For no-doubt sex in fields of asphodel —
fields watered by strange rivers — Or would steal away
from mother and the cocks
grinned at them thru shrunken lips.
Skull so vast that there seemed trapped
the wind itself,
Or’s face threw the window open
to the height of their desire. Eyes came out
of the northern mists wearing leopard.
Like a butterfly’s wing deciphering drenched violets
the water brimmed in Or
and widened them.
Disturbed, Or turned to walk out
and dipped, describing as all young poets are forever describing
in order to match the shade of green.
Precisely green in nature
is one thing, in literature another.
Bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.
A trifle clumsy (clumsiness is often mated with love
of solitude), Or naturally loved
solitary places, vast views and to feel
ever and ever and ever uphill thru ferns, startling deer, wild birds
— the English Channel,
wave upon wave of pleasure
boats gliding with puffs of smoke from which came
the flung self on earth —
it was anything so long as it was hard,
a heart that tugged, a heart
filled with spiced and amorous gales. Pale clouds hung
from little leaves, limbs grew
heavy on the ground as if all the fertility activity
of the summer’s evening were woven
web-like about their body.
White clouds turned red, woods purple, valleys black.
A trumpet reduplicated itself, its darkness
pierced with lights.
Or tore up the winding staircase, flushed,
tossed their stockings to one side, jerkin to the other.
No less than six inches, a double dahlia was
in front of them like a dirty thought,
a pen — their eyes globed and clouded like some green stone
of curious texture. Was this a poet
who sees ogres, satyrs, perhaps the depths of the sea
(head in a bowl of water) —
a great queen with thin hands and long fingers always
curling — a body strung together
by a thousand fears?
Eyes flashed yellow in the water.
Or slept without knowing it. For women’s hearts,
green in mind, Or had written a score
of intricate sonnets which had the look
eyes, mouth, nose, breast, hips, hands —
the youth became them.
Strength, grace, romance, folly — poetry
named him/her the slenderest
carriage of the people. Huzzas rang
among the cushions’ boyish memory of cheeks.
Lined with frost, a dyed river ran
sluggishly full of shadows.
The mirror — brazen hussy — saw Or kissing the mirror
and crashed, wore man’s treachery
to an end.
Or was different — the weather itself, auroral.
Lingering twilights blazed, translating
Our doubtful age bloomed and faded as short flowers.
The age of self plucked Or’s nature,
did what name was, made rhymes to them all
in turn, but Or’s taste
was for the weed we lay bare rudely,
the sympathy of blood.
Cheek seemed fresher, full of beer and stars.
Their arms coloured their songs
with hard acquisitive beaks. Or was astir,
ragged with hair —
gossip had seen them sleeping,
their loves had been active among the rubes
and laden in the eternal
snows of Or’s poetry. Phantom fruit, their illicit
modern shame went not in quest of “reality.”
Under underlinen drew back,
was so ill of silk
and justice. Within an inch of its life,
Or’s window turned
inward to perverse, to flames deeply rooted
with phlegmatic sets of teeth.
White care lawyers came
to curry favour with the citizens.
Birds froze in mid-air, were seen to turn visibly to powder.
The river was frozen to a depth of twenty feet —
six or seven miles on either side
was swept, decorated, and given all the semblance
of a pleasure ground with arbours, mazes, alleys, drinking booths.
Etcetera lovers dallied in showers,
balloons hovered motionless in the ice
of singular transparency,
eels puzzled — the river wrecked the person,
whatever name or sex or slenderly fashioned entirely
in oyster-coloured velvet and trimmed
with some unfamiliar green-coloured fur. O!
obscure whole person —
a melon, a pineapple, an olive tree
a fox in the snow — all in the space of his her senses.
Senses were simple they were
at the same time extremely
out of the question —
Or’s own sex that is, or was.
Fished from the bottom of the sea Or turned hot,
turned cold, longed to hurl, to toss
with the beech trees and oaks.
It was thru this accident that Or spread,
under the entertainment of a laughable predicament,
tongue dans le ravissement
from a cruel mouth yawning sawdust and cinders.
Or stuffed peacocks,
ice turned to wine their landscape —
manhood in deep water,
their most impassioned sonnets deeply in the world.
Drollery answered in perfect French,
the subject changed from a sulky stripling
to a dancebeat — Or’s sapphire left hand stung it
in its tenderest part
— the public part of the river
where dogs ran six abreast all day long.
Or took to the city — rebel head.
Where they had the river to themself they lay
lulled in a swoon, and cindery.
Laughing, Or would fall
suddenly into moods — nothing thicker
than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy.
“All ends in death” — sudden extravagant words
like snow, cream, marble, cherries, alabaster
— none of these like a fox, like
the waves of the sea when you look down on them from a height,
like an emerald, like the sun.
So ransack the language, another landscape, another tongue
however voluptuous, the green flame
hidden in the emerald, sun imprisoned in a hill.
Remembering petticoats Or ran wild
with the passion of a poet
whose poetry is half-pressed out by pain, history, family —
ashamed, covered with the fur of both sexes
yet entirely free from hair on the chin,
doubt like quicksand
into the lower parts of the ship, Or wrapped in dreams
all the hardships
true landscape did not entice.
on the first dark night
dark confident thoughts saw them
blotted out in a red
cloud rage —
Or was outraged by the foulness
of this tawny wide-cheeked monster. It might have been
the fault of the consonants — pink, tallow, rank,
breast hooked by a great fish and rushed through the waters
unwillingly yet with consent
and against all red sunset clouds.
A grove of trees stripped of all leaves save a knob at the end
were lit. Now all the west seemed
fancy again — perpetually white,
gulls circling. A million globes translating
all the colour
save the red of Or’s cheeks
soon faded. Night came on, succeeded
Everything suffered emaciation and transformation.
A deep note struck on a tuning fork
boomed hither and thither on the surface of river. Above
and around this brilliant circle
like a bowl of darkness pressed the deep black.
Then into this darkness there began to rise
flowering rockets, serpents.
Or found their way to end their privacy
and encounter the sharp eyes that were on the watch for them —
catchers, scholars, ostlers, citizens.
As always, haunted streets,
the press stood opposite like a Punch & Judy show.
and still the words stirred like music in the beer —
words even without meaning came to. Or
methinks should now have been a huge eclipse
of sun and moon, and that the affrighted globe should yawn
in their ear. Long before midnight
Or was the night,
so inky that a man was on you
before he could be seen at the rustle of a woman’s dress.
The lights which burnt downstairs
were extinguished (negligence of man
before dawn, who would sit their trolling
till rolled asleep on sand).
The blow took a minute to realise
that these were raindrops —
the hard sky poured the self forth in one profuse fountain
steaming and droning,
all senses gleaming with rain strokes —
phantom voices echoed.
Doom was a sealed feeling heart
bitten by a swarm of snakes. The tremendous rain
sagged a little at the knees.
Immovable irony — jour de ma vie!
Past reasoning was now a race of turbulent yellow,
gained its freedom in the sulphur night
to which philosophers are inclined, had risen from
volcanic regions, burst the ice asunder with such vehemence
that it swept these huge and massy fragments
into riot and confusion, strewn,
Many perished by their own cupidity, hurling bank.
Eyes were carried away on icebergs
with an extraordinary amount of cooking utensils.
Or clapped, rounding a bend
of the river fast filling with water.
the shape of a ship flinging
— self made in rage —
would breast the flood of sex.
Faithless, fickle —
the swirling waters took their words,
their broken little feet.
'The Or Tree' is a fictitious recreation of the fictitious poem, ‘The Oak Tree’, by Virginia Woolf’s character Orlando (who was based on Vita Sackville-West). ‘The Or Tree’ is an assemblage and erasure poem, or rather, is resurrected chronologically using fragments of text leftover from a burnt copy of Orlando: A Biography. “Or” is a character in the poem. They are also a conjunction and a ghost.