Also in this issue, Alison's Essays on Poetics and the Erotic and translations of Rainer Maria Rilke


Alison has a new chapbook Mnemosyne available from Wild Honey Press


Alison's website



Photo of Alison Croggon by Jacqueline Mitelman 2002. All rights reserved.

"Elegy" was previously published in Poetry Review (UK)

Alison Croggon Alison Croggon


after Arseny Tarkovsky

My life is a book
I open with love
and eat with my eyes
but it isnít enough

The fruit on my table
is plain as a hand
that offers its light
but it isnít enough

My love is a scar
the shape of a wing
or the speech of the lost
but it isn't enough

My soul is a star
the night is a nail
my thought is a rope
but it isnít enough


Weeping cannot be said: intolerable
overswelling, fist without edges,
a hand dreamt beneath water, a mouth
turned down as if it could speak, as if tears
were not what weíre made of ó

the rain breaking through boughs
its cloudy body, bending dumb grass
under its dewlings, what does it know,
innocent water, swelling the cellulose
membranes, lubricating the bladed mouths
of beetles and ants, all-dimensional
medium of tinily panting cells,
blue breast of the world, our nakedness ó
what does it know. Imagine
each molecule scarred by its incarnations, how
infinite sorrow could be ó but here, clapped
into air, incandescent droplets, no
curse of consciousness hurts it. So are we
mostly, this lovely matter, drummed
on the tingling skin of sense to this
minute being, which clasps and encloses,
lamped by this motion to self. So small,
but everything there is! Hugging our wounds
we are most human ó delight blazes us
to godliness, sheer as broken water,
griefless and borderless, wanting nothing.

If we were but that. The voice
across the twilit grass, calling me home,
inhabits me always, although I scorch
it out of my mind. What hurts most
is remembered beauty, a lost hand stroking
a brush through infant hair, the smell
of mouth in a breathing room. And you,
hand I will never touch, why does your death
prick this skin? All weeping running together
into a single grief, me, huddled small
against infinite flanks. One warmth pressed
on emptiness fades, and all warmth dims,
returning its grief to the brighter moment
where my heavier pulse forces the now
to impure brilliance, neither godly
nor godless, humbled in history, human.

from Amplitudes


You will only want me when your life no longer makes any sense to you
            And I will offer you no consolation
Although of course my hands will be purple with all the grapes I have eaten
And my arms will smell of the children I have held and my breasts
will be starred with spargosis
And twined in my hair the bays and the ivies although I give them no heed
I have always stood here naked, waiting your coming, and I will show you no pity
                                                                   That is a promise

I can only say, of course! It was always like that! How is it that
you didnít know?
And now in this terrible clarity you will put on everything that is human
Your skin that you left behind you, while you were thinking that you were God
And all your desire lay within the span of your will!

Did you think my muse was gentle, dipping her sandalled foot in a
       domesticated brook?
You were blind if you could not see how she turned everything to stone
Behind her eyes were fountains of lava
                                Perhaps you stoppered your ears saying such things
      Are not the intelligences of civilisation
But poetry is barbaric, the nursery chant of the dispossessed
                     Crude and sad and throbbing
                                 Flesh gleams basely through its brilliant baubles
                                 And from its eyes the beams of darkness visible
Cast sullen ruminations
           Did you think Virgil wasnít a slave of Empire? but
still Dido howls in her pyre ó
                    And think how Athena bribed the nightmaires, bathing the
                                   law in their bloody logic
Love hacked into its sexes
                                   Breeding hate

          Since Tiamatís dismembered corpse was scattered in swampy Ur
When her intestines were spread over the sky like a terrible raincloud
          And her cunt became the cave
                    A decent man dares not enter
The poet is homeless and bitterly
           Sings her want in the face of the primal crime
Which opened its eyes on that first watery horizon
          And since then all has been war
                    Even the smallest glasshouse

For poverty might be all we know of freedom
                     Slaves know love solves nothing
But nevertheless sing of love
                                    Scrubbed of its illusions
                How it lies on the bed its scrotum all anyhow
In the lovely limb-tossed languor of itself
                    Its breath soured with intoxicants and the folds
Of its skin slantwised into shadow

Knowing there is nothing else apart from death
          Purchasing a little life with the waters of your tongue
Having nothing else to heave against the weariness of the labours
Which cripple your hands and clot your beating veins
                    A little love and a little wine
          Sipped on a bench in the shadow cast by a wall
Might sometimes be enough
                    And sometimes not
                                       Sometimes not at all


For that it is noble to die of love
          Is a wisdom only those who are poor
                    Can chew down to the core


Is it true that you can see through words as if they were luminous fish
          All the way to Babylon?
Is it true that language is the breathing azure tide
          Lifting its other hem on the shores of myrtle haunted Knossos?
How old are these skins we know ourselves by? Are they bright as the plastic raincoats
You buy for a single shower and throw out for landfill?
          Why does the crumbling stone reveal my daughterís profile
           Before the Templeís portal?
                And yet she runs out freshly in her muddy adidas
With a long string of coloured beads pinned into her hair
           And the aromas of a cheap perfume, lily of the valley or
           watermelon, sweeten the air around her