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Poems

Round and Round
John Fuller

An excerpt from Round and Round, a poem by John Fuller, published in Oxford Poetry X.3, and his first large-scale poem to be written since the collection Stars and Fires, which won the Forward Prize 1995. Round and Round is a memoir of the poet's marriage, to Prue Fuller, set on a walk and a climb up a Welsh hillside at midnight on New Year's Eve: in this beautiful passage, the lovers meet. The enigmatic 'Moyakeska' is the Fullers' Russian cat.


3

Now from the confident perspective
Of almost forty years I look
Back in a mood that's part reflective,
Part quizzical, as in a book
Of photographs that someone took
For fun but somehow never showed me.
This is the view that memory owed me.

First I remember a green room
With sloping floor, and balcony
From which I heard the tower's boom
And timely cadence quarterly
Issuing with authority
And lifted melancholy tone
Out of that faceless clock of stone.

You in your duffle coat as grey
As frost, and cheek almost as cold,
I with my heart in disarray:
These searching moments are soon told
Although they last for ever, old
In telling and for what they mean
To those who acted in the scene.

I thought you as possessed of your
Own life as music is that eats
The air up like a meteor
And fills it with pure sound, repeats
And varies its effects with feats
Of effortless involved refrain,
And then is silent once again.

Those bells were soon eclipsed and you
Were quiet and hidden in your hair
From which your thinking eyes looked through
At mine that wished to join you there,
As in a private garden where
Concentric paths are unexplored
And wandering is its own reward.

Touch has no equal eloquence,
For sight is dumb with what it sees
And yet in touch each other sense
Learns soon enough that they may please
By serving it, as indices
Of its long-undisputed worth,
As doctors that must give it birth.

That coat! Inestimable garment,
Whose pockets held your hands before
I dared to, fearing my disbarment:
It was the grey of stone, and more--
The grey of thinking deeply or
Of pilgrimage or, I suppose,
The grey of Moyakeska's nose.

Half-open, it was like a book
Recording everything that we'd
Not yet begun to do. I took
Its pages and began to read
And found my future there indeed
In all that it so plainly clothed,
To which I surely was betrothed.

Lips shape passion's signifiers
With breath that is their subject; lips
When doing this are never liars
For their attentiveness equips
The journeys of relationships
With words to climb down precipices
And rations of long-lasting kisses.

To live by words and not to know
Their force! To struggle in the dumb
Undifferentiated flow
Of feelings, like the martyrdom
Of screaming in a vacuum
With someone smiling very near
And very dear, who cannot hear.

Bad dreams indeed. We misbehave
Out of mere weakness, failing still
To speak the only words that save,
Learning to live without our will,
Finding no projects to fulfil,
No moment when a certain vision
Lights up our firmly-made decision.

So, like a music that enlarges
Towards an ending it will greet
Without resentment, life discharges
The obligations it must meet
To be in the fullest sense complete:
This is its grandeur and its debt,
A gift that saves us from regret.

So we set out, if not with patience
Then with a certain certainty
That lent those various occasions
When I or you took you or me
In careless relativity
Too much for granted, a sad sense
Of criminal incompetence.

How easy, this ability
To lose whatever we possess
By ceasing to believe that we
Deserve such brilliant success.
We challenge it, we re-assess
The circumstances that gave rise
To being given such a prize.

And then we throw it all away
Simply by wanting something new,
Something that's different, we say,
But nothing different will do.
The vision doesn't stop being true
For passing into legend, nor
Can meaning live outside the law.

The music that we played exchanged
My kind of lyric line with yours.
Your taste in vocalising ranged
From Bizet's absolute amours
To Greco's or Charles Aznavour's;
I liked the grunting of Stan Getz,
Or Shostakovitch's quartets.

Sibelius's Violin
Concerto was our haunting ground:
Beneath the violinist's chin
As the LP went crackling round
An icy and exquisite sound
Was slowly launched. On that first movement
I could imagine no improvement.

It was as music is, not source
But symbol of a new emotion
Which, even as it took its course
Excitedly upon an ocean
Of high adventure and devotion,
Was reckless of geography
Or navigation, you or me.

Sitting with biscuits on the rug,
I needed to be more than guest.
The coffee in your Spanish mug
Cooled as the double-stops suppressed
All talk, all casual interest
In what the two of us were saying
Before the music started playing.

Drifting, I had run aground.
Caught in your arms I was released.
Lost in your aura, I was found.
Your West fulfilled my searching East,
My spirit and my sacred beast,
My moon, my many and my one,
My conscience and my sense of fun.

Such rooms, all rooms, where we can be
Ourselves, together or alone,
Are like our life itself that we
Inhabit and can call our own,
Free space to which we've slowly grown,
A private exhibition for
Ourselves, but with an open door.