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Reading ‘Japanese Maple’ by Clive James, West Basin, Early Spring

How you dazzled us, old chum, with the colour of that tree!

I look up from the page: that light you said you’re exiled from

that layered frieze

settles on the lake’s edge.  Dinghies chip at the glaze upon

its surface from which, like cedillas, swans hang and are gone.


Nothing gains by contrast in such abundance, all’s elect.

Your tree’s privilege was vouchsafed by a paltry climate

where its effect

had to be constructed; its tiny trunk, every floret

(in a pot? in the ground? – you never said) had to divot


off days of whetstone grey, giving shape to separation

— from the breeze in she-oaks here, and there from time still wanted —

a serration,

a gentle clarity, this if nothing else: that, wintered

out, tired as you were, you still saw the tree as form, vaunted


in masculine, full rhyme, metered syllabics, the real ken.

Poetry makes even less happen these days than before,

nought to reckon

by; still — a world worth staying alive for, an embrace formed

by ten tiny leaves (except in the third line, only four).

Quadrant, October 2020

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