“Soy quien soy.
Una coincidencia no menos impensable
que cualquier otra.”

Wislawa Symborska

6 Nov 2021


Post by Rowena Hill

Read the SPANISH version


These are poems in English that have not been published (or published in ephemeral magazines), either because they are not well resolved or because they didn’t belong in my published books, and that – in spite of defects in many cases – I want to preserve, sometimes for sentimental reasons, sometimes for ideas they contain. They are more or less in chronological order.


Does anyone still live on the island?
There are no roofs and the trees seem to own it
There’s no mooring place.
It’s a long way to swim
Though desperate lovers might stretch
Across the willow grey water.
Is it their voices that rustle
Out of the stone arches
Crumbling supports of an old order?
Their language is softer than birdsong.
If we sit here quietly
Will we see them?
The stone remembers their shadows
And raises them to stand in front of us.
A silhouette holds out his hand
But when I try to grasp it
I touch only motes
In a bed of light.
Ranks are forming behind him
Blonde, time has not marked them,
They look at us with mild interest
Their tranquillity contains a menace –
Whatever their ground is
We are encroaching on it.

A dog yaps suddenly
Trapped in a lost configuration
Of the stones
And yaps again. We turn
The dry leaves lift in a wave
And the air opens
They flood out with raised swords
And grimaces engraved by centuries
Of pain and swallowed shame
And mouth insults at us.
We turn our backs on them.
No one is alive on the island.
We push off from the stony shore.
Someone tells a dream of dragons.
The sea is turning choppy.

Los Palos Grandes, E.M.

You stand on a street corner
and nothing much has changed
maybe more litter on the pavement
fewer magazines on the newsstand –
but you can hear underneath this almost oasis
the city’s heart falter
its pulse heavy and uneven
and you know that poison is burning in its veins
sores erupting on other streets and buildings
corrupt cipher sequences defacing walls
malignancy spreading in channels of power.
You try to believe in daylight
in the lightness of honest being
and its inviolability
but your own heart stutters in unison
and the creeping rot is ravaging you
from inside.

Viva la Revolución

The habit of decency,
the conviction that sharing is proper
vaguely understood as leftist,
indignation at unnecessary poverty
of your neighbours
stir you to hope for changes,
be willing to make sacrifices
and pardon excesses
and with each raucous claim
and ill-conceived demolition
of familiar workings
you stretch a little further
the limits of sympathy
pressing against the borders
of self-definition until
they implode leaving
a mess of throbbing heart fragments
all sense of order lost
matching perhaps the chaos
of the failed revolution.
Can the country ever
be put together again?
Can the heart’s owner
find freedom in brokenness?

Can I get down again
to the borderless ground sown
with swelling germs
raked by tremulous shadows
random stabbing lights?

– Press on the layered crusts
that cover it
desiccated flesh
ceded to inertia
resistant cracking splintered
fear and demand the fall.
Look at the knotted tree
against evening sky,
from the first rank of memories
seducing into nostalgia
fugue into myth into matter
of roots and sap.

Not a bad life
but I always wanted more,
privileged really
though I thought I’d missed out
on what was most important
and maybe I had.
A cloth was spread in front of me
of interwoven lives
tissue the colors of the humors
and the organs that generate them
web of rites and gestures
with common veins and arteries
the tapestry of life.
I was outside it
a loose stray thread.
Why have I been torn out of the fabric?
why am I not given a life?
I’ll force my way to a place in it.
For needle I chose a cock
to sew me into the pattern
but the stitches were loose
the pattern went crooked
and dropped me.
A whole series of needles I tried,
crewels, darning needles, bodkins,
I forced a cock to nail me
to the template.
The tool was inadequate.
Where I most desired
the cloth was seamless,
I was drawn briefly over the surface
a puff of color
even where it sagged
appearing to unravel,
my ride on the cock’s thrust
only threaded a few inches.


In memory
of what I can’t remember
unless terrors from my parents’ childhoods
filtered to my genes
like snakes that startled hens
stamped on their eggshells.

Words and pictures
for decades have haunted me
as if the losses were mine
as if I too had lost my lover
in the trenches and watched my world
turn a heap of broken images.

At Bristol port a long shed
held the horses the night before
they embarked to slaughter,
their hooves still clatter and bang
against stalls and doors.
Their iron shod hooves against timber
against stone
against the inside of my skull
kick against ghosts of the future.

On the Beach

We are exiled from homelands
we never lived, patterns
in the web of our senses,
nanocode reviving
as the light turns
over earthscapes.
The day’s loud surface
and its thoughts peel back
and eyes go timeless
on the swaying water.
A boat’s prow fits the stillness
and the tiny figures standing
against the wind
have always been there.

Emily D. on the Beach

There’s a potent sphere of light
on island afternoons –|
that subjects us like a net
of chant in overtones.

Walking at its fringes –
it boils the waves –
it prods with cruel fingers
like the hand that saves.

Our eyes are not its equals –
we cannot seek its core –
and yet it pulls our vision
inside and far.

It dissolves our memories
in a lagoon of fire –
more than night it tells us
of the final pyre.


Love gushes easily
for a furry puppy –
warm curls sprout into
the space around the heart.

Less winsome pets

– a toad or baby shark

or even the runt of the litter –

provoke a harsher foliage

of rough hide, or thorns,

but it’s still love.

Its sprouts pierce,

we squirm and imagine cruelty.

I take birds from the cat

– feathers quivering inside me,

faith plummeting like Icarus – but I let her play with lizards.


Who am I to inherit
a past life essence,
a plan worth carrying on?
I’m no one, null at the core,
a hollow nutshell bouncing
on the cosmic current.
Too many bad deaths
loose viruses into earth’s field;
they seep through the entropic clutter
sending image packets
to avid brain stations.
I catch some Chinese fragments,
you clutch Etruscan jewels,
someone swells into godhood.
It’s all fiction.


He went shopping
with his starving refugee’s face,
with the secret flower, the colostomy
under the clothes flapping
on the armature of his limbs.
Red roses he wanted
for his love’s birthday;
they sold him the jaded ones
with worm-eaten petals
and bruises for hearts.


Have they always been there,
the clumps of live cells that eat stone
or poison, in ice or boiling water,
the ghostly crabs at toxic vents?
Do they teach us how life arose
on the still simmering planet
and the possible shapes of it
in the cold wastes of space –
or have they popped up just now
to answer our need for metaphors
of unlikely survival?

Over the edge

Nothing is innocent.
Start with the stones,
congealed shouts out of earth’s
dreadful furnace,
straight to a boy’s hand.
Look at creepers
dripping with poison,
death ten times over
to their enemies,
deadly too on arrow tips;
and big cats’ fangs
teaching how blood
spurts from gashes,
models for obsidian knives
and daggers.

Nothing is innocent
except in the eyes of love,
that should be our eyes,
that read necessity
and praise beauty.
But we have chosen to be blind,
we allow no limits,
we have cracked the secrets
of fire and flesh
and corrupted their essence.
Thousands of tons of bombs
poised against children,
let go now –
awesome means brain dead,
freedom, having no legs.

Earth itself is ashamed,
loses faith and shrivels
in its still heart like a fruit
withered and rotted,
under its cartoon surface.

The Animals Protest

I’m the animals’ mouthpiece,
I speak for bulls, mice, elephants,
rhinoceroses, tigers, all,
eclipsing their differences.
The earth is mine,
yours too,
respect my presence.
Give me space.
I live my own beauty
more rounded than yours,
don’t make a show of me
in circuses and zoos,
don’t think you possess me.
We dogs have a special plea,
so much and irrevocably
we depend on you.
Don’t make us ridiculous
with clothes and trinkets.
We don’t want barbers.
Eat me if you’re hungry- I respect the carnivorous law –
but give me a dignified death
not the bloody terror
of industrial abattoirs
Not hunted for sport.
I can work with you
I can lend you my hooves trunk back
in friendship if you wish it,
I can share affection,
but deep inside me
are forests and plains
I wander in sovereign freedom
where I have my pacts with night
and the light clothes me.

I wake from a café in Florence
still hear cups rattling
or a London bookshop stuffed
with novels I want to read
invitations to debates on issues
that have determined my life.
Nostalgia colors the day,
I start to calculate the cost
of a journey, a year’s stay,
the hole it would make in savings
that have to last till my funeral –
but I won’t be leaving.
Below dream, nostalgia and engraved memories
is animal grasp of place
live coals of connectedness
leaf to eye to heart
dogs’ coats womb lining
rain falling on parched nerves.

Villa Ranchetti

Below, beyond, inside,
in an uncountable sphere,
not unreachable – the senses
alert at a mountain precipice
or crocodile-infested shore
can clear the way there –
below guilt and chances wasted,
dissolving present desire,
pervasive like taste or smell,
is a place, the first place, the floor
stretching all ways to shadowed infinity,
Plants can grow there, pillars stand,
gestures become hieratic.

Tonight time’s folds have opened,
cypresses and olives stand in a dark clarity,
the hillside slopes beautifully
as it did when I was young, but my youth
is now and my old age and always
and the night space is timeless,
If I could speak, if I could say
something true, it would have the seal
of Lucifer and Shiva,
sowers of seeds of light
in fertile darkness.


The beginning is light,
light engenders its packets
from sun to brain cell,
elongates into music.
Light take your sparkling blades
harden and hone them
crack and riddle inert materials
congealed waste,
explode worn synapses,
new worlds will sprout.

Space is the empty surround
we fall into
where fingers stretch
and eyes expand
to furthest stars

Air invisible ally
known to skin from caress
or buffet
incomer for continuity
base of alchemy
carries meaning outside
roar whimper
manifold voice

Life is flow,
blood is tow ripple seam
urgency in veins and arteries,
great rivers and raindrops answer thirst.

Irrigate me!
I am my own drought
my own well.

Fire is remote memory
buried in the gut

– its descendants work there –
or scars on faith from burning forest.
We are salamanders only in metaphor.
And the sun?
My god I bow to you.

Earth is debris is excreta
offspring down many generations
of rock which is born of fire
it smolders black yellow blood brown
inviting seeds, food for seeds,
earthworms exchange substance with it.
Flesh is the earth of me
elements in a casual structure
bulging and tactile
aching where its time runs down
to decompose into humus.


Purpose incarnating
one minute tadpole
slippery in slime
elected survivor.

Curled swimmer
feinting frail organs
for a lifetime in water
did fear of drowning make you
a shape of god?

Scrawny bird in a space
too tight for wings
the will to fly
infused your cells
still sprouts in dreams

A snout and paws
the stub or more of a tail
a disturbing ‘almost’;
we remember running, seeking,
where does our difference begin?
Does it seep in the womb
or explode in the first cry
when light devastates?

for Manuel

If I could I’d give you
wings to soar above
the sewer draining your life
or a snout and trotters to wallow happily,

but I’m not a witch and you stay a man.

for LLL

Louise became
a solitary bird or snake –
both suit her thinness
the sharp angles of her face
and words.
From the lonely sky she pulls sparks
from the burrowed earth edible clods
and fuses them in poems.


Faustus in the Jungle, I

Faust in his laboratory in the jungle
after centuries of attempts
to capture the origin of life
believes he has spied an embryo.
In the crucible loaded with flowers
and rare colored stones
shiny transparent balls are swelling
with a crimson germ inside.
In ecstasy Faustus pokes a bead,
the greasy case dissolves,
on contact with the angry red grain
the broth darkens, turns to ash.
Germs jump into the surroundings,
the trees wither in line,
birds drop dead from the air,
Faustus shrinks and stifles.

Gender Equality

Here comes Death!
He’s not wearing his warning blazer
and his hands are muddy.
He’s picked up his old tool
the scythe to increase the span
of his fell swoops
and he’ll slip behind your mask
before you see him.

Here comes Death!
Her skirts are torn and sagging
and incubate the virus in their creases,
her pouting mouth kisses
from a distance and stops your breath.
She has no time to flirt
or offer her bosom.

Here comes Death!
Its locust eyes are squinting
at the multitudes ripe for taking
and it throbs on streets or beaches
not even eager or pleased
but sucking up regardless
the careless stricken.

The Angel

Gaia sent me
the one with tattered wings
and deteriorating eyesight
in hopes you’ll recognize what you’re doing
to her, to me, to yourselves.
Mostly features were in their place –
long legs, short legs, fur, hair and bald
suckers, fangs and stings,
the whole array of colors
visible or not to you,
the smallest beings
the ones between life and inertia
contained in their viral infinity.
You upset it all.
The giraffe’s long neck, the pangolin’s scales
arouse only your cupidity
and trees your penis envy.
Slash slash and swallow where possible.
Avenging vermin crawl out from little holes
in Gaia’s skin, poisons leak.
But I’m still an angel.
Through me, my pulsating core
you can enter the cleansing fire,
bless the beauty of living things,
rise in love to your proper demolition.


A kitten’s translucent paws,
crocus shoots piercing bare earth,
a child’s first stumbling steps
(not that I threaten them –
I almost threaten them
with my vision of their potential
accuse us of waste
the possible probable horrible
waste of so much
that wants to grow.
Is that our fate –
the severing of our thrust to unfold,
all of us, this earth –
are we our own plague?


Stand beside a tree,
plant your feet in the earth
and see your toes stretch into roots
the nails into crystals.
Now your body is a trunk
it pushes upward ramifying
and shaking out millions of leaves.
You are green
and your crown has pierced the sky.
Because you’re a maker now
the light beyond light
receives you.


Before evolution
before the big bang
the light that sees
that makes the stuff to see.
If we don’t see
if we spoil the stuff
it will be local loss.
There is elsewhere.
Peace, there is elsewhere.

I Object

I don’t want beyond or elsewhere.
I want this particular messy
experiment with all its traps
and its struggling creatures –
earthquakes and viruses
dust storms and tidal waves
darkness and light
snails octopuses parrots
hippopotamuses roosters
and homo sapiens in subways
potato fields think tanks.
It’s a pity we’re greedy and stupid
enough to let loose
to devour us the strains
that Gaia held in balance.
The stupid should be saved too
(maybe not all of them).
I must learn love beyond loss
and beyond the fear of loss
but what good would that be
if I love my attachment.


The evening is grey,
a guan’s fractured cry,
an ambulance siren
receding in the street below
mask and expose the emptiness
behind expectation.
Rancor can’t fill that space,
grief floods in.


What happens when evolution
Will we return to gibbering

– what’s left of us –
in gardens gone to seed
climb further down the tree
and slink on all fours
baring our fangs,
take to the sea again
or sink into the soil
blind olms in caves?
Or will we melt into our screens,
become computer brains?
Would that be better?


If there are new eyes
whoever they belong to
may walk on a lakeshore
across a sandy plain
and see that rocks and pebbles
look back with faces
inherited from the unborn
of the human promise.

Faustus in the Jungle, II

Faust in his laboratory in the jungle
after centuries of attempts
to capture the origin of life
despairs and performs a parody.
He fills the crucible with manure
and a few tongues of bats
some poisonous thorns
and drops of his own sweat.
Boiling it throws up a bubble
with a cocoon inside,
maybe a chick, that swells
and bursts the sphere.
A winged figure rises
blazing into the sky
leaving a golden trail
of possibilities.

I’m terminal.
I don’t know how much time I have
before the lights go out,
if the light belongs to me.
Maybe I’ll dissolve and the light will stay
pushing among the molecules in my brain
till it gets free and transfers
to an angel’s wings
or a ring of Jupiter.
I can’t move my head.
let’s say I’m enlightened and my awareness
is equal to the implicate order.
Bees come in and out buzzing
fracturing the spectrum of light on their wings
for a moment and returning
to the hive implicate
in the universal geometry.
Birds fly past
on the impetus of generation
and return to their nests in invisible
intangible potential.
Sounds are easier to place,
either they are or they aren’t
or are they always
eternal in my ears and in the cosmos.
If I turn my gaze inward
a multitude of figures emerges
among the synapses in my brain,
they appear and vanish in the shadow

– systole and diastole.
Memory expands like the sea
sweeping away the bounds of my paralysis,
I recognize living and dead
conspiring and telling their stories.
They’ll return to night but now
they’re telling their stories.

My life summarized
(in a decomposing world)
I looked for wholeness
and life denied it.
I was torn out of my place of origin.
I grew an incomplete family.
No love fit me.
I wanted to found a fertile reign
and the river understood me
but humans undermined it.
I took to traveling
collecting illuminated moments
sparks of immense wholes
lost now.
The world is strangled by a web
of vacuous communications
frozen ideas
and obsessive interests.
I’m old.
What’s left me is tiredness
and the fragments of light
in my senses
and the suspicion that the only wholeness
is the all and the chance to glimpse
how all is lived by life
how among all the hindrances I
have been and am lived by life
one and whole.

Dama de noche

Last night I missed the epiphyllum blooming
I didn’t see the white wings of petals opening
or the poised dancers completed
or the stamens lying vibrant in their caves
nor smell the invitation to deliquesce.
I watched three flowers swelling up to the last day
I knew they were going to open
and in the evening I forgot.
I betrayed them
I betrayed myself
my senile memory let me down.
I try to console myself with today’s apparitions
the little fresh copper leaves of the mahogany
the wild turkey preening high in the cedar
but the hollow absence is still tearing at me
and suddenly I know, this is death
this is not being here while life goes on
and the queen of the night flowers without me.


The life of rocks, the life of grass,
the life of dogs with good homes
carries on unchanged.
People – some people – still dance at weekends
celebrate births and deaths
share errands with their friends.
But even to that daily level
the rot of corruption seeps down,
tempers become edgy,
obstacles offend,
nonbelief screens the sight
of mountains.
Children go to bed hungry
and the frontiers are bursting
with the deprived.
I remember the body of my friend
corroding slowly under the dominion
of a vicious disease.
She celebrated food and laughter while
her organs were besieged by a caul
of damaged cells until the rot penetrated
too far and the fabric of her collapsed
through the boundary inside.

Nevern Churchyard

Our scattered lives
reach from their distances
toward the ancient yews
and hallowed earth

where our ancestors’ bones
retain the seals of births
deflowerings, last throes
great and small accidents

solaced by the bells.
Their peal renewed
summons us still
to share that peace.

Read the SPANISH version



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