The Sea Garden Only Grows When the Tide is Out
IM Michael Derek Jarman (1942-1994)
First published 1995, revised 2009
Sitting in the sun thinking of Montaigne,
who also was a Michael, your first name,
dropped because your father got there first. So
Derek stuck, sobriquet with a gusto
right for seafarers, but lacking gravitas:
I cannot imagine Derek as
the fit moniker for an archangel.
Able Seaman Jarman would suit it well,
but a sailor-suit would become you more
than wings and halo. You kept close to shore
in your films, settling for the ebb and flow
of pebbled beaches: Caravaggio
liked to be ‘beside the seaside’ when dying:
in Your England gulls are the children crying:
in War the beached salt who endeavours
to conch the ocean: The ‘Stormy Weather’
end to The Tempest. Doors flung open. Shot
of sailors in ballroom hopping a foxtrot.
‘As labour hardens us against life’s pain,
doing nothing with panache’, says Montaigne,
‘softens us for its pleasures.’ The garden
you pottered in was both tough warden
and sly prisoner of your life and art.
Despite the towering winds, it wasn’t blown apart
by salt-storms into sand. Who’d have banked on
it flourishing on a top-soil of plankton.
Self-portrait as ‘A Cabbage with Heart’. ‘My head
will go to glorious seed when I’m dead.’
Your mind’s marginal garden enriches
itself on the prospect of ostriches
springing from the punk stalks and running round
after you are no longer above ground.
You knew Marvell from powdered milk. Though blind,
poetry nourished your amused mind
which still had immunity from self-pity.
‘I’ve asked for Long Life with my cup of tea.
But it’s not on the menu I’m afraid’,
and added this ‘green thought in a green shade’,
‘I’ll have that curious peach as a snack.
It’s meant to help my appetite to come back’.
‘What wondous life.’ Extravagantly you’d bless
gardens returned to the wild and excess
that’s not measured out in medicine spoons
but with largesse, in buckets from the dunes.
Even when colours faded, you had the yellows,
and the flowers of other men, unlikely fellows
who performed in a tableau. The garland
you crowned them with was what you had at hand -
wax bouquets and cat’s cradle of string,
straw installations. Your black winter had set in.
Saturated salt winds erode the cold earth.
Though, briefly, crazed tinctures of wild worth
excited the eye, it was just a charade.
Orderly shadows treat your light and shade
with the black and white of the clinical lie.
The colours you sailed under were a deeper dye.
After you died, high winds laid waste the coast.
But your garden held back the sea. You’d boast
no violence could destroy it. The worst frost
can do is delay decay. Your good work’s not lost.
The Croesus Factor
For John Parsons, artist and haiku emperor
Now your pencil is sharp,
and it’s time for a poem,
or the sketch of a bird,
no doubt, you’ll make your mark,
and a world of your own
at a stroke, or a word
in the right place, being led
by more than lead. So head
down, he who knows pure gold
doesn’t grow on a tree,
except the leaf. I’m told
you work by alchemy.
A boy talking to himself
passes me by. Forlorn!
the very word like a bell
tolls me back… Deceiving elf
(he hasn’t a mobile phone).
Fancy cannot cheat so well.
On passing, I hear him chant
the plaintive anthem… Adieu!
as he disappears from view
with a slight wave of his hand
up the hillside to the vines.
A vision or someone extant?
I hear him as an echo
in the next valley, where pines
breathe the faint Adieu! Adieu!
His sole self words come and go
like a still stream buried deep
in me… Do I wake or sleep.