Sandalwood timber is prized beyond all others for its colour, resonance, perfume and superb carving qualities, but the tree has a dark secret. The roots penetrate those of its neighbours; and it is perhaps only due to this hemi-
Analogies with Solomon are too strong to need stating. The fragrance of his heritage reaches down to the present day; and of his surviving works, The Song of Songs is the most celebrated.
Throughout the narrative we hear the female and the male voice, but there is an indication of a third person, probably a shepherd boy, the Shulamite’s true love.
Because of the erotic nature of ‘The Song’, it is by no means an obvious choice for inclusion in sacred literature, but many passionate, though unconvincing, attempts have been made to emphasise its spiritual content. In common with most religious works, the one quality lacking is humour, although the elements of it lie just below the surface.
It could be argued that only a King with his hareem could begin to imagine what a mature relationship with a woman might mean. On the other hand, he was in a unique position to move on, with declarations of intense feeling at each stopping point.
Was the Queen of Sheba his soul mate, or did he only experience true love for his Shulamite? The enigmatic words, ‘I am black but comely’ promotes some confusion between these figures.
As a conventional love-
Solomon has heard of a young girl of quite exceptional beauty. He plans to win her heart by the nobility of his character alone and comes to her disguised as a poor shepherd boy. He succeeds, and after making vows of eternal love, they part. He returns to Jerusalem and arranges that she be brought to the palace. Then, without revealing his earlier identity, he woos her again, this time as King and presumably he succeeds, though this is not entirely clear.
It is a power struggle that he will win, not least because he holds all of the cards but one. He has twice conquered, and the Shulamite has betrayed her true love, giving him a let-
Yet rather than revealing himself as a great lover, Solomon was no more than a collector of beautiful women. His latter day equivalent being the fabulously wealthy, reclusive art-
Poets whose work has been quoted, or implied, include Browning (My last Duchess), Fitzgerald, Keats, Longfellow, Eliot, Coleridge and Sassoon.
Writers include Daudet ( Les Étoiles), Katherine Mansfield (The wind blows). Information about sandalwood, the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley, the Persephone myth, the Medusa myth, the Scandinavian water spirit (the Nix) and the maturation of the flatfish eye comes from Wikipedia.
We can, from just one part
scattered amongst these fragments,
reconstruct the man, the King or shepherd boy,
whom feet had touched, and from the cradle of his will,
brought forth a graven image. Tied him,
by this faintest hint of wood-
Hold it to the light now.
See, by that angle, how the foot points down,
and how this golden arch said to his passion, yes!
Yes she, yes her, yes you.
And, tapping with the fingernail turned back,
sense its resonance. Understand
how the sound of wood on marble floor,
or tiptoe to the sheepfold, held him pinned against some frame,
a butterfly preserved, its sheen intact, that those who came
thinking of the where and why of them, would ask,
‘What incense bound in un-
King among men,
his words, were they his own,
are said to teach skills of the marriage bed;
hers, skills of the chaste.
But lead me back to any place where we have walked,
and I would think no flute, however sonorous,
could match your voice;
then, from one touch
reconstruct what you have been to me,
though old men forget,
the faintest hint of wood-
shows how the Lord,
who has taken away,
Sous les belles étoiles
We lie spread-
as constellations spread across the sky.
The evening star slides down amongst the leaves,
and his voice whispers, look,
look up and see, the lovers,
us, the twins.
He leads and you
reach out to draw him back.
Then at the zenith, rule and line,
defining up and down,
vanished. We found ourselves
pinioned like gods under the sky,
the stars beneath
a noctiluminescent sea.
And then we saw it all,
the Gods know just one thing,
the perfection of an instant.
Now the stars have gone.
One constellation rises,
the great and mighty hunter;
or looking on.
Hands touch in the dark.
Whatever he thought,
whatever I thought,
we did not speak.
The space of the night
had come down to this;
the space in my skull.
that is not encrusted within it.
Two worlds side by side.
Two shells lined with pearl,
and a single watchlight
to illuminate both.
Raising the bar
have yet to meet the world of wisdom.
Their dreamy fawning brown
is in for some surprises.
The place for men is in the sports-
raising the bar,
not gazing through the window panes
at girlish things
and pretty trinkets.
The six senses
If my love wishes to find me,
he should lay down his head
and hear the sound of the wind on the sand.
If my love wishes to know who I am,
he should look down to the light
and away from the high places.
And should he desire to embrace,
though I faint in his arms,
he will bear me upright.
If my love wishes to take me away
and lay hand on my flesh,
sand will sear through his skin.
Then, should he wish to forget,
he will not.
He has become one
with the scent of my breath.
If my love wishes to leave me now,
he should prepare for my salt tears,
because I am the six-
that dwells in the dark places.
Bad hair day
Burnt yellows and brown of the hillside
began to dissolve;
streaming, dividing, rejoining
all the time
in an endless crescendo.
the tamed and the wild.
I wanted to read them,
but pride intervened.
Each expression insisted,
don’t try it!
don’t try it!
But just wait a minute.
Who goes there?
Who is it
who goes there amongst them,
unnoticed, except for his fine pair of horns?
A member of the upper echelon?
And has he had a good night out?
Behold his bed,which is Solomon’s; threescore valiant men are about it, the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear of the night. 3: 7-
The wee small hours
I dreamed my shepherd boy
had gone to tend his flock
and not returned.
And while the terrors of the night advanced,
and shadows folded, danced about me,
many emissaries came.
One, with spurious dignity, proclaimed,
My master, may he live and reign
forever, sends his greeting, his profound respect.
Hear ye this
he, may he live and reign
forever, wishes you to know
that he is everywhere your lover is.
This came and went, and yet a third said,
He, who lives and reigns,
has everything your man had not.
The world of far and near
taunted me with many different forms.
Then, in these terrors of the night,
my bed become an armed encampment.
About it threescore mighty men,
the valiant of Israel, stood,
each with his sword unsheathed
and slapping on his thigh,
but made no other sound to overarch
my own heart’s beat,
thou hast never heard me yet;
please hear me now.
Pillar of fire
he makes his entry;
he who tamed the wilderness;
the wilderness itself beneath his skin?
Our danger man,
Out of the strong comes forth
his rage, his whim and his disdain.
He does not stoop nor mock,
nor does he turn.
Sweetness his pain.
and all the while preoccupied,
he is the veil we cannot see beyond.
Flint kindles tinder in his eyes,
poised to perfection at his neck,
granite his thighs.
Menace blended with surprise;
and in his strong right hand
But he will never say,
Excuse me, mister
have you got a light?’
Sweet perfumes rise about him,
Oh my God, has all come down to this;
the powders of the merchant on his skin?
Oh yes! Does that man leap!
Breathless in his sweep across the slopes.
He is the very one;
his starting point,
moguls his love,
As for the pine tree’s branch,
he does not care one jot.
can just stand out there and watch.
He thinks he can outrun
the awful avalanche
his call has just dislodged.
We shall soon see for ourselves
whether he can
What my lover said
held me entranced
and the wonderful odour of cedar wood
clung to his chest.
I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. 5:2
In vino veritas
There is always a first time.
Though my body was unaware,
my heart knew he would come to me in the night.
He called me his undefiled,
and my heart knew he was right,
though my body was unprepared.
There is always a first time.
At daybreak he came to my bed,
though his head was filled
with the dew of the night,
and his locks with the drops of dawn.
There is always a first time,
as there had been for him.
But he has remained undefiled,
though his head was filled with the dew,
and his mind was replete
with the drops of the night.
A winter’s tale
King of the underworld,
Eat your pomegranate seeds. Oh
Mother, look at what he made me do
against my will! I
have told and
told you, men
will take what they can get, but
did you listen? I have seen the hook
baited. I could have warned you of it,
but he remained two moves ahead,
and you complied.
But there is another way to think about it now.
Summer will come again!
Mr and Mrs Smith, oh yes!
We see a lot of you,
a family tree,
or is it trait?
We country folk
are not too good at words,
in the old days
it was Mr Smith
who made the locks
and held the keys
and knew the meaning
Which, I have to say,
is more than we do here,
being only simple country folk.
Joined at the hip
let me have
to say it,
to say it again,
Don’t let me
have to say
how it is with us,
me and my
There is a boundary round us
and its name is
me and my
me and my boy
Cunning little vixen
Yes, fair enough, but slyness is their name.
Have you ever seen them at it,
spoiling vines, has anyone?
They could, you know, undermine the roots,
as excavation is their trademark?
Then there is that legendary sweet tooth.
And for another thing,
it’s not all innocence.
I saw one once at night
right here upon the lawn.
It must have been the bark,
so wild, so full –
–a kind of come-
No, not quite that, but visceral;
it stirs you up. Insatiable, they say,
but once again, the evidence is thin.
Back to the point.
Where are we now?
As I was going to say, phy-
lloxera, does that sound right to you?
It spoils the vines, it devastates;
but for resistant root-
would be a memory from the dustbins of the past;
with no more scattered boxes, or these chips
and pizza wrappings.
Oh yes, it does!
The few bold lines
as if derived from some equation
that takes its root from undulating shape:
how it relates,
how it refines.
And many a lover,
waiting at the gate,
has been unmanned
by lazy tightness of a belt, or
lapel folded unexpectedly
over the throat.
But, when that coat
is draped across a chair?
The bare foot
mirrors every other part,
and washing it
cleanses them all.
We all agreed.
There’s something that you need to know.
Everybody must have heard but you.
Lots were drawn,
and I’m the hapless one.
I hope that what I have to say
will not affect our friendship.
These are the facts:
The first is you,
then threescore queens,
and fourscore concubines
and virgins without number!
I thought it was a counting rhyme they learned in class,
or, after lessons, words for girls to chant
while jumping squares
outlined in dust.
Well! You are partly right, because,
could you see over that wall,
every afternoon at playtime
you would find them
walking slowly round and chanting;
and fourscore con
cubines, and virgins
Cheek by cheek
Look, can we take our drinks outside?
Somewhere where we can talk?
There’s something that I have to ask,
I’m worried about my man.
When we make love
I think he’s wanting someone else.
He hasn’t tried it on with you
has he? No!
(holds her hand,
gives it a squeeze)
I’m your best friend.
And there’s another thing.
I think about him all the time,
but when he’s there
I keep him at arm’s length.
Is that something wrong?
No, I do it myself,
or would do if I had the strength. This
round is mine.
Look, what really did you want?
Are you sick with love,
or sick of it?
Perfect choice again Sir, if I may be so bold to say so.
Oh yes, my dear, this waiter is a gem;
trained to recognise refinement,
but he has his little games.
How he plays on that young couple,
their apologetic stance and distinctly rustic manner.
Have they tied the dog outside?
Don’t look up, they’ll see we’re talking, it would give them
(God forbid it) cause for feeling less than welcome.
And where do you suppose they left the sheepskin and the crook?
Of course, I’m only joking, but I’m sure you know the type.
Again! You did not give the slightest glance in their direction;
tell me how you came to be so completely upper class.
The secret stays with me; but see, the next part is the best,
when he makes them feel both grateful to be here
and distinctly out of place... with the tour de force of timing
when he beckons for the bill!
But the girl. Your heart must bleed.
This is trial by ordeal.
Must say she has something,
an innocent appeal. Wonder where he picked her up
and I wonder what they’re drinking.
You can bet your life upon it, it is far beyond his means
and the compass of his palate.
Needs the training of a lifetime to enjoy what he possesses
and to know there is a shape to any pleasure he could take
while it lingers on the tongue, leading on from the bouquet.
But doesn’t this remind you of the errors of the young?
And you’re wrong about the wine, I recall the appellation,
young and red, so crude and fiery
it would scorch a jaded palate,
This nettle, danger
The woman tempted me and I did eat.
Her eyes looked at me and spoke directly.
They explained how, should I lie with her,
we would become as Gods.
Whether this was justified or not
I do not know. I think she added,
souls meet there. That seemed to be
the thing she most needed.
I could not disagree;
but what surprised me next was the naivety.
Had she forgotten what had been implied?
My, if you like, conversion to her point of view.
Commitment was required,
and she prepared herself
to go to any lengths to get it.
To do whatever it takes,
like painting her face;
and I must comply
in a waking dream.
A Grecian vase, dark against the light,
elegant shoulders curving away,
Safe from the mirror,
Unmasked, I saw!
I bit my arm.
I sucked the blood
and cried, a sail, a sail,
but all that arrived was a winged horse;
whereupon I jumped on its back and did make good my escape.
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; 2:11-
The spring we yearned for
fell like rain,
and has been swallowed up by earth.
Dust has come.
The gods have given three great gifts to man:
frost shadows in winter sun,
rain that falls into the light,
and summer lightning
far over the hills.
Dust will remain.
The rains have gone,
The flowers are dead.
The long summer has come,
and the turtledove picks at dry seeds.
Dead leaves idling in the doorways,
rustling reds and browns. The breeze
They fall back in the afternoon heat.
Then, towards teatime
the wind rises;
hurry along; others
hold back, lift,
collapse. Repeating this,
some progress until
corners distress them.
Returning, turning around,
they rise up.
A swirling column grows
You reach out your hand and say,
have you seen the one
whom my soul loveth?
But the life
goes out of it.
Thou art the salt of the earth.
The sheep and the young lambs,
that leap on the hills,
rush to the salt rock.
But, if the salt loses its savour,
(though, I ask myself,
how could that happen?)
if it did,
the sheep and the young lambs
would be utterly lost.
Then the sheep must come down to the plains
only to find that the salt, dried from the sea
in the salt pans, has been ploughed in the land.
Nothing will grow here;
nothing will grow here
that is, unless, or until, the sun’s heat
has encrusted the rock
with sea salt,
and a new taste is born;
a new savour to banish the old,
to consume and consume,
and its name will be called
Death by water
So then, we are not talking about the same thing!
The drowned do not die when the soul has been leached out.
Diluted, but not extinct, it will seep back,
a music spread so thin,
layer upon layer of notes
under the light green water.
We who stand on the shore and wait there
cannot accept inevitability;
at worst hope only to see
the spirit that came from the waves
enticing the child to ride on its back.
But, of course, this is not
what you have been talking about.
It does not concern you.
Yours is the cup
that can never be filled.
Drink it up!
Drink it up!
Drink it up!
It will cost
all that you have,
and be worth
all that you’ve got.
The wind blows
Doors shake, windows
rattle their frames, débris
races. Down the streets leaves
crowd into alleyways
and then disperse. Wildness
is all. The heart calls,
have you seen him?
Have you seen the one for whom my soul yearns?
the wind knows where he is.
hard though you try,
can not make headway against it.
batter your face;
It was one day like this,
perhaps just before noon,
when he passed,
vacuum of air
extracting your breath.
It is a chase,
the veil torn away,
your face revealed.
You knew them all,
no more than boys,
and some old men,
wiser than Kings.
to much speed
Pieces of silver
This is a most secure and sound approach.
Invest to take away and then sell back;
drôit de seigneur.
Secure, by blood and sweat,
the natural means of increase,
adding nothing but the pure
and unpolluted essence of succession.
But there are lesser rights,
worthy of his hire,
is tired of treading out his crop,
and bleared with trade
raising his bees-
looks back from a high place,
call it a vantage point,
and holds a work-
The master, gaining more than thirty times the price
of ‘Him’ who was to come, announces this,
as if to say
the prudent and the wise
A weeping willow tree
Man, that is born of woman,
has very little time for discussion.
I see that now.
For every word he brings forth,
she will produce five-
Yet he would say that
weighing his words
against hers is the true test,
as the scales will not lie flat,
but tilt to his statements.
And so he will stand
a man among men
as he raises his tankard.
Then, as they will,
with the shake of his head,
the sweep of his hand,
give birth to some weighty pronouncements,
profound and embedded remarks
about sporting prowess.
having waited too long,
draw back the curtains,
and turn down the lights.
Art for art’s sake
I had likened her unto an art form,
because Joseph (for example) went a-
and he walked not between the trees
with one leg under his arm,
his face a patchwork quilt.
whose eye migrates from youthful symmetry,
around or through its head.
I have thought it best
to let mine follow any independent route,
to see the murky world from underneath.
But, to business now; that’s what it’s all about.
Art cannot run upon the spot (neither can I),
but enters an imaginary space
where force distorts.
Capitalise on that and then move on.
(no one else may call them so)
worked for a day, or less,
(no pompous wisdom of a lifetime here.)
and then I chose the one
most likely to distress.
Pull back the curtain.
You will find a rare treat hanging there!
The Queen, my Lord, he said
is not dead,
but distorted beyond measure!
Moment of truth
What shall I tell my sister
when her time comes?
When we were young
she would climb into my bed
and we together enter story-
Now she knows my tales
and must begin to tell hers,
but I warn her,
has heard all that I have to say,
and will want to hear you.
He will wish to be there,
when she sees the boy whom she loves
becoming a man.
I shall not tell her this;
She will see it three times:
the first time with joy,
the second with pride
and the last with dismay.
Song without words
The choir paused.
Silence filled its space
and unfamiliarity spoke out.
That which is lost,
that which you will never hear again,
has been playing for you
from the very first day.
Now they were filing on stage,
and soundlessly passing between us.
Everyone slowly started to sing.
This was my tune,
these were my words,
and this was my sunset.
I had been far away,
now I was coming home,
and when they take leave
I shall be there among them.
White from the washing
Dentition indicates well-
and ripe. Incisors white, incisive (smile solidified,
its impact neither her’s nor anybody’s fault),
as they parade with one lamb at each side;
white rump, white even height,
proof of his omnipotency,
his surge of ecstasy,
But these were sheep,
their smiles indecipherable to us.
White shining teeth or eyes, it’s hard to say,
Those rectilinear slots,
the curtains none put by but him.
He must move on.
Age withers, dentine flecks and yellow-
Yes! And it was ages long ago this lover said
these things and wrote them down.
Did he escape his chains? Turn back, oh man,
rejoin the twofold path.
The gods will not be mocked.
And over all
incense of lanolin pervades,
white soap, white suds,
from every sin washed clean.
The Wisdom of Solomon
The writer attended poetry meetings organised by Rob MacKenzie. At one of these Rob proposed that all willing attendees write a poem based on a verse from the Song of Solomon. Misunderstanding the instructions he chose a verse and wrote the poem, White from the washing. Only later did he receive an assigned verse, requiring a second poem, Sandalwood. but by now the habit was formed and 31 poems followed.
Thoughts about the Song gave rise to the idea that it was based on an ancient theme. A nobleman learns of beautiful (poor) girl, visits her in disguise as a pauper and wins her heart. He returns to his palace, contrives that she be brought to him and tries to win her a second time. He is successful, as he has to be, but things do not end well.
The plot of the Song of Solomon is not explicit, possibly because in its day there was no need for it to be. Contemporary audiences would have recognised immediately one of the standard plots from the story-