This is a fine winter poem by Scottish poet Douglas Dunn, from his collection Northlight published (by Faber) in the late ’80s. I was reminded of it when I saw a copy in our local Oxfam bookshop last week, and reproduce it below.
His poems create a vivid sense of lived reality and are imbued with a generosity of spirit that awakens the heart and mind.
This is the sexiest poem in the collection and there’s a wonderful physicality about it; in the flickering candle light the two lovers exist in this moment of time – and outside of time, connecting past, present and future.
It reminds me of Candle Mambo, a gorgeous song by Captain Beefheart –
When I’m dancing with my love, the shadows flicker up above
Up above, the shadows do the Candle Mambo
If you don’t know it, check it out on your favourite listening source; well worth a detour.
On a more traditional note, there’s also a good poem (in Northlight) on that classic pastime of Christmases past at the family home: The jigsaw. Here, a couple of short extracts from Jig of the Week No.21:
Under optimum conditions – the room quiet
In fireglow, rain lashing on nocturnal glass –
I start an old American puzzle.
On junior versions of wet, wintry nights
Around Christmas, I tried to be patient.
A jigsaw on a white enamel tray
Encouraging pictorial wanderlust –
My father’s ear close to the wireless set’s
Hummed murmuring of Cold War ’49,
My mother sewing, my brother fast asleep.
Which just leaves me to wish you, dear Reader, a very happy Christmas.
May all your candles be lit, and your jigsaws complete.
Love-making by Candlelight
by Douglas Dunn
Skin looked like this two hundred years ago
When Candlelight lapped the erotic straw
In hilly farms where windowed candlefire
Burnished imperfect glass. Portending haws
Hung on the leafless bush, amazement’s bud
Red on the acres of nocturnal snow
As uplands rose to tufted winterlight,
In their celestial altitude
The eighteenth-century stars.
This is how it must be, shape-shifting fire’s
Impatient nudity and ours
On the big bed. A molten vividness
Dismantles gender and the way it move
Identifies a married venery
Timeless in the bedroom of the species –
A Pictish smile, a medieval kiss,
A whispered pre-industrial draught
On our contemporary bed.
Played on by fire, those clustered cornice grapes
Outwit their plaster: cornucopia’s vine,
Pompeian opulence, rumours
From far back, echoes of Florentine
Intrigue, Renaissance footsteps in the hall
Where gossips overhear indelible
Echoed courtships; and these Muscovian furs
Were linen until fire reshaped
Their transient destiny.
Hands dipped in light-and-shadow-cast
Ledas and satyrs on the bedroom wall.
A candleflame’s a silent chatterbox
And cinematic book: bestiary candle,
History candle, yellow metaphor,
Venereal fire. Open the curtains now
And add a star to what we do and say
Past midnight in our only country,
Our private anywhere.
Who else is looking at the Firth tonight
Drowsy with afterlove? Local Tristan,
Indigenous Iseult, and Dido sees
Aeneas in a navigation light.
Dog-collared Abelard walks Heloise
Among the gravestones, yews and cypresses.
An Orphic nightbird cries ‘Eurydice’ …
Love, touch my heart with who you are
And sleep, history, sleep.
Love-making by Candlelight by Douglas Dunn is from his collection Northlight published in the late 1980s.