I will go to the ocean

I will go to the ocean
feel the breath of it on my face
and breathe in unison with it

and the sun will rise
with all its fierce energy
and will scorch the sand

which I call sea-dust
and I will tread gingerly on it
so that my feet scarcely suffer

and I’ll admire the frigate birds
that ply the waves just off-shore
how patiently they fish for shadows

and at night I’ll count the stars
that have tracked me
and all I ever loved since birth

John Lyons

Deadly nightshade


Isn’t it all an illusion
       the shapes and colours
the proportions
       the perspectives
the assumptions we bring
       to the drawing table ?

What tricks of the trade
       have been employed
what realities have been
       abstracted and brushed over
to be replaced by sheer pigments
       of the imagination ?

John Lyons

Seen on the radio

Summer Couch
Willem de Kooning, Summer Couch, 1943

You get the picture
it’s a shut-in weekend
pale drizzle out on the streets
and Frank is home relaxing

after a hard few days
at the museum office
and he’s listening
to Grieg and to Prokofiev

to relieve those feeling-
sorry-for-oneself feelings
and he’s dreaming
of the painting

Dutch Willem de Kooning
has promised him
and because he’s Dutch
it has an orange bed in it
and Frank muses that it’s
more than the ear can hold

John Lyons

The conversing mind


                 L’ange qui descend, John Lyons (50 x 70 cm, oil on canvas)

Yesterday seen
       through an acre of grass
honeysuckle and petunias
       peonies and nasturtiums
and sweet lavender in the air
       and my life under glass

The rag and bone of me
       and all the years
run through the mill
       of the conversing mind
the long shadow of age
       cast not as affliction
but as an accomplishment
       classed under mighty oak

In his heart of hearts
       the poet knows
that the nutshell
       that the end of life
is life itself
       and that every page
is a stage upon which
       to strut his stuff

Pen to paper
       with an eagle eye
he surveys it all
       committed to the call
of truth – inspired
       if not besotted
by the frenzied memory
       of love’s youthful follies

In time the clouds
       will dissipate
in time his silences
       will ring loud and clear
the dead will cast off
       their shrouds
and the angels among us
       will dry their tears

John Lyons

The smile of hours

The smile of hours
       the fresh fragrance
of ancient woodland
       foxes and squirrels
about their business
       as though the world
did not exist
       or as though theirs
was the only world :
       crows and magpies
looking down
       on sparrows –
and delicate wild flowers
       in the meadows
My boots damp
       from the morning dew
an expectancy in the air
you name it
       about to happen

John Lyons

The beauty of life

It’s so beautiful
the power of it
       the frailty of it
the five-petalled primrose 
       quality of it
the balance of it
       how we are always
only a breath away
       from love or death

how so much and yet
       so little is held
in our hands –
       we have words
to breach the silence
       and silence to sustain
our words and images
       all that is expressed
out of us calmly and urgently
       all that speaks
to the heart
       and to the soul

So beautiful
a hand pressed
       to lips or the sound
of a child’s laughter
       her thin hair
caught in the wind
       blowing across her face
her defiant smile
       her eventual kiss

John Lyons

The measure of life


What sparrows know –
       that everything is timed
to perfection
       that once the cusp is passed
the green leaves
       will start to droop
their colour will seep away
       and they will gather dust
and hang yellow and lethargic
       in the late summer air

What sparrows know –
       that there’s a time to nest
and a time for fledglings
       to find their wings
and to take flight
       and that only love
across all seasons
        has the measure of life

John Lyons

How angels descend

angel descending
                     Angel descending, John Lyons (50 x 70 cm, oil on canvas)

This is how angels descend
       out of the blue into the pink
when least expected
       free-falling through the universe
time and distance no object
       space an illusion at best
at worst a failure
       of the imagination

I defy you to say
       that your life is complete
that there are no ragged edges
       no moves you wish
you’d never made :
       art affirms all things
it can declare love
       and it can express regret
for a love that has
       slipped away

art is a way of life
       just as poetry is
and just as love is
       hence the shoulder
on which we bear
       all things
all our joys
       and all our sufferings
and art brings colour
       and warm words
and delight in the beauty
       of shapes that take on
a new energy
       when placed on canvas
or within the perimeters
       of a poem : angels descend
when we are willing
       to celebrate the rough patches
the incomplete journey
       never the end

John Lyons

To outshine the stars

Again I ask
       how many dawns ?
I wake to rain
       pelting the roof tiles
to a dawn chorus
       sung slightly off-key
to a damp world
       and the muffled sound
of trains rattling
       through the distance

We all have places to go
       and places to stay
and bridges to cross
       before we put the past
behind us and seek
       to atone
for all the errors
       all the mistakes

Only in the immaculate darkness
       do the stars shine
and last night before I slept
       I counted them and felt
at peace with their pulse
       running through me :
imperfect though we are
       they are there to guide us
to fill us with a necessary
       sense of purpose – namely
to make love and in so doing
       to shine

John Lyons

A sparrow’s breath

What looks the same
       is never the same
the rose the butterfly
       the tall poppies
swaying in the breeze
       the sparrow alighting
for a moment
       on the garden fence

All things are in flux
       from the subatomic
universe to the stars
       motion and emotion
what moves us literally
       and in the heart
what’s set in stone
       moves in time

Love struggles
       against the tide
but love too in time
       will fade will wither
under the weight of years
       surviving solely
in the hope
       to be reborn

John Lyons