The NS Poem: Five Leaves Left

A new poem by Declan Ryan. 

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Drugs began in Aix. Those left who knew him
still talk about his hands. The size of them. His stoop

in Cambridge in a too-small new-build room;
his skin, so white you could see through it, into virginity.

They say how he was a machine, of sorts,
that the only way to get the Nick Drake guitar sound

on record would be to have Nick Drake, on guitar.
He could keep it going for hours: those hands again, their power,

their command the last of its kind, the dead grip of Empire.
Later on, he wouldn’t cut his nails, wash his clothes,

but that was down the road, that brand of sadness a hint
in the air, like the fate of apples only coming into season

that will perish uneaten in their bowl. His voice
the sound of goodness in the fruit, of England

lurching into colour, the trees of the forest bending their heads
like Angels out of Blake; harvest time moving towards him

where he stood apart, from the detritus of a life.
He didn’t like it at home but couldn’t bear it anywhere else.

He was tired. He hung a future on the stopped cogs
of his alarm clock, then slept through it.

Declan Ryan was born in Mayo, Ireland, and lives in London. His most recent pamphlet is "Fighters, Losers" (New Walk Editions).

This article appears in the 25 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The autumn of discontent

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