Nerves by Iris Tree

These curious looms where we have spun our fancies,
These intricate webs where our desires are threaded,
These weird trapezes that our passion frenzies
Strange acrobats to catch them dizzy headed.
These tightening strings upon our spirit’s fiddles
Tuneful or out of tune where music hungers
From writhing bow, these intertwining riddles
Mazes and labyrinths and storms and languors.
These colours twinging on a prism’s edges,
These speckled patterns of fanatic madness
From glittering eyeballs, these unresting dredges
For pearls within the depths of sadness and of gladness—
O tortuous thoughts, what are you seeking after
As flies around a carcass with a humming dreary,
Gibing the silent dead with treacherous laughter,
Molesting quietness and waking up the weary!
What then, what then, can sleep not crush you to forgetting
With all her body’s beauty, cannot peace submerge you
O wrangling, juggling, jangling, pirouetting—
What hope can drag you from the small desires that urge you?
You have lassoed the moon and trapped the sun’s bright lion,
And trodden out the red stars into ashes,
Destroyed night’s temple and broken the pillars of iron,
And striped the snowy horses of the clouds with zebra gashes …
You have debauched the world! And as I sit here weary,
Deafened with your demands and torn in tatters,
The world seems suddenly most passionless and dreary,
A poor bewildered clown—and nothing matters.

Iris Tree

From Poems, Iris Tree (1920)

‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver


When in the presence of humour,
you smile, pear-shaped,
chest rising to meet,
to not be left behind.

Eager to rhyme,
match their wit,
higher and higher,

Their bitterness
funneled through pipes –
back-turned spray –
you smile knowingly.

Tearing of paper,
bored target,
flutter of absurdity,
your loose smile.

Shadow of contempt,
a hazy outline,
your warning fire,
skyline of words.

Your voice steady,
in command,
present the iceberg,
drowning beneath.

The day,
a stitching of smiles,
left behind.