• Wayne Price

The Convalescence


My body is still

strange to me.

I feel

its village pub hostility

at sudden

entrances of thought,

at the bickering

of my missing children.


Tolerated, not

welcome here

whatever I spend,

I imagine

the view outside

where distant hills

rise – border country –

and repeat forever, emptily.





Soft, Unbreakable Creatures


Soft, unbreakable creatures

travel the deep sea's staircase

all night, all day, like Jaccottet's

servant silence, clearing

whatever speech has left


(the smeared glasses and forks,

the table's mulberry-ringed cloth)


of the act itself, always in

parenthesis, always between

the surface of the sea

and its buried woods that were

the world once, its drowned


desert floors. The syntax

of the rolling processes

making more or less known;

the mid-Atlantic

waves that seem to surge tonight


like thought through the trees. Simple

rain, long before life,

was the first impatient

wanderer, leaving its small

footprints, for a short time, everywhere.





The Generals



There were rhythms within rhythms; every

thought of home or death kept time with twenty

thousand marching feet. I look down from age

as if from a great height. We stopped only

for rivers and mountains. The passes like throats

of jars spilled slingers and spearmen, tongue

after strange barbarian tongue. A sound

more like the muttering of rockslides than

war-cries (the distance even then: rivers

splashing with arrows and stones as if quick

fish were jumping). We understood nothing,

but one who'd been a slave in Athens said

I think I recognise my own country. Naked,

calling, he swam through death to memory.



The boys of the rich were as pale and round

as the boiled chestnuts they were fattened on.

And every life lived in obverse, as if

through the mirror of civilization:

expecting sex with strangers in the street;

performing their sudden songs and dances

alone. Always we found them chattering

most excitedly to themselves, as if

discourse in that land grew inside the skin,

like a nerve. I long for it sometimes, that

country of private language, public

dreaming. We burned two white kings in their tall

wooden towers. When they burned, I listened.

I, who have always said more than he meant.



Always those other ways to live. Fighting

men learn as they plunder and kill. The end

of most who returned was simply to till

his own patch. I have watched as mothers heaved

their children from citadel walls and dropped

open-armed after them. Now, I overlook

vineyards to the lake in the rain, water

that shatters on water to become

only itself again; and we who were

ten thousand are one. The vapour rising

from the valley floor climbs like spirits through

the vines. I have buried five warrior

sons. More vivid to me now than men

are the pale grapes on the hillside in the rain.



The words already leaving, even as

they arrived, tinily on the air, tap

and rattle of their brittle sticks like the

arrows spitting at our backs. Soldier, lift

your feet in the snow or never go home.

Some begged to be left – the crippled who'd cut

shoes of fresh, bloodied pelts. What horrors the ice

miracled for them, fusing skin to skin.

The snow-blind, clutching trees, we abandoned.

How did we go on with the frozen world

for a sandal? Only the riding generals

recalled, their horses strangely shod with bladders

of air and straw – one more knowledge we thieved.

Somehow, we marched into language and lived.







They sift in after everyone

else has gone. On the stairs

you sense them brushing

past elbow and shoulder.


The door they use

is like a valve, swinging open

and shut for some chamber

in your digestion or heart.


In the end they won’t need

parties to miss,

weddings, anniversaries, funerals.

Whichever night they come


you’ll let them in.

You’ll know they have

nowhere else to go,

and every night there’ll be more.







The cough you can't keep down;

the wrong taste of your cigarette, then;

the headache like a spike of bone

wagging on the cortex.


The procession: each anonymous one

carrying their life on their tongue.

The dusty kings of Babylon

who still lie there


rustling, arms tight to their sides,

dressed in feathers like starlings.

The railway tarmaced over now,

the birches not in leaf yet


against a pale blue sky. The smell

of stones in the brook, on the way

to the mossy waterfall: the precise

scent of a childhood spent in


woodland, near water.

And the moons pulled out of shape;

the force that bulges raindrops

in the green place we come back to


in the end, the place of 'laziness and love',

in the solving white sun. The children

learning a second language

to be wrong in. Tu Fu selling


his clothes for wine,

in spring, coming home

late from the river. And being

the gate but not the garden.


The found poetry of our mistakes;

the way in sleep we lie

like frozen runners from disaster,

fixed in ash, or ice, or forest amber.