The Wind, the Sun and the Moon  by Anne Stevenson

The Wind, the Sun and the Moon by Anne Stevenson


The Wind, the Sun and the Moon
by Anne Stevenson

For weeks the wind has been talking to us,
Swearing, imploring, singing like a person.
Not a person, more the noise of a being might make
Searching for a body and a name. The sun
In its polished aurora rises late, then dazzles
Our eyes and days, pacing a bronze horizon
To a mauve bed in the sea. Light kindles the hills,
Though in the long shadow or Moelfre, winter
Won’t unshackle the dead house by the marsh.
Putting these words on paper after sunset
Alters the length and asperity of night.
By the fire, when the wind pauses, little is said.
Every phrase we unfold stands upright. Outside,
The visible cold, the therapy of moonlight.

The Loss by Anne Stevenson

The Loss

by Anne Stevenson
Anne Stevenson
Alive in the slippery moonlight,
how easily you managed
to hold yourself upright
on your small heels.
You emerged from your image
on the smooth fields
as if held back from flight by a hinge.

I used to find you
balanced on your visible ghost
holding it down by a corner. The blind
stain crawled, fawning, about you.
Your body staked its shadow like a post.
Gone, you leave nothing behind,
not a toe to hold steady or true
your image which lives in my mind.

False Flowers by Anne Stevenson

False Flowers

by Anne Stevenson

(for Caroline Ireland)
They were to have been a love gift,
but when she slit the paper funnel,
they both saw they were fake; false flowers
he’d picked in haste from the store’s display,
handmade coloured stuff, stiff as crinoline.

Instantly she thought of women’s hands
cutting in grimy light by a sweatshop window;
rough plank tables strewn with cut-out
flower heads: lily, iris, primula, scentless
chrysanthemums, pistils rigged on wire
in crowns of sponge-tipped stamens,
sepals and petals perfect, perfectly
immune to menaces from the garden.

Why so wrong, so…flattening? Why not instead
symbols of unchanging love?
Yet pretty enough,
she considered, arranging them in a vase
with dry grass and last summer’s hydrangeas
whose deadness was still (how to put it?)
alive, or maybe the other side of life.
Two sides, really, of the same thing?

She laughed a little, such ideas were embarrassing
even when kept to oneself,
but her train of thought
carried her in its private tunnel through supper,
and at bedtime, brushing her teeth,
she happened to look up at the moon.
Its sunlit face was turned, as always, in her direction.
The full moon, she couldn’t help thinking,
though we see only half of it.

It was an insight she decided she could
share with him, but when he joined her
and together they lay in the dark,
there seemed no reason to say anything.
The words, in any case, would be wrong,
would escape or disfigure her meaning.
Good was the syllable she murmured to him,
fading into sleep. And just for a split second,
teetering on the verge of it, she believed
everything that had to be was understood.

Anne Stevenson, “False Flowers” from Poems 1955-2005. Copyright © 2005 by Anne Stevenson. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd.

Source: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2005)

Washing My Hair  by Anne Stevenson

Washing My Hair by Anne Stevenson

Washing My Hair by Anne Stevenson
Contending against a restless shower-head,
I lather my own.
The hot tap, without a mind, decides
to scald me;
The cold, without a will, would rather
freeze me.
Turning them to suit me is an act of flesh
I know as mine.
Here I am: scalp, neck, back, breasts,
armpits, spine,
Parts I’ve long been part of, never
treasured much,
Since I absorb them not by touch, more
because of touch.
It’s my mind, with its hoard of horribles,
that’s me.
Or is it really? I fantasise it bodiless,
set free:
No bones, no skin, no hair, no nerves,
just memory,
Untouchable, unwashable, and not, I guess,
my own.
Still, none will know me better when I’m
words on stone
Than I, these creased familiar hands
and clumsy feet.
My soul, how will I recognise you
if we meet?

The Enigma by Anne Stevenson

The Enigma

by Anne Stevenson
Anne Stevenson
Falling to sleep last night in a deep crevasse
between one rough dream and another, I seemed,
still awake, to be stranded on a stony path,
and there the familiar enigma presented itself
in the shape of a little trembling lamb.
It was lying like a pearl in the trough between
one Welsh slab and another, and it was crying.

I looked around, as anyone would, for its mother.
Nothing was there. What did I know about lambs?
Should I pick it up? Carry it . . . where?
What would I do if it were dying? The hand
of my conscience fought with the claw of my fear.
It wasn’t so easy to imitate the Good Shepherd
in that faded, framed Sunday School picture
filtering now through the dream’s daguerreotype.

With the wind fallen and the moon swollen to the full,
small, white doubles of the creature at my feet
flared like candles in the creases of the night
until it looked to be alive with newborn lambs.
Where could they all have come from?
A second look, and the bleating lambs were birds—
kittiwakes nesting, clustered on a cliff face,
fixing on me their dark accusing eyes.

There was a kind of imperative not to touch them,
yet to be of them, whatever they were—
now lambs, now birds, now floating points of light—
fireflies signaling how many lost New England summers?
One form, now another; one configuration, now another.
Like fossils locked deep in the folds of my brain,
outliving a time by telling its story. Like stars.

Source: Poetry (September 2006).

Sonnets for Five Seasons by Anne Stevenson

Sonnets for Five Seasons

by Anne Stevenson
Anne Stevenson
(i.m. Charles Leslie Stevenson, 1909-79)

This House

Which represents you, as my bones do, waits,
all pores open, for the stun of snow. Which will come,
as it always does, between breaths, between nights
of no wind and days of the nulled sun.
And has to be welcome. All instinct wants to anticipate
faceless fields, a white road drawn
through dependent firs, the soldered glare of lakes.

Is it wanting you here to want the winter in?
I breathe you back into your square house and begin
to live here roundly. This year will be between,
not in, four seasons. Do you hear already the wet
rumble of thaw? Stones. Sky. Streams. Sun.
Those might be swallows at the edge of sight
returning to last year’s nest in the crook of the porchlight.


‘Dear God,’ they write, ‘that was a selfish winter
to lean so long, unfairly on the spring!’
And now — this too much greed of seedy summer.
Mouths of the flowers unstick themselves and sting
the bees with irresistible dust. Iris
allow undignified inspection. Plain waste
weeds dress up in Queen Anne’s lace. Our mist-
blue sky clouds heavily with clematis.

‘Too much,’ they cry, ‘too much. Begin again.’
The Lord, himself a casualty of weather
falls to earth in large hot drops of rain.
The dry loam rouses in his scent, and under
him — moist, sweet, discriminate — the spring.
Thunder. Lightning. He can do anything.


The wet and weight of this half-born English winter
is not the weather of those fragmentary half-true willows
that break in the glass of the canal behind our rudder
as water arrives in our wake — a travelling arrow
of now, of now, of now. Leaves of the water
furl back from our prow, and as the pinnate narrow
seam of where we are drives through the mirror
of where we have to be, alder and willow
double crookedly, reverse, assume a power
to bud out tentatively in gold and yellow,
so it looks as if what should be end of summer —
seeds, dead nettles, berries, naked boughs —
is really the anxious clouding of first spring.
…’Real’ is what water is imagining.


Before the leaves change, light transforms these lucid
speaking trees. The heavy drench of August
alters, things; its rich and sappy blood
relaxes where a thirst ago, no rest
released the roots’ wet greed or stemmed their mad
need to be more. September is the wisest
time — neither the unbearable burning word
nor the form of it, cooped in its cold ghost.

How are they sombre — that unpicked apple, red,
undisturbed by its fall; calm of those wasp-bored amethyst
plums on the polished table? Body and head
easy in amity, a beam between that must,
unbalanced, quicken or kill, make new or dead
whatever these voices are that hate the dust.

The Circle

It is imagination’s white face remembers
snow, its shape, a fluted shell on shoot
or flower, its weight, the permanence of winter
pitched against the sun’s absolute root.

All March is shambles, shards. Yet no amber
chestnut, Indian, burnished by its tent
cuts to a cleaner centre or keeps summer
safer in its sleep. Ghost be content.

You died in March when white air hurt the maples.
Birches knelt under ice. Roads forgot
their ways in aisles of frost. There were no petals.

Face, white face, you are snow in the green hills.
High stones complete your circle where trees start.
Granite and ice are colours of the heart.

Anne Stevenson, “Sonnets for Five Seasons” from Poems 1955-2005. Copyright © 2005 by Anne Stevenson. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd.

Source: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2005)

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