Friday, August 29, 2014

They Stand Perfectly Embodied, All the Past Lapping Them Like a Cloak of Chaos, or: Born Eighty-Five Years Ago Today


Thom Gunn

Nightmare of beasthood, snorting, how to wake.
I woke. What beasthood skin she made me take?

Leathery toad that ruts for days on end,
Or cringing dribbling dog, man’s servile friend,

Or cat that prettily pounces on its meat,
Tortures it hours, then does not care to eat:

Parrot, moth, shark, wolf, crocodile, ass, flea.
What germs, what jostling mobs there were in me.

    These seem like bristles, and the hide is tough.
No claw or web here: each foot ends in hoof.

Into what bulk has method disappeared?
Like ham, streaked. I am gross—grey, gross, flap-eared.

The pale-lashed eyes my only human feature.
My teeth tear, tear. I am the snouted creature

That bites through anything, root, wire, or can.
If I was not afraid I’d eat a man.

Oh a man’s flesh already is in mine.
Hand and foot poised for risk. Buried in swine.

    I root and root, you think that it is greed,
It is, but I seek out a plant I need.

Direct me gods, whose changes are all holy,
To where it flickers deep in grass, the moly:

Cool flesh of magic in each leaf and shoot,
From milky flower to the black forked root.

From this fat dungeon I could rise to skin
And human title, putting pig within.

I push my big grey wet snout through the green,
Dreaming the flower I have never seen.


Thom Gunn

The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth’s dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,

pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury? All
I think is that if later

I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.


Thom Gunn

Nothing remained: Nothing, the wanton name
That nightly I rehearsed till led away
To a dark sleep, or sleep that held one dream.

In this a huge contagious absence lay,
More space than space, over the cloud and slime,
Defined but by the encroachments of its sway.

Stripped to indifference at the turns of time,
Whose end I knew, I woke without desire,
And welcomed zero as a paradigm.

But now it breaks—images burst with fire
Into the quiet sphere where I have bided,
Showing the landscape holding yet entire:

The power that I envisaged, that presided
Ultimate in its abstract devastations,
Is merely change, the atoms it divided

Complete, in ignorance, new combinations.
Only an infinite finitude I see
In those peculiar lovely variations.

It is despair that nothing cannot be
Flares in the mind and leaves a smoky mark
Of dread.
               Look upward. Neither firm nor free,

Purposeless matter hovers in the dark.


Thom Gunn

All today I lie in the bottom of the wardrobe
feeling low but sometimes getting up
to moodily lumber across rooms
and lap from the toilet bowl, it is so sultry
and then I hear the noise of firecrackers again
all New York is jaggedy with firecrackers today
and I go back to the wardrobe gloomy
trying to void my mind of them.
I am confused, I feel loose and unfitted.

At last deep in the stairwell I hear a tread,
it is him, my leader, my love.
I run to the door and listen to his approach.
Now I can smell him, what a good man he is,
I love it when he has the sweat of work on him,
as he enteres I yodel with happiness,
I throw my body up against his,
I try to lick his lips,
I care about him more than anything.

After we eat we go for a walk to the piers.
I leap into the standing warmth, I plunge into
the combination of old and new smells.
Here on a garbage can at the bottom, so interesting,
what sister or brother I wonder left this message I sniff.
I too piss there, and go on.
Here a hydrant there a pole
here's a smell I left yesterday, well that's disappointing
but I piss there anyway, and go on.

I investigate so much that in the end
it is for form's sake only, only a drop comes out.

I investigate tar and rotten sandwiches, everything, and go on.

And here a dried old turd, so interesting
so old, so dry, yet so subtle and mellow.
I can place it finely, I really appreciate it,
a gold distant smell like packed autumn leaves in winter
reminding me how what is rich and fierce when excreted
becomes weathered and mild
but always interesting
and reminding me of what I have to do.

My leader looks on and expresses his approval.

I sniff it well and later I sniff the air well
a wind is meeting us after the close July day
rain is getting near too but first the wind.
Joy, joy,
being outside with you, active, investigating it all,
with bowels emptied, feeling your approval
and then running on, the big fleet Yoko,
my body in its excellent black coat never lets me down,
returning to you (as I always will, you know that)
and now
filling myself out with myself, no longer confused,
my panting pushing apart my black lips, but unmoving,
I stand with you braced against the wind.


Thom Gunn

Cats met us at
the landing-place
reclining in the sun
to check us in
with a momentary glance,
of a grassy island.
(Attila's Throne,
the Devil's Bridge,
and "the best Byzantine
church in the world",
long saints admonitory
on kiln-like inner walls.)
And lunch in a shady court
where cats now
systematically worked
the restaurant, table
by table, gazing into eyes
pleading "I'm hungry
and I'm cute", reaching
front paws up to knees
and always getting
before zeroing in
on the next table, same
routine, same result.

Sensible bourgeois
wild-cats working
with the furred impudence
of those who don't pretend
to be other than whores,
they give you not
the semblance of love
but simply
a look at their beauty
in return for food.
Models, not escorts.
They lack, too,
the prostitute's self-pity,
being beyond shame.
And we lack
what they have.        


Thom Gunn

One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and   
a few with historical
names. How late they start to shine!   
but before they fade they stand   
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a   
cloak of chaos. They were men   
who, I thought, lived only to   
renew the wasteful force they   
spent with each hot convulsion.   
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet,   
but now that they are indeed   
apart, winnowed from failures,   
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested   
hard energy, like the stars.


  1. as i noted last year, gunn's "cat island" is torcello, near venice

    pictures at

    there are other cat islands - for example 猫の島 青島(愛媛県)に上陸 Cat Island "Aoshima"(Ehime pref. JAPAN)

    About 100 cats.
    Many kitten are living.
    Lovery, clever, behave like a spoiled child.

    Another cat island in Japan is Tashirojima Island (田代島) in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, with 86 inhabitants and more than 100 cats. On this island, the cat is enshrined. There is a cat shrine and also a cat photo competition!

  2. also in japan - rabbit island