Himalayan Balsam 

 

Orchid-lipped, loose-jointed, purplish indolent flowers,
with a ripe smell of peaches, like a girl's breath through lipstick,
delicate and coarse in the weedlap of late summer rivers,
dishevelled, weak-stemmed, common as brambles, as love which
subtracts us from seasons, their courtships and murders,
(Meta segmentata in her web, and the male waiting,
between blossom and violent blossom, meticulous spiders
repeated in gossamer, and the slim males waiting.)

Fragrance too rich for keeping, too light to remember,
like grief for the cat's sparrow and the wild gull's
beach-hatched embryo. (She ran from the reaching water
with the broken egg in her hand, but the clamped bill
refused brandy and grubs, a shred too naked and perilous for
life, offered freely in cardboard boxes, little windowsill
coffins for bird death, kitten death, squirrel death, summer
repeated and ended in heartbreak, in sad, small funerals.)

Sometimes, shaping bread or scraping potatoes for supper,
I have stood in the kitchen, transfixed by what I'd call love
if love were a whiff, a wanting for no particular lover,
no child, or baby, or creature. 'Love, dear love,'
I could cry to these scent-spilling ragged flowers,
and mean nothing but 'no' by that word's breath,
to their evident going, their important descent through red, towering
stalks to the riverbed. 
            It's not, as I thought, that death
creates love. More that love knows death. Therefore
tears, therefore poems, therefore long stone sobs of cathedrals
that speak to no ferret or fox, that prevent no massacre. 
(I am combing abundant leaves from the icy shallows.)

Love, it was you who said, 'Murder the killer
we have to call life and we'd be a bare planet under a dead sun.'
Then I loved you with the usual soft lust of October
that says 'yes' to the coming winter and a summoning odour of balsam.

 

Anne Stevenson

 

This poem, gratefully received from Anne Stevenson, written at Hay-on-Wye, was published in 1982 by OUP in a collection titled Minute By Glass Minute.

Poem posted Sunday 14th August.