Oonagh Lahr
8 poems from This Wooden O, Part I

Somewhat Bigger than Eros

Too Late for Eden

Divorced from Reality

After Cavafy


Hermia to Lysander

O My Dear Toothache

The Last Sonnet

Somewhat Bigger than Eros


I cannot bear such meeting in casual talk
It seems to me against the spirit of truth
That we, we two, joined into one at the root
Sit at a public table like poker players.

I cannot bear to see you in the distance
Because it makes our separation clear:
Always the shadowy third joins in her presence
Always the knowledge of what is not here.

I cannot bear to talk to you in riddles
Heart-breaking riddles skirting interview lies –
Lying about ourselves and the disguise
We used to wear: all that is desperately changed.

Quits, and reality its power to jar.
I cannot bear to feel the dizzy joy
Of seeing you, with the bitter after-pain:
My blood becomes corrosive to my heart.
Poison the fate that had us meet to part.

Nothing but only this can shake my essence
And leave me again unsure of what we are
Anything else will leave me loving you
Until the light goes out from the furthest star
Until the long heart-wince that is life’s system
Quits, and reality its power to jar.


One candle is enough
All that the darkness needs
To piece with gentle touch
The shadows cast by love.
One candle is enough:
Respects the private room
Clothing the light with grace
So, dreaming and withdrawn
I conjure with the gloom
And see the shadows form –
The shadows cast by love.


Empty are spoken tears
That I shed over you
That you say over me
In pity for each other,
And sorrow’s iron teeth
Are famished at our doors.

Let that which will be, be;
What makes you shine at me
And brings me to your side
Will be our pillar yet:
Even what flogs us now
Will crown us afterward.

For now, my love, stay mine
(More than I am my own)
Towards me turn your face
For I am yours unchanging:
Love that accepts defeat
Will be no renegade.

By all my steadiness
I tell your listening soul
That you and you alone
Make music of my days:
My heart, beaten and whipped
Has drawn its lot and gone.

Move not till I return
To smile with you again
And kiss you with my eyes,
Disreckoning my tears:
Turn pain, the hour-glass,
Into an orb of joy.

Run quickly out, dark days,
Run quickly out of sight.
Hurry to pick the locks
Of all my clanking grief.
Come quickly, shining hour,
The sun in your hand is mine.

(After Paul Fleming)


Lie further off, my dear, lie further off
Though I would die for you
Keep all I have for you
Refuse to all other for you
Lie further off.

I dreamt then a dream
He smiled as I strangled
And when I awoke
I screamed for him
The wood had swallowed him
The night abolished him

When I regreeted him
After we’d slept apart
He ceased to see me
He wished to kill me.

Someone is killing him
Somewhere in this wood
I must prevent it
Heaven shield him where he lies

And yet lie further off, my love
Lest you could see
Upon my open face
Some other me.


O my dear toothache
Must I not stop
This cavity-hugging
For my own sake?

My unruly tongue
Returns to the space
Where the dull pain
Keeps its place

O memory drilling
Into the hollow
Where you are not –
What kind of filling

To deaden this throb?
And yet if the pain
Were not there
I believe I’d despair.


Not then a common courtship spurred by greed:
To know and not to own is all my quest.
Let us be gentle givers of the best
Without the ills that ownership may breed.
Take what you please and what may fit your need
And be assured you are a welcome guest
For what’s possession to the god-possessed?
And I will on your kindness freely feed.

Yet this supposes that you could be willing
And at that thought the doubt within my breast
Told me I cannot hope for such fulfilling
As all my art has all my life expressed.
At last my courage rose and threw a rope:
Although I have not him, I shall have hope.


Oh yes dear
I will marry you
But do me a small favour first:
Fetch me the planet Mercury.

Why should it take you so long?
You can find it with a telescope.
We can spare you for a fortnight;
I’ll look after things here.

Flying these days is easy.
You can take a comet.
(What are you so restive about?)
We’ll be married the day you get back with it.

I always said that I wanted
Mercury for a wedding present:
Just the right size for us both –
Somewhat bigger than Eros.

At the moment he’s near the sun
Which he goes round, of course,
So take your Crookes lenses
And some cream against sunburn.

The wedding will be all prepared
I’m such a good organizer
Each invitation ready to send
The moment that you get back

What is so odd about it?
Why are you muttering so?
Look here, either you get me Mercury
Or I won’t marry you!

Well I’m damned, he went.
It’s as well I found out in time.
I could hardly marry a man
Who wouldn’t fetch Mercury for me!

Let me see, he was the twentieth.
I expect the twenty-first
Will be someone really enterprising
Not like these sissies,

Someone like Tensing or Hillary.
I had better go on
Collecting sheets and cutlery
Against the happy day.

But leaving the monograms out
Because I don’t know his initials yet.

Part II
Like a Meaning

Fir Tree
Her Majesty's Prison Holloway
The Advance on the Retreat
Like a Meaning
This Wooden O

This Wooden O | Part I | Part II | Oonagh Lahr | Idea Fine Art
All works copyright © Oonagh Lahr 2000 - 2005 All Rights Reserved
Access reproduction rights for this publication of the ‘Apollo & Diana’ drawing by Durer
are courtesy of The British Museum, London, United Kingdom