Saturday Poem

Complicated Pleasures
Bill Ramsell

We were in bed together listening to Lyric,
to a special about the Russians,
when the tanks rolled into Babylon.

For a second I could feel their engines,
and the desert floor vibrating,
in the radio’s bass rattling your bedroom
as the drums expanded at the centre of the Leningrad,
as those sinister cellos invaded the melody.

We’d been trying, for the hell of it,
to speak our own tongue
and I was banging on about Iberia when your eyelids closed:
Tá do lámh I mo lámh” I whispered “ar nós cathair bán
sna sléibhte lárnach, d’anáil ar nós suantraí na mara i mBarcelona.
Codhladh sámh

But as I murmured “sleep, my darling, sleep” into your sleeping ear
I found myself thinking of magnets
of what I’d learned in school about the attraction of opposites,
that the two of us, so similar,
could only ever repel one another.

For the closer I clutched your compact body
the further apart we grew.

You have eleven laughs
and seven scents
and I know them like a language.
But what will it matter when the bombs start falling
that you could never love me?

Then you turned in my arms
and it was midnight again on the beach at Ardmore,
when the starlight collected in some rock pool or rain pool
among the ragged crags at the water’s edge
and the two of us sat there
and we didn’t even breathe
determined not to the disturb that puddle’s flux,
the tiny light-show in its rippling shallows,
the miniature star-charts that for a moment inhabited it.

And you whispered that the planets, like us, are slaves to magnetism,
gravity’s prisoners, as they dance the same circles again and again,
and that even the stars ramble mathematically,
their glitter preordained to the last flash.

You turned again as I looked at the night sky
through your attic window
and thought of the satellites
gliding and swivelling in their infinite silence,
as they gaze down on humanity’s fumbling,
on you and me, as you sniffled against my neck
and the drumming, drumming flooded your bedroom,
on powerful men in offices pressing buttons
that push buttons in powerful men,
on the tanks, like ants, advancing through the wilderness.

Those pitiless satellites, aware of every coming conflagration
and what would burn in it,
knowing for certain in their whispering circuits
that, like our island’s fragile language,
like Gaudi’s pinnacles and the Leningrad symphony,
– even worse – like your teeth and our four hands,
the very stars through which they wander would be gone,

those brittle constellations with the billion sinners that orbit them,
extinguished in a heartbeat, absolved instantly,
as if your hand had brushed the water slowly once.

Poet's Note: The Irish text above can be translated as:
Your hand in my hand is like a white city in the central massif,
your breathing like the ocean’s lullaby in Barcelona.
Sleep tight.