In praise of petunias


In praise of petunias

The violet white
           and pink flowers
of the petunia
           a hardy plant from
the tobacco

the roots of its name

from the tupi-guarani
           language of Brazil
in which pety signifies

it reached Europe

           in the mid-16th century
whence petun
           an old French word
for tobacco

its unassuming beauty
           rises up
through the light
           into the air

its powerful scent
was believed
to ward off
evil spirits

John Lyons

The great unrest of which we are part

whitman house
Whitman’s birthplace

The great unrest of which we are part

My thoughts went floating
           on vast and mystic currents
as I sat today in solitude
           in the half-shade by the creek
returning mainly
           to two principal centres

One of my cherished themes
           for a never-finished poem
has been the two impetuses
           of man
and the universe
           —in the latter
creation’s incessant unrest
           exfoliation or
what Darwin termed evolution
           : indeed, what is Nature
but change in all its visible
           and still more
its invisible processes
           and what is humanity
in its faith its love
           its heroism its poetry
even in its morals
           but emotion ?

Walt Whitman

Adapted from Specimen Days (1882) by John Lyons. Happy Thanksgiving in the bicentennial of the great American poet’s birth on 31 May 1819!

The ocean life for me

The ocean life for me

Although I love the countryside
           and love the hills and the mountains
I prefer to live my life at sea-level
           down by the shore where the waters
are never still and where it is possible
           to understand that the universe
is sound and light and that
           it is constantly unfolding

and since all the processes of life
           have their origin in the ocean
to meditate upon that mystery
           and to give thanks for the blood
with all its salts that runs
           through my veins and feeds
my undying passion for life
           and empowers my love for you

John Lyons


Before before

Window frame, John Lyons (40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas)

Before before

To think
           that there was
a time
           when the world
was a blank canvas
           before there was
           before there was
           before there was
           before there was

           is rooted
in time
           love too

John Lyons

On the shore of Lake Nicaragua

Solentiname, Nicaragua

On the shore of Lake Nicaragua

The light of the new moon
strewn across the surface
of the land-locked sea
the waters gently lapping
the rugged shore

the rise and fall of palm leaves
as the air made its way inland
our voices in the silence
celebrating the passage
from one year to the next

everything still to be made
every notion to be put
to the test
every breath to be measured
and put to good purpose

so much beauty to be held
in the hand and to be admired
so much love to be shared
and time at our beck and call
or so it seemed in those days

John Lyons

A trail of white smoke

A trail of white smoke

A trail of white smoke
           from a wood fire
rising slowly
           this Sunday
into the ancient sky

What is age
           I ask
what is time
           and years
in the scale of things
           of ash and oak and beech
that will outlive me
           of prehistoric species
of fern

What of the days
           before flowers
before the gardenia
           before the magnolia ?
what of the days
           before beauty
had fully evolved
           into the rose ?

and as the species evolved
           when was it
that the beauty of love
           was first expressed ?
when did the acts
           of animal instinct
transform into the tenderness
           of human passion ?

John Lyons

Swallows on the river

specimen days

Swallows on the river

Cloudy and wet
           and wind due east
air without palpable fog
           but very heavy
with moisture
           a welcome change

           crossing the Delaware
I noticed unusual numbers
           of swallows in flight
graceful beyond description
           close to the water

Thick they flew around the bows
           of the ferry-boat
as she lay tied in her slip
           and as we went out
I watched beyond the pier-heads
           and across the broad stream
their swift-winding
           loop-ribands of motion
down close to it
           cutting and intersecting

Though I’d seen swallows
           all my life
it seemed as though
           I never before realized
their peculiar beauty and character
           in the landscape

Walt Whitman

Adapted from Specimen Days (1882) by John Lyons


That’s life

That’s life

In those early winter days we would warm
           ourselves before the coal fire
always jostling for the best position
           I would traipse home from school
through the woods and across the fields
           my pockets bulging with sweet chestnuts
which I would balance on the fender
           occasionally turning with the tongs
until they were completely roasted
           The hearth really was the heart
of the home and it drew us together
           I know now that the warmth of those days
and the taste of those chestnuts
           will never return : that’s life

John Lyons


The bones of it

The bones of it

The pitch black sky
           studded with stars
           dropping away
as a thick frost
on the grass
           on the parked cars
on the dead
           autumn leaves

tiny pinpricks
           of light create
a map of sorts
           I feel the cold
in my bones
           and a sense
of being lost
           in the immensity
of space
           through the universe

love alone I know
           will keep me warm
her arms her kiss
           my poetry driven
by the desire
           to immerse myself
in her flesh
           such is my life
these words
           are the bones of it

John Lyons


A re-statement of romance

A re-statement of romance

It is what it is
           neither in the pale light of dawn
nor in the deepest dark of night
           is it anything other
than what we give to each other
           There’s a wholeness
about two people coming together
           so that without suffering
a diminishment the selves fuse
           into love’s common purpose

and note how each separately
           exhilarates the other
with singular commitment :
           it’s an exponential becoming
the sum of two being greater
           than the single parts
We pool our solitudes
           without wholly abandoning them
and just as we preserve our personal
           time and space we permit ourselves
to wallow in that other heart-felt dimension
           that is unique to our coexistence

John Lyons

Corrected text