On a Line From Isaac Barrow

“Good nature like a bee, collects honey from every herb. Ill nature, like a spider, sucks poison from the flowers.” — Isaac Barrow, Against Detraction, misquoted for a copy-book heading.

As if it were possible
to be one or the other.

Close in, the honeysuckle flower
has a kind of hood that flexes back
and what I suppose are stamens
hanging out. And it waits.
All throat, all genital,
this one is a lovely hazing
of red and white,
but there are dark flecks
scattered on the surface,
like freckles. And
it waits. Only the very
slightest motion on the breeze.
And this close all else
is out of focus.

Nature provides
copy-book headings,
quite enough, too many,
to satisfy Kipling.
The student cannot
go wrong. They cannot
go right. Full marks
and detention. Dull
portakabin school-rooms
without any copy-books
take up six years of my youth.
It was a comprehensive.
Suck poison from the flowers.

As if we were expected
to bustle about collecting
from every herb, treating
the drab, the common
just the same as the flash
that stands apart. We don’t
put a bag on a bridesmaid’s head
or give a short man a box to stand on.
Unless when he says ‘good nature’
he means something not quite
of this earth. Still he’s talking
about bees and spiders, things
that we know down here.

And my power to take away
from something
is zero. The honeysuckle
is still there after I shut up.
If I awkwardly help
the bridesmaid to unwind
her hair, and slide off
this dress I am afraid to tear –
with the hum of the wedding party
at the open window in the July night-time,
and if I kiss the brown curls –
it isn’t me who makes the difference,
and what have I taken away?

And I’ve been kicked off my box
as many times as I’ve kicked him off his,
and nothing changes.

Good nature like a bee,
collects honey from every herb.
I can see what he means
but the garden of the good
is not crowded. There are
a lot of discarded paper bags
and boxes. Something
is carried more carefully
than our hands capable
of grabbing can carry.
The people there are surprised.
I would be surprised.
All the same there are familiar faces.
This close all else
is out of focus.

By Christopher Riesco

Christopher Riesco is a graduate of the Writing School at MMU. He lives and works in Manchester, UK.