The Digging

The Digging

I had the coloured tombs in mind,
The elegant parlours, barrel vaulted;
You did not have to dig so deep;
By mid-morning the spade had opened
A sunlit vault where the dead lay, smiling

Not even a king and his consort. A Captain
At most, then a Baker by the name
Of Smart-Ass; it was written
Bold in sepia on the wall of the vault.
Nameless lovers, they captured interest,

Because the artist had painted a musical
Instrument only. For animals a dish
Of water and a rib with meat on it
Were sufficient; children had their names
And dolls, quaint, with amiable features.


Now it is difficult. The graves go down
Deeper. The dead are tangled in a heap,
Scooped up and in and left to rot.
Waves of them come up with a stink,
Agony in the gaping rhomboid mouths,

Some with bedroom slippers on their feet.
So many, how to identify them? How
Insert into such a moist dissolution
The fizz of feeling what they felt?
How hard the spade treats their pit,

For the antique mass graves were no prettier;
Below bright multitudes there was only earth.
Herded by radio signals, decrepit codes,
And closing now the hoop, above the business,
Killers converge, dull as the dirt itself.


I dig and dig; still no rockbottom. Up
Through layers goes the life: the damned (select,
Graded along the lines of a belief system);
The purged; then the beautiful, sublime - ?
A breath rotates the stars? Up my street

The ordinary, the losers, and police patrols
Pull back, then squinny as through chinks
In a forest: there still might be a glade,
Filthy with condoms and broken bottles,
Where someone hangs out, punctured, with a cry

Claiming he's been abandoned. Who,
Who but a fool would lend him a hand?
He's a statistic, we have jiggered our symbols,
And blink unawed at the galaxy. The one wand
Deploys vacantly its many magic darts.


Love one another, they said, as if a say-so
On Dover Beach, or in Manhattan, shamed the cruel,
As if it purged away the myth or purging.

Words that taunt waken only the bad blood.

I should return with my spade to simple tombs.

from Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark (Enitharmon Press, 2000), copyright © Christopher Middleton 2000, used by permission of the author and the publisher.


Christopher Middleton

Christopher Middleton Reading from his Poems

1Heavy Dog Sees Fish

2The Diving Apprentices

3Something Vesperal

4Lucile/MA 632883


6Buffoon Voice in a Small Port

7A Bat, Less Familiar

8Charles Meryon

9The Moon from a Box of Lokum

10A Far Cry from Fear Island

11The Digging


13Cassis, October 23, 1999

14Of Paradise

15Sybaritic Elegy

16Elegy of the Flowing Touch

17A Ballad of Arthur Rimbaud


19The Fossil Fish

20Little William

Books by Christopher Middleton