Ian Heffernan was born just outside London, where he still lives. He studied at UCL and SOAS and works with the homeless. His poetry has been published recently in the High Window, the Raintown Review, Morphrog, London Grip, Acumen, Ink Sweat & Tears, South Bank Poetry and elsewhere.
THE AUTUMN FIELDS
The autumn fields are bleaker every day,
The river holds a cold blue emptiness.
I’ve moored my boat beneath the southern stars,
And made my home in half-wild rural Chu.
I let my neighbours pick my ripened dates,
And hoe between my sunflowers myself.
A simple meal is set out on my plate,
One part of which I’ll keep to feed the fish.
It’s easy to discern the way of things,
Those laws of nature few will violate.
The fish are happy when the pond is deep,
The birds return at night to hidden roosts.
So I accept ill health and poverty,
The fight for wealth and fame is for the young.
The autumn wind is harsh, I sit or walk,
I won’t refuse to eat the mountain ferns.
Here rites and music hold my faults in check,
The woods and mountains bring long happiness.
I turn my head, my gauze hat slips askew,
I sun my back, light strikes the bamboo books.
I’ll gather pine nuts when the weather’s calm,
On colder days I’ll cut up honeycomb.
A few late flowers hint their reds and blues,
Their half-smelt fragrance causes me to halt.
Along the river’s reach the sand is white,
The mountain range reflects the red of dusk.
The scales of diving fish disturb the waves,
Returning wings are met by sudden gusts.
The sound of washing blocks fills every lane,
Woodcutters’ axes beat their rhythm out.
The Dark Maid bids a quilt of frost to form,
It brings to mind the ministry at night.
My portrait might’ve hung in Qilin Hall,
I’m growing old where ducks and egrets flock.
The river often swells with autumn rain,
Deserted gorges fill with sound at night.
A footpath hides among a thousand rocks,
A sail remains beneath a stretch of cloud.
My son has learned a barbarous southern tongue,
Let’s hope the army find him suitable.
© Ian Heffernan
TWO TANG POEMS
I. Du Fu – A Corner of the World
The mountains hide the Yangtze and the Han,
In cloud and wind, a corner of the world.
Year after year allows no settled thing,
Place after place becomes a new impasse.
Escaping war, that gentleman of Qin,
Distraught and gaunt, that courtier of Chu.
Already solitary in peaceful times,
I walk a road more desolate each day.
II. Du Fu – Midnight
The West Pavilion high above, I walk
Beside my lattice windows in the dark.
The water shows the white of shooting stars,
The moon is setting over empty sand.
Choose any tree, a bird will hide within,
Imagine outsize fish beneath the waves.
My kin and friends are scattered through the world,
In time of war a letter seldom comes.
© Ian Heffernan
I watched an artist pack away her things,
Her rain-soused canvas freshly indistinct,
And listened to a teenage soldier rap
And beatbox to an antique nun, who mocked
The burgundy pyjamas that he wore
Beneath his one-size-too-small uniform.
Returning through the new-washed streets I reached
My hall of residence just as the rain
Began again; all evening I heard
Lone monomaniacs on balconies,
The pad of bare feet in the corridor
And drunken shutters rattling in the wind.
Next day they seized control, those we most loathed:
The Masters of Unreason and their aides.
We knew they’d come to crush the genuine.
They made us stitch old truths to new untruths
And forced us back through labyrinths of thought.
My fellow citizens complied. I fled.
I followed mountain paths until I found
A tiny inlet where the sea’s bleak blue
Amazed me and repulsed me; and that night
Beneath the fine braille of the sky, I left.
For seven hours the trawler pitched and yawed.
My empty stomach pitched and yawed in time.
I heard the sullen captain curse his lungs,
The senile motor stuttering, until
We put in at a wharf and disembarked.
All this was eighteen months ago, I’ve got
A place to live, a job of sorts and friends.
But boredom is a skill I’ve mastered now;
Boredom, and what putresces at its core:
A sense of guilt – I know that I’ve betrayed
The bright trust of the children, and the dead
Whose trust is brighter still; one night when wolves
Move north and shingle murmurs to itself,
One high cold night of clear stars, I’ll return.
© Ian Heffernan