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Kowhai Gold

[Alison Grant]

Shub-Ad, the Queen
Through the long night
of fifty hundred years
the Queen
has lain with her slim hands
folded across her small Sumerian breasts….
awhile kissed warm
by Babylonian suns,
now quiet and passionless
and wrapped about
by the magnificent blue cloak of death.

Beads of a restless beauty
worked in ways
a hundred tireless eyes had dimmed to find
make pattern o'er her now…
page 41 and precious rings
fall in close fringe from every jewelled edge.
On that far day
they chimed a molten note
that ran in flame
along the Assyrian hills
and fell to silence
in the purple sea.
Now pins of gold and lapis lazuli
hold them forever dumb…
On the wide-lidded eyes of this smooth mask,
brittle with centuries
and sheathed with dust,
that king set kisses,
that had power to close
days for a million such…

Now lies this head
banded and coiled with gold
and set about with wreaths
of mulberry leaves
so rarely worked
with gems of ancient worth,
beaten and wrought and veined with filigree,
as to be treasure
in a city of state
and riches known to Abraham…
and at the door
guarding her way to death
in their impotent might
six sentinels…
while, side by side,
page 42 secret and still as she,
eleven maidens bear her company.

O their deep eyes had drowned
in those last tears
that burned their cheeks
and stung their silent lips
ere the great dark
had closed about their youth.
Not all Euphrates stream or Tigris tide
were half enough
to wash away the grief
that untried strength
and living loveliness
found in that following of majesty.

I Gathered All My Treasure
I gathered all my treasure…
nights and days…
bare hills in summer…
flowers in the rain.
green shadow…
birds' songs … and their ways
when the night lifts and it is day again.

All the small things that dwell in the tall field grasses
and have their miracle being under the sod…
page 43 all the incredible life that wakes and passes
with the swift breathing of Spring…
all these were God.

So … for their wonder and their loveliness.'…
I built
far in my heart's last deep recess
a secret shrine.
These things … these things were mine.

How should I know that one already came
armed with a still white peace and shod with flame…
how should I know love … how should I know your name?

To Pan
To dance!
To the pipes of you … dance!
till the holiest earth
break into flower … into brilliance … for joy in our mirth!

To sing!
till your music shall ring
through the uttermost glade
and awaken an echo in Heaven of song that we made!

To run!
till our limbs are outdone…
page 44 from the wisdom of years
with our pulses a-flame and the blood ringing sweet in our ears!

To laugh!
till we shatter the stars!
To laugh … and to die
with the Love and the Mirth and the Music of you for our cry!

Song for Barbara
Little singing mother
with the happy eyes…
does the grass grow green
on the lawns of Paradise?

Did your feet go blithely
in that holy hour
when you searched the ways of Heaven
for the sweetest flower?

Did the light flow softly
in a silver stream
as you turned you homeward
down the slopes of dream?

Little singing mother
with the happy eyes…
does the grass grow green
on the lawns of Paradise?

page 45

Dorothea at the Piano
Sometimes when we wait silently and long
she drifts into a little perfect song
that she has made herself … all wistful notes
from small and perfect throats.

There is a part
that is her innermost heart.

And she says always that the music sings
of all the small brave tempest-wearied wings
that seek a trackless way over the sea
to some shore older than their memory
that weaken, and falter, and fail, and drop in the foam
and never reach home.

She says it is their courage and their fear
and their unswerving faith. But all I hear
is little children with pale quenchless eyes
and faces purer than the first sunrise
calling … with the voice of Dorothea.

Some day we two shall stand again
and seek…
deeply and long…
the thing we knew and valued less than pain.

page 46

We shall not speak.
But, sure and strong,
we shall stand so…
till slowly we shall see
each in the other's eyes
a dumb surprise…
a hurt a misery.

Terribly in that moment we shall know
that the days go
not all unburdened.…
We shall find
no rare exquisite knowledge in the mind
and in the brain
only a memory of pain.

So … wise and stern…
we shall look once and turn
each to our separate ways … new ways apart
from an old youth-time agony of heart.

And Shall I Suffer Deepest Woe
And shall I suffer deepest woe
because you came…
because you go?
Shall my heart know dark distress
because of your great loveliness?

Beauty loved…
Beauty gone…

page 47

is Beauty yet to ponder on.
And thought of you
can only start
joy singing in my heart.

Aged Four
He stands so still…
so still…
with quiet folded hands
and eyes so big with half-forgotten things.
Does he yet glimpse the shining hosts of Heaven
and hear the Angels' wings?

Motionless now he stands
at the brink of Paradise…
then turns to me where I wait … and his eyes are wise.

How shall I tell him now of loveliness
and the frail heart's distress?
How shall I speak of love…
love that is pain…
when Wisdom turns and looks at me again?

I have been back to the no-places…
to the grey viewless regions whence I came…
out of the memory of hands and faces
and warmth and the friendly flame.

page 48

I have been back to the no-places … to the wan half-light…
where is no black oblivion of night
nor hope of any dawn…
beyond the memory of hands and faces…
and your voices borne
to me are the wordless winds that wander the waste spaces…
desolate … forlorn…
or the restless sorrowless sighing of waters far out at sea
in the grey hour when life goes heavily.

I have been back … back to the drear no-places
beyond my knowledge of you…
beyond the fear of Life's or of Death's embraces…
to the things I knew.

Spring Passing
And so … one morning delicate with Spring
when all the hills about her little town
shone golden in the sun…
and scent of gorse and broomflower drifted down….
and sorrowing
seemed very far away…
one day
with the sweet breath
of Summer all about … and Winter done…
and all the sea
silvered and strange and still…
she … who had never known serenity
page 49 but only body's ill
and heart's distress…
lifted her arms to a new loveliness
and looked upon the quiet face of Death.

Sweet, and sweeter, comes to me
one small and fragile memory…

Your cheek is smooth and soft…

Often it comes, and more oft…

Soft as a moth-wing in the night…
soft and white…
white and cool
as waters in a dawnlit pool…
and pale…
and as this memory is … so sweetly frail.

The Sun-worshipper
Back through the clean sweet airs
to the clear-swinging stars!
What has the Earth given ever beyond its years
that take…
till the human heart break?

page 50

Nothing endures
beyond the desire.
Back to the Fire
that kindled you … back to the Flame!

Shake from your eyes the last garment of Sleep…
through the no-coloured wonder of brilliance illumined, the Sky…
till the gold of your hair
burns, star-entangled … a sun … in the quivering air!

to the Sun!
To the Sun whence you came…
to the glorious Giver of Life…
and be lost in its Flame!

Red and White
Turn down the light…
And all about the room
faces like pale lost moons
show through the gloom.

We are at ease.
And she sits motionless.

And now she bends
to the white keys…
page 51 till her whiter fingers free
with their soft, slow caress
some melody
all truth, and purity, and loveliness.

She bends…
and her white fingers leap in the shade.
And her white
pure face is alight
with the song she has made.
And her soul
hovers a moment … white … over the whole.

And the music ends.

We are afraid.
Turn up the light.

She drops her head.
And her hands lie motionless … dead
of their own delight.

Turn up the light.

And sudden her cheeks burn red
because of the things … the exquisite, secret things … her fingers have said.