning sun.
The day is bracing.
There`s some wind in the trees.
The fog moves.
You`re at the mail-box down on the dusty road.

A letter from England?
Yes, it is.
Popped inside those bundles of glossy junk.
Your name on the envelope
in my handwriting
- strange,
since I`m asleep in the bed you just left.

A letter from your husband asleep in the house.
You tear it open.
It`s a letter
written to you from years in the future,
written from now, just as I am writing this
now.

What`s happened?
You start to read.
You stop.
You can`t go on.
This is dissection.
You are being folded out like a map.

What will happen?
Passion Cancer
Divorce Career
Pregnancy What?
What?

The letter is reassuring.
The children are well.
I hope you are.
Where are they?
Have you left us?
Yes.

Yes.
And other news.
A war in Europe.
Public and private deaths.
We`ve had such storms.
The ice is melting.
It rambles. Little details.
Then an entire paragraph on the cat.
Then best wishes. Love.
And the children? Yes.
Yes, they send theirs.

The children get up, get dressed, you drive them to school.
They think you are a little bit distant this morning,
a bit preoccupied, entering freeway lanes
as if reading something, while the heat
presses the metal roof and you open a window
into the oncoming draughts as you move forward.
You have folded your letter back in the envelope in your head
where it will continue not to exist.

 

Mile End Opera

The man with whiskers of ponytail hair
growing out of the back of his shaved skull,
the woman with the Anna Ford face,
catacombed under London with other strangers.
Cornered, like prison visitors.
Swaying with the machinery.
Also a boy and girl he's black, she's white.

Beautiful black and white.
He's telling her about his college courses.
Things he likes. She telling him about her.
They are directing such smiles at each other
every one is a hit,
so that everyone in this carriage seems happier
A shade less absent. People are listening.

Even Anna Ford is feeling distinct.
Even the shaved/unshaved head is alert.
This girl's voice is luminous with this boy.
Whatever she's saying to him she can't stop.
Just listening, just looking at her
is becoming something phenomenal to him.
And, if she's seen that smile which she has

she must know what the audience also knows
that it's real, that these two are somehow
going to get off at the same stop,
that they've only just met but what the hell
This is it! Though they don't know it
we're all shouting for them, leaning towards them,
giving them space, swaying together,

silently wishing them things which in ourselves
we never knew,
or once or twice have known.
'This is it. Do it. Go for it',
punching the air for them in a whole Yes!
The train stops, he gets up, goes, he's gone.
She sits staring into the walls of London .

 

Rock-Salt

'The miracle of loving what dies' - Albert Camus

The miracle of a girl who at school
in summer in the twenties,
dawdling with her friends in a brine cavern,
among the carved passages under the fields
after getting back late one afternoon,
was ordered to talk to the class about rock-salt,
and did so, amazing herself and them
the miracle ablaze in her as she spoke,
as she speaks now about her grand-daughter,
who inherits the shape of her eyes,
for whom the world is also ablaze, lit
with the miracle of friends and her friends`
friends, who know nothing at all about rock-salt.

Miracle of the sea,
brine-white sand. Miracle
of summer, the roasting sun.
Miracle of the smells of the bodies of friends,
Albert and Didier and Marconi in Algiers,
born the same year as my mother who never knew them,
moving among the shining leaves of ficus,
the warm wool and faecal smell
Didier carried around with him,

while the same summer, the same moment,
for her it was the taste of salt,
it was the scent of heat,
sweet drinks, liquorice,
river-mud under the schoolroom window.

The delicious sea outside the schoolroom door
of Albert and Didier, children in class
in different countries, clothes,
an odour of joy, sometimes of rage,
beauty, and its second face, distress,

dissolving, like crystals in brine, to memory,
and launched on the river outside my mother`s classroom
were ships that reached Algiers smelling of mud,
just as those from Norway smelt of wood,
just as those from Germany smelt of oil,
As more intense the sun heated the city,
Grinding plaster and stone to a fine dust.

To those now dying who were children,
children in school, children in the sun,
who never met because of the tenuous drift
of a world still local in its extremity,
I say it was a miracle you lived,
That you lived on and beyond that summer
Into a world luminous as those fields,
Rivers, streets like overheated
Corridors, leaves of ficus,
Smell of the bodies of friends,

That you lived on with friends,
Lovers, children,
Remembering eyes of the same
dissolving colour, the miracle
of chance and strange silk,
miracle of brine,
miracle of death.

And of a girl
now an old woman,
with difficulty undressing herself
for the process. The difficulty

Of the no-less adjacent
but real and surprised wonder
of life going,

of trying to recall,
in delayed passages of speech

as if for her unpresent friends
instances, facts, this, that,

dissolving, luminous
words, miracles,
bits and pieces, rock-salt.

from Dinosaur Point

 

From the Palaeolithic

dawn frost oo the heating on
and condensation already formed on the kitchen`s inside glass
beginning to slide ootrickle in loops
spirals oospurs oowriggling forest vines ooand a figure
between branchesoooclimbing out oocoming through
hauling himself forward into a clearing

I`ve seen him beforeoooimagined him
one of the first coming into Europe
out of the east following rivers and sunsets
climbing a peak of rocks above the Danube

he stands in the dripping pane looking around him
testing the view where rafts are working upstream

generations after him will reach ice
will they survive the ferocities of the tundra?
he is one of the first sons of the mother who is our mother
he will never be richooonever be poor

through him oobehind him oomy garden
beginning to shine ooan apple tree where a wren flits

how far will his thoughts carry him?
in his domed skull are all the tools he`ll need
to survive in paradise and demolish it
come no furtheroo I ought to say oo go back!

he faces meoo between pathways of water
will he begin to melt when the frost melts?
he is disfiguring now in the heat of the kitchen

divers reaching a deep recess will find his skull
scattered among bones of cave bears


1832

Charles Darwin oo aged 26oo feels the crossover tides slip
under the cabin floor to the Southern Ocean
if only he`d stayed in Good Success Bay
not sailed westoo set foot on land oo he can`t sleep
in his journal he records swarms of butterflies blown out to sea
Ehrenberg`s paper on phosphorescence
speculates on extinct speciesoo giant armadillos oo capybaras
none of it can distract him

instead he sees their little ship like a map illustration
inching towards the Pacific
its sails caught in a storm straight off the mountain
lashed by the spinal tail of the Cordilleras
he speaks directly now into his journal oo remembering
at the sea`s edge oo those most miserable of creatures
a naked woman and her child oo streaks of sleet
on her breast and the baby`s skin

what are they doing in his century? oo Europe oo America
slipping past him into some closed ravine
a thicket of gestures oo painted grimaces
menoo if they were menoo asleep on wet leaves
here on this final land mass to be peopled
their future appears to him like their past oo abject
a long steep-sided sound oo from end to end swallowed by cloud
no improvement oo no point in thought except to chip at limpets

from Out Of Deep Time Wayleave Press (2016)

 

 

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