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The Saturday poem: Blue Poles (after Jackson Pollock)


by Caitríona O’Reilly

Freedom is a prison for the representative savant
addled on bath-tub gin and with retinas inflamed
from too long staring into the Arizona sun
or into red dirt which acknowledges no master
but the attrition of desert winds and melt-water.
Is that why you cast such desperate lariats
across space, repeatedly anticipating the fall
into disillusion, the sine wave skewered
by the oscilloscope, the mirror’s hairline fracture?
The West was won and there was nowhere left to go
so you vanished into a dream of perpetual motion
knowing that once to touch the surface
was to break the spell, but that while the colours hung
on the air an instant, there was no such thing
as the pushy midwife, the veiled mother in the photograph,
the rich woman’s bleated blandishments.
Tracing the drunken white line at midnight on the highway,
you were too far gone to contemplate return,
like Crowhurst aboard the Electron; not meaning
to go to sea, but drawing about you
such a field of force that there was nothing left to do
but plant blue poles among the spindrift and iron filings
and step, clutching your brass chronometer,
clean off the deck and into the sky
where a lens rose to meet you like a terrifying eye.

• From Geis by Caitríona O’Reilly (Bloodaxe, £9.95). To order a copy for £7.96 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.

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