The Pit

By John Fuller b. 1937 John Fuller
From the beginning, the egg cradled in pebbles,   
The drive thick with fledglings, to the known last   
Riot of the senses, is only a short pass.
Earth to be forked over is more patient,
Bird hungers more, flower dies sooner.

But if not grasped grows quickly, silently.   
We are restless, not remembering much.   
The pain is slow, original as laughter,   
Reaching for all of it, hardly aware,
Beginning again and feeling for its terrain.

We were often told and still we would not listen,   
And closing fingers, those accomplices,   
Took comfort from a lie. From lap to grass   
Whining, motionless on the lowest branch   
Above the pine needles, climbing the heather:

We did not listen. It hid there still to find.   
Much since was hard to get, later displeased,   
Nursing an ordinary complaint or waiting   
For a reiterated brilliance,
Growing in ignorance, too near to see.

Now in the suburbs windows are on fire,   
Pale globes quiver on their dusty strings
And afternoons disperse with mirth of gnome,   
The rigid stabbed flamingo pink in the trees,   
Split to the touch and walking by the pool.

Now life jerking in its sustained coda   
Constricts its furniture and its events.
The frowning bus disappears down the hill   
Or slides before the window with its bored   
Passengers staring unashamedly in.

Now above the trees the ice-cream’s bare   
Electric tongue stammers its recitation.
Children run out in the dumb-bell cul-de-sac
To their cold delight, skipping between the turds   
Of long-dead dogs, coiled thickly on the stone.

The children learn so quickly. The house stirs.   
Swallows leave earlier, apples to be pressed.   
Half the sky burns: the other half is dark.   
Hair pushing slowly out, generations
Surrounding us with wonder, theirs and ours.

Nothing to give, nothing has been learnt.   
The past simply denies the urge for a truce,   
Creeping into the egg. When it is time   
We can appoint a committee for the feasts,   
And for next year’s feasts, and the year after.

Locks stick, glass metamorphosed
In leafy caryatids of summer where
Heat packs the panes and fingers tremble in   
Tobacco pockets, a tomato sniffed,
Its greenish acid bloom and tiny hairs.

The pain stirs again like a new life
To be unravelled. It had to come to this.
The body is nothing, the body thinks nothing,   
The short senses grubbing on their sticks   
Feel nothing, the forgotten carioca.

A line moves to the finger end, and curls,   
Head fallen in helplessness. The wails   
Of children break behind the woven fences,   
Those minted faces tar beyond our sight.   
The gates shut: a parade of Japanese flags.

And alive on the porch the councillor lowers his pipe,   
Comes down from the dunes a bathroom Arab   
Firing off caps, or crouched over shells
Gathered in sodden pumps, the soprano waitress   
Bringing hot tea across the evening sand.

The nights come in slowly. Behind a half-curtain   
The impossible is completed. A single lamp   
Weighs down its ornaments in pools of light.   
Shadows crawl over the crater, roped
To the terrain’s recoil, roped to the pit.

John Fuller, “The Pit” from Collected Poems, published by Chatto & Windus. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited,

Source: Collected Poems (1996)

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Poet John Fuller b. 1937


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 John  Fuller


A prolific poet, novelist, children’s writer, critic, and editor, John Fuller has written or edited nearly 50 books, including more than a dozen collections of poetry. Fuller was born in Kent, England, and his father was the poet Roy Fuller. John Fuller was mentored by W.H. Auden and also influenced by Eliot, Graves, and Stevens. His poetry displays a virtuosic ease within the constraints of formal, metered verse; it is a poetry . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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