Archives for the month of: August, 2012

From his deathbed, he conducts his mighty, phantom orchestra,
“waves crashing”, “cannons firing”, “nature sublime”,
all tutti and eroico and vivace.
Or, in evening dress, he pauses at his restaurant table,
to take spontaneous plaudits from the admiring crowd.
Around him, the glass artillery of Bollinger and Moet
are firing their salutes, and their grapeshot
explodes in a glittering shrapnel of clinking flutes,
he is a party to everything.
The world is intensely beautiful.
At least this part is true.

The lulling tilt and tangle of their heads,
pine blue shadows on the snow,
the lacy allez allez allez of the sleighbells:
his furs and astrakhan hat, silver pistols
inlaid with the chromatic circus of mother of pearl.
And love. As if the way to the world was open,
and they could cross that bridge when they wanted to, only
for a few humble moments, they waited, together,
before they crossed.
Acutely sensitive, and serene: in the stillness
the sense of stillness moving. Perfection. Apogee.
Delicate lectures from the chrysalis.
And seminars on the hours and roads!
Such was his, wasn’t his, fate.
And even now, in his pockets
he carries fragments from that exquisite bridge.

A peddler of illusions, they called him.
Pretentious! Oh, the drama of those years of strife!
Witch. Fakir. A charlatan, a conjuror:
a con- con- con- confectioner — baubles, bubbles, trifles,
these, apparently, were his stock-in-trade,
the ethereal sweets of a serial cheater,
his whole life’s work a mere sleight of hand.
He didn’t understand. Why were they so attached
to their charmless regimen of money and time,
so indulgent of that greatest of fantasies — “ordinary life”?
In any case, so began the days of wandering.
Ignominy, at first, for one so feted.
Waking, often in strange rooms;
often to the ringing of a strange town’s bells.
Loneliness for salt; for pepper, poverty.
Ignored out of existence, he began the journey
towards the essence of his own lost words:
he grew silent; he became invisible.

You know the rest — or will, one day.
She did all that anyone ever does do:
moved a few atoms around, then slept, then woke: repeat.
She didn’t stay anywhere long, was always on the move.
She was sussed, streetwise. She was light on her feet.
One evening, she leant on the rail of the good ship Novelty,
and listened to the elegant gibber of her companion,
heard how the froth and simmer of the crowd
melted into the curse and whisper of the sea,
how the bits of cherished difference crumbled and broke down
into an oceanic indifference,
the divine “so what?”
She flicked her cigarette over the side,
the filter faintly impressed with traces of her lipstick.
The orchestra began to play a polka.
$7,606.00 per tonne — price of copper at the close of trade.

How did it get to this point?
Perhaps that’s for you to say?
In any case, he found himself on the street, bemused.
He was such a pleasant, loquacious person.
His talk was always a champagne rush,
it had been so wonderful to see her,
he had swept himself away
and was now cast up, high and dry, under the drowsy planes.
The moment was light, translucent,
like a hollow seed husk.
She felt a gutting sense of anticlimax.
As if, for her entire life, she’d been building
not a fine house, but a ruin.
He was so happy, he hardly cared that he’d missed his train.
Like finding your child is a suicide.
An empty place for the moon and rain.

Man is a great scandal in Nature!
After the fact, he was sure he had sensed the end
coming, that the bubble was about to burst.
The jargon was out of a comic-book set-to:
bang, crash, bust, slump. And yet, with all the others,
he had gone along: the music was so sweet, somehow,
the dream so well-appointed, the spell so alluring.
She watched the zombie crowds milling about
on the streets below her penthouse intellect.
The train doors closed: instantly, stranded on the platform,
he regretted not getting on,
although it had been his decision.
People were moving around in the unfurnished flat next door:
she could hear their footsteps echoing.
Decorators? she guessed. Landlord? Potential buyers?
Strangers. Always strangers…

The great philosopher wept when his old car broke down.
In Florence, the doves’ wings fluttered and made a sound
a little like a bible’s pages rippling.
She was too young, and he too stupid, to analyse
the deep unease running through society,
the sense that the carriage was right on the edge
of reverting to a pumpkin, and that the fortress walls
keeping the others out were paper-thin,
that the streets were closer.
The terror of not being themselves
had not yet assailed the lovers.
In the restaurant, she gazed numbly at the aquarium,
the glittering, chiffon barbs of the angel fish as they
flipped and coasted and swam.
Do they remember the ocean? she wondered.
Is there no end to it? No exit?
Isn’t everything just another way in?

It’s gone. I can’t trace it, like a river, back to its source.
It has no history, not like the Whigs
or the internet, or the theory of
the heat death of the universe.
Not even a story, like Moll Flanders or Jemima Puddle-Duck, page 1.
The bandits slipped into the desert, their tracks melted
into the haze of golden simoom.
Yet, somehow, that vagrant seed took root.
Carried by the wind, in a goose’s gut.
Among the dowdy locals of shy green and brown,
pinks so pale, they’re on the edge of white —
a scarlet exotic stranger arrives, stalking natives,
mingling with the Cornish, the furrows and the Crown.
Everything — everything — is far off, and keeps a secret.
And anyone who has gazed into a cat’s eyes knows this.

He meant to set out before dawn, but woke late.
The sudden peculiarity of time confronted him:
he didn’t know what hour lay all around,
deep and crisp and even. It was the fever.
He felt he’d overslept, not just a morning but whole seasons.
She had always adored his blue eyes,
with their cool, Arctic intransigence,
and the wheat stubble of his explorers’ jaw.
They joked about base camps and summits.
And yet, they lost their entire expedition
somewhere between quicksand and quicksilver.
The mountain proved as insubstantial as the moon
reflected in a mountain pool.
Perhaps Saint Stephen would save him?

She came to the edge of her sentence,
and looked over. There was no way back.
The start of every silence is a ledge,
the prophet thought, and beyond
that velvet precipice a void
so perfectly blank, it needs a word
just to call it a beginning.
In her parents’ house, he lay awake
and every clink and clunk of the pendulum
felt like the blow of a woodsman’s axe.
And Ziggy played guitar, for some reason,
in the middle of his delirium, kept
echoing around his mind.
She stared at the sky above the ruins —
as fragile and delicate as a vase from the Ming or Sung.
What was the emptiness inside?
There was a word for it, a word
right on the tip of her tongue.

It starts at once, “in medias res“, and at once
ends. Those stories that are just like sparks,
or shooting stars. The faulty lamp at the reception desk,
the smoky coil and whorl of flame mahogany,
her face reflected, dim, somehow unthinkable,
not requiring the props of gestures or metaphors,
but perfectly obvious, and therefore beyond him, quite out of his reach…

The green navigation light winking on and off
at the end of the jetty, seen from the apartment on Cairo St.
It’s still inside my heart, he thought,
that pulse, that persistence — somewhere always within me
I carried it for thousands of miles and for so many years,
until, now, I see it again, in the distance, tiny, at the end
of a long, benevolent tunnel of memory —
he broke off when the doorbell rang, and,
later that night, turned to Lara and snowdrifts;
and he was wrong.

Who knows? Iron slowly secreted in the soul,
the habit of the years, their sedative
casually and repeatedly administered,
the stories form like segments of shell,
then fragments of shells are washed up on a beach…
“Ruin”: it was what he faced.
It sounded curiously anachronistic,
a fate belonging to La Belle Époque,
to the staccato ghosts of horses and people
risen from their archived era,
entombed in Lumieres’ black and white.
Whoever makes it here will only find an empty house,
she thought. I send the cab away:
the stillness settles around me,
and the great planet of solitude exerts its pull, in the same grave way
as do the four or five other great planets of our cosmogony.
Oh! she said. Make a wish!

To be exact, he arrived not in Liverpool but London.
He was spaced out. He’d been travelling for a long time.
I was trying to finalise my heart —
a quixotic venture, as I freely admit! —
among the tall-stemmed lilies in reception.
Of course, we neither of us knew what was about to happen.
She told me later, she felt a tiny, tangible agitation in her chest,
a tremor, like those between two magnets
whose poles attract.

This was in 1914, only days before the war broke out.
It seemed to him as if he’d left
a part of his soul in the sleeping car on the journey
between Florence and Paris.
Almost physically, like an object, a book or a hatbox.
The African parrot, taken to Lost & Found, no one ever claimed.
And at a certain point, she realised that, like him,
she had become a traveller —
a person for whom home has grown impossible.
It was the night of the violent storm
when the hotel’s lights flickered on and off,
and his face in the mirror seemed so strange,
as if carried to his eyes from the end of civilisation.

I texted her, but she didn’t reply.
The bombed building fell in, and was later demolished.
They kissed, for the first time, on the picnic:
he thought he’d never forget that kiss,
her lips and breath scented with fresh raspberries,
rich in antioxidants and vitamin C.
She puzzled for hours over his statement,
which seemed like an intensely radiant non sequitur,
and affected her far more powerfully than if

it had actually made sense.
It was a disease of swallows, attacking the brain in such a way
that the birds appear to forget how to land, with the result
they simply stay on the wing, and in the end
fly themselves to death.
Sometimes, he thought humanity had caught the same disease.
Subdued, she stared out the window of her suite
as dusk fell and the great city assembled itself
as a flood is assembled from millions of drops of rain.
The truth to say, I was happy to leave it at that:
it suited me, in much the same way
I find fragments and unfinished novels are oddly satisfying
and possess a beauty completed works can never attain.

Cher Maitre, how long ago it seems since last I wrote…
And so it goes on. A spark, a flash of powder,
the little peace around the duellists’ mighty argument,
a puzzled look into what the dawn
is doing with the night’s last stars.
Yes, you see, there it is again –
the thing that always intervenes, that obdurate,
inveterate and immense distraction – life.
You glance up; thwarted, hesitate; look back down.
It glittered, like words half said and sense
half made, but, as ever, soon afterwards
the instant came for it. When it glittered again,
you didn’t glance up and, like most things, then,
it slept, lying its head between
the letters I never wrote, and the letters I’ll never write,
and the letters I’ll never read, and the letters I never read.

I have time, but I have run out of thoughts. What am I to do?
It is natural for a river to have both a left bank
and a right bank: I know this.
And that, at midnight, one day will end, and another begin.
Today, I have no feeling for knowledge:
it gives me no sensation.
Everything I’ve thought, I’ve either forgotten
or have no wish to think again.
But since we must think, I must make do, I suppose,
with old thoughts; at least I won’t pretend
they’re anything but the habit of an engine to run –
I won’t care for them, or attempt to store them,
or hope they will lead anywhere in particular.
But if I walk by a river, I’ll be aware
there is another bank on the other side of the water;
and I’ll remember that, this evening, after midnight,
another day will begin.

You wrote
You can fit an average snow crystal
inside this letter ‘O’.

Time slipped into our kiss.
We thought we didn’t need tomorrow.
It’s nothing but a sound of crows in winter,
a space of bare sunlight where the pines once were,
how things become impossible.

Dazzle filled our eyes, and a white silence
flooded our mouths, dumbfounding us.
It was a sight at first we took for beauty,
a swan’s rush and a strike of angels
stealing away the ground.
We stared for what seemed like hours,
enchanted as in childhood;
only slowly did it dawn on us, at last,
that we were snowbound.