Michael Longley

A Gift of Boxes (1995)


Rice grains between my chopsticks remind you of a flower.
I want to wash the hagi petals in my bowl, then balance
Before your lips an offering of crabs’ brains on a shiso leaf
Which looks like a nettle from Ireland but does not sting.


We are completely out of proportion in the tea-house
Until we arrange around a single earthenware bowl
Ourselves, the one life, one meeting, a ribbon of water
And these makeshift ideograms of wet leaves, green tea.


You make a gift of boxes by putting boxes inside
Boxes, each one containing the Japanese air you breathe,
More and more of it in diminishing boxes, smallness
Condensing in the end to two boxes the size of tears.


They have planted stones in the stone garden. If I sit still
The stones will take root in my imagination and grow.
You retire behind the fifteenth stone which I cannot see.
Whatever happens to a stone becomes its life, its flower.


Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939. Among other works he is author of No Continuing City: Poems 1963-1968 (Gill and Macmillan, 1969); Poems 1963-1983 (Salamander Press, 1985); The Echo Gate: Poems 1975-1979 (Secker and Warburg, 1979); Gorse Fires (Secker & Warburg, 1991), which won the Whitbread Poetry Award; The Ghost Orchid (Cape, 1995); Selected Poems (Cape, 1998); The Weather in Japan (Cape, 2000), which won the Hawthornden Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Belfast Arts Award for Literature; Snow Water (Cape, 2004); and Collected Poems (Cape, 2006). For further information see the Michael Longley page at contemporarywriters.com. ‘A Gift of Boxes’ appeared in The Ghost Orchid, is © Michael Longley, and appears here with the kind permission of Michael Longley.

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