back toJacket2

This is Jacket 21, February 2003   |   # 21  Contents   |   Homepage   |    

Peter Riley

Second Sett

Heaps of fruit piled up against the houses
grandfathers piled up in the ground
churchyard fruit, pears, cherries
travellers selling small bags of hazels

If all the world is to go the same way —
all one empire, all serving the one broker? —
a thin sigh in the fields, baby
where did our love go?

The house in the fields
breathes, its timbers
flex in the night changes,
the star wheels churn

Piles of apples outside in the yard
yellow and red in separate heaps
slowly, under careful control
rotting into the music.


And all our promises
                                       Dim light beaming
into the dark street through a doorway
shadows passing, many shadows, blurred
into the night and the soil of the road

Kindling stacked up in the yard
quiet talking behind the wooden fence
shadows passing like smoke in the street ,
familiar journeys across the town — questions,
about seeds, electricity bills, the exact wording
of a fourth verse, carried from door to door

Shield us from the arm in the sky
the glittering scar badges
when the hand drops the cash

Partners, workmates, door
to door, guard your
hope, columns of shade.


Guard your offer, the trust that spreads through the towns,
the open door, the carved double arc
catching the shadow at morn and eve.
Strangers welcomed, departures wept, a
real town.

I, or whoever this language pauses at,
pause again, where the railway crosses the road,
the slow fire threaded through lives
the aromatic smoke above the roofs
the dusty hands that hold hope forth

Meadow light on the iris
and the microscope and the bauble, turning
the market calendar, shunting the days,
the door stays open


Late afternoon, a layer of wood smoke
hanging over the village
like something asleep

Over in ‘the civilised world’
the corporate voice dries to a hiss.
A vicious hiss

And in all this country, these thousands of households
there is an annual fair of all the pitches of the heart
house to house in sub-zero temperatures the true love
chalice is brought with singing, clear, direct, locked
in its form, echoed from the hard earth. It is
the only corporate voice. The only defence.
The red cusp at its centre.
The rest is a dry hiss.


Stratum of wood smoke, pale blue over
the village roofs,  the beasts
returning from the fields
walk down the street, turning
each into its own yard

We thrust our hands into dirt and grease
and fray them against rope, but we
are the crown on the years, it is we
who sew the calendar into the sky

Night arrives, the smoke disperses, the sky clears
and the plough, the great plough above
signifying nothing now,
but a far greater nothing
than any president

I thought so, in the small room
made of wood,
the flies veer to the light.


In the stillness an evidence, plain
there in the air above us,
brother, sister

Mud on your shoes
standing still in the tides
of expansion, and the wreck
of the communal tone —
markets strung on fear

Your steady patient walking, sibling,
in the rain, among fruit trees
and dark haystacks, laughing
at the new rhythm.


A ceiling, translucent, over
our anxieties and calm.
Someone walking by the river, casting
a shadow into the air above

The anxieties knitted into our calm,
us someones, walking under our thoughts,
the light hovering where we stoop

We stress the condition
but the fruit is continual

Leaning against the wall

Old man with a little plum-wood flute.


Curtains of onions and maize strung up
on the verandas to dry, the smoke rising when they
fire the yard ovens in the late afternoon
for tomorrow’s bread

The car mechanic sits on the doorstep drinking beer,
the mountain behind him turns black.
He is the mechanic of all moving things
he is not in a hurry and he doesn’t want to be paid.
The mountain is wooded to the top.

The work lies there like a song waiting.
The lives sing their completions, constantly
infolded resolution, daily work
of the whole valley, singing out tomorrow’s fear.


The white smoke layered over where and when,
over the name, and the day, over all of us.

In that day the renewed agreement,
the empty river bed full of red leaves
winding down the landscape among
haystacks, and small trees full of
small red apples and no leaves...

Yes, we are willing to stay around
for a while. We believe.

And say, good night, noapte bunâ,
smoke rising to the star base.


Smoke rising from the 5 o’clock fires
all over the valley, tomorrow’s loaves
waiting like moons, like slow clocks.

Roads of wet earth between the houses.
‘Look at this miserable place I live in,
look at this mud, this filth.’

Look at us, civilised, perfectly smooth,
perfectly dry.
Where did our bombs, hearts, go?


Open land, then forest, then air.

Leonardo Bruni said that the harmonious
workings of the institutions of Florence
derived from the beauty and geometry
of the Tuscan landscape.

A thin track, a line in the grass across
the pastures and over the riverside humps
everywhere worked, the shape of the place
carved from work, lines curving to meet,
leading ultimately homewards.


The forest walking backwards
far away that other land
green eye in the branches — this fear
protects our children from our success,
and the astronomy from our failure.

I am nothing to this place, a
hole in it. But the tears they cry with
reach my lip.

Compatriots of the unimportant spaces
slow backs that bears the entire geometry
carrying the can to the bar, mending
the bicycle, tuning the viola,
as the hills swell into night again
and another wedding tilts
the earth into sense.


(Dawn Song)

Evidently, the world, and
the pine twig, the process.
I have held this hope for years.

A pain to the left of the stomach
another behind the thigh,
hair that was once black as night

Will I lean into you
at midnight, will I
see you from a grey fortress

On the long worked land
washed in rain
not looking back.


Sett means the same as Suite, a number of things put together for a purpose or to form a whole, but with less implication of fixed order. In this spelling it suggests to me the ardour and resource of a particular phase of English instrumental music in the 17th Century.

Sett Two is one third of a book containing a first sett and an appendix of less oriented poems. The Setts have sub-titles which are not revealed until the end of the book. That for Sett Two is ‘Meditations on the villages of the Mara Valley, Maramureş, Transylvania’. Sett One is published in Masthead magazine.

J A C K E T # 21  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 © Peter Riley and Jacket magazine 2002
The URL address of this page is