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.

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.

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.

Poem – When You Wake Tomorrow

I will give you a poem when you wake tomorrow. 

It will be a peaceful poem. 

It won’t make you sad. 

It won’t make you miserable. 

It will simply be a poem to give you 

When you wake tomorrow. 
It was not written by myself alone. 

I cannot lay claim to it. 

I found it in your body. 

In your smile I found it. 

Will you recognise it? 
You will find it under your pillow. 

When you open the cupboard it will be there. 

You will blink in astonishment, 

Shout out, ‘How it trembles! 

Its nakedness is startling! How fresh it tastes!’ 
We will have it for breakfast; 

On a table lit by loving, 

At a place reserved for wonder. 

We will give the world a kissing open 

When we wake tomorrow. 
We will offer it to the sad landlord out on the balcony. 

To the dreamers at the window. 

To the hand waving for no particular reason 

We will offer it. 

An amazing and most remarkable thing, 

We will offer it to the whole human race 

Which walks in us 

When we wake tomorrow.

Poem – First Love

Falling in love was like falling down the stairs Each stair had her name on it 

And he went bouncing down each one like a tongue-tied 

lunatic 

One day of loving her was an ordinary year 

He transformed her into what he wanted 

And the scent from her 

Was the best scent in the world 

Fifteen he was fifteen 

Each night he dreamed of her 

Each day he telephoned her 

Each day was unfamiliar 

Scary even 

And the fear of her going weighed on him like a stone 

And when he could not see her for two nights running 

It seemed a century had passed 

And meeting her and staring at her face 

He knew he would feel as he did forever 

Hopelessly in love 

Sick with it 

And not even knowing her second name yet 

It was the first time 

The best time 

A time that would last forever 

Because it was new 

Because he was ignorant it could ever end 

It was endless