In 'Reservoir' Bert Bevers
compiled 'Absent Vocals', six lipograms
(Sansevieria, Antwerp, D/2004/10.105.1)
Vienna. May 1906. Salome by Richard Strauss
will soon resound in this old dual monarchy.
The hall is packed a chink in the curtains reveals.
The German word for a buzzing whirr is Geschwirr.
Curious to know what is in store
Gustav Mahler opens his programme. Oh, look:
Giacomo Puccini is here too. A little further on
a pasty youth, paying the city his first visit
for its museums, sleeks his hair. Heís just turned
seventeen, the name inside his passport: Adolf Hitler.
Lights dim, the curtain rises. All but noiselessly,
as at a funeral the heavy tread past survivors.
translation John Irons
Diary page (Thursday, 1 September 2005)
Saint Catherine watches over her chapel.
Around twenty-four degrees. Cloudy.
In blossom: Suzanne of the lovely eyes,
verbena though at times. In their elders
the starlings gorge on berries. Pews
creak. It smells here of a thirst that scarcely
can be quenched. Heavy holders bear candles
where flames have yet to grow.
Open windows divulge no sounds.
Colourful flower sprays with ribbons die
on polished wood. They slightly stir
in this hushed hour, dabbing eyes wet.
Fire awaits, no grave. Strange friend,
supreme stranger: do not turn aside. Light falls
through glass. In the coffin we bear inside
lies the body that was once our motherís.
translation John Irons
Exhausted young fox
Hah, how easily he once more shook
the dumb dogs off his heels. His tongue
gleams moistly like this currant bush.
How his weak flank quivers from that brisk
trot, the chill of fear still in his belly. His family
he left quiet in a sleep-filled lair, the cub
softly against his vixen. How the fox longs
for her warm small body. But in the dusk
the distant baying of the hounds holds him in
dense shrub yet awhile. This is my wood, these are
my trees. Just keep off all my lovely sunken paths,
the fox thinks. Yearning for long russet dreams.
translation John Irons
On the platform as we pass a boy and girl
enact themselves. In slow motion they rush towards
each other with outstretched arms as in a film.
In front of me in the tram a woman looks at fresh photos.
Proud smile at the sight of paper infant in pink of health.
There are: clouds above water, farmers in fields,
words in heads. But for her, she is after all already
approaching the north of life, all that now counts
is that first grandchild. Sometimes the world seems to rock.
Rain states the rhythm of the afternoon. We travel
trustingly through maladjusted times by touch.
Her guardian angel escapes her gaze. I give a wink.
translation John Irons
On seeing a newspaper photograph
Twenty men. Arm in arm. A find on excavating
for the building of a factory. Whistling together
these lads cheerfully crossed the water. A Great War
had to be fought, and they, they were to do their bit.
Through bakelite of telephones over the top and
dispatched towards bullets, life for them, at Arras in í17,
abruptly came to a halt. Patient bones that broken-white
in a ground fertile from yet more warfare waited for later.
Under fresh clover and flowering nettles their dead gaze
ever heavenward in eaten-away boxes.
Now the outer skin of the earth has been raked off,
they lie elbow to elbow imitating a Holbein
with on their feet Ė and still in good repair Ė their boots.
Translation John Irons
COOKHAM SAVED FROM OBLIVION BY
STANLEY SPENCER AND JESUS CHRIST
Common to Jordan and Thames is water. What else?
The presence of Jesus Christ, of course.
Because the saviour not only preached in KafarnaŁm,
Gadare and Genesaret, but he called at Cookham,
Berkshire, too. Just check out Stanley Spencer.
The painter remembers us. With the king of Jews
preaching during regatta's. With punts full of people
looking astonished at the antidote for double time.
On the banks greedy contemplation. Here and there
some unbelievers yet, mostly women. Cold-eyed.
Even the mass resurrection in this town leaves them immobile,
as if they watch a cinema running out. Don't they recognize
Matthew Sweeney's granny who rises younger and slimmer
than ever from the dead? Are they practised in getting lost?
The chiming of the cathedral is tattood in my recollection.
Three-four time. Fivethousandandforty possible variations.
A man ringing the bells for forty years has to part with an arm
Translation Peter Nijmeijer
From here he looks around, he hears the truth
pass by in small thin clouds, whispering in all tongues.
The state of affairs: the target list.
Bouncing images straight across frontiers
now and then the poet sees himself stock-still,
calculating his breath, gazing at the sight.
The anchor moves, but holds
Published in Poetry Monthly, Nottingham, UK, issue 42, September 1999
EXAMINING A PHOTOGRAPH OF MY
DECEASED FATHER AS A YOUNG MAN
A stroll along Memory Lane:
in all sorts of sounds defence against decay.
Memories Are Made Of This,
My Son, My Son,
Itís Almost Tomorrow too.
Oh, how we sang old songs untill we reached
former days, untill they hardly rang.
How in daydreams I walk about happily with daddy.
Hand in hand, sometimes already freely.
Green and passionate, until later unsuitable for youth.
How the night draws itself up peacockblue
Itís of figureheads and disembarkations heís dreaming,
of continent where past is growling under flagstones.
Nursery rhymes are heaving on that main land,
echoing sun and seamanís laughter too.
Beacons are spinning round everywhere. Swarming is
too sweet a word for what it means. It looks like
thunder but surly the sailor carries loneliness.
Rustling and nightwind. Merely curls of sleep,
volatile as the brief coolness you feel in summer
when you leaf through a book. From the main yard
short prayers slip as smooth as otters.
NEGATIVE OF SALZBURG
This print of language swaying develops
into an adjusted image: itís raining so hard
that the trees are bowing through this grey display.
It seems as if the world is older than she is. Here,
in the heart of Europe, the Salzach splashes itself
underneath groaning bridges in a congealing tableau vivant.
I think bells are chiming, but do not hear them
THROUGH THE ARDENNES, UNARMED
Wheels crunching through forests in haze. Horses
halting almost before command. They already paced
over a thousand hills and along a thousand brooks.
Rest now, among unfamiliar trees.
Does the poet recognize the difference in sound of buzzard
and sparrow hawk? He scratches his head, struts about a bit
because of rigid limbs. Next to him dark ponds
gaze up in mute semblance, like geese at thunder.
He meditates. He thinks existence is yielding
to predictions all the time. Occur to him, oh miracle,
time and time again: even in these unknown slopes
he sees outlines of his love. They sadden him.
He doesn't know the frontiers of the world that well.
Whatever happened in regions he never heard of?
There too the sun loomed up every dawn,
the roar of life starting again and again.
The fatigued head on rough wool. In his sleep
politicians palavering, warriors throwing daggers at a cloud
and Laura peeling small pears. Then quivering light
hits the heart of his dreams. Departure's drawing near.
Francesco strokes some moist noses. He piddles
between purple cow-wheat. And then mounts.