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Philip Gross: two poems


The bells of the church on the headland –

landmark, daymark, sound-mark on a muted day –

spill their one tumbling tone row over and over and

never the same twice, quite, as they slither and trip,

a small platoon trying to keep in lock-step

down steepening scree. A teetering collapse,

which was always the point. Who wouldn't rejoice

in a waterfall's falling, which is its fulfilment

though it looks like emptying? A peal:

an appellation, calling itself out over and over

the bay, the mudflats, docks, city and here, peal

ringing no changes but our own, how one

breath differs from another. Peal: a word

repeated till its phonemes sliver off like swarf,

like whittling, peeling the onion of itself,

inexhaustible. A peal: an outcry, howzat, or:

Give generously, or: Have mercy, Lord

(or lover) on our imperfections, on the hitch

in the voice that makes each iteration

not quite repetition, on the slip that lets slip

a truth, the fumbling between gene and gene

that makes us

us. Peal us out, broad-

cast us, scattering of splinters,

selves, let us fall where we will, each

try-out, spin-off, cast-off, somehow utterly

the point.

And listen, we're still falling.


Bone Music

This is something the bones say

in their hollows.

Last night I heard its echoes, inwards. I

was bones, I was all cavity.

This is something that birds say

in their feather-hollowed

lightness, how it takes a million years to grow

almost as light as air,

with just enough heft to have some

purchase on the wind.

Be slight,

not too slight, wind says: throw whatever weight

you have against me, I'll

decide to lift or let you go.

Today I'm empty. I've been pouring myself out,

down to the bottom of the breath.

Rest there. A stillness. Till the body reaches out

to haul me back to shore.

This is something the emptiness says.

Bone flute, cave music, thrum

of a rib cage that's the only stationary thing

among the slow migration

of the dunes. A siffling down the feathers'

hair's-breadth corridors.

This may be the song

of nothing. Throw your slight self at the wind.

Let it have the last word:

will you fly or fall.

Philip Gross has published twenty poetry collections, including four for children, and won many of the major awards in British poetry, from the National Poetry Competition to the T.S. Eliot Prize. His latest book, The Thirteenth Angel, was published by Bloodaxe in 2022. You can find more of his collections here.


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