William Leo Coakley

Armed Love

Inspired by a graffito on a wall on my way to visiting George Barker at his Bintry House in Norfolk: 'Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of. . .Ellen LeFevre, aged 25 yrs., and her four children. . . who were murdered at their residence in Southampton Street, Pentonville, during the night of Monday 8th September 1831 by Johann Nicholas Steinberg, aged 45 yrs., a native of Germany and father of the above children who afterwards murdered himself and was buried according to law' (St. James, Clerkenwell)

Here in the close of Clerkenwell church
on the bone-hill where death is host
I hear through stone the voice of the God-
ridden mock the unhouseled guest.

As I walk on the grave of London's dead
from the terrible night that never ends,
the long day darkens, brightness fails—
the godless need fair-weather friends.

I summon the bones of William Blake
to shake their message of bright hope:
all things wonderful and dark
have led us out of church and home.

I sing of all children the night has taken,
all strangers who seek their rest in blood,
the four children of Ellen LeFevre,
the loved and the lover, murderer and murdered.

According to law, justice will speak;
according to love, mercy cries--
beware of the sound of sudden peace,
the feverous silence when armed love dies.


Died on the Voyage

to the memory of Walter McElroy, buried in Istanbul, 4 June 1987. McElroy, a friend of myself and my mentor, poet George Barker, was a Communist American poet who defected to England during the McCarthy period and years later, just before the Soviet Union collapsed, when he came down with cancer, he went off by ship to Russia but died in Istanbul harbour and was buried in the city; I visited his unmarked grave finally last summer. He was part of a circle of poets and artists including Scottish painter Robert Frame, Lucien Freud, Dylan Thomas, John Minton, and George’s son, Sebastian Barker.

Turn into the mouth of the Black Sea,
There is no haven, no golden city:
The tender of death that shuttles you home
Accepts no pity.

Our exile has no end—the will
Frets, like the traveller, never at rest,
Grows sharper, firmer as it moves
In its pure quest.

The world that rose up in your dream,
Man unfettered, barriers broken,
Falls at our feet. There’s work to do
Till the last word is spoken.

William Leo Coakley © 2014