Sprague’s Poems I


All poems © Richard Jonathan 2017. All rights reserved.

Paul Klee, Highways and By-ways, 1929

What I Want to Know


Marietta, can you hear me?
I am here, in the eye of the storm.
Listen, there’s something I need to know.

If, when your breast heaves gently in your sleep
And the intricate elaborations of the day unravel,
A wandering albatross were to fly into your dreams and say,
‘Throw your arms around me; I’ll show you the Southern Ocean,
The frozen world from which I come’,
Would you, as you looked into his eyes, recognize me?

And if you did climb onto his back
And throw your arms around his neck,
Would you take fright,
As you glide on the updrafts of wind over waves,
At the steep drop in temperature?
Would you then wake up with relief
To the warmth of your familiar world,
Or would you hold on even tighter to his pliant body,
Trusting the warmth of his heart to heat you
As you head into Antarctica?

And if, as the wind whips the sea into a frenzy,
He were to say to you, ‘I am tired of being a stranger’,
Would you panic and wake up in a cold sweat?
And if he added, as you make for the midnight sun,
‘I may be feral and hollowed out by homelessness
But between your legs I would find a plenitude of being’,
Would you let him lie there and become human?

For if he can soar for hours without a wingbeat,
Spend most of his life without touching land,
He’d rather be a man, not an albatross.

So would you smear his breast with your blood,
Anoint his eyelids with your spittle
And burnish his wings with your cunt’s secretions?
Would you squat and piss before him,
Whip him with your hair,
And dry your fevered brow in his effulgent feathers?
And when winter brings a transparent trickle to your nostrils,
Would you scatter drops of that warm drip into his silky down?

As his shadow glides over the ice and snow,
As your breast rises and falls on your breathing,
That is what I want to know.

Will You Be My Singer?


Cars go by along the quais, souls lost and found:
And where do we fit in, in this merry-go-round?

There’s a hunger in my heart, a stirring in my crotch:
If my mind had windows, would you dare to watch?

I touch your hand, I caress your finger:
I want to be your song—will you be my singer?

Broken Cup


Paris is too bright for the night to be blue
But I am blue when I think of you:
Through the pale air of the passageway
I make my way to the rue des Francs-Bourgeois.
What am I looking for?

A way to behold your beauty
Without a premonition of terror;
A way to erase from my heart
The inscription of my history.

Le Voltigeur bids me drink from its broken cup.
Marietta, in my vineyard a few stalks survived
The summer blight and autumn frost:
I have plucked those grapes and pressed them:
Will you drink from my cup?

Throughout my suffocation
I continued to gasp;
Enveloped in darkness,
I never stopped seeking the light.

I know that a lover needs better credentials,
I know I am damaged goods,
But with what’s been done to me I’ve tried—
And I’ll never stop trying—to do something good:
Would you, could you, let me love you?

Home is Where the Heart Is


Helvetians, Gauls and Romans,
Vandals and Franks,
Conspired to create you, Marietta.

Your roots run deep,
Very deep: Have I any chance
Of sweeping you off your feet?

I have no roots,
I am a nomad; my genealogy
Is a mystery to me.

But watch out, woman!
Home is where the heart is,
And my heart is set on you!

I’m Not Innocent


I’m not innocent.
I know sex is not a natural act.
I know natural acts are not human.

I’m not innocent.
I know only the possessed can be dispossessed.
I know only the dispossessed achieve self-possession.

I’m not innocent.
I know only outlaws have to be honest.
I know the law-abiding can cheat with impunity.

I’m not innocent.
I know where to fetch a pail of water.
I know Dame Dob, her vinegar and brown paper.

I’m not innocent.
I’m neither shining knight nor big bad wolf.
But for you I’ll wear armour, I’ll howl at the moon.

Tenderness and Starlight


Tenderness and starlight go well together,
As do distance and stars;
Memory and ruins go well together,
As do forgetfulness and floods.

I remember the flood, the abortion
That was my birth. I tend to forget
The ruins. I remember distances,
But tend to forget the stars.

Am I the frog in your velvet drawer, Marietta,
Or am I your dog? Am I your prince-to-be,
Or your hound from hell?
Tell me, just what are you doing with me?

I will be what you want me to be,
Frog prince or hellhound;
However vast the night in your eyes,
I will fill it with light from mine.

Stars Don’t Cry Scandal


Stars don’t cry scandal:
At the approach of the Bright One,
They willingly efface themselves.

Petals don’t cling to the rose:
To primeval matter they revert
When the last bee leaves.

Rivers don’t suddenly reverse:
At a wave from the nether world,
They rush to their rebirth.

So why, Marietta, when chaos
Comes for your spirit,
Do you refuse to surrender it?

Under a Harvest Moon


Under a harvest moon
Grapes hang heavy on the vine
As the clusters distil their immortality
May night filter pleasure through your spine

Under winter skies
Saxifrage sleeps under snow
As the day relieves the night
May happiness set your heart aglow

Under a vernal sun
Bluebells spread across the forest floor
Before the canopy closes
May their glory come to your door

Under summer stars
The sand gives back the day’s heat
As the sea breeze teases your hair
May the waves lay my love at your feet

A Mourner at My Own Wake


Precious one, today is your birthday
And I am all undone. Why can’t I accept
That without you my dwelling place
Is the rain, the stars and the river,
And the wide open spaces the wind
Blows through? You gave me all your love,
You filled my spine with memories: True.
But ever since you left me
I’ve been living unsheltered, defenceless
Against the wind that blows
Your absence through my bones.

How long can this missing you go on?
If no other lover
Can make up for your being gone,
Neither can my scribbling.

Because I know I will never take shelter,
I know it will never end. Because I know
Your memory keeps me alive, I know
I am condemned. To what?

To missing you till my bones ache,
To being a mourner at my own wake.

Juniper in Gin


Transparent as your absence
Juniper in gin
I am steeped in sadness
Emptiness within

Nothing is the sum
Of all things without you
Hollow and numb
I can’t forget you

That I May


My love, I am an African daisy.
My head is red and my heart is dark,
But my leaves are felted and silvery-green:
Touch me, that I may give you my tenderness.

Dearest, I am a saxifrage, a rock-breaker.
My stems are red and my leaves dark green,
My flowers are soft plumes of salmon-pink:
Touch me, that I may give you my tenderness.

Precious one, I am an upright, bulbous perennial.
My leaves are grass-like and ornamentally insignificant,
But my flowers are starry, deep-blue spires:
Touch me, that I may give you my tenderness.

Mara Marietta