3&4 - 1976/77
Narrative of the Spiders
for Joy Beaudry
The spider, as I dial a number,
hanging in the air beside me, moving with slow
exploring at the air her long forelegs, climbing the air,
the invisible hair she has spun out
of her own body, swimming an invisible sea,
where is she going, seemingly up to me,
and yet perhaps for her some other travel —
the spider sailing her own world,
along her own tracks
in latitudes she alone understands.
The irony — that I should have become
father to a house of spiders
as if I'd had innumerable daughters
spun from my mind alone.
No cranny in the house but has
its spider: they even nest behind the pictures
and inside books. In my own paths
I come upon them suddenly: not all the education
I've tried to give myself in their regard
prevents that shudder at their sight, and yet,
how calm they are at their navigation
and sleeping in their havens!
And it is not as if they were the large
tropical horrors I've known elsewhere, squatting like
disembodied hands on beds, or curling legs around
a windowsill: the stage-shy ballerinas. They are small
for the most part, and probably do little harm
to others of their kind within the house. Though
I have caught, in a glass, one black, to put it out,
and then a white, and suddenly there was, there were not two,
but one black spider crouching in the glass. We must know
our thoughts, which goes with which,
and which will eat the other like a witch.
Fall. Great lines in the sky, thick and black,
as if drawn with the brush of a Japanese master,
constantly re-arranging themselves over the fields,
making for South, yet with many a curve,
as if in sleep, or in desire for sleep, to wheel and land,
the whole long V of them, on some round pond,
or down the length of the sea-longing river.
Their ways are also set apart. Their noise is the most
mysterious the night knows, they conjure travel,
essence of movement. Above the house, out in the fields,
and further out into the hungry world,
some part of mind will always go with them, will be forever
travelled in their flight. As if a web of flyways in the night
covered the earth with programs. Process of their flight,
and process of the poem now made one, an ancient ritual
haunting like movement to me, come to rest.
Now the geese gone. Whereas, within the house,
within the mind, as I would criticize
the notebooks I've not written, and the poems
time has not had for me — these galley slaves, the spiders,
weaving who knows what silks and what brocades
I might in other voices weave, if I could find
the whole plan of their movement, in and out of season,
and when they will appear on a calm night, and not appear
on nights of rain when most to be expected. Syntax of fright,
clearing the way for knowledge. Which can't be fear,
is that not so, and which can only be the beauty of my daughters
as they are born, mine as they trick to dress.
mine as they die, their frail legs closed at last
around the bitter heart that could but father them,
and then leave them to fate, the cold night, or the broom.
The sunglasses I had lost all weekend
found at last at the bottom of my satchel
on which everything I had in the world was piled,
broken at the bridge. Classes cannot break worse.
The voice of Alegria saying
'You no longer need dark to look at light'.
And there is too much in the world
that cannot be married, or conjunct, or cemented in union
of any kind. How shall I then take the pure light
from my faithful, lifelong friend beside the bed
telling me to recognize myself in it and not fear,
and how not fall headlong, past all the brides,
lovers, fellows, acquaintances, down to the last
slip of the lizard's feet on the greasy tree,
over the skull and through the eyes
into the world of spiders?
Expecting the great spider at the mind's edge
to come like a telephone-call in the silent house,
suddenly, among the empty walls, along the bare rafters
and be so large she will engulph the house
like a call engulphs silence, changing biography,
bringing the future into life. Alegria said
'Mother'. I said: 'No, daughters'. The spider
which will be death and will be, also, love.
My body cannot digest my soul tonight and I am left
a house of winds. 'It is not necessary' Alegria said
'to cut the string of the kite when it explores the sky,
but merely to get used to the lengthening of the string
and all the places it goes.' And the string
trembles to a thousand voices like a harp
with but one string. The harp with a thousand strings
is of no use to me; it is broken at the bridge like
my glasses. The kite has gone to meet its fellows in the sky.
Winds sing in the wires of the old plane,
two officers in formal dress are not height sick, one
bellows into the ear of the other through a megaphone,
the pilot calmly taking his suggestions. 'Cut off the engines'
Alegria said 'and took me through my fears one by one,
cut off the engines, dived perpendicularly, surfed on clouds,
made me feel my body weightless, brought in the radio
to elucidate the voices of the clouds'.
'And below the sea, there was a blue crab,
weaving a blue, plastic-like substance out of its tail
which then became a shell or imperial palace
the mad blue weaver lived in. Took my camera out
to find the crab I'd seen, but could not do so
and the old fisherman I'd left behind, who'd lived
many a higher life in vain and now had chosen this
to watch for men, he laughed: the grin took out his face
he laughed so much when I returned to port.'
Uneasy, in the slip of making, yet thought for once
moving to its appointed end like a hunter.
The voices outside have sounded for three days
and have been woven into one skein. The skein is inwards
now, sinking into the sea like a crab, and the sound
falls into deeper and deeper blues under the waves.
Blue line on a deep blue bed. The line follows,
among the ten thousand things of the sea, picking out
unerringly and, though I do not know it with the reel,
those things which match the discourse. Alegria sings
with bright eyes in the mind, it is the eyes that sing.
I have feared movement all my life, feared walking, feared
dancing also, feared height and depth, the air, the sea
and the path before me. Did I fall once, this fall, or in
some other fall? As I saw my daughter once,
sprawled on the floor when she was very little
— and the sudden howl as she dropped from bed unseen
to be found on the floor? I fear the spiders
because they are there without having appeared to come
where they now are, which is: not up in the sky, but here,
in the house with us. They are my movements, those
I've not moved, but moved nevertheless, through passage
of this time I am allotted. I fear my daughters,
my actions, the blind women moving through the poem
that cannot come to birth until their mother is exhausted.
They are spiders, in delicate blue dresses, they are crabs,
they are not yet the birds in the air in the indigo night.
Do the birds achieve? Watch the birds move, on the wing,
perching, or feeding now among the molluscs of the pond.
Can you imagine a bird, relaxing in the grass, one knee
over the other, smoking a cigarette, let's say inactive?
This passion for achievement, to tear it from a life, impossible.
Though nausea attend it — impossible still.
Once, I found a web at the door, moving slightly in the morning
wind and destroyed it. By the evening, the web had been
woven again exactly as before. I was so moved, I left it.
Destroyed. Nature is careless. Build now. It is but life.
poetrymagazines' note: Acknowledgement: The House of Leaves, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara CA, 1976; Selected Poems, 1950-2000, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown CT, 2002.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The