Home Poetry Interviews Reviews Links Contact
  John Welch
John Welch was born in London in 1942. His most recent collection is The Eastern Boroughs (Shearsman, 2004); his Collected Poems will appear from Shearsman in April 2008, at the same time as a prose memoir Dreaming Arrival, also from Shearsman.



Struck Cup

                    the band struck up    it was

an unravelling
        it’s a taking apart

and more fragile than we’d expected
whose prismatic array
transfixed the pedestrian
still persistently moving about
and fleeting mental states –

the desert came into the city
as if to suggest
an opulence of emptiness:

     lebanon in my heart
I saw the words carved into a cactus
by a roadside once in Athens

The sculptor spoke
in hackney wick, who had
gathered fragments of mirror
and stitched them together
gravestones set in the sky

Back home, in a silence made of walls
I shuffled around my house
persistence   breezy summer
bosomy bright-edged clouds
but the plunge and the re-emergence
shards in its hair     imagine
a shattered medusa

And the word tricks it finds
a kind of ground   and me?
I come after and here’s where I am –
like a handkerchief pulled
from a ring out of nowhere
by an empty-faced magician

is a child so perfectly contained
in that small pool of self
older always witholding for gain

else in full leaf
                           the stooping silence
or a piece of mirror, that's
cracked at the margin

Visiting Exile

‘They are like us’ –
But are we like us?

‘You are because I am’
Is it I owe him my life?
Condition of exile's
An echo that starts in the ear.
Brick builds itself on brick
Wall climbs    a swaying performance
Bodies slip out   through cracks in its understanding

I’d discarded the days like an alien narrative

Language: an echo that starts in the flesh

And so began its prose:
There was this other place, and you found you could go there, feeling so ill-at-ease in the place where you were. They make you welcome there – maybe it's because they are grateful that you have taken the trouble to come to them. You imagine how their pain might become yours. One day perhaps one of them will say, ‘Now you are one of us’ and you will feel so profoundly gratified. This contact you have makes you feel special when you come back to your own place. But of course there is this important difference between you and them – you do have somewhere to go back to at any time. Meanwhile you sit outside and watch the language they have. You might imagine being found here, in this other language, and at last being truly yourself. ‘Now I can be myself’ – so whose self was I before? Even that part of you that you feel can never quite be reached, you imagine that one day it will be completely and utterly spoken.

And a silent ache of afternoon –
I can see him lift himself from sleep,
Splash water on his face.
There's the way light seems to choose
Each particular reflection, how it's caught
On the tap's metal, such bright authority
Where he looks out over our rooftops
Waking to them each day
As if it were to an illness.
He was floated across impossible borders
To settle like an unmarked milestone
His arrival here the final weight of a door.

I'd helped him to make this translation,
Stranded halfway over a bridge
Each looking for himself in a different language.
There was something that hovered between us, signs
As if they were carved out of air
And there's something I may not turn my back on –

A self imperfectly remembered?
Substantial breathing form it
Dwindles into a mirror
And I am turned away
From the blankness and its all-seeing stare
Joined once again to the beleaguered crowd.

At school in East London a boy wrote this: One day I was watching my best pigeon flying over the sky, here and there in the evening. My father came to me and called my name, but I was only aware of the evening, therefore I didn't hear anything. Then he shouted ‘Jimi’ – that was my nickname – ‘Listen, I am going to take you to London tomorrow.’

In the armour of flight they are
Scything the air of its moments
Rebirth, in a different tongue
Pigeon going here and there in the sky.
Each evening he called the bird home.
Now it flies off and into a separate darkness
His pocket is empty, touches him everywhere

Bird-man toppling inwards
Fell into a city of looks
Otherhood, sanctuary, soft as a name
Uttered at nightfall
                                 The wound
To descend
                      such a rush of air –
A body fell out of the sky.
On the way down it sprouted wings
And here it is now, stocky fortunate angel
Abandoned its sky-refuge
The garden swept clean
The gardener paused on his broom
Flowers rescued from a skip
A self as if cradled beyond harm

© John Welch 2008