Peter Daniels’s Counting Eggs

© Image by Julian Corkle

 
 
Peter Daniels published his first full collection Counting Eggs in April 2012 with Mulfran Press. His pamphlets include Mr Luczinski Makes a Move with HappenStance (2011) and three with Smith Doorstop, twice as a Poetry Business competition winner; he also won the Ledbury (2002), Arvon (2008) and TLS (2010) poetry competitions. His translations of Vladislav Khodasevich from Russian are due from Angel Books in 2013. 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
“His eye for the absurdity of every-day life is sharp but gentle, his tone light but authoritative. Daniels never preaches or pontificates, but, in their indirect and humorous way, his poems seek answers to the bigger questions about how we should live.”
 
– Carol Rumens
 
 
 
“The poems have a subtle flavour all of their own, a sense of ‘brave new world’, as well as of ‘fin de siècle’. They’re myth-making, risqué, unforcedly stylish and with a delicate spiritual sense.”

– Moniza Alvi
  
  
  
“Peter Daniels writes poems that shift perspectives, sometimes so deftly that you scarcely spot it being done – that is, until you notice that city landscapes have come alive with unsettling details round the edges; the everyday is subject to small seismic jolts of time and scale.”
 
– Philip Gross
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
The Rainbow
 
 
On board, the beasts were snorting in their stalls
with their hormones singing through the dung:
but by the hundred and fiftieth day
on the smooth waters in windless drizzle,
no one was ready any more. Noah lay relaxing
in a silk robe, unbuttoned, the Lord disapproving;
the brothers on deck betting on a sight of water nymphs,
monsters, any new thing at all.
 
And in the seventh month, the misty air was warm,
blanketing Ararat, and all of creation indoors
still steadily rolling, standing carefully
inside each other’s smells; but then, wrong
footed, thrown when the bottom
bumped and scraped, sideways; a moment
of losing their places, a bout of questioning grunts.
 
The rutting began with a jumpy shivering,
the vocal flesh in a clamour for it all to subside,
to grant the abatement of waters, the planting of feet:
and the sun twisted through the cloud, turning
the sky; while the sky was shining back, to make
an example, a reason to feel now there would be more.
 
The whole tight ship had something to wait for.
Noah opened his window for the dove, which stood
a moment exercising claws and beak, before its wings clapped
and circled off, somewhere towards the faint mountains.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Mall of Mammoths
 
Minneapolis, 1992
 
 
They’ve built the Mall of America
          on a prairie near the airport:
a hangar, to protect the world
          from the Minnesota climate.
The big everything – Bloomingdales
          to a blimp made of Lego:
leave the kids on flume rides and roller coasters.
          Get shopping.
 
Some of the shops are still discreetly unlet,
          given the recession.
One corner unit houses a sideshow
          of travelling Russians
bringing the Great Siberian Mammoths
          from that North to this,
with a support of stuffed wolverine, beaver,
          and three types of lemming.
 
The big attraction is
          the whole baby mammoth, who lost his mother.
Though his feet are still hairy,
          his body is now a dark brown leather
like my second-hand flying jacket
          with several additional sleeves,
laid out bulky but deflated,
          the breathing occupant missing.
 
Glass tanks of fluid contain
          his heart and his penis, on display:
that dead infant’s plaything
          could incite grown men to envy.
Beside him, a full skeleton with twirling tusks,
          but not his mother;
and a skull – “Yes, you may touch!”
          – its features worn down to melting.
 
Back at the entrance,
          three Russian women in smocks
are selling lacquerwork nesting dolls
          and fairytale boxes;
enamel mammoth brooches –
          “I Am From Siberia” – and trays
full of remaindered Lenins.
          I am in America, and buying.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Shoreditch Orchid
 
 
They’re grubbing up the old modern
rusty concrete lampposts,
with a special orange grab
on a fixture removal unit.
The planters come up behind
with new old lampposts in lamppost green,
and bury each root in a freshly-dug hole.
The bus can’t get past, brooding in vibrations.
We’re stuck at the half-refurbished
late-Georgian crescent of handbag wholesalers.
The window won’t open. The man behind me
whistles “What a Wonderful World”,
and I think to myself:
 
Any day soon
the rubble will be sifted; the streets all swept,
and we’ll be aboard a millennium tram ride,
the smooth one we’ve been promised, with a while yet to go
until the rising sea and the exterminating meteor,
but close before the war
starting with the robocar disaster.
And when the millennium crumbles,
I’ll be squinting through the corrugated fence
at the wreck of the mayor’s armoured vehicle, upside down
where they dumped the files of the Inner City Partnership;
and as I kick an old kerbstone
I’ll find you, Shoreditch orchid, true and shy,
rooting in the meadow streets
through old cable, broken porcelain, rivets and springs;
living off the bones of the railway.
You’ll make your entry unannounced,
in the distraction of buddleia throwing its slender legs
out in the air from nothing,
from off the highest parapets, cheap
 
attention-seeking shrub from somewhere
like nowhere. But here
you’ll identify your own private genes,
a quiet specimen-bloom seeded in junk,
and no use to any of us; only an intricate bee-trap
composed in simple waxy petals, waiting
for the bees to reinvent their appetite.
 
We’ll be waiting for the maps to kindle
as we get settled, where we find ourselves
undiscovering the city,
its lost works, disestablished
under the bridges. There’s no more bargaining
for melons and good brass buttons.
We share your niche
and crouch as the falling sun
shines through the smoke, and the lampposts
fail to light the night to the place all buses go.
 
 
 
‘Shoreditch Orchid’ won first prize in the Arvon Competition 2008.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Monkey
 
Vladislav Khodasevich
(translated by Peter Daniels)
 
 
It was hot. Forests were burning. Time
tediously dragging. At the neighbouring dacha
the cockerel crowed. I went out past the gate.
There, propped against the fence, on the bench,
a vagrant was dozing, a Serb, thin and dark.
A cross of heavy silver hung on his
half-naked chest. Drops of sweat
were rolling down him. Up on the fence
a monkey in a red skirt was sitting
greedily chewing the leaves
of the dusty lilacs. Her leather collar
was pulled back by a heavy chain,
catching her throat. The Serb, hearing me,
woke up, wiped off his sweat and asked me
to give him some water. But he barely sipped –
how cold was it? – put a dish on the bench
and at once the monkey, dipping
a finger in the water, seized
the dish in both her hands.
She drank, crouched on all fours,
her elbows leaning on the bench.
Her chin nearly touched the planks,
her backbone arched high above her dark
and balding head. It was the position
Darius must once have taken, bending
at a puddle in the road the day he fled
in front of Alexander’s mighty phalanx.
When she had drunk it all, the monkey
swept the dish from the bench, stood up
and – when could I ever forget this moment? –
offered me her black and calloused hand,
still cool from the water, extending it …
I have shaken hands with beauties, poets
and leaders of nations – not one hand displayed
a line of such nobility! Not one hand
has ever touched my hand so like a brother’s!
God is my witness, no one has looked at me
so wisely and so deeply in the eye,
indeed into the bottom of my soul.
This animal, destitute, called up in my heart
the sweetness of a deep and ancient legend.
Life in that instant seemed to me complete;
a choir of sea-waves, winds and spheres
was shining and was bursting in my ear
with organ music, thundering, as once
it did in other, immemorial days.
Then the Serb got up, patted a tambourine.
Taking up her seat on his left shoulder
with measured rocking, the monkey rode
like a maharajah on an elephant.
The enormous crimson sun
stripped of its rays
hung in the opalescent smoke. A sultry
thunderlessness covered the feeble wheat.
 
That was the day of the declaration of war.
 
 
 
7 June 1918, 20 February 1919
 
 
 
 
from Counting Eggs (Mulfran Press, 2012).
 
Order Counting Eggs.
 
Visit Peter’s website.
 
 
 
*

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