Three Poems for Tony



The jester, happily fucked into being
against a mouldering siege-wagon of the last war
looks out now from his fortune’s tower on armies ready to march,
and laughs just as though he were a joke.
Ignoring the king’s summons,
he goes to the queen’s chamber,
opens the broken mirror, and walks down
into the hollow places of besiegement.
The passage rings his bells, the water takes his colours,
the casualties accumulate.
Our king plays chess. He plays it well. But till the scouts return
we won’t know what our enemy is playing.
Bishops of an unknown doctrine sidle through the haze.
Their point of failure was once like ours;
now they defend in depth, laugh at checkmate.
The board is swash-swish foreshore, a moist lip
where skin becomes interior and ocean.
There is life in the gradation
making no attempt to arrive,
lichen on the siege-wall,
questions kissed away,
pieces moving in the space between games.
What does a king want more than peace?
Once, the court bore motley fruit.
Gently fermented, the jester took a risk and gave the finger
to the apple of his eye,
who laughed.
And peace will come again.
Roads there are to follow yet
in sinuous accord.
Deep beneath the walls,
in passages he does not understand,
he looks for her.
He has lost much, but not his humour.
This war, he thinks, is a conversation between friends
who were never very good at talking.
He has deprived them of his wit,
she, of their formal certainties.
He smashes whisky bottles on the shelves of buried cellars,
plans how to make his treason trial ridiculous,
proposes toasts to ghosts,
and hopes his absence is well-used.


Say again?
I didn’t quite catch that.
Something about a spider trap.
There’s static on the line.
The train’s not moving.
Actually, the bridesmaids seem to have died.
But such a beautiful dress!
Layered silk translucencies,
White roses, river foam, one single diamond.
You must agree, my luck looks good.
According to the priest there’s dead twigs on the line
– but it’s a thrilling holiday, you know, engagement.
We saw one of the important monuments. Forget which.
It’s really a whale of a time.
My bride-to-be just took another step forward.
Behind the veil I do believe she’s smiling.
Another bridesmaid’s skeleton falls with a pretty clatter.
“The conductor is pleased to inform all passengers that the engine, which had run out of fuel, has now been completely exploded, and is only taken seriously by misguided labourers on the fringes of scholarship,
who have yet to receive the memos that hurtle toward them
like pieces of shrapnel
from an exploding engine.”
Something went past the window.
I didn’t quite catch it.
I think it had your face.
It doesn’t do to pay attention to all the details, old son,
because, well—what if one didn’t like them?
What would one do after that?
I find myself trying to remember the bridesmaids’ faces.
One of those bad ideas you get when you’ve been away too long.
I can’t be expected to keep track!
There were thousands of them. I’m only accurate
for two significant others: my darling bride and I and
You, who keeps on calling through the winter trees.
I find myself trying to remember your faces.
One of those bad ideas.


So many tried names found untrue.
No language vaults the world for Eden.
How does the worldly pulse in you?
Where is the thought you’re thinking?
Plucking may kill what biding tames:
a lifetime learns us Adam’s names.
Our English swims the river
that lips and mucks at comfort.
Body and word inherit
charges that dizzy the mind.
Lighthouse, homestead, angler?
Through the fog they shine,
And the words change sweet
or bitter on the tongue.
This pie’s dozen apples
were plucked long ago,
and all baked together.
From our mouths they fall,
the seeds of the sweet,
and no one ever knows
which tree is dreamed
and which tree grows.

Listen to Jack Larsen read ‘Three Poems for Tony: Poem Two’ 


Jack Larsen is a fantasy writer living and gardening in Wellington. His fiction has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and the anthology Monsters in the Garden. He and his grandfather have been exchanging poems for years: these are cuttings from that conversation.