October 4th, 2020


Cythera is a poem I started writing 25 years ago (or something like that) and have been revising and rewriting ever since. This is its latest iteration.

The dodecahedron was there in an early draft- but I took it out because it seemed arbitrary. Yesterday, however, I was watching a film (Thrive I) which explained how twelve sided figures are a fundamental building block of the universe- so maybe my earlier poetic self knew more than he thought he knew. Anyway, I've put it back in. I always liked it even if I couldn't say why...

I wouldn't say Cythera was my best poem, because who am I to judge? but I do believe it's my favourite.



“The only way,” he said,
“The only way”-
Smacking his palm with a knobbly fist-
“Is the way of the desert.
The visions there
Are the purest air;
You can see right through them.”

His terrible eyes
Were rheumy now. He was wearing tweeds.
The guards at the gate-
Enormous men in tight, black suits-
Had turned him away.

Beyond the gate:
The red and white stripes of a wedding marquee,
The rapping of flags in a summer breeze,
The call of the bells.

“So why are you here?” Hypatia asked,
Kindly as if of a frightened child.
“A demon caught me up in a whirlwind
And dropped me off. Just look at him smirking.
All knobs and sores and ragged wings.”
He glanced to the side
At a view between trees
Of a cloudless sky and a shining sea.


She gazed into the stone of her ring-
Clear, domed, unfaceted crystal.
It showed her clouds and alien craft.
She rubbed it hard on the nap of her waistcoat.

Singing Le Roi d’Yvetot,
She strolled through the field with her hands in her pockets.


The satyr sat on the churchyard wall
Crossing and uncrossing his little
Delicate hooves. He wore his hair
Tied back with ribbon.

A barefoot child
Came stepping over the long wet grass
And tipped his boater over his eyes.

He adjusted it. “But then,” he continued,
“The five day game tests strategy-
Also morale.”

The child mocked him
With "Mr Splitfoot can't catch me!"
She knew that when he runs, he runs
Like a girl in high heels.


Clad in stone like a bungalow,
The Commendatore climbed from the Rolls.
The wormy veins on the back of his hand
Are miracles- so I’ve heard tell-
Of the sculptor’s craft. Two of his fingers
Have been snapped off and fixed back again
With rods of steel- thus causing arthritis.
His beard is square, his eyes unseeing.
Two amoretti had his arms,
Holding him up, keeping him straight
And guiding his enormous weight
Of marble coat and unearned medals
Towards the church where his wedding would be.


Her straw hat wore a wreath of poppies,
Her hair hung straight to her shoulder blades
I followed her through the kissing gate,
Between the 18th century graves

And entered the breathless cold of the church.
We took our seats in the sandstone nave.
Under the heave of the Romanesque arch
Children carried their candle flames.
Crash went the organ. The bride came in
All made of ostrich and chicken bones-
With her skull at the height of the clerestory windows-
Dressed in papyrus scraps from Fayoum-
On some of which were the words of Sappho
And narratives of the wars of the angels-
And in her wake, in place of a train
A river of birds.

The rite began
And the blackbirds, starlings, robins and wrens
Flew up and enclosed bridegroom and bride
In a dodecahedron of beautiful wings...


“Well that was nice,” Hypatia muttered,
Raking fingers through her grey hair.
“Cheer up,” she added, then burst out laughing
Helplessly- as if she were
Back to being the teenager
I’d met- oh- forty years before-
Unmated, all her life ahead of her,
Out with the girls on a summer’s day.