Nor The Sun Its Selling Power – Brian Patten

They say her words were like balloons 

with strings I could not hold, 

that her love was something in a shop 

cheap and far too quickly sold; 
but the tree does not price its apples 

nor the sun its selling power 

the rain does not gossip 

or speak of where it goes.

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So Many Different Lengths Of Time – Brian Patten

How long does a man live after all? 

A thousand days or only one? 

One week or a few centuries? 

How long does a man spend living or dying 

and what do we mean when we say gone forever? 
Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification. 

We can go to the philosophers 

but they will weary of our questions. 

We can go to the priests and rabbis 

but they might be busy with administrations. 
So, how long does a man live after all? 

And how much does he live while he lives? 

We fret and ask so many questions – 

then when it comes to us 

the answer is so simple after all. 
A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us, 

for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams, 

for as long as we ourselves live, 

holding memories in common, a man lives. 
His lover will carry his man’s scent, his touch: 

his children will carry the weight of his love. 

One friend will carry his arguments, 

another will hum his favourite tunes, 

another will still share his terrors. 
And the days will pass with baffled faces, 

then the weeks, then the months, 

then there will be a day when no question is asked, 

and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach 

and the puffed faces will calm. 

And on that day he will not have ceased 

but will have ceased to be separated by death. 
How long does a man live after all? 

A man lives so many different lengths of time.

The Innocence Of Any Flesh Sleeping – Brian Patten 

Sleeping beside you I dreamt 

I woke beside you; 

Waking beside you 

I thought I was dreaming. 
Have you ever slept beside an ocean? 

Well yes, 

It is like this. 
The whole motion of landscapes, of oceans 

Is within her. 

She is 

The innocence of any flesh sleeping, 

So vulnerable 

No protection is needed. 
In such times 

The heart opens, 

Contains all there is, 

There being no more than her. 
In what country she is 

I cannot tell. 

But knowing – because there is love 

And it blots out all demons – 

She is safe, 

I can turn, 

Sleep well beside her. 
Waking beside her I am dreaming. 

Dreaming of such wakings 

I am all love’s senses woken.

Minister For Exams – Brian Patten

When I was a child I sat an exam. 

This test was so simple 

There was no way i could fail. 
Q1. Describe the taste of the Moon. 
It tastes like Creation I wrote, 

it has the flavour of starlight. 
Q2. What colour is Love? 
Love is the colour of the water a man 

lost in the desert finds, I wrote. 
Q3. Why do snowflakes melt? 
I wrote, they melt because they fall 

on to the warm tongue of God. 
There were other questions. 

They were as simple. 
I described the grief of Adam 

when he was expelled from Eden. 

I wrote down the exact weight of 

an elephant’s dream 
Yet today, many years later, 

For my living I sweep the streets 

or clean out the toilets of the fat 

hotels. 
Why? Because constantly I failed 

my exams. 

Why? Well, let me set a test. 
Q1. How large is a child’s 

imagination? 

Q2. How shallow is the soul of the 

Minister for exams?

The Right Mask – Brian Patten

One night a poem came up to a poet 

From now on, it said, you must wear a mask. 

What kind of mask? asked the poet. 

A rose mask, said the poem. 

I’ve used it already, said the poet, 

I’ve exhausted it. 

Then wear the mask that’s made out of 

a nightingale’s song, use that mask. 

Oh, it’s an old mask, said the poet, 

it’s all used up. 

Nonsense, said the poem, it’s the perfect mask, 

still, try on the god mask, 

now that mask illuminates heaven. 

It’s a tight mask, said the poet, 

and the stars crawl about in it like ants. 

Then try on the troubador’s mask, or the singer’s mask,

try on all the popular masks. 

I have, said the poet, but they fit so easily. 
The poem was getting impatient, 

it stamped its feet like a child, 

it screamed. Then try on your own face, 

try the one mask that terrifies, 

the mask only you could possibly use, 

the mask only you could wear out. 
The poet tore at his face til it bled, 

this mask? he yelled, this mask? 

Yes, said the poem, yes. 
But the poet was tired of masks, 

he had lived too long with them, 

he snatched at the poem and stuck it in his face. 

Its screams were muffled, it wept, it tried to be lyrical, 

it wriggled into his eyes and mouth. 
Next day his friends were afraid of him, 

he looked so distorted. 

Now it’s the right mask, said the poem, the right mask. 

It clung to him lovingly and never let go again.

Party Piece – Brian Patten

He said: 

‘Let’s stay here 

Now this place has emptied 

And make gentle pornography with one another, 

While the partygoers go out 

And the dawn creeps in, 

Like a stranger. 
Let us not hesitate 

Over what we know 

Or over how cold this place has become, 

But let’s unclip our minds 

And let tumble free 

The mad, mangled crocodile of love.’ 
So they did, 

There among the woodbines and guinness stains, 

And later he caught a bus and she a train 

And all there was between them then 

was rain.

Sometimes It Happens – Brian Patten

And sometimes it happens that you are friends and then 

You are not friends, 

And friendship has passed. 

And whole days are lost and among them 

A fountain empties itself. 
And sometimes it happens that you are loved and then 

You are not loved, 

And love is past. 

And whole days are lost and among them 

A fountain empties itself into the grass. 
And sometimes you want to speak to her and then 

You do not want to speak, 

Then the opportunity has passed. 

Your dreams flare up, they suddenly vanish. 
And also it happens that there is nowhere to go and then 

There is somewhere to go, 

Then you have bypassed. 

And the years flare up and are gone, 

Quicker than a minute. 
So you have nothing. 

You wonder if these things matter and then 

As soon you begin to wonder if these things matter 

They cease to matter, 

And caring is past. 

And a fountain empties itself into the grass.