Written in 1998, after reading Andrew Motion’s biography, Philip Larkin a Writer’s Life, this is a project I consider unfinished, and I am aware that is it lacks polish. I’d like to re-visit Mr.Larkin, soon, however; for now I place what I have — for what it’s worth: a portrait of an all too human human being who wrote some really great stuff.
Mr. Larkin was grateful for the hedgehog in his yard
the dear, nervous thing.
A near pet.
It always gave a start when he pushed the mower ‘round.
And Philip liked that.
Philip’s New Mower
Philip almost regretted
the bright green mower
which cut through the neck of his hedgehog.
For a while he held its small body
on the shovel — hunched,
blood-sticky with green confetti, numb
shoulders indicating a stolid indifference now
to the whir of that startling motor.
This was nothing so grim as
cleaning the blades: green grass
and screaming pink gore stuck
to the sharp new metal.
Philip sulked over the contraption,
hanging his round pink head.
The smell of cut grass lingered.
Now the smell of gasoline and grass,
or just after — the grass alone, humped
like a body made him mourn
the pleasant task turned suddenly car crash.
The useful object now monstrous,
tangled with the flesh of a loved one.
That shiny new mower, green and happy in its corner,
once beckoning like a cheerful toy,
now seemed to grin spitefully.
The Card Catalogs at Hull
It wasn’t just their ordered softness,
nor the cozy wooden cradles,
nor yet, only
the red-inked cross-references; it was
the whole of the librarian’s
possible intelligence; summed up and ordered
and cribbed for hundreds of soft-cornered miles.
When Philip bought the Librarians’ Association tie.
And when he smelled the library’s special dander on his lapels,
He smiled like a cat in a window.
His Godson is a Womanizer
A poser with a womanly pout —
Writes all that postmodern crap — and he’s short at that!
Philip says, Kingsley, look out;
Watch that boy. Don’t let him out of your sight.
And Kingsley, Ah he does all right.
And Philip, Yes watch him and tell me how!
And the two old guys laugh.
No escaping what you are;
winding the Association tie
‘round a fat white neck,
lapels along a soft rounded gut —
like dressing a giant tuber.
Then another searching look
into those rodent eyes: always
behind thick glass.
Here is one who does not
get what he wants,
one who looks out at the world from
the safety of a cage.
There is dust
on his glasses.
Or is it on the mirror? (Squinting close now)
He is almost hiding
behind the bookshelves which look so
inevitable, so endless.
His look is wary, an elephant joke, large and pale
peeking past the punch line.
This is Philip Larkin —always already at Hull.
Mr. Larkin wanted
to say he liked birds —
Sweeney-like in his empathy
for their nervous scattering;
but he didn’t care much for birds, really.
He’d rather preferred the hedgehog.
Psst: Your Student
A poster-like cypher in the face of your guidance—
her youth, a brick wall your cartoon persona
crashes through —her mind,
the clouds dreaming past the open outline of your hysteric figure.
His Mother’s Photo Album
and crumbling paste
no longer hold the dry
curling edges; the photographs
scatter their corners, spring
chaotically from soft black pages.
Like trying to gather the pile of leaves,
entire, into one’s hands…
Philip looks cross; examines the faces.
More durable than we are, and yet
look at them!
Philip had to venture out:
His blue sweater had gone in the elbows
and it was time for a new one.
Burberry’s was a day trip away by train.
What if they didn’t’ carry his sweater anymore?
He thought of his mother who has shopped for him.
He really needed that sweater.
He took a notebook just in case.
Philip Larkin had three women
He considered this a burden —
a duty to that nudging sexual organ
his mother disapproved of.
And ever the vivid ache
when the spanking magazines arrived;
always every pleasure,
ersatz and unsettling.
Philip winced at the wind
tugging at those pleated skirts, riffling
all that soft clean hair.
I’m actually quite sorry about those panties,
he arranged to tell himself, eyes seeking
the tops of her thighs. I am, after all (he
told no one) just keeping to the path.
He would object
Of course, to this prurient discourse; who wouldn’t?
In his fusty bed he denied
that his name could rest
on paper without him.
© 1998 Catherine Weaver All rights reserved