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


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

Love be brief


History – dead time
       a past buried
in a chromatic wilderness
       a burnt match floating
in a greasy pool
       of rainwater
an old hair
       on an old pillow case

Be minimum
       with your words
in your actions
       resolve to move forward
to write new texts
       in a world
of warmth and affection
       the past is scribble
of fret and fear and fate
       beyond absolution

Be minimum
       cut to the quick
courage and conviction –
       angels will appear
on the edge of night
       by day they will mingle
with crows and sparrows
       foxes will pay allegiance

She who is not worthy
       will lose her way
be lost forever –
       exercise discretion
: in the forgetting
       there is forgiveness –
be minimum
       say no more

John Lyons



How many dawns
           how many bridges
draped in mist
           how many gulls
gliding namelessly
           through the air
how many thoughts
           and hopes
and expectations
           as the sun rises
into a panoramic
           crimson sky

Soon cinematic streets
           will fill with purpose
the bustle of daily life
           the wheeling and dealing
of commerce and work
           as across London Bridge
a speechless caravan
           of souls drifts towards
offices set in towering
of steel and glass
           and from their windows
the idly occupied will gaze
           down into the streets
and dream of love
           as the hours leak away
How many dawns
           how many bridges

John Lyons


Words from the bridge

Words from the bridge

And again we ask
           how many dawns
and what lasts
on the wheel of time
           what is built to last
a bridge or a cathedral
           or a castle in the sky
yet what outlasts them all
           is the word

Even though the language dies
           the words remain
intact somewhere
           in the collective mind
What lasts
           is what returns
time and time again
           promises and vows
and declarations
           of love

its ebb and flow
           amid the light
and the darkness
           Love lasts
love the word
           verb and noun
the love forever
           on lovers’ lips

John Lyons


January moon

January moon

Anonymous moon
globe of dust
           and dreams
and measurement
           of my life

Sleepless moon
           empty of promise
empty of time
           empty of love

Tunes played
           on a fractured harp
amid the mist
           and at times frost

But for your breath
           I would be cold stone
But for your palpable breath
           I would not be

John Lyons

Januar Mond

Anonymer Mond
Kugel aus Staub 
          und Träumen
und Messung
            meines Lebens

Schlafloser Mond
            leer von Versprechen
            leer von Liebe

Melodien gespielt
            auf einer gebrochenen Harfe
inmitten des Nebels
            und manchmal Frost

Ohne deinen Atem
            wäre ich ein kalter Stein
Ohne deinen fühlbaren Atem
            ich würde nicht sein

(German version by John Lyons)

End of the affair

End of the affair

How many dawns
           did we wake to sunshine
and to the chill fresh air
           down by the river
In my thoughts
           you are everywhere
you are your very likeness
           but there is within you
a hidden voice that is distracted
           that reaches for words
but cannot find them
           Love you say
flies on faded wings
           it has no meaning
once you surrender
           to your mirrored fate
and so your heart tears
           into thin strips
the linen of your soul
           rent to tatters

The bridge was a monument
           to tenderness
to boldness
           a place to defend
with your life
           should you so desire
but in darkness you prefer
           to fritter away your tears
and to make your mouth
           absent from mine

And so silence
           that arises from the calm
slop of sleep
           and caprice has done
your destiny to death
           in dishonoured time

So be it
           loveless there is no joy
           you serve no one
not even yourself
           and all that you have
to give and to share
           goes unspent

John Lyons


Hart Crane to his mother May 1924

Hart Crane to his mother May 1924

I am told that this section
         of Brooklyn Heights
is very much like London
         Certainly it is very quiet and charming,
with its many old houses
         all a little different
and with occasional trees
         jutting up an early green
through the pavements
         I have just come back from breakfast
and saw some tulips
         dotting the edge of one of several
beautiful garden patches
         that edge the embankment
that leads down to the river.
         It certainly is refreshing
to live in such a neighborhood
         and even though I should not succeed
in acquiring a room that actually
         commands the harbor view
I think I shall always want to live
         in this section anyway

A friend who has such a back room
         in this house has invited me
to use his room whenever he is out
         and the other evening
the view from his window
         was one never to be forgotten
Every time one looks at the harbor
         and the NY skyline across the river
it is quite different and the range
         of atmospheric effects is endless

But at twilight on a foggy evening
         such as it was at this time
it is beyond description.
         Gradually the lights
in the enormously tall buildings
         begin to flicker through the mist
There was a great cloud
         enveloping the top
of the Woolworth tower
         while below in the river
were streaming reflections
         of myriad lights
continually being crossed
         by the twinkling mast and deck lights
of little tugs scudding along
         freight rafts and occasional liners
starting outward

Look far to your left
         toward Staten Island and there
is the Statue of Liberty
         with that remarkable lamp of hers
that makes her seen for miles
         And up at the right
Brooklyn Bridge
         the most superb piece of construction
in the modern world I’m sure,
         with strings of light crossing it
like glowing worms
         as the L’s and surface cars
pass each other
         going and coming

110 Columbia Heights

110 Columbia Heights

And I have been able
         to give rein to freedom and life
which was acknowledged
         in the ecstasy
of walking hand in hand
         across the most beautiful bridge
in the world
         the cables enclosing us
and pulling us upward
         in such a dance
as I have never walked
         and never can walk
with another—
         and you will see
from my address
         that I am living
in the shadow
         of that bridge

It’s so quiet here
         a moment of communion
where the edge of the bridge
         leaps over the edge of the street
In the evening darkness
         of its shadow I began
the last verse of that poem

[Hart Crane to Waldo Frank
Brooklyn, NY, 21 April 1924]

In the realm of fact

In the realm of fact

In the realm of fact
         the poet utters
syllables of faith
         dream cancels dream
A new breed of towers
         in the golden city :
here is no empire
         but labyrinth
into which life strays
          Here he in her arms
lived the blind
         ecstasy of love and read
the prophetic script
         of the stars that dangled
above the bridge

Each day is a new universe
         the past trashed in time
Behold a fresh panorama
         arises out of the debris
of unbridled tides
         the low song of the cormorant
that devours space
         with every beat of its wings
A thousand ships or more
         in days long gone
and destinies beyond
         the circumference of hope

These are words
         lines from a canto
rife with doom
         sad infinities
taken to task
         A poet on patrol
records the strength and path 
          of the prevailing wind
Eden and Hesperus
         for the cultivation
of beauty and truth
         Beware of the slow
cancellation of ambition
         we are but clouds of atoms
the loose association
         of minerals born of the earth :
even the rose
         has greater definition
than our sluggish shadows
         It is a windswept stage
upon which we wake
         into the dream of act
our words fly up
         dust within a shroud
of dust and
         O how our sinews ache
how love’s great muscle
         dilates and contracts
sending pulses
         of pleasure

through our veins
         unknotting the hours
of unrepentant attrition :
         a coil or contraption
that fires and then reloads
         and fires again
until every hope is finally
         finally spent

John Lyons