Poetry: Castle in the Air | clivejames.com
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Castle in the Air

We never built our grand house on the edge
Of the Pacific, close to where we first
Drew breath, but high up in the cliffs, a ledge
Glassed in, with balconies where we would be
Enthralled to watch it hit the rocks and burst —
The ocean that still flows through you and me
Like blood, though many years have passed since we
Sailed separately away to keep our pledge
Of seeing what the world was like. Since then
We’ve been together and done pretty well:
You by your scholarship, I by my pen,
Both earned a living and our two careers
Paid for a house and garden we could sell
For just enough to spend our final years
Out there where the last landscape disappears
Eastward above the waves, and once again
We would be home. We’ve talked about that view
So often we can watch the seagulls fly
Below us by the thousand. There’s the clue
Perhaps, to what we might do for the best:
Merely imagine it. The place to die
Is where you find your feet and come to rest.
Here, all we built is by our lost youth blessed.
This is your gift to me, and mine to you:
Front windows on a trimly English park,
A back yard we can bask in, but not burn
As we loll in our liner chairs. The bark
Stays on the trees, no wood-pile is a lair
For funnelwebs. Small prospect of return
Once you’re accustomed to the change of air,
The calm of being here instead of there —
The slow but steady way that it grows dark.
Sleep late then, while I do my meds and dress
For the creaking mile that keeps my legs alive.
In hospital I’d lie there and obsess
About the beauty of this house, and still
I love it. But I feel the waves arrive
Like earthquakes as I walk, and not until
I’m gone for good will I forget the thrill —
Nor will the urge to start again grow less
As always in my dreams I spread my chart
In the great room of the grand house on the cliffs
And plot my course. Once more I will depart
Alone, to none beholden, full of fight
To quell the decapods and hippogryphs,
Take maidens here and there as is my right,
And voyage even to eternal night
As the hero does, made strong by his cold heart.

Standpoint, December 2010

Note (from Collected Poems)

The last stanza was meant to be a would-be heroic fantasy, with the choice of diction indicating that the boast was a pose. Nevertheless there were one or two tone-deaf critics who preferred to think that I was claiming a kind of death-bed droit du seigneur. In their dreams. The poem’s narrator is past all that.