The Sunken Gardens

The Sunken Gardens

for Paul O’Donnell



         The Sunken Garden

         All her sorrows, bitter rue.

         Breathe not, trespass not,

         of this green and darkling spot.

                                            de la Mare



Sleep among the midst of lots.

You should be as the wings of a dove

feathered in silver…

My dove in the hollow places of the wall,

show me your face.  Open to me, my love,

my dove, my undefiled – for my head

is full of spirits, my hair of the dregs of the night.



Framing the scene in camera as one fluidity; middle,

then seeking a  left,

before searching for a right – together- a triptych of darkness.

Slats with an effusion of buddleia in Camden,

a locked door with peeled render,

above scatterings of broken glass,

flies a fluttering dove

towards a dark wound. Smoke or oil sheened

on a wall, scarred with a horizontal slit.

Here, Irish Mary did her trick for a tenner

while thinking of Doolin, thinking of nothing.

As a dog is drawn to its vomit, so are we

pulled between Rugby and Stoke;

pain don’t work, sprayed on a wall

in attempted refutation the plaster gouged with a screwdriver,

paint mazed over brick.

Here, Davey downed the last of the warming rum,

then hawked a gob of phlegm ruefully.


Between two ventilation shafts in Manchester,

there’s a doss, where you can lie against the cold;

to the right a shop window filmed with filthy gauze,

a bandaged wound leaking pus, concealing

the interior with grey dust.

Here, while her man was away, Anna took heroin orally

and was as sick as a dog

up against the wall.  All the secretions of the body tremble

with danger,

sweat, shit, piss, sputum, vomit, spunk and bloody flux

smeared over a window

in abjection, negation, rejection of self. Foul, except for tears.

Lacrimae rerum

Tears water the weeds in wild places.

They flower profusely through the wastes.

cleavers, nettles, bindweed

ragwort, henbane, scurvy-grass

dogrose, willow herb, plantain

hogweed, balsam, heartsease

yarrow, nightshade, comfrey

Woe to the provoking and redeemed city,

the dove.

Between dark and dark, an infinite tonality of grays,

between my fingers slip the weeds. Dodging and burning.

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened days,

made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

some shape of beauty moves away the pall

from our dark spirits.

I am the crunch of littered glass.

I am the stench of fetid air.

I am the missing tread on the stair.

I am fire.

I am ice.

I am the enchanter’s silken voice.

I am wind.

I am rain.

I am the expression of pain.

Published in Extremus  (Imprimata 2011) Read at Birmingham Book Festival to accompany images from Paul O’Donnell’s photographic sequence Tenebrae on the traces of rough sleepers. I am grateful to Paul for the opportunity to write poems in response to his images. The italicised lines quote Walter de la Mare, the Psalms and Keats Endymion.