Roz Kaveny: from the Selected Poems

After Sappho 84

Parting’s deathsorrow. Weeping walked away
‘Things worked against us, Sappho.’ In her grief.
‘It’s not your fault.’ A comfortable belief.
I found brow-stroking calming things to say.
‘Child you were loved. Remember. It is known
And will be said. We managed to be kind.
Never forget the flowers we would wind
Around each other’s necks or round our own
Garlands of violets. Sweet oils. And in bed
You lay and throbbed with longing. Slow as dance
In sacred grove my hand. When we’d a chance.
Often we lie and love then still as dead
Gaze broken tired into each other’s eyes.’
Consoled her. Poets’ words not always lies…

Sappho On Anactoria

Some get excited when the mounted police
Trot past. The hoofbeats drive their hearts
To pulse and throb. It doesn’t matter if
It’s horse or rider; it all works the same
And some like squaddies, some like sailor boys
Or latex, corsetry or stocking tops.
The world’s so full of lots of things to love;
Whatever does it for you. Everyone
Gets this. And she who was most beautiful
Helen, the one that we still talk about
After so many years, she had a man,
A king of men, and she walked out on him
Without a thought
And she went off to Troy
And gave no thought to any of her kids
Or to her parents. Venus took away
What little brains she had and set her off
To chase off after that dim pretty boy –
An archer who killed better men than he
From a safe distance. But she loved him so
Oh! She burned for him, like that’s an excuse.
Opened hot legs and satisfied her need
And tore the world apart.
And now I think,
I have to think, of sweet Anactoris
Her swaying walk, the glimmer of her smile
And how I’d rather look at her close up
Than stand up on a balcony in furs
And watch the whole Red Army marching past
Saluting me, and killing whom I chose.

Sappho On Age

Dance. Sing. Enjoy young bodies. Let the Muse
Infuse your song the weaving of each arm
Slow dance wind saplings leaves. I once had charm
Who now have age and wisdom and white hair
Can hardly dance for stiffness in my knees
My tremble voice in waver gusts of breeze
I lift my lyre to play can’t hold it there.
This is our fate. To lose what once we had
And let it go sweet bitter smiling tears
As black hair dyes to white drenched by the years
It is not any reason to be sad.
Even Tithonus faded loved by Dawn
Youth beauty’s yearspan set when he was born.


The human heart is but a maze of meat
where muscle tangles in a gorgeous knot.
Red blood flows through it, lush and burning hot.
We wander through its paths on halting feet
whenever love begins. We feel its throb
quicken beneath us, troubling us again.
It is the one time that we welcome pain
we’ve felt before, we know that it will rob
our minds of dull staid, quicken each nerve,
quiver us into art. We feel the reins
that love pulls hard, our arteries and veins
harsh in our mouth. We’re forced to make a swerve
where we would not have gone. Heart’s such a bitch,
we know there’s some new girl. We don’t choose which.

Endymion, For Neil Armstrong

In her white silent place, the hangings dust,
grey pebbles stretching to the edge of black
so far away. The goddess feels a lack
somewhere elsewhere, an ache deep as her crust
and weeps dry tears. The gentleman is gone
the first who ever called. His feet were light
as he danced on her. Went into the night
quite soon, his calling and his mission done
yet still his marks remain. Footfalls and flag.
The others she forgets. He was the first
to slake her ages long and lonely thirst
for suitors. Now she feels the years drag
as they did not before he came to call.
Our grief compared to hers weighs naught at all.

Abigail – May 1st 2008

They broke her door and found her two days dead,
Perhaps a few hours less. Her hairless head
Lolled on two pillows, upright in the chair
where she was dozing, layer upon layer
of rugs to keep her warm. Her blood ran thin
from drugs and chemo. She had never been
So tired. Her heart had stuttered, guttered, died.
A can of beer, an ashtray by her side
Yeats book-marked with her bus pass; spine-cracked Joyce
her dog-eared favourite books. I miss her voice
drunkenly phoning late; how she would stab
her cigarette to point a joke, and grab
at life, a life she knew is no good friend
to bitter, lovely women in the end.

Image: Photograph of flannette garments fire tests, 1910 CCA 4.0 International

Scroll to Top