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Our Back Pages #3

Written by coleytoo, 16th March 2011

I'm pleased to say that we picked Mark Haddon's poems years before he became famous as a novelist with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. So, from the back pages of The Reader magazine, here is a selection of his poetry.


We've thrown the windows open, cut the poison ivy back

and aired the blankets. Now there's nothing left to do.

The hours are as empty as the sky above the lake.

We read and swim and eat and sleep

and wonder whether everyone was right

who laughed at us for coming here

to this uncomplicated state

where the houses are built right on the ground

and the Mississippi rises up

and roads run straight between the trees.

Then, three days in, the simple things

begin to open up like little books:

the slap of petrol in the red tank of the Evinrude,

the toc… toc… toc… of chipmunks barking on the deck

like pebbles being dropped into a box, the scribbled columns

of mosquitoes moving silently upon the pools,

and I remember, in a Quaker meeting fifteen years back,

how the long shared silence made us hear a novel

in the little words, My father died last week,

how nothing else was said or needed to be said.

For this, too, is a way of being centred

and of giving witness,

watching how the strips of dry bark

uncurl from the white flesh of a birch

like paper peeling from the damp wall

of a long-abandoned house,

being somewhere plain but different,

and slowing down enough to hear the rub of newness

saying, This is sunlight. These are hours.

This is the surface of the earth.


Seven hours to Baxter,

an unrelenting corridor

of tarmac, pine and sky.

I think of Thoreau camped near here

one hundred years ago;

the unfathomable darkness

of the circled trunks,

the hemlock tea and roasted moose-lips

and the guide's tale of the ageing missionary

newly drowned in storms of blackfly

somewhere in this green Atlantic.

That night, beside our own fire,

in a flame-lit bowl of black trees,

I dream of open fields,

the forest cleared

as in Oxfordshire,

the sky brought down

and all the far hills gathered in,

and how the first plough

must have sailed,

as its star-built namesake

sails above me now,

the raw earth opening

like ocean water

underneath the blade

and turning into countryside behind it.

Horace Odes 1:ix

See how Mount Soracte soars,

brilliant with driven snow,

how struggling trees can't hold their load

and streams freeze in the bitter chill.

Thaliarchus, drive the cold away

by heaping piles of firewood on the hearth

then generously serve a double-handled

Sabine jar of four-year vintage wine.

Leave other matters to the gods,

for once they've calmed the winds

at war above the churning sea

the ageing ash and cypress are no longer troubled.

Do not ask about tomorrow. Count as profit

everything which fortune hands to you each day.

Dance and make sweet love

while you are young and sour old age holds off.

Hunt the open spaces and the Field of Mars

with gentle whispers

at the chosen hour of dusk

for giggles which betray

the girls who've hidden in the furthest corners,

and for pledges snatched

from fingers and from arms

with nothing more than shows of protest.

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