Archive for December, 2011

HARLEQUIN AND COLUMBINE

The war was over. My father was dead.

Judith was eight, I was four. Her father,

who survived the Camps, had come here like a ghost.

She and I played in the bushes at the flats.

Our game was hiding-from-the-Germans.

When it got too cold to play, I went

to the panto at Golders Green Hippodrome.

 

I cannot remember which story it was:

no doubt, Harlequin, aided by Clown,

seduced Columbine from Pierrot to Pantaloon’s

impotent rage; no doubt, Pantaloon

was bearded, long nosed and avaricious –

or in drag, and Harlequin a buxom girl.

 

I cannot remember who I went with.

My mother, I guess, perhaps Judith –

but not her father. I can see his eyes

haunted as he stood lost in their hallway.

 

I do remember the wallpapering sequence,

that classic, silent, slapstick routine.

I was in the stalls, four or five rows

from the orchestra pit. I can see now

the deadpan pratfalls, the bucket teetering,

the ladder collapsing, the wallpaper

enveloping. In the glare from the stage,

I remember my uncontrollable laughter,

soundless in all that noise.

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THE PATH OF LIFE

‘The Path of Life’, the front covers of ‘The Haywain’ triptych by Hieronymous Bosch, circa 1500

 

A traveller, who looks permanently

the other way, cannot see the hanging

on a nearby hill and is about to step

on the first, cracked stone of a footbridge.

A journey is the oldest metaphor,

next to God. Christ, enthroned, transforms the lucent

angels, falling, into winged plagues.

And the next metaphor. Hell’s ceaseless,

all accommodating horrors are almost

more than image. Before God, the sculpting

of fear in black angles of forest, fear’s

picture in another’s eyes – before God,

a sensing of evil.

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THE CURE OF FOLLY

‘The Cure of Folly’ by Hieronymous Bosch, circa 1490

 

Here is a cure for madness. The patient,

stupid with pain, credulity or

the random gaze of the mad, the distraught, looks

in our direction. He is being trepanned.

The surgeon, having pierced the shaved skull,

looks modestly away. A monk with a jug

of wine or of water and a nun

with a closed book gesture to the consultant

as if to say, “Thus perish all follies”.

A white horse gallops through an orchard. Sheep graze.

A distant gallows is occupied.

Where the landscape ends in blue hills, steeples

rise in an empty sky.

 

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GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS

The left, centre and right panels of the tryptch, ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, by Hieronymous Bosch circa 1510

 

Paradise flocks. Christ is blessing Adam, Eve

and, looking our way, us. We know, we

know – but a dirty trick to make evil

interesting! Lords and ladies teem: nude

armies on sensual manoeuvres.

In the nightmare, penis becomes knife, vulva

a cracked, open egg on tree-like legs –

and a man, elbow on the cut-away edge,

is unmoved. Hells’ punishments become our

crimes: towns burn; refugees drown; a man

is crucified in a harp. Hell’s commandants

play sonatas – and someone watches

and is indifferent.

 

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ENCOUNTERS WITH HISTORY

In the Hall of Mirrors, many decades

ago, an elderly German couple

asked me to take their photo. I thought of

quoting Heinrich Heine, “’Aus meinem Grossen

Schwerzen, Mach ich die Kleinen Lieder’” –

‘Out of my great sorrows Make I little songs’ –

but weltanschauung trumped chutzpah. I took it.

 

Though the Sun King himself built out of town,

the myth of the metropolis persists.

The city dreams. The world journeys elsewhere

in places too remote for my atlas –

like Belzec, Poland. The year I was born

daily five thousand gassed.

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