from THE COMMONPLACE BOOK
i.m. Urgyen Sangharakshita
These fitful sayings are, also, of tragedy:
The serious reflection is composed
Neither of comic nor tragic but of commonplace
—Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven”
A pheasant kickstarts its rancorous alarm
in windless hills gripped by winter’s paw:
the sound of rain is like the tentative
beginnings of tumultuous applause.
I rang my mother again from the weedy
corner of a field near where a crop-
sprayer, with rhythmic stutter, threw a wing,
an angel wing, across a crop of kale.
She was in France, an overnight stopover
before the river cruise: meals and foyers,
miniature bottles of shampoo, hand soap
wrapped in tissue. After her second fall
my brother bought an automatic car:
a lifetime of shifting through the gears and she
was nervous again behind the wheel, driving
to Morrisons to get used to it, buying
toilet paper and Special K. “I can’t talk
for long, love, they’re just about to call us in.”
Bad reception. The stuttering angel wing.
A pigeon climbed an angle of the light.
Cold wind scattered the first few autumn leaves.
One can accumulate as much of nothing
as one likes, it will all add up to nothing.
“I’d better go . . .” A car was changing down
at the oak-rigged horizon and the wind
that had been saying serious among
the hedges, in the treetops, then further off
across the fields, was saying (I seemed to hear it)
serious . . . then serious again.
Friends reported Rainbows! Rainbows! in WhatsApp
photos on my phone, driving always
towards and through them with hedges running off
to where the local crows creaked the sky
above our unaccommodating heads.
We carried folding chairs, arranged ourselves
in rows for the possibility of warmth
and then another friend, driving past
the portaloos, stopped to open his
car window, wave his phone and shout out Rainbows!
We should have painted rainbows as well as rain,
double and triple rainbows like the ones
that greeted you after the war when you walked
barefoot from that hill station, burning your passport,
having shaven and taken robe and bowl,
walking all the way from India to Hampstead
with Christmas Humphreys muttering dirty habits
and blue films, exchanging Pali studies
for Soho and the Diamond Sutra’s beat.
On the way up, the lift plays Handel’s
Ombra mai fu (without the solo) before
the TV dayroom and the corridor’s
poster of the Beatles striding like
young gods towards Love, love me do.
The disabled loo has laminated pictures
of tulips blutacked to the tiles. My friend,
marooned between one thought and another,
sways like sea-grass in a current he can’t
withstand in front of Doris Day and James
Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much.
A shot rings out. The man, who’s been blacked-up,
whispers something, then touches Stewart’s face.
Stewart’s eyes aren’t sharp enough to tie
the lost connections as Arabs shout and fight
in the crowded market chase to London Heathrow
with low sun over Hounslow and seagulls parked
across a field all facing the same way,
their bonnets glaring in the fading light.