We’re all perfect

Issue 4/1990 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Laki  (‘The law’, 1990)

The Law

No one’s stupid – there are
people deprived of the wise,
and those with self-respect
knocked flat. No one’s
hardened – there are people with
calloused wounds.
No one’s blind – there are
people cataracted by custom. Be different:
heal wounds and look up – wake
your dear one in mid-sleep, hug her.
(We’re all perfect.)

Grab Hold of Joy

The ocean is in motion: its moon-and-sun-motions
mark earth-time, moment-by-moment
vertical time.
Fish are in motion: they grow in the ocean,
sicken, expire, swim horizontally onward,
towards the death-mouth.

The sky is motionless, interminable:
the sea, for us, is merely a sport
and the fish a gurgling laugh.


Hearing rumour of a break-out, they leak it
to the warders: it’s not malice or treachery –
it’s the only way to share in
the break-out (to get away):

this, precisely, is how
they report their yearnings, and I mine.

Icarus has to fall – or the flight’s not real:
Daedalus begot birds.

We let everything out, open our hearts and words, because
we’re under lock and key.

Escape Schemes

Maniacs! And the fault’s mine – I should have been
more choosy, but what to choose from? – people have no idea
what trafficking in your soul means; the law grows
fast as grass, denser than reeds: subsumes everything.
These are my fellow-fugitives: That one whoopees to the warders,
‘We’re on our way out!’ This one shows the governor
his broken bars, demanding thanks for the quality of the work.

This is my only hope: Soon, soon the whole staff’ll rate us
so daft we’ll manage to escape through sheer lunacy.

No Resistance to Evil

Don’t resist evil: people, in some degree, are like
the rains and the rivers, and when you’re dammed, evil rises
in your eyes and ears and overflows. Rather;
resist good.
For; lose to evil, and you’ll be evil’s servants,
conquer evil, and you’ll be crowned kings and queens of evil.
It’s better; isn’t it, for good to bend your pride –
and you become the lords and ladies of good?

(The trees fear neither light nor dark – merely
humble themselves in dark and protrude a root;
and in the light they shout:
‘I’m growing!’)

The Dalai Lama

People procreate with their heads,
inseminate with their spines;
the temple-bones open their gates, the child
spurts from a hole in the neck, and for toys
passion enlists the body’s other orifices. A child
gets born but very little notice and never
manages to reach full height.

It’s different on the roof of the world;
in the mountains shrieking women
bring forth gods.

You Can Only Bare the Body

You mustn’t think apples grow
in the shop drawer or believe lavatories
and dustbins line the world’s edges. The body’s no
dreamer; though it walks in sewers and gardens –
it sees the mix of life and death
in strange laboratories.

If the flesh says love, whose name we swear by,
is merely God’s half-smile, if it shouts that work, what
we call work here, is the mere play of words mating and
combating in the air, believe it, for it sits in shame
and darkness: half imagination, half memory we’re
totally denied.

If the body asks about frontiers and kingdoms, trust it;
what comes to us as dream is the kingdom of the flesh.
We do bare our feelings and the secrets of our thoughts, but
who would bare this fugitive fatality, who
would bare the whole of his body?


There’s nothing profane here – they’re bound in one,
and though I see that only when the spirit’s
abandoned the body is the body beautiful
(face of a sleeping child), and though my wisdom tells me
the spirit hosannas when out of its close confinement,
I can’t defy this alliance.

Ah, if only they didn’t seek such tight rings, ah
if only they didn’t knit this knot so tight,
since here I have to live, and sans this human form
the world is totally dead. Only in this League
can the spirit sink under Time, the flesh tum eternal –

and when they chime together
it’s more than the spirit’s hosannas at parole from prison
and more than the flesh’s jubilation
at cremation.

The Perfect Child and the Perfect Family

The woman takes a man for protection and childbearing;
the child makes her a mother, and, if a boy, she takes
him as her man and tearfully sends him to war. Behold:
the family.

The man takes a woman and builds her a nest
for childbearing, and if it’s a boy, takes him
to continue his work, as if the lad
were the bearer of his sins. Behold: the family.

Imagine me, imagine me born here,
try to look at me, betrayer of my father’s and mother’s every
dream, the whole world, and purely I; mocker of works
and creeds, shamer of home and family – look at one
of whom you say: ‘That’s something we’d never have wanted,
believed possible, or ever imagined:
this is someone who’s his own self.’

The Sirens Sing

The birds’ shrieking in the sprin, with spring’s hand
in their throats, is pure wild desire, and so is the wonderful
clean beauty of the angels. Like singing and shouting is the
Body’s form: wonderful, emotionless, mindless.

When this song peals beyond the seas, we sailors are sure:
the world’s edge is here, where the mighty waters cascade
into void –
I’ve explained this song and these body lineaments
(I want You, the other angels aren’t enough,
you’re the fathomless grief of my fantasies):
I want you! I want you!

The Beloved’s Face

Because the greatest of these is love,
and because these are the features of love,
they’ll never burn, though the frame burns:
never, through misdoing, amnesia, or mortality,
can you slash or foul this face –

its birth in you means utter forgiveness:
wipe out the world, it will remain.

It was born like a diamond
the earth-mother bore. The house will burn
but not burn this: your void life
slips off, but this face
is never effaced.


A rose thinks four thoughts and always lives in them: This is
seed, this is root, this is thorn, and this is flower. It never
renounces the other thoughts for the sake of one – but man’s
only thought is flowering.

We are asleep. A writer’s ability to depict the sleep shows the
depth of our sleep. When Kafka creates a colossus of sleep, we
swear to each other that he’s shut in a solitary-confinement
cell. Nothing is more painful than to imagine someone getting
out of here and therefore seeing everything in fine detail.

The drunkard can’t drink, the lover can’t love, the poet can’t
poetise, the teacher can’t teach, the doctor can’t doctor, the
nurse can’t nurse: first one has to become human: a criminal, a
criminal breaking stones in a labour camp.

Where was I supposed to be going, asks the unhappy taxidriver.
The fare’s asleep, and the driver doesn’t dare wake him. He’s
so afraid of the judgement in the morning (‘you’ve not driven
anywhere, where in hell are we?’) that he kills the fare in his

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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