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The Least

And if the rain scours you
till your sockets go deep and black
as cockle-shells,
that’s good. Take your fingers,
bleached back to pegs,
and hands like the prints
of a wader’s foot,
press them to these stone walls, feel its cold,
the impress of a century of ferns
and the indentations of water,
note the way light
turns in the rock, the way shadows
rise up from depths as from pools,
take down the absence of all smell
but the freezing soil,
the mindnumbing sharpness of air,
the way the eye of the mountain
cuts open the valley’s legs,
finds you lodged
like the least of its pebbles, knows you
would have you small and clean
as brightest river stone,
bold as a pupil, as a whole bright iris,
would peel back your lids,
your lips,
would have you leasted
till what it leaves sings
taught as drumskin.

Simplified like this, taking just
what you need, it fits you
back into the room’s cavity,
shrinks the wood,
ratchets the screws tight,
bolts down the doors, draws in
windows, draws in
the hills themselves,
narrowing the world to a square of light
and shade,
subtracting the room’s pieces
one by one,
down to the bones of a bed,
the teeth of a chair,
the spine of a desk,
a jagging hand across paper,
a guttering candle,
a blind rain,
right down,
to the least you can live with.

Antony Bilton

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