Peter Riley: Excerpts from Due North

                                                                                                         from Part II

Far from “art”. Crannogs and beehive huts / herding
horses to the docks at Belfast, priests in black gowns
walking the pavements       Tenant farmers
in the hills around Halifax—
       walking mummies in dungarees and flat caps
       life of slopstone and clarts, the curlew
whistling failure over the top fields and obviously,
souldom gained and lost, thoughts that bite, dreams told to willows
by haunted streams
                 (the muses in a ring about Apollo’s altar sing)
and the pipes played The Flowers of the Forest.


And there we were, serving new industries
cotton and print mills, brick cottage rows in
cobble and dirt streets without so much as
a tap and the great sky held, the great arch
of experience stretched over the parklands and we
gained our own,  the long songs and stories
were ours for the telling and our sad fates
woven across the night nobody, nobody
stood any higher than us in the meaning of the world
whatever mess we made of it our heads were alive
with our dialect and the end we saw coming
clearly over the town we lived in.


The old men still there, in a row on the stone bench
round the palazzo, watching the tourists, sharing the wine,
       to be willing to talk, to learn from anybody (Mandelstam)
amplifying a procedure, a work between stations
work of day night weeks years on end
       to be something, something more
                 than bits of paper blown in the wind, more than words,
                                        to be bound together like
                                        words in a sonnet, to enact a solution
instead of replicating violence.  Anything’s better
than skulking deep in some university
casting spells and hating the world.


                                                                                                        from Part IV

Smoke standing over the houses in the valley below
we tempered ourselves into an ecstasy of forgetting
and farmed ourselves into the next generation
and rolled down the hillsides to the town
to set up shops, and ache with servility when the man
calls in to take away the profit.  Consolation starts to slide
       into counsel, tragedy into accident.

And where there was a local consolidation is now
a  subsidised circus. Our old romances return
freshly laundered on the backs of migrant workers
from former colonies and recent war zones.

en la tarde  in the evening, when I consider
the termination of my life the owls call, meaning no harm,
and the northern winds rattle the windows.
A shrinking recess in the dark surface of place
holds such authenticity as is left. This stinking Eden (clarts etc.).

And wake in the morning to find the birds have formed a co-operative

and the children have all remembered their fathers’ names.

       Child on bike
       it’s all right
       I’m still here
       holding on
       don’t worry
       you won’t fall, go


                                                                                                         from Part V

...and the people who promote this madness are always calculatingly sane, and build reputations and
careers on the madness, while the people who are mad hate it, and destroy themselves, because they
know they are mad.


Walking long streets of house rows
deep and clear autumn sunlight between cloud masses
all the fair faces in the rooms and their abandoned destinations
                 with no hope of repair
betrayed workers, paid up and forgotten,
their language vilified, the plain speech we offer the world in
all honesty described as “a source of evil” by
       priest academics chanting etymological curses
while the world bears its own evidence on rays of sunlight
                            all along the rows of dancers.

Indeed we know we are nothing, our language is lies
       my sighs, my broken words, the sink of my passion
into inarticulacy, the everyday which is where we live
in which we are trapped
       Gentle shepherd, rain on the window
                 It is an honour.


               So the final descent into madness and death
               is down a Pennine hillside, leaping small streams hung
               with elder and hawthorn chest pain image pain stumbling
               over tufted meadows down cinder tracks, vetch,
               ragged robin, cow-parsley, dandelion, speeding
               between hedgerows into the edges of the town the
               garden fences the meeting places the towers, then
               to slow and stagger panting and fall silently
               across the threshold of the public library in all the gladness and relief
               of total incomprehension.


                                                                                                         from Part VI

In sleep “we” is restored to the choral “I”
And the singing can start
the great chant of humanity suddenly unafraid
under contract, rights offset to duties

Song of Myself / the boat on the water / the water on the window
expanding from unison through all the suburbs
       to the cemetery beyond the town edge, choked with growth
In which (uncomprehending) we build our singing platforms
and lie waiting


Dying, she turned towards me and gave a last, sweet,
pout. “I gave my life to poetry.” At the funeral
we got through nine bottles.  Miles of damp fields.


Peter Riley's Due North will be published by Shearsman in 2015.

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