Life and War with Mikey Fatboy Delgado
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
(excerpted from) - Between Allenby and the tayelet and the sea
“Clutched by an endless poem” – Darwish
“What has happened constantly rearranges itself
in front of those it happened to; it fruitlessly and
endlessly seeks a convincing form.” – Mrs Kaplan
Between Allenby and the tayelet and the sea
we are three.
We are Eric, we are David, we are Alan.
We are two Jews and one not.
We are two Americans and an English.
We are each looking in different directions.
We are about to rob a bar and we must be quick.
David has said I want to do that too.
David has said when are you guys going to do that?
One of us has said if it were done when ’tis done,
then ’twere well it were done quickly.
Two of us have heard and wondered at this.
We don’t have an Uzi or a Galil or an M16,
but someone in there may two of us caution David.
The bucket they throw the money in is under the bar counter.
David wants to impress Eric and Alan
and he will grab the bucket and run.
We who will enter the bar first will pretend we don’t know David.
We will appear confused by the uproar and impede any who try
to follow as he runs out through the door and into the side streets
of south Tel Aviv. Two of us have assured David he will not be shot.
David has said but these motherfuckers here are crazy. We have said
but you are wearing a magen david on a chain around your neck,
you don’t look like an Arab. David has said
how much money will there be and sitting on the balcony
of the Riviera hotel we three see at that moment
a soldier enter Amram’s Bar across the street and one says
at least some. The girl after she has masturbated him
will throw his money in the bucket along with the money
for the glass of coloured water in the Campari bottle
she will suggest he buys her, so someone says
multiply that by how many soldiers have gone in there today
and Eric has said I just want my money back, I got nothing
and Alan has had an unhappy childhood and wants some excitement
and David has listened to a disconnected telephone last night
telling him he cannot come home. Yea they robbed you man
says David outraged. And you’re a Jew, they did it to a Jew,
I didn’t think they’d do that here and Alan says
Ben Gurion said we won’t have a country to call a country
until we have our own policemen and our own whores and thieves.
Two of us didn’t think the city would be like this. One of us says
I thought they’d be like good cowboys in white hats and white shirts
and someone says
first day here by the seafront shacks a pretty girl called out in a man’s voice
‘hey gingey, want to buy me a drink?’ and one of us said
did she want you to fuck her? and one of us said
you should look at the size of their feet in case they’re men
and David said show me one show me one.
And David said
and what about you? and Alan said
she masturbated me liked she wanted to pull it off.
Like she didn’t know what to do? said David.
Like she wanted to pull it off said Alan.
She kiss? said David. She tasted like copper coins
but wet and soft and that was enough and Eric said
my girl gave me nothing and I might die for this country soon
and she gave me nothing. And from the balcony the three of us
see a man in a uniform in a wheelchair approach the girls at the door
and one kneels and even from here you can see she is tender
and she wheels him through the doorway into the dark.
This was all after the Dead Sea, this was all after
two of us came back crazed with heat and thirst,
This was all a long time ago and who knows
which of us is even still alive.
The city doesn’t miss you like you miss
the city. The city’s like a lover
who knows whatever once was is no more.
The city has moved on. It holds a few
beloved to its heart and though you have burst
and shone in your time, then so have all others,
all have been witness to their age, drawn their conclusions
changed their opinions, seen decent innocent people
of all times fought over by the jaws of despots and saviours,
been consoled by sad voices of all poets since the birth
of mark-making, all have known men and women
and sympathised over lost lives, looked over their shoulders
at lists of names of departed lovers whose turning away erased them
and yet still the city does not hold you to its heart
and number you among its beloved.
Everyone in the city does what they do not because
of their ability but because of their disability.
The brothel is long gone now, swept away
from between Hayarkon and Allenby
and the tayelet beside the sea.
The barmaid from Leicester who spoke English
as if she’d forgotten how it works is a ghost.
Afterwards at the bar she soothed them
with her simplicity about men
being so foolish for their cocks. She consoles
the American zionists, the layabouts, the religious
men, the fools who arrived to be masturbated or robbed.
She says simply for sense it’s not Campari
it’s pink water. But watch, they are good
with the physically crippled, they are kind
to those who have suffered far away
from anyone who could take them
in their arms and say “I am mother,
remember me? I love you.”
She soothes, didn’t you know that prostitution is illegal
in this country? No not campari, pink water. Yes illegal.
But foolishness is not. If you are lucky, if they can be bothered
in the heat one or other of the girls on the door
may take a man to a cubicle, pull a breast out,
and feed him. One of them, kissing, at least,
tastes like copper coins….
…at the Dead Sea
we were two. One saw dead eyes
in a man’s face whose lips were moving,
hissing what are you doing here?
He hated both of us with a vengeance.
Maybe he would have reached for a knife.
Maybe we would have puzzled at the glint
of sun against the steel. Maybe bleeding
on hot tarmac we would have wondered
whether it could really be happening. Maybe
we would have thought perplexed but
this is such a stupid way to die. Maybe
we would have bled cold on a hot day
in that high summer in the Judean Desert.
Maybe the Border Police jeep arriving
saved our lives. Maybe.
He wanted to kill is all I know.
By now he may be dead himself – February,
all these years later. He may be dead, and this pen
won’t work. The story won’t come. It runs ahead,
It twists. And she leans forward,
the one who hears this story, and I glimpse her
twisting, and the lace rustles
and the nylon rustles
and I think will I be able to read
my own writing later?
Maybe once a year,
I think about him, like I am now,
when I hear some poem or other
shouting to me in front of floor-to-ceiling glass,
while this history I believed, which
is so beautiful from behind, bends to show me
what it has done, what it can touch,
Mocking, you believed a different book.
Like now, when the disembodied voice
whispers bilaad bilaadna,
wa el yahud kalebna Mocking.
Like September at the Jaffa Gate;
George and Issam confessing sedition,
whispering about a million fedayeen,
about uprising, and the stench of teargas
rising, whispering it is not good
to whisper of these things,
Like on the blue divan of W—- R—-
in the Christian Quarter, her blue ink
needling one arm with peace and life
in one square and one fluid language.
The gun hissing what are you doing here?
This history which is beautiful from behind
is accidental. It is saving him from thinking.
It may or may not get him a poem. It makes
a show of applying red gloss to her lips. Poetry
of the Committed Individual is on the table
between them. She walks away. She comes back.
She carries a tall cup of coffee
poured by her mother from Nazareth.
He watches her walk away,
sees her from the back, catches her eye,
signals a message I didn’t know I didn’t know
how when bending low history is beautiful
from the back. The coffee steams.
At Ein Feshkha there was iced water
in the cafeteria on the shore
of the Dead Sea. In the car park the dead eyes
of a man who held me responsible
for history. I remember the bright white lines
of parking spaces on black hot tarmac.
I can see the blood of what may have happened
pooling into seven rivers, leaving me.
What are you doing here?
We need a poem. The book falls open.
We don’t own our shadows…
…and though David wasn’t a poet,
or claim to be one and didn’t have a pen
on him when someone asked once
he said something beautiful about the time
he’d rung his father and his father had told him
to stay here and had hung up the phone on him.
David said that when his father hung up he had listened
to the noise on the line and thought about that line
and that noise, about how it stretched all the way
from Tel Aviv to Michigan, and all the way
to the handset in the house he’d lived in
before being sent here. And he said
he was in that room too, trapped just behind
the earpiece grille of the handset,
longing for his father to pick it back up
and find David still there and tell him this time that yes,
he could come back again, that he didn’t have to stay here
to build and be built. He said I listened for a long time, man.
And then the poetry went right out of David and he swore
that one day he’d kill his father for that, for making him listen
to that noise stretching all the way to Michigan,
all the way into that room he wanted to be in.
He ranted about what a cunt his father was,
about how until just before his father had suggested
he come here and then pulled an airline ticket out of his pocket
David hadn’t even known he was a Jew.
One of us who wasn’t a Jew said he was the first Jewish kid
I’ve met called Dave and said I’d never thought of Dave
as a Jewish name. And the other one of us who was a Jew said
there are plenty of Davids but you don’t hear too much
about King Dave. Or Dave Ben Gurion…
…if it’s not the gun it’s the knife and if it’s not
the knife it’s the bomb and if it’s not
the bomb it’s the food and if it’s not
the food it’s the water and if it’s not
the water it’s the air and if it’s not
the air it’s a love affair and if it’s not
a love affair it’s a place that conspires
against what we hold dear. When missionaries
come to my door they better bring women.
The security man at the supermarket on Ben Yehuda knows.
He knows if he doesn’t follow the three of us round the store
that the empty little bags on our shoulders are going to be full
when we leave and we won’t be paying for any of it. This barmaid
in this clip joint brothel shack masquerading as a bar
on Allenby knows. She knows enough to be able to tell
the ones of us called Eric and Alan to forget it if we are planning
to rob the joint. She knows enough to point to David
at the other end of the bar and tell us that she knows
we are with him even though we all came in separately
and have been pretending not to know each other.
She says don’t do it. She says you will get hurt. We three
pull our stools together and we three sit at a line at the bar
and listen to her lecture about what the fuck do we think we’re doing
and do we want to be found floating face down in the harbour
at the north end of Tel Aviv beach and do we really think
the sort of people who own bars like this would think twice
about killing little cunts like us who’ve got themselves all agitated
because we three, or the one called Alan and Eric at least,
got ripped off yesterday by two of the girls who work here
and spend all day fleecing mugs like us for coloured water
from the Campari bottle and for offers of sex which turn out
if you’re lucky to be a wank where you think she hates
you so much that she is trying to pull your cock out by the roots
for 50 dollars or if you’re unlucky getting nothing at all
from the lovely young girl who’s enticed you up these stairs
in the first place and isn’t going to be happy till all the dollars
she’s spotted in the one called Eric’s wallet are in her own purse.
So, asks the woman from Leicester why is he here? pointing
at the youngest one called David. And the answer to that
is that David is crazy, David has nothing better going on than to be sent
to Israel by his father at the age of 17, to find himself, to become a man,
to sort your fucking head out, and in a dormitory room at the Riviera hotel
he has met two guys called Alan and Eric who have told him
about visiting whore bars and getting ripped off and told him about how
they are going to get Eric’s money back and David thinks thank you
thank you , I have found my people, and has become enthusiastic
for this sudden excitement, this whiff of desperado-ness the likes of which
he hasn’t felt since he took much too much angel dust back in Michigan
and liked how it gave him the strength and menace of ten jilted men.
This fucking country, man he says. He thought it would be different to this.
I tried to tell my dad on the phone and David’s face drops as he remembers
how his dad had told him to man up, to learn fortitude, and instead
of telling David that of course he’d send the money for him
to come home he’d hung up the phone and left David listening
to 6000 miles of dialling tone. That’s the place, you can see it
from this balcony and David loves this new turn, his heart
has burst back into life and he’ll help, he wants to grab
an M16 from the shoulder of any one of the soldiers back
and forth between here and the beach and burst into the bar
and make an offer for the bucket beneath the bar they can’t refuse.
Blessed are the architects of Oslo on Memory Mountain, but still,
they are not farmers, and there is no Levantine
Common Agricultural Policy to check the memory mountain
which grows and grows and grows, and, as freely as butter
to the European poor, is distributed gratis to the fellahin
and the sheikhs and the mayors of Nazareth and Nablus and Jerusalem,
and the families of the martyrs and the innocents
of Deir Yassin and Ma’alot and Gaza and Tel Aviv.
In the bus queue, the orchard, the land, a man carries a photograph
of a ghetto, and another man carries the iron key to a home
to which he is forbidden to return, and they have both seen maps
which don’t mention the names of places their neighbours destroyed,
where strangers walk above the bones of both their fathers’ fathers;
and they have both lost a country and only one has found one.
And in fat years Pharaoh’s granaries are put to shame by the warehouses
in the country beneath our feet and in the country of our minds,
where the memory crop is stacked to the eaves, where the seed is myth
and the fruit is illusion, and if it were to be found it in a seedsman’s store
it would be stored under ‘C’ for ‘Cut and Cut and Cut and Come Again’
and, unlike the land, the shelves could not bear the weight.
By day we wait for war again.
We listen for radio items that make no sense,
for lists, numbers, archaic words and usages,
clues to the call-up of reserves.
We walk barefoot to the supermarket,
watch lovers inflaming each other.
We imagine those women turning to catch us peeping
as they wave their men off to war.
At night we sit on the flat roof listening
to the distant sea. How the noise of the daylight hours
disrupts the senses. Late at night when it’s quiet
we can smell the ocean from here. We can taste it
on the salty breeze. We have learnt to say
omelette, matches, the time, because the women
here are beautiful, slowly,
I don’t understand.
The English-language newspaper writes often
of terrorist incursions in the north. We imagine
Bedouin trackers and their private photographs
of dead fedayeen lined up like fishing trophies
between the smiling hunters. We debate
the foolishness of travelling to the border
to buy matchboxes full of kif,
and we go just the same.
We communicate with Galilean Arab girls there
in nods and smiles. They reward our earnest attention
with golden-teeth grins and we wonder about
their strong thighs, and what if things were just
different enough for them to yearn to come into the trees
with us, or for us to slip into their lives as serious prospects.
On the train back south we talk of how the death of Elvis
shook us, even though none of us can stand rock and roll.
We talk of how we might extract the morphine from Diocalm.
We talk of the wonderment of Fantasia on drug-addled senses.
Catching our drawn faces reflected in the window between us
and the night I wonder what the oldest Arab girl, beautiful
with those heavy breasts beneath her embroidered Bedouin dress,
must have thought of us today, as we sat at the roadside café
guzzling the cheapest red wine, bleary-eyed, bullshitting.
Off Tel Aviv the sun drops to the sea
so quickly, and so orange; it’s all fire,
and far off, contained. The glass of mint tea
between us trembles, green and red – the wire
will be as simple and hot. Behind us,
across the street and across many more
(but yes, just up the road), there is a bus
charred to its bent struts, to even the score.
Here a man is screaming into his phone,
desperate to know the price of a deal.Life goes on.
The sky of fire is now red,
the street is hosed of the darkened blood. Bone
fragments are recovered. We eat a meal.
Life goes on. A phone rings. Lovers are dead.
In a café on Rehov Ben Yehuda he said
we carried on, we heard birdsong
after the radio report of the attack.
As we lay twisted on the cool tiled floor
her back was arched like a bow
and the thin red curtain was ruffled
by each shallow breath of the breeze.
A small bird hopped along the sill,
singing a song like a serenade
for lovers who were slipping and sliding
in an intricate coiling of limbs.
And like some small, black, red-beaked fan
the bird fluttered across them and back,
and when only the palms of her hands
and her feet touched the floor
the bird flew under her body’s bridge
to sing on the sill while they slid.
David jumps and David says I’ll never get used to that.
Every sunny day periodically the sky is torn which never fails
to make him jump. They are bombing people to the north of us.
Jets scream from south to north. Someone screams and someone
else screams hide yourselves, death is coming.
And from the balcony of the hotel between Allenby and the tayelet
and the sea we three with mad plots overlook the cafes and brothels
and bars from whose open fronts blares mizrachi music and from
below the balcony, every time a jet rips the quiet blue sky
on its way up the coast to drop bombs on Lebanon
a guy doing deals yells into his phone questions about prices
what? in dollars? I can’t hear a thing, these fucking planes…
We are acquiring the language through listening and lipreading.
On the other side of Allenby Street the woman lunching
is too far away to have her mouth surely read. She is dabbing blood
from her lips, she is leaning towards her much younger
companion. Someone suggests he gets the idea somehow
that she is breathing to him that she loves rare meat.
I may be wrong. He may be not of her tribe. She may be
explaining those jets and how these things work –
touch one of my family and I’ll kill all of yours.
Mrs Kaplan has written to the military. She has said
Not the bell.
Not until the ceasefire,
not even then, not for three – no – to be safe –
make it not for five days after that.
If you must come to visit a parent of absent children
do not telephone first, and neither press the bell.
Tap lightly, with just the tips of your fingernails
on the glass of the window, and if you are not answered
leave quietly. If you must, you must call again. The mother
may be floating through the hushed hours
and the empty rooms, feeling the light pull
of the blue balloons
of her tethered fears
tapping at her ankles, reminding.
And if you must write, wrap your words in a bright envelope,
nothing official-looking, nothing that could be mistaken,
nothing that could make you drop to your knees sobbing
entering the hallway to collect it.
And again, let me stress, if you need to visit
do not telephone in advance,
do not press the bell, nor wear anything whatsoever
that from behind the frosted glass could be taken
as the garb of a military man bearing condolence.
We beg you.
In the dormitory room of the Riviera hotel, a thief.
The photos gone. The diary gone. A day’s shared tips
from the bar at the intersection of Ben Yehuda
and Dizengoff. What is a thief to make of a memory?
American Suzanne then slips and slides
on cool white tiles,
and hot breezes and radio waves
lap against thin red curtains
as her one jet earring
swings and sways in space.
And he pushes this way and that,
telling her everything he’ll regret,
as coils of orange blossom perfume
from her wrists and nipples and throat
wrap around them in sympathy
with arms and legs. And tongues
lick unspoken unkept promises
clean away, and afterwards,
as in a war in which they’ve taken
each other prisoner, they hold each other,
and from the edge of sleep
Suzanne listens to the screaming
of rocket-laden jets flying north,
and she wonders out loud
what those pilots think about
just before they fall asleep.
Mrs Kaplan, sage, buys David’s watch for good money,
takes him to the old city, the holy, the city of the syndrome,
Tells him where the truth is too much to bear religions exist,
tells him on the Jaffa Road the air is thinnest water
on which history floats, quite at leisure, lightly down this hill,
on boats dispassionate of the manifests of all your dense cargoes
destined for here, and night falls and the walls of the Old City
out of sand turn orange and the air returns to its thin purple
gauze. David teetering till dusk on the edge of that syndrome
pulls back, sees how people pass quickly, the pious quickest
of all. Mrs Kaplan says see, twilight is an unsentimental engine,
it jerks their necks left and right, marks them as folk aware
that punishment stalks us and is psychotic and may or may not
emerge devastatingly from holy architecture. David feels
the alleys are haunted, echoing with footfalls, nervous
for assassins and the dark. It is as holy and as unholy
as Michigan, away from lamplights traditionally
there is little mercy. Mrs Kaplan says see, David,
the sages whip the living, no-one looks into anyone
else’s eyes. On the balcony of the Riviera hotel,
between Allenby and the tayelet and the sea David
tells Eric and Alan this about his day, looks
at his empty wrist, says, she sure did give me
too much money for my watch.
Towards the end of the war, evening trade
on Dizengoff picked up. Customers came
to sit again at the café tables,
with their gas-mask boxes and atropine
injectors and long tubes of grey powder
to be sprinkled onto nerve gas droplets.
And that evening, late, the siren’s voice
had remained silent; everyone was tense
with waiting, unrelieved. Men and women
sat together and alone. The yellow
lamplight, the sound of the coffee machine’s
escaping steam, the chatter of a voice
among other voices on the terrace;
here sipping their coffee it may have felt
that they were absent from their bodies, tired,
existent only in tension, floating,
until they rose to walk, when the night air
would feel heavy on them, holding them back.
See this man sitting as he likes to do,
at a corner table of the shallow
terrace. He likes to read from the poems
in front of him and then to scan the street
for daydreams, such as the look of a man’s
face, and if maybe he has killed, or a
woman’s body, and if maybe she was
kissed earlier, and the interaction
of students, and do they know anything,
are they cutting through the old narrative,
seeing their betrayal, how they are meat
to be ground, providers of surplus value.
At the next table he hears a man ask
another man if he thinks that a thought
could be an airborne virus, and that this
is how ideas spread. A drunk woman
stumbles to his table, asks him if he
would like something spicy. The clatter of
her heels drowns the reply. In his Walkman,
headphones the sound of hundreds of Cairenes
on their feet applauding the star. The far off
orchestra restarts, men whistle, the crowd
roars, the crowd applauds, she begins to sing
Beyid Annak. He wonders about what
this other woman means by spicy. She
has self-medicated, is opiated.
It is a lot to think about. The smell
of coffee, roasted pistachios. Raised
voices. The lit shop fronts. Laughter. Fragments
of conversations. Women. Men. The warmth.
War. The smell of the sea. The hissing surf.
The music from Cairo, miles to the south.
On Dizengoff after Night 34
light and shade beneath sunsplashed trees, dappled
pavement in wartime in spring, and we two,
breakfasted and temporarily calm
with the world, sip coffee at the Café
Cassit and admire the passing parade
of these decorated gas-mask boxes
belonging to young girls and schoolchildren.
This morning relief. The air-raid sirens
are silent, everyone is tired. Yawning
drinkers of coffee turn the dense pages
of imported European papers
whose front pages proclaim the arrival
of Day 35, without mentioning
for a moment that here it is in fact
the hours between Night 34 and Night
35, or that at this table here
in the city by the sea a student
of history is reading the national
poet in his own square language writing
of the death of his Uncle David far
far away in the High Carpathians.
And no mention that the calm signatures
and terrified fingermarks of Rachel
Jacobs and Barbara Pfeffer are frozen
forever on the white label above
the death’s head pictogram on the gas-mask box
which now belongs to that reader drinking
coffee. His lips move and his fingers move,
not quite imperceptibly, as he reads
and calculates the distance from Europe,
from the sealed wagon to the sealed room. All
history is within reach. All maps are small.
Every hour on the hour the drivers of the buses
of Israel and Palestine lean forward and adjust
upwards the volume of the radio and like madmen
throwing grenades heedless into crowded cafes
they give the latest news to Arab and Jew and men
from far away, while we catch our breath like rabbits
startled in the lights of oncoming troop carriers.
We watch the grenade spin like a child’s top
turning and wait to catch sight of pin in/pin out,
and listen for news of bombs/no bombs,
speculation about war/no war, death/no death,
tomorrow/no tomorrow, and news of fluttering/
no fluttering of the wings of yellow butterflies
in far-off rain forests, and in that moment
each man guards himself from his neighbour,
and makes computations of what this hour means,
for Jerusalem, and for the world, and for his solitary place in it.
I remember the bus to Kfar Ruppin,
I remember fragments of scenes there,
a room, two guitars, the dining room,
a cold vanilla yogurt, a black dog.
I don’t recall arriving or sleeping
or leaving. It was all a long time ago.
I remember the startling heat in the open air.
I remember the coolness of the stone walls
inside an Ottoman café at a rest stop,
I remember the iced water, the hummus, the salad.
I no longer remember if it would have been
the bus station at Afikim or Afula
we stopped at. I remember the poem
but not the direction from which the melancholy
arrived. I remember looking up
from the page, convulsed inside,
seeing a road sign to a place we had left.
I remember translating the characters in my mind
to give myself respite from the resonance.
I remember how it was to be laid waste
by a poem, I remember knowing I must look pale.
I remember feeling the injustice of our burden,
of having just one lifetime for moments
like this, the perfect beauty of them.
The life I set out towards,
matching my speed, receded,
and is not this one. The poem
I set outwards, matching my speed,
receded, and is not this one.
Like a travel writer viewing
a city from afar I can only guess
that both would have been fragile
and light, that they would have put an end
to my wanting, would have had the eloquence
I have failed to find on the subject
of my pursuit of you, displayed a short soft
delicate tracing, like the clear cold water
which barely murmurs as it gently streams
between the twisted canopy of fig trees
in Wadi Adamit, and which, upon leaving
that shade, bursts into the startling light
and heat of the wildflower meadow
and there leaves its earth journey,
without protest, without sound,
and is lifted, evaporated, molecule
by molecule, into its sky journey.
Friday, October 19, 2018
A bird, suddenly
The double glass reflects sky.
I expect you thought you'd fly
right through it, thinking to enter
the tunnel of the convex mirrored cloud
and blueness on the back wall.
When I describe you to myself,
to try to know that the world
hasn't yet sickened enough
to make all birds yearn to self destruct
through things that we've allowed,
I am describing you to myself
to try to soothe the sudden terror
in me. I say it became momentarily dark
and I thought a grey sack had been hurled
against the window with the force
of a spurned god. You were a sack of sorts,
a beautiful feathered case of expectations,
a cold bomb detonating against the glass.
Decentered and trembling, seeing
the glory of you with your stilled beauty
drained of all its motivation, broken
outside the window beneath the green canopy
of coreopsis, what could a coward do
but reach for the keyboard as a shield?
Sunday, October 14, 2018
Spring is late this year where I am, don’t tell me about where you are,
don’t tell me that the cherries are just about to flower where you are,
this letter is my letter to you not yours to me, and we have likely not
met (the name at the bottom is not mine) but, if you read on, this may
yet turn into some sort of poem where I can mention a few colours to
make it the sort of poem that arrests you; and don’t complain if you
are thinking it can’t be a poem because a poem should have drunks
in it, or folks who have spent all of themselves in the way frivolous
people spend tomorrow to get a new coat today, on the eve of Spring,
when no coat will be necessary except for those wanting to be buried
in one. Just don’t. Don’t speak until I’m finished talking about all the
ends of prayers I am having to remember - so be it – a truer line was
never spoken – so be it - that can be a motto, I’ll breathe it to myself,
I’ll get used to it. What was firm will crumble, so be it, my turn now,
so be it. The seconds since I was handed to my mother have turned into
minutes and they have turned into hours into days with light and dark,
and those two have accumulated into years, into most of a life. Once I
stilled my tongue when I would have better let it run away while it had
the chance with this person or that person. Better that it had left my head,
untangled itself from its cautionary housing, rested on your shoulder so
it might be close to your ear and say to you what it wished while it could.
I quieted it when I shouldn’t since it will be stilled soon enough. The book
I will put this letter in is anyway a book of poems (in my opinion) even if
I may not always be happy with how it has been translated. That’s not so
very important in the scheme of things. I am diverting the future, maybe,
just a little, like a boy who puts a thin leaf between a flood and a drain
and sees the water parted. In a minute I will say goodbye to my letter
to you. You will know I have kissed it, even if you are a bad man this
letter to you has been kissed. I will fold it up and put it at the back of
this other man’s book of poems and I will hand the book to a woman
who works in the shop raising money for the hospice. I can’t know
who you are or why you came upon this book or if you opened this letter.
If you did ‘hello’, I hope you are well enough to seize the day. I enjoyed
this man’s poems. I only put letters in books I have enjoyed, books
which I can hardly read for more than a few seconds at a time before
I have to put them down and stare out of the window or at another person
eating, or a child playing, or the palm of my hand, at just anything
where the staring explains nothing. In any case, I hope you are well or
at least are learning to say so be it. Don’t worry about me. I am fine, I am
wandering through the world, looking at the windows, looking at the clouds
reflected in the windows. I am at least doing my share of worrying. Tomorrow
I am taking the book about Matisse to the orphanage shop and I have placed
a letter in that book about how the colours have made me very, very content.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
the forsythia can take it,
the harsh and hard september sculpting,
the levelling to below the level of the fence.
late in the month a morning of sun,
and something in this heavy pruning
is reminiscent of a row of heads being lightened
by haircuts, relieved. what other creatures
think like this? not even all of us?
just some people with dry mouths
holding printed mirrors to themselves
amid the poetry shelves of local libraries,
the painter in his gloomy atelier?
or is it everybody and every thing
in their discrete worlds? is it these men
in their high vis vests pulling
the garden recycling bins to the kerb,
the woman walking circuits around this square
of streets, back and forth, again and again, to recover,
the portuguese laurel to be sculpted next,
the earwig rushing to the sanctuary
of the stone, the deep good night
laying out its maps, preparing itself,
gathering its strength in the gardener’s lung?
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
All was rounded
… die Axt hat geblüht …
All was rounded and all was soluble
And sharpness curled inward until the blade
Was like a leaf in autumn and poems
Lost their harsh edges and were about love
And the icepick fell out of use and ice
Calved and went all its separate ways and seas
Lapped at the machinery of the state
And the winds rose and in courtyards circled
Moaning like the frenzied past caught in traps
And the sound of its keening was the cry
Of grandmothers calling to their daughters
And their daughters’ daughters - “Judith, take care”
- “Aviva, be ready at the door” - “We
Have lost Shulamit, has anybody seen her?”
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
I’m arguing with Yevtushenko,
I’m justifying all my lies to my child,
I’m watching filthy black clouds floating
towards the beautiful full white moon,
I’m zipping my jacket against the cold,
I want to be poetic about the moon,
I'm saying there are light grey wisps
passing across its beautiful whiteness,
I'm saying it makes me think of a snow leopard
alone in the night. I’m afraid for my child
to know what Lorca knows.
You know how these things are,
you are a writer, a leaper from stone to stone,
a noticer of the grass blurring beneath you
as you sail through air, a noticer of the whiteness
of coffee cups, of the stream of loveliness
flowing through the coffeeshop doors
to meet their loves. You are here,
not meeting your love, you are there
on the hill, leaping from rocks, the same hill,
different rocks, different blades of grass blurring,
descending from the summit to the riverbed,
recalling the insistent wind, thinking
of our children and the truths
waiting for them that we cannot bear to mention.
Saturday, May 05, 2018
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Monday, January 22, 2018
To town, via Mill Road, Cambridge
to love to love
Morning in the Oxfam charity shop,
Van Morrison, Madame George, brings weeping
close, moments of rapt grace that will not stop
when he ceases to soar, this man keeping
some kind of record of how this life went;
a day starting, as it may, with beauty,
gifting us some small chance we may be sent
through unscathed to the close of day’s duty.
If the hours could pass kindly and sunset
find doorways emptied of the dispossessed
we could claim some small relief from our debt,
but this beauty cannot see us blessed
like that. It is a small moment, fleeting,
intense, just one’s heart and one’s soul meeting.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
Saturday p.m, Manor Park Cemetery
Don’t be afraid of the greying day
as dark descends on a life ending.
A transit across all there is above
the surface of the seas has slowed
to a halt, and here the velvet early
dark arrives and dusk greysilks
the tombstone’s image of the disappeared.
The foreign elegies scored on stone
with human thoughtwords, smeared
on fragmented walls, moss and lichen,
family, and descending sun.
This is the photographic record of the day.
Dear beloved and only son, Ypres, 1917,
life as memorial, life is memorial, mum,
a sea of remembering, a holding on, a city
of a floating people returning to life
in memory. When I am in a place where I see
ghosts I don’t say, just in case you don’t know
what I’m seeing. I don’t want to frighten you,
now or in memory, with how I am.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Reviews of Books We’ve Never Read ---- The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges
The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges /
reviewed unread by Kemoe Hopscotch
When the circus came to town when we were kids we wondered how they got
the posters advertising the circus onto the inside of the front windows and onto
the inside of the glass doors of the abandoned shops and the closed-down shops
and the repossessed shops and the bankrupt shops and every other empty shop
in our small town.
All the mail and the flyers that had been delivered to the shops since they’d failed
and closed was still littering the floor. No footsteps could be seen in the dust that
had accumulated on the floors since the closures, but someone had somehow
managed to get in and put these posters up on the other side of the glass. We had
a strange guy who used to hang around with us who even then at that age had
plenty of theories that he presented as fact. He said there was a circus man who
could float through keyholes. That, he was confident, was how it was done.
He said the guy was called The Wisp. Many years later I remembered, apropos
of nothing, in the midst of a day, that that kid’s home had three or four paintings
by Chagall on the walls of different rooms.
Another kid I knew, a kid who in later life became fond of repeating that all that
is solid melts into air, disagreed. He said that the explanation was simpler, the
explanation was that the circus could get in anywhere it damn well liked when
it came to town with its horses and horseshit, its cages of drugged animals, its
poisonous warmed-over interval snacks, its fat ladies and bearded ladies, its
clowns, its dwarfs, its colours and flags, its bully boys who stop you getting
in without a ticket, its man who tells big lies about the greatest show on earth
and its woman who tells big lies about the greatest show on earth. I wish I could
tell you that on the walls of his house there was some of Edward Hopper’s stuff.
I don’t know though. I think I would have remembered, even from then.
But how could they get the keys to these shops? That’s what interested the pragmatists
among us. It was a mystery even above the mysteries in that poem I’ve also never
read - that poem that some people you meet in life like to talk about, that poem by
that guy Prévert. People who’ve actually read the poem tell me that Prévert
numbers among the mysteries of the earth the river at Morlaix, the little canal at
Ourq, the masters of the world with their priests and their troops, the wonder
of people themselves, and finally the straw of misery rotting in the steel of cannons.
Somehow, even at this distance, it seems to me to be right not to have read that man’s
poem if among his litany of mysteries of the earth he has discounted this one, this of
the appearance of the circus posters in the abandoned premises of people whose
hopes or grandiose plans didn’t survive, whose dreams and schemes became piles
of letters with no one to read them, fronted by posters featuring a girl in a white
sequinned tutu, and a lovely face with a whitetooth smile, standing upright on the
back of a drugged horse, with one hand on her hips and the other arm crooked at the
elbow, and a flat hand with outstretched palm, as if asking permission (for what?)
of all who gazed at her.
And now here we still are in our small town, and now we are old, and the circus has
been and gone again and the mystery repeats itself still. It was cold again today
but the sun shone, and on the way to buy food to feed my family I noticed that the
red-bordered door of the bankrupt butcher’s shop still has a circus poster on the
other side of the glass. So does the toyshop that failed six months ago, and so
does the repossessed tanning shop, and so does the Thai restaurant whose owners
fled before arrest. And sometime in the coming months there will occur, I know,
the other mystery, the mystery of the removal of the circus posters, as if someone
in the future will be sent back from the far-receded circus to collect up those
posters, without disturbing the growing piles of mail and dust on the other side
of the plate glass doors. Among the many wonders of the world then, this, of
the display and the collection of circus posters from the windows of failed enterprises.
In my time I have never seen them being installed and I have never seen them being
removed. It has the air of a trick. It is worthy of a magic show. I have, as you
see, sometimes wondered how it’s done. I hope I never find out. Who knows where
the kid whose parents liked Chagall is these days, now that he too is old. Who knows
where the kid is who thought that a spectre is haunting Europe. Who knows what
mysteries have been resolved for them, or renewed, or receded. But I know what the
guy who haunts the second-hand bookshops in our small town thinks. He thinks
if I read Borges I will find out, and I don’t want to find out, I don’t want to know
how the magic is done, I don’t want to look at the back of the tapestry to see the
I haven’t known the guy who haunts the second-hand bookshops of our small town
for long but already when I am out in the streets I am adopting a thousand yard stare
so I can avoid him if I see him in the distance. I am not being unsociable for the sake
of it. I asked him how he knew so much about Borges. He said quite correctly that
what I meant was why did he tell me about Borges. He said think of me as a deus ex
machina. In our small town that is not a usual response to either a question or an
observation. Even before he continued I knew that to deepen acquaintance with him
would be foolish but I would have to endure this one meeting until I could find a
moment to tap him on the arm and say yes yes and take my leave. Imagine, he
suggested, to walk through a small town like this, through the centre of a town
where all of us are visible, all known by sight at least, and imagine resting on a
bench, one of the benches that are situated at intervals all over this town, or to sit
at one of our café tables in sunlight, and to read, simply to read and to feel that
one may weep at a sentence of Borges, to weep at a short run of words which he has
fashioned into a mirror in front of which you are caught, and in front of which it
occurs to you to muse on what events have brought you to this moment. Or perhaps
it is a small run of words which deliver a memory of a love that was terminated by
the other, or a run of words that sees you placing Borges on the table, or beside you
on the bench, to recall the life of a parent or an animal that was terminated by whatever
process was allotted to that intersection between your life and theirs. And imagine you
look up from the book as you sit at the bench or the café table in sunlight and the world
has become other than it was when you first sat down, and no colour is the same, and
nothing is the same, and no one is the same.
This is why I haven’t read The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges and why I will
continue not to read it. I don’t want to know how magic is done. The mystery, I tell
myself, to hide behind an explanation, is poetry. Explanation is prose, and too often
it is couched in the genre of horror. Whether or not people think deeply about their
existence, and about what is in their own interests, is another mystery. Some say
yes, some say no, some say (having thought about it) that the act of thinking
and the conclusions drawn from thinking are in any case illusory. When I hear
these latter people I recoil inside and think to myself these people have read Borges.
Many people whose lives are lived in almost identical circumstances to those of other
people also think they think, but nevertheless they draw different conclusions from the
same shared experiences. These conclusions may, to the dissenting concluders in the
group, seem to cause them to act against their own interests. Some people think that
this must surely indicate a pathology. Some people think that it is safe to allow the
election of those who will make decisions on their behalf, if not necessarily in their
interests (as they broadly judge their interests to be). The goal of these elections is
in part at least to mollify all shades of people who do not agree with each other. So
periodically the circus comes to town and, oh my townspeople!, the mystery of the
posters reoccurs, followed within the month by the coming of the horses themselves,
and the horseshit, the cages of drugged animals, the poisonous warmed-over interval
snacks, the fat ladies and bearded ladies, the clowns, the dwarfs, the colours and flags,
the bully boys who stop you getting in without a ticket, the man who tells big lies
and the woman who tells big lies. They tell big lies in plain sight, from the centre of
the ring. In any other existence where the brains of people do not act as reducing
valves this would seem outrageous. Among us though, among the many mysteries
of the earth including the river at Morlaix, and the little canal at Ourq, and the masters
of the world with their priests and their troops, and the wonder of people themselves,
and finally the straw of misery rotting in the steel of cannons, this all passes for
normal. Few are shocked, few are surprised. Only those with damaged reducing valves
acknowledge much of a rise in blood pressure. “The world is as it is,” says the
bookshop haunter. “The world is exactly as it is.”
Maybe a reason for not reading The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges may be
compared to previous reading mistakes which, at circus time, come back to haunt
us. Let’s say, to choose one, Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 for instance, may be
considered one such mistake. In other words, what if it were a terrible failure of
judgement to pick up Borges as if his name were merely a noun meaning “one
who writes”, as if it was something to do to pass the time, as if it was a momentary
escape into solitude, a momentary escape into being with ourselves. And what if
the innocent picks him up and reads him and discovers there that this madness of the
circus is not just explicable but utterly normal. What if inside the pages he finds Borges
holding up a person in one hand and displaying a ballot paper in the other and he
proceeds to dash one against the other? What if unheeding madness is the default state,
coupled with an unnoticed incomprehension, and bewilderment? What if at the supposed
height of feeling, at a time of rapt attention to beauty, to Bach, to Chopin, to any number
of painters, to rooms reduced to weeping by a passage of sounds, what if the reducing
valve of our brains collectively acts up and urges culls? What if people start up again
about the necessity for hunting humans, what if the country has developed to the point
where the best it has to offer is a ludicrous binary, what if the man who lies and the
woman who lies are taken seriously by anyone, what if one of them wins the key to the
circus’s ticket office safe? What if that’s why Borges comments and doesn’t preach? What
if he tells a story that goes not only from end to end but also from side to side, and then
beyond those sides which he makes clear are, anyway, always moving away from us.
What if that is why his name isn’t to be found among the condemners of the generals?
I have seen myself in one of these alternate universes, if that is what they are, or parallel
universes, if that is what they are, or senseless realities, if that is what they are, and if I
continue not to read The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges I can hope that my
reducing valve will continue to work and irreality will remain hidden and I can imagine
reading some story of his that I will never read. Let’s say I will imagine reading
his last story, Shakespeare’s Memory, and in the reality where I am reading this story I
am one of the visible eccentrics in our small town, the kind that will read a book as he
walks along the street on the way to buy food to feed his family, the kind that will note
as he passes the bankrupt butcher’s old shop (inside which a slab of sunlight is framing
the piles of letters with no one to read them, on the other side of the glass door) and what
if I will be so enraptured that life can be like this, that a man can read the thoughts of
another man about possessing the memory of yet another man, that I am easy prey for
what happens next. And what happens next is that, by way of a simple short run of
words, a door opens.
Let’s say it is the door of that butcher’s shop we have already mentioned. And from that
door emerges a man. And it is cold today but the sun is shining and that huge slab of
light from the sun is cast across the floor of that abandoned butcher’s shop. The sunlight
has streamed unimpeded through the glass of the door and windows because today they
are clear of circus posters. And perched opened in my left hand, like a thick-winged
bird, is The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges opened at that last story that the blind
Borges ever dictated, and under the arm of a man emerging from the abandoned butcher’s
shop are the circus posters. And what if I look at the man’s face and it is identical to mine?
And my reducing valve fails to protect me, it registers that this matter – the matter of the
sun and the window and the posters and the man - has occurred. And what if I am unsettled,
and I continue to read as I walk along the street through our town, like one of the visible
eccentrics of our town, before I can avert my eyes from the page
And what if I too have caught sight of the mysteries of the world, I too have caught
sight of how Trump was elected, and of how Clinton was offered as a ludicrous
alternative to a ludicrous proposition. I have caught sight of how this happens and
how this will always happen. I have caught sight of our fate, from end to end and, worse,
from side to side. I have caught sight of chaos and foolishness and determinism, and because
I have only imagined reading Borges my reducing valve has saved me and the posters have
gone and I still believe in magic and I still haven’t bothered to try to track down the page
of that book, the bookshop haunter’s other obsession, which has Ruskin saying that it all
went wrong when the first man put a fence around a plot of earth. And that is why I can
be one of the visible eccentrics of our town, because I don’t know the truth, because on
my way to buy food for my family I don’t read from a book as I walk along, and I don’t
weep at the terrible truth laid out in a short run of words. And I haven’t noticed as I
lingered in sunlight that the open book in the woman’s hand over there by the fountains
in the centre of our small town is The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, and as I
stand in that same sunlight I haven’t heard her reading aloud to the wheelchair-bound invalid,
and the scene hasn’t put me in mind of some scene from Russian literature or conjured a
recollection of voices at dusk on the terrace of the Winter Palace hotel in Luxor as the hills
of West Thebes turn purple in the dying light. And I haven’t, upon hearing her read a
sentence of what seems to me to be pure beauty, pure truth, immediately felt a sob rise in
my throat, and wondered if it is really a sob or if it isn’t a barely silent scream escaping or
an oh my god or the catching of myself in front of the mirror of that one sentence. And
I won’t be puzzled for days. I will take home the food I have bought to feed my family,
and someone will say who won and someone else will say how that makes them feel
and the world will be exactly as it is and what will happen tomorrow will be only what
can possibly happen.
And that is why I haven’t read The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges and why
you shouldn’t read it either.
Kemoe unreviewing Bolaño
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Far into this government
… a thousand potions to make you smell better?
And people sleeping on the streets? – Howard Zinn
Coming to Cambridge on wet afternoons
In winter, far into this government,
Sees an old philosophy developed,
A comatose religion of careless
Photography, pictures taken, arm’s length,
Of their own composed and smiling faces
And old buildings; and unremarkable
Beside all the doorways, sodden humans,
Barely optimistic to ask for change.
It seems from across the street, surveying
The damp bedclothes of her day room, that love
Would be a close held hug, a slow stroking
Of her wet hair, a kiss of lips to brow,
Remembrance that the barely breathing girl
Is someone’s daughter in another life.
For whatever reason, early onset
Or sentimental romanticising,
Or wishing, or resiling from rescue,
The thin drizzle stops and she is beneath
An orchard tree, her now young face at ease,
And in someone’s voice calling her is love.
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Whilst reading Yeats by the Travel shelves
in the library at
Letchworth Garden City
In the library garden the wind circles
and wails beneath the gutters, like old men
together, old smokers struggling to breathe
their stories before the end of the storm.
Oh, one keens, I have loved and loved again,
and underneath the gutters other men
murmur lesser responses and one fool,
angry with his life, cannot hear them out
and slams the doors and windows with she left,
she left, and all my fault, and then silence,
and a woman by the Travel shelves turns
to see the sudden rain the moans have brought,
and a sad crazed man comes close and shouts
about New Zealand. He was happy there.
Saturday, February 04, 2017
Diagnosis / Prognosis
These things grind us to such a sharpened point -
the brightly-lit room, the gaunt sick faces,
the corridor and our feet constantly
shifting to give way, the recesses called
bays as if the grey men there have at last
a view of the sea, and where with stumbling
dread we feel sure the tips of our horror’s
honed blades will catch against the curtain and
cut it open to a vista of dread
and oblivion that will not be like
going to sleep – there will not be postponed
things to complete upon rising, or a
breaking of the fast, or rain, or sun or
a knock on the door and a returning
love, but in so bright a place memories
come flooding in – a man interrupting
an embrace says ‘you dropped your ticket, you
must be in love,’ – how true, the broken bed,
the stained sheet, the passionate protesting,
two arched backs and bodies fused at the hips
making a wishbone on its side, testing
its own strength – where is she now all these years
later? Has she gone on ahead herself?
Will word get to her that I’ve gone? These things
in the rain after diagnosis bring
such pain, such a flood of knowledge of what
a look may mean – in every face already
the November weather, the damp-filled air,
the terror, the fixed masks of a planet
of walking dead, the queued traffic as it
crawls up Pond Street, exhausting grey,
screaming to you 'accept no leaders, not
one of them, friend, is worthier than you'.
Who knows what happens in the lives of people
glimpsed from a train? As a train crosses
a viaduct, and far below one sees two cars
embraced in their splintered collision
and the lovers' arms gesticulate
towards each other and to heaven
and then are gone, and the train comes
to the kind of city where for minutes on end
it rolls through townscapes of shops
and vehicles queued at crossings,
and if not a man there restraining his sheep
from suicide then a man gone down
in the middle of the day, and around him
people have parted like the sea around a rock,
a circle of living coalesced around him,
observing the struggle they’ll all come to,
seeing that something about him is like a man
on a rope at the base of a tree in autumn,
frayed rope, weak hands, tired heart. An
ambulance arrives and no-one cries,
or cries aloud I have seen a man die
but inside, for the rest of the day, and now
and then for evermore when at the end
of another November leaves start to fall too early
or floodwater parts around a pile of leaves
or the book opens by chance at the page upon which
a poem struggles to talk about us,
some of us hear a voice calling ‘stand clear’
and see a body jolt, and the crossing gate opens
and we are past and the scene is gone
and has no prologue and no end like a page
of a story in an open magazine
in the doctor’s waiting room
to which one has returned
to hear what comes next.
Monday, October 31, 2016
In this house you would come to believe
in ghosts and lives beyond the grave. Here
noises configure themselves into the voices
of those who’ve gone. “Cyril!” calls a wife
lost to cancer; a dead dog’s nametag chinks
against the brass of her collar; the creak
of an opening door, a footstep
on a warped floorboard, and someone
you’ve loved comes to breathe your name
once again, and now in Autumn the wind
moans beneath the eaves, and the small tornadoes
of leaves lifted in frenzied gusts
scratch against the window late at night
like the feeble clawing of all our loves
wanting to come back, wanting to make us
believe that we can ever be reunited.
Monday, August 01, 2016
Friday, May 15, 2015
Friday, February 21, 2014
Monday, March 18, 2013
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
doorway, rye, east sussex
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Sunday, August 07, 2011