after Don Quixote
“I was born free, and to live free
I chose the solitude of the countryside.
The trees of these mountains are my company,
the clear waters of these streams are my mirrors;
and to the trees and waters I reveal my beauty.”
You chose this, this loneliness
and green immersion, these swaying, emerald lanes.
So don’t regret the city with its glowing rooms
and laughing boys, don’t regret its loss
when you chose – mornings drinking coffee
from a flask in this clearing by the woods,
all staved round with saplings’ slender barres;
or down by the heron-haunted river,
its summer shallows spangled with wet, white flowers.
You chose these trees, so keep to them still,
though the leaves are fallen and turning back to soil –
look how the earthworms lover them to bed.
Summer’s foxgloves are gone to seed
and spent, their brown whips friable and singed,
rows of empty sockets rustling in the wind.
You made your choice, now keep to it.
Don’t you want the river now its ordinary, unlit,
too rough to swim, now there’s no quick flame
of kingfisher burning turquoise up its spine?
Will you love me in my marked and heavy flesh,
unkempt, unshaved, wrung-out, grey, obsessed,
elsewhere with words, turned inward from the world,
will you still hold me, am I still your lovely girl?
Beauty fails. Here’s the aftermath –
Autumn’s slump, all the berries summer
left on the thorn shrivelled, and grown
a fur pelisse like tiny mice;
under the hedge, that smell of rot and shit.
You chose this. Every walk is damp and slick.
And yes, there will be frost, its crisp white hoar’s
bright diamond; but first, mucky skies
the sulks, the year’s downturn as winter shuts
like a trap, its narrow light, and you are caught
by sadness. What would you do, would you fly
with the swallows, summer’s Bedouins,
moving their tents between the constellations?
Get on your knees. Remember that you chose.
Search in the dirt for one small thing:
A scabbed and jewelled mould, or yellow snail,
its horns tender as mushroom caps,
its shell tilting gold like a buttercup
as it oozes along a rotting stalk –
even its slime is luminous.
Redeem the day, because you chose this,
the forest and the solitude, the river
with its doped-up banks of balsam
and the constant squabble of the goldfinch charm
feasting in the thistles, the dock, the nettles,
you chose all this, you chose to immerse yourself
in green, to go where people rarely come,
its yours, you rich and shivering hedge-tramp, Queen.