September Books 8) Meeting the British, by Paul Muldoon

We met the British in the dead of winter.
The sky was lavender

and the snow lavender-blue.
I could hear, far below,

the sound of two streams coming together
(both were frozen over)

and, no less strange,
myself calling out in French

across that forest-
clearing. Neither General Jeffrey Amherst

nor Colonel Henry Bouquet
could stomach our willow-tobacco.

As for the unusual scent
when the Colonel shook out his hand-

kerchief: C’est la lavande,
une fleur mauve comme le ciel.

They gave us six fishhooks
and two blankets embroidered with smallpox.

A collection of very dense, layered poems, first published in 1987, rooted in the author’s experience in the small but deep-rooted world of Northern Ireland’s cultural community. The title piece is above; the last poems in the book are a sequence imagining the author in the position of figures such as W.H. Auden, Salvador Dali and Louis MacNeice; most of them are short and end somewhat abruptly (though few have quite as vicious as sting as the title piece). All very thought-provoking.

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