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Vicky Sparrow

from "Poems for Pearl"

A pretty price you paid for Perle, i
in pleasaunte poems for prynces pay
we searched for what we could not say;
in the screen light of an office at night,
I dug dark earth in search of what I’d lost:
that precious Perle withouten spot ii
                                                             on off
a false first person iii
in the heat from my screen
the radiant child I could see
she was mine, but older
across the stream I saw her iv
but older
her hands around my neck
a necklace of pearls
in her hand
O
Pearl took me in and out of hell
a thought that I could not unspell
                                                             on off
Unpresentable stream
Of noughts and ones offs and ons
repeated, digitised, pearlised v
diffused light against the air
it’s representation only
Perle appears with flowers in her hair
the canyon of her mouth, vi
those glistening pearls;
meniscuses swirling.
I dug dark earth with my bare hand
believe me when my mind says and vii
                                                             on off
Pass the parcel we played
we played simon says
what value mediates representation?
It started with women, he said.
Across the stream I see her gleam
as blooms black and blue and red viii
circle to encrown Perle’s head
                                                             on off
Pearl’s Utter Brilliance ix
in a river of pitiless money x
to cross the stream
that sodden brim
your god forgives you and you Him
in knowledge of our darkness and the light

a community of risk for you
the risk you risk
for pleasure’s rhymes
to move you in and out of time
You sought her in the shallows
you sought her in the depths
A princely price you paid for Perle
She left you there bereft
                                                             on off
could prosody carry the dignity xi
even at times when dignity was lost
it helped our self-slumped heart xii
for what? Carried across the stream
our songs of the stream xiii
could not carry Pearl
to safety
could we expect so little
or so much a little life
a little sin that started with women
the beats his heart had set apart within

Perle in clot and clod is clad
I dug dark earth with all I had
                                                             on off

 

 

 

 

i. ‘Perle, pleasaunte to prynces paye’ opens the fourteenth-century anonymous manuscript poem, Perle. The only copy is held at Cotton MS Nero A.x. in the British Library.
ii. ‘Of þat pryuy perle wythouten spot’ is the closing line of Perle’s first stanza.
iii. ‘at some point I false first person must’, Simon Jarvis, The Unconditional (2005).
iv. Illumination from the Perle Manuscript.
v. ‘repeated, televised, pearlised.’, Douglas Oliver, The Infant and the Pearl (1985).
vi. ‘the canyon in the roof of my mouth’, Barry MacSweeney, ‘The Shells Her Auburn Hair Did Show’, Pearl (1995).
vii. ‘Please | believe me when my mind says and’, Barry MacSweeney, from ‘Pearl Says’, Pearl.
viii. ‘Blomeȝ blayke and blwe and rede’, from Perle.
ix. ‘Pearl’s Utter Brilliance’, Barry MacSweeney, Pearl.
x. ‘knowing | he floats like a twig in a river of pitiless money’, Simon Jarvis, Eighteen Poems (2012).
xi. ‘The prosody would carry the dignity even at times when I jettisoned dignity’, Douglas Oliver quoted in The Body and the Soul in Medieval Literature (1999), ed. by Piero Boitani and Anna Torti.
xii. ‘the self-slumped mind […] The inalterable heart’, Simon Jarvis, Night Office (2013).
xiii. ‘sing him | my songs of the stream. | But of course I cannot’, Barry MacSweeney, from ‘The Shells Her Auburn Hair Did Show’, Pearl.

 
Copyright © Vicky Sparrow, 2018