The meek find the violent absolute


Selected poems



Coventry carol

for Roger Hillman


A banksia flower spike

wobbling on a spindle

holes cut in wood

to let out sound,

organ pipes or little beaks,

animal mouths

open and close like speaking wounds

as song unwinds


The body is weeping:

milk and tears and blood

make no sound,

numb mothers in a line:

tongues of stone




Hardly known at school,

lightly, sure-footed,

she crossed into the light


My daughter wept

her young face

shocked by hot tears


We can't explain so

many or stop them

jumping under

or out of —

blessed are the meek

for they find the violent Absolute ...


Games where you can't

die or (only scroll


are virtually

remembered forever —

Blessed are the pure in spirit

for they shall act authentically,

blessed are those who weep by the wall ...


Years go, in Withington

Cemetery, late for a service,

searching a cloverleaf asphalt path:

in each little clearing

six or seven young shocked burning —

distraught mascara —

no one over twenty ...




This week we're teaching lullabies.

I can't find the right tune

for Mother Courage's song to Kattrin;

all day it sings inside me,

bye bye lully lullay




Fleurs du Mal

(or Mrs Horner shows concern about the fruit)


In vestigial darkness you might glimpse

men purposeful as spiders

going through abandoned streets.

Or hear, spliced into a dream,

two car doors slam, the car take off,

and no word said.

Far off glass breaks, gears shift

up, and you're caught

in the grittiest real,

the glitch between day and night,

with tear ducts frozen and newspapers poised

to deliver the latest acts.

While in their room

the kids are given to sleep,

flopped like sausages or clowns,

all smooth skin and long eyelashes.

Here in this setting for absent selves,

the question's not of love but simply care.

How could these get from here

to there?


Early traumas last, the experts say —

apparently they know whose cuts hurt most —

but memory can resemble an old wound

that presages damp days or like a sharp

new line make one gasp again.


What violence do they endure who

with nightmare slowness flee a wolfish past?

And are theirs unexamined lives who have

attained the modern armour-plated dream?


Some, capable of anything,

must have cauterized their memory,

sealed off all pain but, with that, pleasure too.

No echoes trouble them, or shining quiet,

or fear of slippage of the half-recalled

breath warming their smaller hands

that had no use for printless gloves,

a fingertip lifting a strand of hair off the face

whose planes of stone now bar all touch.


We grow dull with forgetting until it's too late:

we're in love with the blankness that damns us,

that watches with indifference while we die.


Unless, unbidden, memory unfurls,

slowly at first, its hidden loops

of story, objects, voices, floating free —

suspended, bending, bunching, stretched,

like the shapes ink makes released in water,

the words love writes on thirsty skin.


Felt again, that touch

is not to be gainsaid,

compels us to gentle our hands, supports us

in a world grown lavish with praise —


as if the air itself remembered our names;


our voices move through it like replies.



Topic tags: Carolyn Masel, poetry



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