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"Three Pears", c. 1888-90, by Paul Cezanne (credit: The Henry and Rose Pearl Foundation) 

The Line

The line came out of nowhere as I woke.
I rose and wrote it down.
                                      And then I lost it,
And ever since have rummaged everywhere
Trying to find those few good words I'd found
Without knowing I'd found them.
                                               Walking at night
Or waking at dawn, my mind is busy
Fretting to find again those lost few words:
They had authority, and a fine tune as well,
Together in one line that would lead on
To others just as fine, a solid shape
Not to be shifted.
                           But all of it has gone
Into a nowhere that I cannot reach,
Drifted away, out on the furthest edge


Unambiguous signs: crossed twigs on pavements,
Leaves pointing a certain way, words through the wall
Dictated by Dr Ernst — these are all
Clear indications of what is going on,
All adding up to truth, all making sense
Until all sense without patterning has gone.

When there is nothing else a single bulb
Burns in the brain all night, all day, to light
The certain darkness. The uncertain self
Searches for what it is certain must be right.

Out in the street the wind blows all one way
To point the trees where they and you must go.
Their lifted leaves all mutter to and fro.

Now there is neither light nor night nor day.

(a memory of China, 1980)

Emerging with gallery feet
From the Beijing Museum
(All later than Sung curtailed
‘For one month's repairs'),
I walked to the empty square
(Parade ground; no parade),
Sat on the steps of the Monument
To the Peoples' Heroes, lit a fag,

Read the guidebook — and looked up
To see four soldiers watching
At a polite distance.
Then old and young came by,
Dragging reluctant children,
Clutching a baby or two.
They stopped, and began to stare.
More soldiers, more grandads, until

Forty or so stood there,
In a circle around the steps
Where I sat like a statue on show.
‘I am English', I said, in English:
‘I am a friend', I said.
They stared as I blushed and shrugged,
And watched as I stood and walked
Out of the square, alone.

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