in memory of Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)
Does anybody know what it was all for?
Not Private Rosenberg, short as John Keats.
I still remember love like another country
with an almost forgotten landscape
of salty skin and a dry mouth. I think
there was always a temptation to escape
from the violence of that sun, the sudden
insignificance of ambition,
the prowl of jealousy like a witch's cat .
Last night I was sailing in my sleep
like an old seafarer , with scurvy
colouring my thoughts , there was moonlight
and ice on green waters.
Hallucinations. Dangerous nostalgia.
And early this morning you whispered
as if you were lying softly at my side:
Are you still angry with me ? And spoke my
name with so much tenderness, I cried.
I never reproached you much
that I remember, not even when I should;
to me, you were the boy in Ravel's garden
who always longed to be good,
as the forest creatures knew, and so do I.
We first recognised each other as if we were siblings,
and when we held hands your touch
made me stupidly happy.
Hold my hand, you said in the hospital .
You had big hands, strong hands, gentle
as those of a Mediterranean father
caressing the head of a child.
Hold my hand , you said. I feel
I won't die while you are here.
You took my hand on our first aeroplane
and in opera houses, or watching
a video you wanted me to share.
Hold my hand, you said. I'll fall asleep
and won't even know you're not there.
When I travel without you, I am no more
than a gaudy kite on a long umbilical.
My flights are tethered by this telephone line
to your Parker Knoll, where you wait
lonely and stoical.
About the Festival: there were no penguins
crossing the road on the North Island,
no whales in Wellington harbour .
The nearest land mass is Antarctica, and
the wind blows straight from there to New Zealand.
Katherine Mansfield lived here as a child.
and I've bought gartered stockings in bright colours
to honour her in the character of Gudrun.
For you, I've bought a woollen dressing gown.
You were always home to me. I long for home.
Last night I wondered where you had found to sleep.
You weren't in bed. There was no-one in your chair.
Through every window the white, full moon glared .
I shivered in the garden. Where are you, my darling ?
I called out miserably: You will catch cold .
Waking, I let the daytime facts unfold.
The clock's gone back. The shop lights spill
over the wet street, these broken streaks
of traffic signals and white head-lights fill
the afternoon. My thoughts are bleak .
I drive imagining you still at my side,
wanting to share the film I saw last night,
- - of wartime separations, and the end
when an old married couple re-unite - -
You never did learn to talk and find the way
at the same time, your voice teases me.
Well, you're right, I've missed my turning,
and smile a moment at the memory,
always knowing you lie peaceful and curled
like an embryo under the squelchy ground,
without a birth to wait for, whirled
into that darkness where nothing is found.
We are keeping an eye on the girls, so that the kvass
doesn't go sour in the jug, or the pancakes cold,
counting over the rings, and pouring Anis
into the long bottles with their narrow throats,
straightening tow thread for the peasant woman:
filling the house with the fresh smoke of
incense and we are sailing over Cathedral square
arm in arm with our godfather, silks thundering.
The wet nurse has a screeching cockerel
in her apron - her clothes are like the night.
She announces in an ancient whisper that
a dead young man lies in the chapel.
And an incense cloud wraps the corners
under its own saddened chasuble.
The apple trees are white, like angels - and
the pigeons on them - grey - like incense itself.
And the pilgrim woman sipping kvass from the ladle
on the edge of the couch, is telling
to the very end a tale about Razin
and his most beautiful Persian girl.
the shelter, the old washhouse
water limed the walls
we only entered once or twice
cold as a cellar we
shivered in the stare
of a bare electric light
and nothing happened:
after the war
ants got in the
and yet at night
erotic with the
might-be of disaster
I was carried into
dreaming with delight