Rose in the afternoon


Not rose of death:
Drawing in to your centre each wave of colour
That your arrested petals give to the air –
Dying inwardly the petals do not fall.

Nor rose of heaven:
Calm at the centre of this city
Monstrous moons, exuberance of stars
Have nothing to do with the light that you collect.
The light of the world has nourished your cut bloom
Drop by drop drawn down into your blood
As drop by drop your root took life from the ground.

Far down the river a cork popples the water
The motion quivers and rocks the air until
Rose in my room you catch and turn the movement
Mote by mote absorbed into your flesh
The vibrant morning tide within your viens.
Equally, hands moving in shuttered clubs
Though no light enters there to give time progress,
Flick flash-ringed fingers as red five black queen
Fall. Seeping through streets this gleam feeds you.

Day by day you calcify, embalming
The vigour you exhale. Fragile you have
Subdued the molten mornings in your calyx
The palpitating golden fire that poured
Over the ridges of buildings, right angles, volutes;
And converted percussion of day to this calm strong flowing
Light lapping gentle round the afternoon;
Will equally subdue the night to come –
A ray shooting the dark – into a mere
Closure of a known twilight, not different state.

O rose in the afternoon, your only movement
The imperceptible falling in your blood,
Your vibrant stillness more speaking than all the voices,
If I could give you as answer, my sentence your statement
I would be dumb in peace with the light gone
And only your image waking in the dark.

from Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 1992), copyright Jenny Joseph 1988, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books Ltd.

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