By PETE SMITH.
(i/m Christopher Middleton 1926-2015)
IN ZELTWEG HE waltzed into the Truro-born’s life,
as large as a typo, as small as an alp,
with his odd pulsating arrhythmic steps
he danced outside the reach of partners.
In Zurich Seelig greeted the Cornishman,
honoured him with cognac and a glance
at some of the manuscripts that survived
the wanderer’s straits, while still in asylum.
In Herisau word shrank to the shrunken world,
script was scoped by officiated madness.
If there were cantos in the cantons of Herisau
and Sankt Gallen they were muted, yet
the translator caught them, traced by fancy
or some such sleight of mind,
in the zygomatic bones of citizens of Zurich,
and the presbyopic eyes of country peasants.
The Englishman took to carrying the Swiss-German
over borders across oceans into rooms
that overlooked stark streets south of the Thames
or mountain laurels, limestone walls, his surrounds
in River Hills, Texas, where the strings of insects, the winds
of birds, orchestrated his maniacal pen.
And then, in the company of two Robert Walsers,
in Merida, Yucatân, he sought to diminish the one
so the other might speak. “If I’ve done my work
well,” the translator muses, “he’ll step into this place
I’ve made of and for him: any other outcome’s stillborn.”
Some waltzers revel in such breathless escapes.
Matthew Fish Among Roses.
(from George Seferis)
BEEN SMOKING ALL morning, I have;
scared if I stop the roses will hug me
and gag me with thorns and wet petals
that grow criss-crossed, in their one pink hue
they stare, on the look-out for someone; see no-one.
Through pipe-smoke I watch them
bored stiff, scentless.
In my other life a woman told me: “Touch this hand
and the rose is yours, yours
for taking any time you fancy.”
Drawing on my pipe I go down steps
and the roses keep step with me. They vibrate;
the way they carry themselves is like that voice
at a cry’s root, that pitch where it starts
shouting ‘Mother!’ or ‘Help!’,
or primal mewlings of sex.
A small rose-bed, it is,
a tiny plot I keep in sight
a few more steps down, away from daylight;
and her aunt would be there saying, “Antigone,
you’ve not done your exercises today,
at your age I’d not be wearing corsets, not in my time.”
A sorry sight, her aunt was — corrugated veins,
ears surfing on wrinkles, her nose at death’s door:
but her words — burnished wisdom!
Caught sight of her one day touching Antigone’s breast
like a little kid snaffling an apple.
Could I meet that old crone now on my way down?
Last time I saw her she said, “We may meet again one day. Who knows?”
In some old thrown-out papers I read her obituary
and of Antigone’s and then Antigone’s daughter’s weddings
with no end to the steps or the ‘baccy
whose aftertaste is a ghost-ship
with a mermaid crucified — while her beauty still slays you — to the wheel.
Pete Smith was born in Coventry, dropped out of sixth form, migrated to Canada in 1974 and settled in British Columbia. Since the late 1990s, he has published essays and reviews in Agenda, the Salt Companion to John James, jacket, Crayon and elsewhere. His poetry has appeared in Wild Honey, Poetical Histories, Great Works, and Oystercatcher, among others. Shearsman published his Bindings With Discords in 2015. His most recent publications are Sing…Despite (above/ground press, Ottawa) and ‘Stretch: An Inquiry’ at Dispatches from the Poetry Wars.