By Rosemary Tonks
In the green rags of the Bible I tore up
The straight silk of childhood on my head
I left the house, I fled
My mother’s brow where I had no ambition
But to stroke the writing
I raked in.
She who dressed in wintersilk my head
That month when there is baize on the high wall
Where the dew cloud presses its lustration,
And the thrush is but a brooch of rain
As the world flies softly in the wool of heaven.
I was a guest at my own youth; under
The lamp tossed by a moth for thirteen winters
Sentenced to cabbage and kisses
By She who crammed an Earth against my feet and
Pulled over me the bright rain
Storm of fleece.
Not for me – citizenship of the backdoor
Where even the poor wear wings; while on Sunday
Gamy ventilations raise their dilettante
In the bonnet of the satin-green dung fly,
And fungus sweats a livery of epaulettes.
I was a hunter whose animal
Is that dark hour when the hemisphere moves
In deep blue blaze of dews
And you, brunette of the birdmusic tree,
Stagger in spat diamonds
Like some Saint whose only blasphemy is a
Magnificent juice vein that plucks his groin
With April’s coarse magicianship as green
As the jade squirt of fruit, I was the child whose breast
Rocks to a muscle savage as Africa.
Thundercloud, your wool was rough with mud
As the coat of a wild beast on which flowers grow,
Your brogue of grunts so low
They left soil in the mouth. After you, I
Walked as through a Djinn’s brain
I was incriminated by your hammer
In my chest. And forfeit to the crepe hoods
Of my mother’s eyes; the iron door of her oven
And her church. Skies, cut to blind, had but laid on
Her priest’s mouth the green scabs of winter.
But I had the marvellous infection!
Leaning upon my fairy and my dog
In the ultramarine
Latitudes of dew shook like a tear that’s carried
Through darkness on the knuckles of
A woman’s glove.
I saw each winter where my hen-thrush
Left her fork in famine’s white banqueting cloth;
Could I not read as well the tradesman’s hand
With its magenta creases – whose soul turns blandly
On a sirloin mattress to smile at the next meal?
O She who would paper her lamp with my wings!
That hour when all the Earth is drinking the
Blue drop of thunder; and in
Dark debris as of a magician’s room, my beast
A scented breathing
To the East.
About the author
(Excerpt from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/rosemary-tonks)
English poet Rosemary Tonks [1928 – 2014] was born in Gillingham, Kent. Her father, an engineer, died in Africa before Tonks’s birth and she was sent to boarding school as a young girl. In the late 1940s, Tonks married Michael Lightband, also an engineer. The couple lived in Calcutta, where Tonks had paratyphoid fever, and Karachi, where she contracted the polio that withered her right hand. Tonks taught herself to write and paint left-handed and wore a black glove on her right hand. After a stint in Paris, the couple returned to London in the mid-1950s and Tonks began mixing with literary society. During this period, Tonks wrote two books of highly acclaimed poetry, Notes on Cafés and Bedrooms (1963) and Iliad of Broken Sentences (1967). Tonks claimed affiliation with French poets such as Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and her poetry was edgy, metropolitan, and laced with acerbic wit. Critic Cyril Connolly noted then that “Miss Tonks’s hard-faceted yet musical poems have unexpected power,” and she was generally considered one of the best female poets of her generation. Tonks also wrote six novels, including Opium Fogs (1963) and The Halt During the Chase (1972), and reviewed widely.