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 

Why? Because constantly I failed 

my exams. 

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


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.

Geography Lesson – Brian Patten

Our teacher told us one day he would leave 

And sail across a warm blue sea 

To places he had only known from maps, 

And all his life had longed to be. 

The house he lived in was narrow and grey 

But in his mind’s eye he could see 

Sweet-scented jasmine clinging to the walls, 

And green leaves burning on an orange tree. 

He spoke of the lands he longed to visit, 

Where it was never drab or cold. 

I couldn’t understand why he never left, 

And shook off the school’s stranglehold. 

Then halfway through his final term 

He took ill and never returned, 

And he never got to that place on the map 

Where the green leaves of the orange trees burned. 

The maps were redrawn on the classroom wall; 

His name was forgotten, it faded away. 

But a lesson he never knew he taught 

Is with me to this day. 

I travel to where the green leaves burn 

To where the ocean’s glass-clear and blue, 

To all those places my teacher taught me to love 

But which he never knew.

The Newcomer – Brian Patten

‘There’s something new in the river,’ 

The fish said as it swam. 

‘It’s got no scales, no fins and no gills, 

And ignores the impassable dam.’ 
‘There’s something new in the trees.’ 

I heard a bloated thrush sing. 

‘It’s got no beak, no claws, and no feathers, 

And not even the ghost of a wing.’ 
‘There’s something new in the warren,’ 

Said the rabbit to the doe. 

‘It’s got no fur, no eyes and no paws, 

Yet digs further than we dare go.’ 
‘There’s something new in the whiteness,’ 

Said the snow-bright polar bear. 

‘I saw its shadow on a glacier, 

But it left no pawmarks there.’ 
Through the animal kingdom 

The news was spreading fast. 

No beak, no claws, no feather, 

No scales, no fur, no gills, 

It lives in the trees and the water, 

In the soil and the snow and the hills, 

And it kills and it kills and it kills.

Shoveling Snow With Buddha – Billy Collins

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok

you would never see him doing such a thing, 

tossing the dry snow over a mountain 

of his bare, round shoulder, 

his hair tied in a knot, 

a model of concentration. 
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word 

for what he does, or does not do. 
Even the season is wrong for him. 

In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid? 

Is this not implied by his serene expression, 

that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe? 
But here we are, working our way down the driveway, 

one shovelful at a time. 

We toss the light powder into the clear air. 

We feel the cold mist on our faces. 

And with every heave we disappear 

and become lost to each other 

in these sudden clouds of our own making, 

these fountain-bursts of snow. 
This is so much better than a sermon in church, 

I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling. 

This is the true religion, the religion of snow, 

and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky, 

I say, but he is too busy to hear me. 
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow 

as if it were the purpose of existence, 

as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway 

you could back the car down easily 

and drive off into the vanities of the world 

with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio. 
All morning long we work side by side, 

me with my commentary 

and he inside his generous pocket of silence, 

until the hour is nearly noon 

and the snow is piled high all around us; 

then, I hear him speak. 
After this, he asks, 

can we go inside and play cards? 
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk 

and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table 

while you shuffle the deck. 

and our boots stand dripping by the door. 
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes 

and leaning for a moment on his shovel 

before he drives the thin blade again 

deep into the glittering white snow.

Snow Day – Billy Collins

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow, 

its white flag waving over everything, 

the landscape vanished, 

not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness, 

and beyond these windows 
the government buildings smothered, 

schools and libraries buried, the post office lost 

under the noiseless drift, 

the paths of trains softly blocked, 

the world fallen under this falling. 
In a while I will put on some boots 

and step out like someone walking in water, 

and the dog will porpoise through the drifts, 

and I will shake a laden branch, 

sending a cold shower down on us both. 
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house, 

a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow. 

I will make a pot of tea 

and listen to the plastic radio on the counter, 

as glad as anyone to hear the news 
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed, 

the Ding-Dong School, closed, 

the All Aboard Children’s School, closed, 

the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed, 

along with – some will be delighted to hear – 
the Toadstool School, the Little School, 

Little Sparrows Nursery School, 

Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School, 

the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed, 

and – clap your hands – the Peanuts Play School. 
So this is where the children hide all day, 

These are the nests where they letter and draw, 

where they put on their bright miniature jackets, 

all darting and climbing and sliding, 

all but the few girls whispering by the fence. 
And now I am listening hard 

in the grandiose silence of the snow, 

trying to hear what those three girls are plotting, 

what riot is afoot, 

which small queen is about to be brought down.