'Reading Stevens in the Bath' is perhaps best described as a deranged song of praise to Wallace Stevens, set in a place he certainly never visited: Newcastle upon Tyne.
Reading Stevens in the Bath
It is Newcastle at evening. It is far
From the furnished banks of the coaly Tyne
But close beside the hidden and infernal banks
Of the unutterable Ouseburn. Howay. It cries
Its native cry, this poisoned soup of prawns.
Howay. The evil river sings. The mind,
In Forest HalL the haunted disbelieving suburb
Like a field of snowmen, the mind in Forest Hall
Lays by its knitting and considers
Going to the Fusilier. Howay. But in the upper room,
The room upstairs, the upstairs room,
The blear of glass and heat wherein
Not much is visible, a large pink man
ls reading Stevens in the bath. Howay. It is bath-time,
The time of the bath, the green-watered, where the mind
Lies unencumbered by the body as by time.
It is the bath as absolute, admitting
No conditional of green, the bath in which the bather
Lies considering. And the mind takes out
Its lightness to inspect. and finding nothing there
Begins to sing, embodying, emboldening its note.
It is the singing body in the bath, the mind.
Bookless Fruiterers, tell me if you can
What he may find to sing about, that man
Half-audible, and howling, as it were, the moon
That rests its gravity on weary Forest Hall,
That sends its tidal song by Tyne,
By Ouseburn, by the purifying plant
And ultimately here, to this balneum absolute.
Steam-punkah’d bath at the end of the mind, whose singer
Sings beyond the scope of tongues and sanity
Of neighbours, howling like a wolf among the snowmen
To the moon which does not listen:
Say it’s only a paper moon.
Sailing over a cardboard sea.
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
if you believed in me.
Howay. Howay. Howay!
from Cousin Coat (Picador, 2002), copyright © Sean O’Brien 2002, used by permission of the author and Macmillan Publishers.