Love in the time of war

Mademoiselle from Armentières

For some months I’d lived in that house
       that had once been a farmhouse :
there were sheep in the meadow
       and from my study window
I could see the paddock
       where horses grazed all day long
They were beautiful thoroughbreds and
       I remember gazing at them admiringly
on early summer mornings
       as I left for work
the silky sheen of their skin in the light
       the sheer majesty of their demeanour

The owner of the house was an Australian
       a retired Captain who had fought
on the Western Front in the First World War
       He was in his eighties then but he loved
to talk of his exploits over in Flanders
       He’d fallen in love with a Belgian girl
and from her he’d learnt the French verses
       of Mademoiselle from Armentières
she with her wild hair and her soft blue eyes
       and as he spoke tears of sadness tears of joy
would well up and he’d turn away from me and
       for a moment he’d be back in those distant days

John Lyons


A tall tale to order

Are we far from the sea
       a child asks me
       I teasingly reply
the sea runs through us
       it is there in the salts
in our blood
       in our heart

And so it is –
       out of the sea
we emerged
       but the sea came forth
out of the sun
       our forebear
which in turn is but
       a tiny fragment of universe

We are not in the cosmos
       we are part of it
it runs through us
       we move through it
which is why every kiss
       is quantum loaded
and why lovers represent
       the sweetest alignment
of particles that exists
       now and for all time

John Lyons


Yes spring is here
daffodils in every garden
crocuses on every lawn
and every city bird
a different tune

And with spring

fresh hope
for another year
for a clean slate
past failures finally

and who knows
where love will lead us
or where we
will lead love

John Lyons

Relaxin’ at Camarillo

Charlie Parker

I’ve been listening
       to Charlie Parker
for most of my adult life
       I never tire of the riffs
the sweet melodies
       the effortlessly inventive energy
he applies to the saxophone
       the awesome power of his breath
that lives on in the recordings :
       masterworks indeed

Like the poetry
       of Frank O’Hara
who is alive and well
       in the Lunch Poems
his tone of voice too
       captured for all time
in a poetry that positively
       sings of friendship and love

‘My words are love’
       Frank wrote
and Charlie might well have said
       the same about his notes
Stepping away
       from the world of work
Frank worked the world
       into his verse
His poems – as with all art –
       are affairs of the heart

John Lyons

My life refracted


                   Seascape, John Lyons (thin air on wood)

I examine the data
the nails the hair
the skin the teeth
all of which are not
as they once were

I can read the signs
the marks of time
over the years
and I know where
it’s all heading

From time to time
on my walks through
ancient woodland
I inspect the gnarled bark
of trees that were there
before me and will
probably see me out

It brings me comfort
and a sense of solidarity
it reminds me of my place
in nature’s spectrum

Separateness is an illusion
in a universe built
on the principle of solidarity
of which human love is
the most intense expression

John Lyons

Ma vie réfractée

J’examine les données
les ongles les cheveux
la peau les dents
qui ne sont pas tous
comme ils l’étaient autrefois

Je sais lire les signes
les traces du temps
au cours des années
et je sais où
tout se dirige

De temps en temps
sur mes promenades
à travers les bois anciens
J’inspecte l’écorce noueuse
d’arbres qui étaient là
avant moi et qui probablement
me survivront

Cela m’apporte du réconfort
et un sentiment de solidarité
ça me rappelle ma place
dans le spectre de la nature

La séparation est une illusion
dans un univers construit
sur le principe de la solidarité
dont l’amour humain est
l’expression la plus intense

The ministry of works

I think how different
       the world would be
if the gasmen
       digging up the road
outside my house
       had taken a vow of silence

But no – it’s early morning
       and they gather
and their excited chatter
       is as though
they had not seen
       each other for years

The foreman arrives
       at eight on the dot
and sets them to work
       : only the drills and
the mechanical diggers
       finally silence them

John Lyons

Only love can hold

A green hill that rolls off
       into the distance
people are out
       walking their dogs
and birds are mustering
       too far away for me
to identify the species
       a squirrel has been
running back and forth
       on the rim
of the garden fence
       I’m not sure I know
the purpose of it all
       but does it really matter ?

I have a nodding
with the cosmos
       I know that energy
is the origin of all life
       and that we all
end our days
       as potash

In the meantime
       we have been granted
the beauty of sight and sound
       and the desire to love
and be loved
       pass through our hands
Time marks progress
       and decay
each moment is precious
       each step each breath
Only love makes sense
       of a life
only love can hold it
       all together

John Lyons

Love’s promise / La promesse d’amour

Magpies do not
sing madrigals –
more reserved
than the thrush
than the sparrow
In this still air
I watch them glide
from one tree
to another barely
a muscle flexed

Treat every day
as the start
of a new year –
the ornithological
that perpetuates
the good news

If she is heartless
if he is joyless
move on
they are a waste
of daffodils and roses
No kiss can compensate
for the betrayal
of love’s promise

John Lyons

La promesse d’amour

Les pies ne chantent
pas de madrigaux –
plus réservées
que le muguet
que le moineau
Dans cet air calme
je les regarde glisser
d’un arbre
à un autre à peine
un muscle fléchi

Traiter tous les jours
comme le début
d’une nouvelle année –
la perspective ornithologique
qui perpétue
la bonne nouvelle

Si elle a le cœur dur
si lui est sans joie
laisse-les tomber
ils sont une perte
de jonquilles et de roses
Aucun baiser ne peut
compenser la trahison
de la promesse d’amour

The bare bones

Behind us
the bare bones
of winter

Voluble birdsong
buds about to burst
into leaf and frail

Out with the old love
in with the new
when it comes
to her beauty
I’m all eyes

the soul is not
it keeps faith
with those
who keep faith

John Lyons

Shake the dust

My reflection tells me
that I have aged
my heart tells me
that I have not

I have shrugged off
her ugly betrayal
as I would shake dust
from my shoes

the death of a star
is nothing to lament
in the firmament they are
as fish in the sea

Sparrows sing of roses
there in the bud
of petals about to unfold
new love that spring brings

John Lyons

Secouez la poussière

Mon reflet me dit
que j’ai vieilli
mon coeur me dit
que je n’ai pas

J’ai ignoré
sa vilaine trahison
comme je secouerais la poussière
de mes chaussures

la mort d’une étoile
n’a rien à déplorer –
dans le firmament elles sont
comme des poissons dans la mer

Les moineaux chantent des roses
des boutons sur le point de fleurer
d’un nouvel amour
que le printemps apporte