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Seven poems: Peter Robinson.



‘Tudo era irreparável.’
—Carlos Drummond de Andrade


Under an August bank holiday’s
almost cloud-free skies
in the dead heart of summer we’d come
here to Verdi’s birthplace
but chanced upon the world of Don Camillo:
there were hardly-stirring trees
and background sounds of leaves, cicadas,
his laughter for a common good …
We found the sun-stunned village street
led on across flat, funded farmland
to nothing but the faint hills’ profiles
and whatever was thus lost there in its haze.


Those quiet towns below sea level
under a terra-plain of the Po,
Borretto’s cupola and lido
or Gualtieri on a day’s
outing beyond Brescello,
they have their own dazed fascination
for anyone inclined to gaze
off across that fertile farmland –
recessive, now, as on a canvas
by one of their local naïf-school painters
and be asked: do I miss them too?


Then it was as if Don Camillo himself
led the responses, glancing around
to check who among us would mouth those words
commending a poor soul to her God,
with bricklayer ready to wall up the ashes
after all is done and said –
which was how, in the presence of everyone,
we let the dead bury our dead!


Protected, now, from speculation,
he’s suffering a second death
in this silence, the unsaid,
and, no, I couldn’t hear a thing
noticing those black-edged posters
pasted up around church doors
above another radio
tuned to an Italian station,
its latest news of migrant crises
broadcast through a loggia window –
for at this isolated point,
diminishing, which is the world,
I’m not allowed to speculate
on why he did away with it
by opting for that operatic fate.


Then under boughs beside the lake
it’s like I was the one ‘recoiling’,
his gaze aghast, arms flailing
in Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake;
it’s like I’d looked into the face of death
and felt the soul squeezed from me too
by a serpent, that plain memento
mori, or symptom of the simple truth
despoiled by unjust accusations
now that it has come to this –
the gesture of those inscribed publications
twisted, turned into a damaged good,
when the only possible happiness
were in expressing gratitude.


And I know we’ve got to give time time
to work its level best –
but reading how the bombs aimed at a bridge
missed and hit this village
reported on a plaque at Calestano,
the grievances and grieving of our wars
incised for future memory
in Guernica’s sixtieth anniversary year,
I can’t help but fear
iconoclast-custodians in league
against nostalgias for a future
have done their worst, their damnedest …


But the earth’s so rich it’s good as oiled
and houses in clear air at sunset
might be the distances we’ve travelled,
oh, not to wake up old, but see
those later flashes of heat lightning
above towns’ amber light pollution;
they glow as if beside tomb photos,
a parent’s, friend’s ‘eternal flame’
still burning through our cemetery.


These lowlands famous for their fogs,
they’re hiding age-old fears
through winters when the distances
are blanked out by glaucoma blurs –
like an old man praying to depart in peace,
us edging over junctions
near Giuseppe Verdi Airport
to meet a homebound plane …
But now both flight and man are gone,
we stare across the fêted plain
towards whatever’s lost in that haze,
while elsewhere politicians
on their holidays
are looking to the conference season
when there’ll be yet more to get done.




‘The time had come for him to
set out on his journey westward.’
James Joyce, ‘The Dead’


From out a faint mist, to Ireland I come
through the black rift or gash
and find a mild autumn,
its entire green canopy of tones on the turn:
as though Gabriel Conroy’s wish
in all that general snow
for a continental holiday
had been granted at last
and the nearest way to Europe, now,
were this going west.


Well met at Shannon by their John or Seán,
an ex-lorry-driver who tells me
what he knows about crossing a border
(hard as that could be),
well, sure, now I’m all ears
on the quiet roads towards Limerick –
old garrison town with its castle and wharves
where we’re as welcome as you like
in our common travel area’s
flurrying of orange-tinged leaves on the turn.


Deposited at Castletroy and come
like an old man to this country,
I may stroll at ease
above the Shannon’s dark mutinous waves
into County Clare, then back again,
might dream or live in hope;
and from one end of Europe
where the same arts must maintain
an understanding, peace,
can stare up at those tones in mild autumn.





Resilient squirrel with your dropped takeaway
on a Denis Lasdun precipice,
there’s no need to freeze, though fazed by this,
because, entranced, I’ll let you be –

me moving over a glass-sided walkway
like some ad hoc Giacometti
attenuated, kneaded sculpture-piece
striding through the day.


Forgive me, café-au-lait-coloured pigeon,
still as you like on a grey concrete wall,
you rabbits at your breakfasting
off these central reservations –

because we’re located, here in framed spaces,
as if one of his much-hatched sketches
on which each figure’s found its own
ground and outline in the phased approximations.

THE TREE (1949)

But – wind through the tree – forgive me my dismay.
I only heard you sighing
as eyes closed on broad water’s edges
and strollers cooled their feet from landing stages.

Then here was DANGER, ground suddenly shelving,
on a glorious day, as that architect called it,
when warm, uninterrupted sunshine
would draw such creatures from their habitats and home.





Now this year’s word’s a tribute
to the thing it leaves behind,
or thinks to do, mistakenly;

for truth is like a Lazarus
rising from its grave-clothes
to judge each diverse ruse.






‘das Auge des N[ihilisten] … das Untreue
übt gegen seine Erinnerungen – es läßt sie
fallen, sich entblättern’*
—Friedrich Nietzsche


These wooded paths like arguments
about belonging here have rents
shot through with leaf-stopped rays
and shady undergrowth, tired ways
in a world of airborne ills where,
detached, we’re able still to care
that Dutch elm, dieback, acid rain
find the woods in trouble …


Then shivered fronds’ foxed fringes
start awe in our ordinary exchanges
about more loss, and memories
like the leaves on deciduous trees
fall naturally …


As even belonging’s tainted now our
advocates of being, their will to power,
have appropriated woodland paths
leaving us autumn’s aftermaths;
you asked me if that beech was dead,
but I supposed it must have shed
leaves early from its shrivelled rust
carpeting …


And how the tree survives on trust!

*‘the eye of the nihilist … is unfaithful to his memories – it allows them to drop to lose their leaves …’




There’s no such thing as a no-fault divorce,
even though we had one –
its two-year-long transition phase
another solitary way
to go, with all the world before us,
and a continental love-child of my own …

nor nothing doomed about that marriage,
though even now it’s like an air-bridge
without a plane arrived;
but, still, here’s us obliged to leave
because we never did deserve
to stay –

which is why you’ll have to pay, to pay and pay.




‘Too happy they, whose pleasure sought
Extinguishes all sense and thought
Of the regret that pleasure leaves,
Destroying life alone, not peace!’
—Percy Bysshe Shelley

I sat and watched the tankers move
along a skyline, from a cove
where bathers and their children played
at swimming lessons. High waves made
inroads on the beach, salt water
reaching far enough to scatter
books, towels, mobile phones … which sank
with ‘the regret that pleasure’ [blank]
‘leaves’ is unlikely, maybe ‘cease’,
‘destroying’ or ‘seeking life’, ‘not peace’.
Yes, peace … but the rest would have to be
rubbed out by that thoughtless sea.

Peter Robinson has recently published a novel, September in the Rain (2016), his Collected Poems 1976-2016 (2017), and The Sound Sense of Poetry (2018). The poems published here are from a new collection called Ravishing Europa, due in March 2019, while a second work of fiction, The Constitutionals, will appear for the tercentenary of Robinson Crusoe in April of the same year. He is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press.


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