back toJacket2

Jacket 20 — December 2002   |   # 20  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

Denise Riley

Knowing in the real world

... from Parataxis magazine, Cambridge
Back to Parataxis contents list

A yellow glow slips from the brick houses.
Some steely clouds swell up over them.

One afternoon hour burns away until a rust-
coloured light sinks in towards evening

or any time at all when I fall straight through
myself to thud as onto the streaked floor of

a swimming pool drained out for winter, no
greeny depths but lined with blackened leaves.

Then the cold comes to tighten the air. In my room
I hear cars and the snow flying around the street.

I’m not outside anything: I’m not inside it either.
There’s no democracy in beauty, I’m following

human looks. Though people spin away, don’t
be thrown by their puzzling lives, later the lives

secrete their meaning. The red sun’s on the rain.
Where do I put myself, if public life’s destroyed.

Only to manage something blindingly sweet. I’m
too old now to want to be careful. Then I wasn’t.

What you see is what you could have easily. You
could. Or take me home. Another kind of thought,

liquid behind speech, bleeds away from it altogether.
I washed my son in the morning milk.

Sliced into the shine of now, a hand on a blade.
A wound, taproot in its day, its red blossom in light.

The wind sheets slap the sea into ruffled wheatfields.
Angel, fish, paradise, rain of cherries.
Wherever you are, be somewhere else

A body shot through, perforated, a tin sheet
beaten out then peppered with thin holes,
silvery, leaf-curled at their edges; light flies

right through this tracery, voices leap, slip side-
long, all faces split to angled facets: whichever
piece is glimpsed, that bit is what I am, held

in a look until dropped like an egg on the floor
let slop, crashed to slide and run, yolk yellow
for the live, the dead who worked through me.

Out of their lined shell the young snakes broke
past skin fronds stretched over sunless colour or
lit at a slant, or saturated grey – a fringe flapping

round nothing, frayed on a gape of glass, perspex
seen through, seen past, no name, just scrappy
filaments lifting and lifting over in the wind.

Draw the night right up over my eyes so that I
don’t see and then I’m gone; push the soft hem
of the night into my mouth so that I stay quiet

when an old breeze buffets my face to muffle
me in terror of being left, or is that a far worse
terror of not being left. No. Inching flat out

over a glacier overhanging blackness I see no
edge but will tip where its glassy cold may stop
short and hard ice crash to dark air. What do

the worms sing, rearing up at the threshold?
Floating a plain globe goes, the sky closes.
But I did see by it a soul trot on ahead of me.

– I can try on these gothic riffs, they do make
a black twitchy cloak to both hum up and so
perversely dignify my usual fear of ends –

To stare at nothing, just to get it right
get nothing right, with some faint idea of
this as a proper way to spend a life. Christ,

or some mild fury at this dreamed waste
of an OK worker and mother. No, what I
really mean to say instead is, come back

won’t you, just all of you come back, and give
me one more go at doing it all again but doing it
far better this time round – the work, the love stuff –

so I go to the wordprocessor longing for line cables
to loop out of the machine straight to my head
and back, as I do want to be only transmission –

in sleep alone I get articulate to mouth the part of
anyone and reel off others’ characters until the focus
of a day through one-eyed self sets in again: go into it.

I must. The flower breaks open to its bell of sound
that rings out through the woods. I eat my knuckles
hearing that. I’ve only earned a modern, what, a flatness.

Or no, I can earn nothing, but maybe
some right to stop now and to say to you, Tell me.

– That plea for mutuality’s not true. It’s more ordinary
that flying light should flap me away into a stream of specks
a million surfaces without a tongue and I never have wanted

‘a voice’ anyway, nor got it. Alright. No silver coin has been
nailed to your house’s forehead you dog-skin among the fox fur
where did you get that rosewater to make your skin so white?

I did get that rosewater before I came to the light grass
shakes in a wind running wild over tassels of barley
the sails were of the light green silk sewn of both gold

and white money take down take down the sails of silk set up
the sails of skin and something dark and blurred upon the ground
where something else patrols it, cool, nervous, calling out

Stop now. Hold it there. Balance. Be beautiful. Try.
– And I can’t do this. I can’t talk like any of this.
You hear me not do it.

Check out this author’s work: Bookstores in Britain, and in the United States

Jacket 20 — December 2002
  Contents page
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog | read about Jacket |
Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This material is copyright © Denise Riley and Jacket magazine 2002
The URL address of this page is