‘There’s some good stuff on Youtube,’ someone writes.
The kettle’s heating; while I’m waiting,
I find the one he means. My lighter lights
At last. The thousands who have chosen
To watch the clip have given it a rating
Of 3.8. Not bad. The Square looks frozen,
Spread out before the grandiose railway station,
There seems no one about – sheer desolation;
Is no one travelling for New Year?
I see minute parked cars — the CCTV
Too far behind the vast Stalinist square
For figures to appear. I smoke and watch.
Nothing is happening in the bleak
Midwinter scene. I pour a warmth of Scotch
Into my coffee. Then, a tongue
of flame no larger than my lighter’s weak
flicker provides a welcome red among
the dreary greys and blacks of the dull clip
But it fades instantly. A stain
Of smoke smudges my screen, but as I sip
The scene returns to emptiness.
I stub my fag and click to play again.
Well, 3.8 seems high, I’d give it less.
I play it three or four more times, as though
The scene inside the station should
Have brought more than the nanosecond’s glow,
Even silent, and from far away.
The same drab coldness, though where people stood
In line, fur-hatted, muffled, waiting patiently
To have their bags checked, after the brief red
There are now bloody pieces of
Legs, hands, torsos, and a black widow’s head,
With New Year gifts intended for
Someone’s grandmother lonely in Rostov,
Another’s sickly aunt in Krasnodar,
And dolls and children’s puzzles for the train.
Hell, we have seen New Yorkers leap!
I need at least a glimpse of death and pain.
Hopeful, I watch the clip again.
In what was Stalingrad life is always cheap.
Eighteen this time. I stare out at the rain.
A Love Letter from Larkin
Dearest, while waiting for my cheese to melt
I think of you and listen to Bechet.
We seem to be less close. It’s all my fault.
The crocuses, your nice blue frock… I felt,
as you write, dear, we had a lovely day.
Recalling you, your marvellous legs, I melt.
I wonder is it true that ‘if the salt…?’
England fought back well by the close of play–
were you listening? That run-out! Compton’s fault.
Those swine have turned their wireless up. I’d bolt,
but where to? Maeve’s at the library,
I can’t go there. This blasted cheese won’t melt.
I’m just a clumsy oaf, a cowardly dolt
who would be helpless if you went away,
yet seem to feel less close. It’s all my fault.
Yes, I did like your red suspender belt.
I’m sorry you’re so down. What can I say?
How can I make things easier? Ah, the melt!
Do you feel we’re less close? It’s all my fault.
Although he is now renowned as a novelist, biographer and translator as well as a poet, D. M. Thomas wrote and published little else but poetry until he was forty, and has said that poetry has always been his ‘first love’. He has produced fifteen poetry collections, beginning with Two Voices in 1968, with his most recent being Mrs English and Other Women (2014). In addition he has published thirteen novels, of which the third, the highly acclaimed, Booker-shortlisted The White Hotel (1981), has been translated into over 30 languages. Thomas’s own translations of Russian poets including Pushkin and Akhmatova are themselves highly regarded, and his biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Orwell Prize for political writing in 1999. He has also written a stage play, Hell Fire Corner (2004).