Rain on the Roof (to James Schuyler)

Degrees of distance

Who all died at different dates, known to each other:
not just in the human race – united by five degrees
of distance we’re told, but friends known face-to-face
one day passing beyond contact, equal in regard.
One recalls, sitting in the garden under this
autumn sun laughing, how John in voluminous
overcoat pretended to inflate himself, on the Underground,
arching his back slowly till he almost floated off,
returning home on the last train. And what was Martin
doing one afternoon in bed, behind that frosted
glass door with his ‘county’ girl while I played Bach,
on a second-hand harmonium in the hall:
I pedalled, he played, 48 years ago in a basement.
Life is the locus of a point that moves from person to
person halting at grief or laughter. A life is
the locus of a point moving from place to place;
some doors opening easily, some slammed shut. Uneasy
geometries nobody gets taught, we all learnt
by heart, dreaming in October weather.


Rain on the roof

Now I’ve lit the stove, it’s begun to rain. You can hear,
impatient, its tapping on the roof – wanting to go
about its business in a hurry. Think how far it has
come, from the sky, straight down, each drop, unthinking
like a pebble that wants to go home, immediately:
an army of precipitate precipitates
falling down their cliff of air. My stove, I think,
will survive the stage of smoke to achieve
a goodly red, a fierce orange roar before dozing off
in a warmth it’s designed to share. “Life, it seems, explains
nothing about itself,” says James Schuyler’s Hymn to Life.
Life, I would say, had settled for persistence a
billion years, or so before our lot turned up
asking questions that could only ever have local
answers. What a destructive bunch we’ve proved to be,
burning our way through explanations faster than
forests – and just to keep warm. Ah! sun has come out;
sky clear. Unhesitatingly, an aircraft’s con trail
heads east-south-east. A high wind moves the whole shebang
steadily northwards, for no reason at all.


was born in Manchester in 1939, and his poetry has appeared in print since the 1960s. In 2010 Brimstone Press published his first collection, Through the Looking Glass.



February 2013

Interview with Wayne Koestenbaum


May 2011

Twelve Installations


March 2016