Published at
Cover Library Poetry A Hot January

What is there and other poems

Margaret Wilmot
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink MapThe Embarcadero, San Francisco
Not inside the sanctuary, nor even when the slope
curved round and I saw the temple ringed with peaks,
which at that early hour seemed to be lifting it.
Nor did the conventional wisdom obtain, that
letting go is when we see; when we turn away,
give up trying to grasp the obscure meaning.
The mysterious revelation — of what? Thirty years
later I still ask myself in high fields of a certain tilt —
took place before, on the climb from Andritsena.
A shepherd pointed out a shortcut up some rocks.
I came out into an empty field, where a few dry stalks trembled.
Everything was opening, as if light were being torn.
I place a red raspberry on your lips.
The spare hospice light flutters moth-near.
“Life is all pervasive in the atmosphere.”
Yesterday an astronomer referred to the organic nature
of cosmic dust. I chew my toast to pulp in the obscure faith
that these tiniest particles will transcend our skins
and nourish you. The universe fascinated you; black holes.
Now you lie cocooned in impenetrable sleep. I long
for the pink tip of a tongue to bud, your lips to open
and press round the plump succulence, savour
the fullness of each red bead; its berry blood to spurt
light and rich across your palate. I long —
The toddler’s browny face lights up;
wiry black curls dance all over his head.
“Daddy! Look!” He tugs a trouser leg.
Huge beyond the plate glass, only the nose
and shoulder visible, our plane has loomed
into place; its arrival alters the light.
Blond as sunshine, his father sweeps the child
into a wide embrace. I imagine the black mother,
shining huge in the man’s life; his delight in
her darkness, in the mystery even of the revealed.
I imagine him loving how she takes his light
and gives it back shades richer.
for Maggie
Maggie never crosses her legs.
Art Class makes you look at people newly.
She could fill a canvas as The Farmer’s Wife on
a Stepladder, hands huge as spoons about her bird.
The language beside me burbles, plucks; it is Luganda.
I know because I ask the demoiselle in
the cross-folded head-cloth, because I’m thinking
of Maggie, and her Nigerian niece, and legs,
and how Picasso paints women. But now
a slab of plant fills the wide bus window.
We wait. Angled steel raises a shank,
high; higher; poises. Light glints.
Blankets untumbled, animals in a calm rank across
the bunk, their room is still. No shoes spill
around the door. The floor stays relatively clean.
Bats, racquets lean in a single place.
We eat in peace, and, indeed, have run out of bread —
and the world did not end. Life without boys.
Less urgent our days, but lacking in savour, as if
savour were born in dust and dirt and noise.
The piano too is still; no one plays “The Merry Peasant”
or “The Trout.” A breeze billows the curtains,
wafts through the silent room, and out.
Sunlight falls into the Lego box, and stays.
Think of Medea’s passion as she looked out the palace
and saw horses placidly grazing. It was then —
as she breathed in their pungent, sociable heat —
that the dark cloud of her lamentation burst. To see
how the curved vault of sky held them in its wide embrace;
to see their noses nuzzle deep into spring pasture, cropping
sweet grass, and hear their strong teeth rip and tear, and know
the earth itself planted entirely firm, stratum upon rich stratum, down
through roots and tombs and mines... No, this was unbearable.
For the scent of horses in the still noon lies beyond magic.
It tells us all is well. Home is here near these warm flanks;
each smallest shift in weight implies the world is a solid house.
Each photo spreads into unexpected shapes, ink
on the mind’s soft plane; unbidden attracts
lateral memories, questions; evokes thoughts.
How do we simply look? See the young man
in his natty suit, whistling as he makes his way
down a San Francisco street in the late Thirties?
Not think of the scruffy years, or regret the changes
along the Embarcadero half a century on.
Just see what lies within the frame?
Rothko took his own measures: expanding the canvas until
its size envelopes you, you are inside the moment.
The young man is moving toward you, Now.
High on St. Paul’s Mr. Eliot waited for fires,
or, better, nothing. No bombers. No ash on
an old man’s sleeve. While some years after
the Blitz, Vladimir and Estragon waited for Godot,
or anything. Once a craftsman with all the world still
to happen fashioned his expectation into a zebu with
lifted throat and a perky angle to the horns. It’s aeons
since youth and blood were warmer, and the day
was not enough; I’d fall asleep hoping for ‘a good dream.’
Was I Silaja’s age? Who last summer gave me “a cloth
for wrapping watermelons,” the smile on her dark face
a dazzling slice. In the tube today a guitar plucked wait, wait.
The dark at the edge of the box of light
is a relief. We don’t have to look, can focus on
John Hurt, who tentatively peers into the edge
of what isn’t there before returning to the yellow bulb
centre-stage. I think of the neighbour looking like
a bundle of rags in her chair; the night she spent
failing to get a leg into the second knicker-hole.
At 6 a.m. she gave up. “I’d shot my bolt.”
What tape would she choose? Krapp’s banana droops.
He rewinds. Listens. Despite the embarrassment
of life, of oneself, the crap under the light-bulb,
there are moments — they move him, move in him still.
i.m. la zia Maria
With la zia Maria it was all dark and light.
Poems. Mountain songs. The terrible story
of fleeing to the Dolomites... It was the war,
and only one twin in her arms when the bomb fell.
After an evening at Lincoln Center, thrilled with
the Chagalls, the chandeliers, the sparkle of it all,
she sat in the brown chair, hands dipping,
lifting, and her words too rose and fell in fountains.
Her death cast nets of silence. Until the day
old tunes put down long lines and brought up words
from the dark pool. I fished for phrases as I drove,
and whole songs came, and then the singing.
Table of related information
Copyright ©Margaret Wilmot, 2006
By the same author RSS
Date of publicationDecember 2006
Collection RSSA Hot January
How to add an image to this work

Besides sending your opinion about this work, you can add a photo (or more than one) to this page in three simple steps:

  1. Find a photo related with this text at Flickr and, there, add the following tag: (machine tag)

    To tag photos you must be a member of Flickr (don’t worry, the basic service is free).

    Choose photos taken by yourself or from The Commons. You may need special privileges to tag photos if they are not your own. If the photo wasn’t taken by you and it is not from The Commons, please ask permission to the author or check that the license authorizes this use.

  2. Once tagged, check that the new tag is publicly available (it may take some minutes) clicking the following link till your photo is shown: show photos ...

  3. Once your photo is shown, you can add it to this page:

Even though does not display the identity of the person who added a photo, this action is not anonymous (tags are linked to the user who added them at Flickr). reserves the right to remove inappropriate photos. If you find a photo that does not really illustrate the work or whose license does not allow its use, let us know.

If you added a photo (for example, testing this service) that is not really related with this work, you can remove it deleting the machine tag at Flickr (step 1). Verify that the removal is already public (step 2) and then press the button at step 3 to update this page. shows 10 photos per work maximum. Idea, design & development: Xavier Badosa (1995–2018)