JACKIE WILLS: After Edna St Vincent Millay (What lips my lips have kissed and where, and why)

The first was a German boy in South Street, Farnham
a disco at the British Legion, August ’68, summer of love.
The most desired was Michel’s, in a barn. I slept it off
after a night drinking Calvados as old as me. I was 21.
These forgotten names and faces visit me at random,
emerge from a retro hairstyle, album, coat or move
of the mouth. Nick’s reaching for the rack above
my head on the 7.17. In Victoria, I spot Graham
on his way home to Aberdeen. They’re my age now.
Does that guy in Brixton think of me in my blue hat?
I congregate with old lovers in a kind of limbo,
resurrected by address books, a taste of Kumquat.
My lips, unsmudged, pink from habit, remember how
I moved, read aloud with a stranger, the Story of O.

And here is the original poem written by Edna St. Vincent Millay some time after the end of the First World War:


What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before;
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more

2 thoughts on “JACKIE WILLS: After Edna St Vincent Millay (What lips my lips have kissed and where, and why)

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