Archive for James Munro

VIII of Cups

Posted in My Poems, Tarot Poems with tags , , , on October 17, 2017 by James Munro

You have a wife?
Children, maybe? A home? A job?
Yet like a summer lunatic
one night in June
you turn your back on love
and cross the Mountains of the Moon
in search of something lacking in your life.

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Do I know what love means, you ask

Posted in My Poems with tags , on March 2, 2017 by James Munro

It means
that a smile of pleasure from you, a word of praise,
makes my day,
makes the sun shine,
the sky blue,

that a frown, an angry word, a hint of coldness,
brings cloud,
brings rain,
brings winter,

that when I am with you I am happy, at ease,
but when you’re not here, part of me is missing,
like a missing limb,
a missing heart,
a missing soul.

Apollo’s Woman

Posted in My Poems, Verse Plays with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2017 by James Munro

apswcover

Apollo’s Woman is a one-act verse-play depicting the home-coming of Agamemnon at the end of the Trojan War with all the looted treasure he has managed to pack into his ship, and his special prize, the captive princess Cassandra of Troy.

His wife Clytemnestra, the sister of Helen, has a nasty surprise in store for him. Only it is no surprise to Cassandra, for she is Apollo’s Woman, the seeress, the famous soothsayer whom no one believes. She knows what is about to happen to Agamemnon, just as she knows what is about to happen to her – and what will eventually happen to Clytemnestra.

A dramatic scene out of the distant past as extraordinary people come face to face with death.

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CLYTEMNESTRA

Show me, then. Show me how you do it. Your system.
Your method. Then I will decide if you are crazed. 

CASSANDRA

I don’t rave and scream, if that is what you are wondering.
I go out by myself, up on the hill sometimes,
or down by the sea. There is a sunless cove
much favoured by seals for it faces north
and is surrounded by cliffs. There, Apollo
cannot spy on me. I clamber down
at sunset when I am free – no noble Trojans
whose lust to worship the Goddess in me
may not be denied, no important guests from the east –
a Mede or a Babylonian, a prince of Egypt –
or a rich trader from the west – from the furthermost
reaches of the west, it may be – I had one
once who had sailed beyond the pillars of Hercules
and the mountains of Atlas where, he said, the sea
that encircles the world swirls and rolls for ever
in great green breakers. Such travellers I love,
but wherever they come from, whatever colour they are,
whatever language they speak, we at the Temple
must show them hospitality. 

CLYTEMNESTRA

                                                 Of course.
And in that sunless cove much favoured by seals …? 

CASSANDRA

I spend the night on the beach in a trance.
And at dawn, when the first gull calls and the sea turns grey,
dreams – visions – come. 

CLYTEMNESTRA

                                            Something trivial,
something foolish, it may be – sometimes? 

CASSANDRA

                                                                       Oh, very often.

CLYTEMNESTRA

And sometimes not the future, not our world at all,
but another world, another time? 

CASSANDRA

                                                         Oh, yes.
But sometimes it is our world, our future.
And then it is always bad. 

CLYTEMNESTRA

                                               And that is why
they call you crazed? For I see no madness in
your method. You do not wail and prophesy
and tear your hair out.

CASSANDRA

                                       Oh, but I do. Or I seemed to,
when I cried out to the passing crowds at the door of the Temple
the fate the goddesses had in store for them.

CLYTEMNESTRA

The goddesses? Moira?

CASSANDRA

                                         Hera. Athena.

CASSANDRA

                                                                     Athena?
But you are her priestess!

CASSANDRA                        

                                             So far as Athena’s concerned,
I am Apollo’s woman. That is what all of them
believe – apart from Artemis, the huntress.
Apollo’s sister. She has hunted me
relentlessly. Now I am finished. I can
flee no further. Here, the sun will shine on
my dead body, and Artemis will laugh.
Paris should never have been exposed! He should have
been chopped into gobbets, and each bleeding gobbet
sent to some different island resting place.
Or burnt to ashes.

CLYTEMNESTRA

                                   You cannot fight fate.
They would have found some other pretty boy
to award the Apple of Discord and claim Helen.
Troilus, perhaps. 

CASSANDRA

                              Or Orestes. 

CLYTEMNESTRA

                                                   Orestes? My son?

Clytemnestra stares at Cassandra for a long moment, suddenly filled with suspicion.

CLYTEMNESTRA

What do you know of my son? … Tell me, you whore!
What have you seen? 

CASSANDRA

                                      On board the ship, your husband – 

CLYTEMNESTRA

He is not my husband!

CASSANDRA

                                        – kept me chained to the mast
for fear I might jump overboard. I would have.
And there each night while the sailors slept and
Agamemnon snored – 

CLYTEMNESTRA

                                       He doesn’t snore. 

CASSANDRA

He does now. He is ten years older, and –
oh, what does it matter? The whole ship silent –
apart from Agamemnon –  
and the lap, flap, slap of the waves against
the hull, I would go into a trance. And last night –
if only we had arrived here yesterday! –
at dawn today, when I was woken by
the look-out’s cry, still far out to sea but with
the hills – your dark hills – these hills – his hills –
spread out along the horizon from north to south,
and everyone started shouting and laughing and patting
each other on the back, I saw your son
avenge his father. 

CLYTEMNESTRA

                                Avenge his father? You mean – ?
Oh, don’t be silly. The boy adores me  –

There is a roar of fury from somewhere nearby. 

I must go! – and he hardly remembers his father.
That net was meant to hold a wild boar
but he will tear it open! 

She hurries out, knife in hand.

Agamamnon’s raging suddenly increases in volume.

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The JUDY Poems

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , on February 15, 2017 by James Munro

More than forty years passed between the writing of the first and last of these poems … and as I tend to collect my poems chronologically, it has never occurred to me to put them together before. But here they are, the Judy poems.

AUTUMN

To J.A.

Do you ever remember
Those long hot summer days
That lay on us like a welcome
To the world of adult ways,

That lay on us like a blessing
Lest that world and our own fear
Obstruct initiation into
Mysteries drawn near?

Do you ever remember
Those last two stolen days
When autumn came and ‘grown-up’
We had gone our separate ways?

*

Autumn comes, and falling
Each leaf for summer pays,
And the naked tree in winter
Survives, but cannot praise,

Survives in aching silence
The birth of the new year:
But if the tree itself is felled
And left to rot, my dear?

(The last two stanzas were added some years later. JM)

To J.A.

The trees do not change
the whispering limes
though they rearrange
all else we knew

The times
we walked along
this avenue
and kicked that stone
and I turned to smile
at you

Strange
how for a while
at times we dream
and even time
seems rearranged

I turn alone
back down the aisle
of limes

To J.A.  (Bosnia, August, 1983)

Then we lay together in the grass
murmuring Ifs and One days and I’d likes,
long English meadow grass
and buttercups
(You would not let me test your taste for butter,
Said yellow did not suit you). Now
I lie alone gazing through the pines
at blue sky
and wonder drenched in my own sweat
where the years
where you
went, where I.
Twenty-seven years ago this month
I saw you last, in Maldon.
In Maldon, we kissed goodbye and
you rode off upon your bike.

The people on the camp site here beside the beach
are from all parts of the Eastern Bloc and wear
nothing at all, or occasionally tiny briefs that only serve
to emphasise the perfect bodies,
the body beautiful
but glum.
They gaze incuriously like
children deprived,
repressed, like
puritans, thighs, breasts and chests
all gleaming, eyes
dead.

Clouds rumble round the barren hills.

They sunbathe carefully, they wade and wash,
and lick their little ones.
They have not been told that they can swim.

We were not puritans, could not be communists,
nor were we libertines.
We laughed and loved and played
and did our thing
in anarchy and innocence.

I am let back in now sometimes on parole
but all in all
prefer Siberia, my attempts at
rehabilitation
have all been Chaplin/Hitler in performance,
Sydney Carton/Van Gogh in prognosis:
the spectators wooden, inured,
the spectacle me
performing live for a canned audience.

I don’t think India will make
a Good Communist State:
in fact I think India
is in Siberia.
I shall go there, and I shall stay.

Do you remember Laurence Applegate?
I wet myself on stage in the last long monologue,
Camouflaged it down my tights with wine (i.e. water).
It’s always been the same.
I want to die alone upon the sea
or high up on the hill
or in a forest, like this. Pass away
sans camouflage, in peace.

The sun is setting now. The pines above
my face are pale green, moving
a little. Time to go.
Time to eat again. Time. And you?
On holiday? About to give
Supper to your children? Show
Your suntan off?
Go to confession? Laugh?
Have another secret drink?
Lie down and cry again
for someone you have loved?
Or in the village churchyard evening
weep? Or lie forgotten?

To J.A.

I have had no news of you
for more than forty years.

If things were different I would come
in search of you before it was too late …

It is too late.

Kirke

Posted in My Poems with tags , on September 29, 2014 by James Munro

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An old man sails away again in search
of dreams, of youth, sailing alone
into the sunset and his journey’s end.

Would it not have been far better
if the wingèd messenger had never interfered,
had left him with the others to his fate?

We grow up fit and fat these days, grow up
and face the decades-long-drawn-out humane death,
long-drawn-out pig denying the obvious.

Acorns and mast or swill or a five-star menu –
for the ready-to-go the butcher’s knife must be
easier than cancer or senility.

***

The sacramental feast, symbolic
touch of the wand, and – panta rheï
off to the sties.

Who then is this philosopher
denying re-volution,
this blasphemer?

Let him grow old apart,
never more than half wild,
a cross between a monkey and a battery hen.

Let him grow old and remain for ever
half carrion, half child,
the plaything of flies.

***

God offers acorns and mast
or, if impressed,
roast meat and wine
for us to gorge ourselves on but
She does not offer immortality.

Unlike Calypso, but then
Calypso was lonely,
lonely and in need.
God is not lonely, does not need
man that She should offer immortality.

And yet, if an artist,
a prophet – a poet –
came running to God, chasing a dream,
and seeing, adored Her
without lust or greed (or even with),
would She not see
in such a life, such a death,
something more than mere animal mortality?

***

Others we knew
turned out to be rats
or rabbits or dogs
or sheep or cats.

After the bread
and wine and figs
no word was spoken:
we were pigs.

***

When we got to the garden she took off her blouse
and letting the moonlight play upon her breasts
laughed and said I really am Kirke:
take off your clothes and get down on all fours.
Laughing too I stripped and dropped down
at her feet and followed as she crossed the grass.
In here, she said. It was a cage
and laughing still, enjoying the variation,
I crawled in. And have been here ever since.

Calypso

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , on June 10, 2014 by James Munro

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I think what I’ve always liked
is your innocence.
You have the trusting eyes
the simple mind
of a child or a very young wildcat
or hind

or an as yet unwhipped bitch.
Once saw a bitch
on the filthy beach at Roches Noires
belly distended
paps hanging
gaze at me then go running into the sea
from the flies and a hail of stones thrown by jeering boys.
Those eyes.

The same eyes in despair.
She would worship any one of those boys
for a friendly word or a pat.
She seems
to remember in her dreams being petted
and dreams still
though now she knows life is not
like that.

Do all you girls and does and gentle bitches
who start with winning eyes
start also with a loving father-figure
and spend your lives
peering wistfully into the eyes of friends and passing strangers
seeking out
another who will love you
unconditionally?

Knight of Pentacles

Posted in My Poems, Tarot Poems with tags , , on April 10, 2014 by James Munro

KnightPentacles

Don’t laugh at the Home Guard,
the ones who stay behind
to defend their own back yard.

But for them
the ones who wield the sword abroad
would return to abandoned homes
and barren fields.

© James Munro

The Home-maker

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , , on April 8, 2014 by James Munro

I am a Leo, I need an audience,
I cannot perform to an empty house.

But there again, I have been doing so for
fifty years. It is exactly fifty years, in fact,
since I performed Chekov’s Swansong
to an empty house. My own choice.

But apt. Perhaps it is my Moon Sign.
Cancer. The home-maker. I would be happier
with a little house by the sea, a garden.
A pond with ducks. Nine bean-rows.

duck pond

© James Munro

Fin de Millennium

Posted in My Poems with tags , , on April 6, 2014 by James Munro

This is a poem I wrote back in 1998-99 about the coming end of the millennium. People often say it is my best poem, and it did in fact come second (runner-up) in the Scottish International Open Poetry Competition (Long Poems) that year, 1999.

no-tresspassing

FIN DE MILLENNIUM

(to W.B. Yeats, author of Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen
and of Politics; and to W.H. Davies, Supertramp)

I

HIM

He didn’t thumb,
the old man,
just stepped out onto the road,
arms wide,
willing to be crucified.

Us, we swerved
and swept on by like time,
car full, but hooting madly,
waving, waving as we passed,
music blaring …
dopplering
into the future.

 

II

THE OLD MAN SPEAKS

You take the high road,
you take the low road,
you take the bloody motorway:
but I was in Scotland ‘afore ye …

And in Ireland. And England. Roads were narrow then,
the high with low stone walls, the low with hedges,
blossom, finches, trains were grimy,
dog-end-filled and stopped at every village station,
bells ringing, whistles blowing, steam and
hats and skirts all blowing; time:
the whistles and the bells fell silent, cigarettes
were antisocial, steam and stations uncommercial,
girls wore jeans, wore strings, wore …

Then was another world. You’d be an alien there.

In Andalusia I sat down and wept;
in Casablanca I remembered then, remembered
cold, grey seas and grassy dunes, the grey-green marshes
and the silence of the north
(a far-off bird, a summer insect,
breaking waves upon a distant beach: a lamb calling).
Catch a plane! Go home! they said. A plane?
I’d need a time machine.

There was a New Age in Olde Sasunn once,
England’s spring, when all the world was green. Now
there is no place for Robin Hoods,
not in the woods at least;
all is private now, by land and sea,
but then, the coast, the marshes, creeks and inlets,
the forest then, the downs, the country towns,
Ludlow, Thetford, Frome – and Glastonbury,
the heart and home of the New Age –
the land was full of tracks and horses, full
of movement, full of saints and healers, players,
singers, travellers passing to and fro, to
Walsingham, to York, St Edmundsbury or to
Nottingham. For all there was a welcome everywhere.

Or if there was not – well, the woods were wide
and tracks between the trees and a welcome sure for a
free man there among free men –
and free deer. Justice
was harder still perhaps to come by, yes,
but then a man could go, could disappear
and live as a man should live, in freedom and privacy …

Where can a man go now? Where can I?
Not just the streets but all the land is chartered,
not just the land but the sea, the sea bed,
the sky, the moon – the invisible stars are numbered.

There was a new age in the Highlands too
(not a New Age, but an age of change)
an age when men and sheep were weighed
and men found wanting, condemned and harried off
the lands their families had farmed in their innocence,
in trust and love, and sacrifice, for generations.
He’ll look after his own. His own? Who’s he selling
his great empty tracts of land to now?

Where will he spend the night? On the burnt-off moors?
Among the fenced-off lined-up trees? Or with
the outcasts of the inner city? – not just down
on their luck these days, but down on their knees …

 

III

THAT GIRL STANDING THERE

How can I,
that girl standing there
wax political …? One to stand and stare am I,
to gawp from behind a bush or bin

and let the world go by
if go it will.
But when the world stands too,
and waits for me? Waits

like a lovely wood,
like a track between the trees when there is
sudden silence. The world has waited for me
and I have gone with her

and I have seen of her
a little more
than those who never quit
their native shore

save for a few days’ rest
or brief State Visit: and I can tell you all
that the American Dream is very much alive and well
throughout the states of Europe.

Is it the soaps, the films?
The California Girls? The Texas Food?
Las Vegas? Mafia Violence? Is it Sex?
Is it Execution?

They won a war, a war of money, of words,
a media war, a battle of the mike:
but it wasn’t communism, oh no,
it was competition that they didn’t like.

It seems to me
that the USA has dreams of empire,
that the third millennium is likely to transpire
beneath the stars and stripes.

Refugees go down as they always have, desperately,
into Egypt or some other God-forsaken,
God-haunted
country in the Middle East,

the mother on a donkey still, perhaps,
or on a cart with pots and pans and blankets
fleeing from the lies –
and in her arms, at her breast, amidst the flies,

a bairn, a little mite, poor little
scrap of ethnic garbage. Can
the European dream,
the social dream, survive?

Can that come true?
Or are we all now to believe once more
in blood and money – for blood read race, for money the right
not to have beggars stinking and festering at one’s door.

Or dying, disgustingly. Or dead … That being said –
(an old man rambling: not so old as not to notice, though,
THAT GIRL STANDING THERE) Oh, if I were young again
and had HER in my bed!

 

IV

WHAT BED? –

when there is nowhere for a son of man to hide,
nowhere for a father of men to lay his head;
when daughters of men have nowhere to go
but Skid Row

and those who in
this Age of No Job No Room
refuse to beg
just go, anyway, go, travel – seek,
and finding no love
no hope
no cave, no wood
in all the land, end up, maybe
with the future of man in their arms
in a roadside ditch;
while within the electronic fence the rich
prepare to celebrate the Fin de Millennium.

The end of the dream of the good.

 

V

FIN DE MILLENNIUM

It was fast,
but I knew it was him when I saw him catch the eye
of some bedraggled traveller with a brat on her back –
or was it a cry he had heard? –
as I say, it was fast
but he stopped to lend her a hand –
which was naturally all he had …

Us, we swept on by, nineteen hundred and ninety-nine
dopplering into the past.

© James Munro

II of Wands

Posted in My Poems, Tarot Poems with tags , , on April 5, 2014 by James Munro

2 of Wands

Dreaming …
Dreaming of voyages across vast
grey-green heaving sailor-swallowing seas
and when all hope is lost, sighting a bird –
two birds! – three! – a whole sudden flock of birds
that make their home on the wide world’s furthest shores.

Dreaming …
Dreaming of trading in far-off temples and halls,
roofs covered all in gold and gem-encrusted walls,
of fabled cities – Santiago, Mandalay,
Calicut, Rangoon, Xanadu –
and coming home richer than the Pope.

Dreaming …
Or planning in earnest?

© James Munro

X of Swords

Posted in My Poems, Tarot Poems with tags , , on March 31, 2014 by James Munro

10Swords

Flat dead. Ten
sword-thrusts. Overkill.
Who was he? And who did this?
Ten enemies? Ten friends?

The sun has set.
The sky is black, so black you’d think
there will be no tomorrow.

But when the land
has had its fill of sorrow,
the sun will rise
across a blue and tranquil sea.

© James Munro

Temperance

Posted in My Poems, Tarot Poems with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2014 by James Munro

XIV - Temperance

I feel your sorrow,
share your sadness,
says the iris.

Let us temper
justice with mercy;
let the waters
flow up not down,
says the angel,
tempering gravity
with levity.

But behind the angel –
all unseen? –
it is the narrow trail that
leads to the golden crown.

© James Munro

November Here

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by James Munro

Annas Seagull

For Anna, who is Sixty today

November. Here grey skies, wind and rain,
greet your birthday, then a great storm in the night,
the ancient gods arguing on the hills.
‘I love this weather!’ you cry.

When we wake, the rain has stopped, but the wind
still moans at the doors and rattles the windows,
and I recall its rage as hour after hour
it howled out its grief for the passing years.

Or seemed to. That is me, though, not the wind,
not the autumn weather. Perhaps the wind
howls as the wolves howl, to celebrate
another moon, another season,

or as the wulcat yowls,
in a sexual frenzy, seeking a mate.
No grief there. And no grief where
the seagulls soar and call – call – call,

while the chickens cower in their coops.
The heat and dust all washed away
the mood outside now is winter beach
after a storm. ‘Let’s go for a walk, watch

the waves crash in, the seagulls float on the wind!’
You were always a seagull, your soul
soaring out over the open sea,
never a stay-at-home chicken or caged canary.

Glyfada, Greece, 20th November, 2013

© James Munro

Butterflies

Posted in My Poems with tags , , on October 17, 2013 by James Munro

I came back to you last night and it was as dull as
A day at your mother’s, we had nothing to say
And nothing to do except that and we did it our minds
Miles away, mine on the weather and where
I was going today, the things I had to do
With my new-found freedom, yours on yourself and who
Ever else is involved in your sudden self-display.
We used to talk when we were caterpillars.

(from) Better Than Sleep XI: Bruised Petals

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , on August 20, 2013 by James Munro

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Around the dustbins
roses fade,
on bones and bottles
petals fall

 Roses bloom and
fade and die:
remember me
for you and I

 live longer than
the roses, we
love on and on
when hope is gone.

 On bones and bottles
petals fall,
on love, and life,
in spite of all.

Even an Anarchist Must Eat (Even a Poet!)

Posted in My Poems with tags , on August 14, 2013 by James Munro

You think I understand?
What if I understand
when it is not what is in my head that counts
but what is in my hand?

You think I don’t want that house?
You think I don’t fancy that yacht?
I know what the fuss is about.
I need more, not less, than I’ve got.

You say I know, in my heart?
What if I know in my heart?
It is not what is in my heart that counts
but what is in my hand.

Ask me:
Do I want the one pearl within,
O Lord of the Night,
or the many without?

He Comes In Early, Besuited

Posted in My Poems with tags , on August 11, 2013 by James Munro

He comes in early, besuited.
I come in late – besuited, too,
but dreaming of being naked.

He with his neat polished shoes,
his sweet polished smile.
I with my hangover.

I with the fish on my shoulder.

I am clever, but stupid.
He is stupid, but clever.

© James Munro

(from) Better Than Sleep

Posted in My Poems with tags , , on August 11, 2013 by James Munro

BTSforKtnl

I: A Yard Behind A Bar, Casablanca, Morocco

Sometimes I sit here ithyphallic,
god of the beasts.
The flies attend
and tortoises when in the mood
bite.

A geranium they threw out blooms.
We commune.
If flies were bigger, didn’t wait –
like tortoises, say –
I’d be “food! I am food!”
white and gymnosophic.

Lord of the flies, a turbot head
begins to breed.
I smile. The geranium
nods.

Seumas Considers The Sea – in the manner of Ian Hamilton Finlay

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , on August 11, 2013 by James Munro

Peedie Seumas
Made a boat
Full of air
So it would float

How beautiful, how beautiful the hollow
Boat and Seumas in the water pushing
Seumas behind in the water wishing
The boat didn’t have to be hollow

The sea didn’t have to be wet
As he steered to the south, the mouth
Forgetting what everyone said
But remarking that

The peedie sea is not so deep
It lies upon a water bed
Between the isles –
I miss the lasses, though

Peedie Seumas
Don’t look down –
See a mermaid
And you drown

Ace of Wands

Posted in My Poems, Tarot Poems with tags , , on August 11, 2013 by James Munro

Ace of Wands

Time to plant a new seed,
start a new song,
pen a new poem,
say a new prayer.

Time to set out on
my travels again.

Roads to any and everywhere
start here:
who knows where
this one may lead?

© James Munro