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New Amsterdam


1. Amsterdam

There is a city on the sea whose black

Waves water the tulips of liberty

I can hardly believe such a place

As she exists in these dark days

Her barques moored in peaceful rows follow

The roots carrying water to the town

I once stepped from one of these to find

Freedom rippling in the Nordic breeze

To breathe freely after long-accepted

Tyranny had settled on the lungs

Is like to hear that there is a Heaven

And believe, though Earth is Hell sometimes

That it is our true inheritance

That beauty is our natural condition

2. Prisoners

We are prisoners, let us not be unclear

Our bodies and our thoughts imprison us

Our institutions, governments and states

Reach around us like walls to enclose us

Insanity and paranoia ensue

How could they not? This is unnatural

We are gods trapped in hourglasses

Genies incarcerated in time

I want to reach out to you, but pain

Like a shackle weighs down my arms

I want to talk to you, but life

Has choked up my throat and I dare not speak

The prison guards wander in our mirrors

Twirling their truncheons and rattling their keys

3. Birds

A chink of light falls across the cell

No-one can stop the eye from taking it in

We play with light, twisting it in our fingers

We bathe our eyes in it, and our gaunt faces

We are like birds hopping around a bath

Quiet, gentle things with no malice

We might fly away as soon as stay

Hold perfectly still and we might perch on your palm

The prison court is a winter garden

And we can leave for the open sky

This alone encourages us to stay

And if you feed us seeds we might return

With the spring, bearing increase of sunlight

On our wings, as though this is what lifts them

4. Autumn

I watch autumn spreading over the town

The trees are paintbrushes with golden tips

Death rains down gently like seeds

Cold strikes the heart with a hammer

We are grown like trees to wither with the wind

Half-mature, we hang awkwardly in our bodies

With this instrument we will measure love

And catch it like a fish from cold streams

We will build it like a city to last the winter

And, shut up in our warmth, light candles

To melt the frost from our windows that some

Might see that human life is still alive

Glorious, hopelessly dancing

Like lamplight on the face of the canal

5. Jerusalem

In the rafters of the Old Church

We watched the mechanism of the clock

Ticking endlessly through history

Human hands having measured the span of God

We looked forward through a spyglass

Leaping like sparrows out into the future

Moving so fast, like clockwork birds

You thought we could live a lifetime in a year

Slow down, that we might beat the ages

And watch the fleets put forth into the dusk

They will cross unheard-of horizons

In search of golden Jerusalem

And all the while, you and I held here

In our hands the philosopher’s stone

6. New Amsterdam

They will put into harbour, columbine

Conquistadors to wreck and work anew

And we, at the foundation of Amsterdam

Will sling our boats together for the while

White flowers will honeysuckle up

The walls and roots will tear us apart

What good is it to love except that we

Keep asking for more and more eternally

We could go back into the dark that made us

But there find oily spectra yet unknown

And a voice that mocks us comforts us and says

Here is the song unsung, prepared for you

We would be churlish not to take it up

Like a sun into our sky and try again