Poem introduction

This poem is called 'Pilot Light', and I'm thinking of the image of the Virgin as Star of the Sea which guides sailors on a dark night, but it begins with the image of sex as a kind of cowboy bare-back show, and it ends with the image from Homer of Odysseus in the sea washed up exhausted on the beach.

Pilot Light

Palomino country. The midnight rodeo.
Then, "I've got to get back." But his sleep
Was sea-rattle and sigh
On a round-pebbled beach
And she was his hold on the sand
Underneath. "Wake him up. Make him go."
But each fold and pore of his cheek
In the wash of the lamp, eyelashes at rest

Where there'd be a dash of cleavage if
She wasn't on her back, his trust, weight,
Odysseus exhaustion, said no -
Give us three minutes more. Till she
Was sleep too: weed-swirl, out of depth,
At one with the sea of his breath.

from Voodoo Shop (Chatto, 2002), copyright © Ruth Padel 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher


Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel Reading from her Poems

1Writing to Onegin



4Mary's Elephant, Elizabeth's Spinet

5Icicles Round A Tree in Dumfriesshire

6The Pazyrak Nomad

7Shaping Up

8Pharaoh's Cup

9Indian Princess Picks Lover Out From Gods

10Pilot Light

11The Soho Leopard

12The Stone That Flows

13The Appointment

14The Red-Gold Border