Instead of a Letter
Raining again, again my heart
is merely a blue-green mess of bruises, again
I am drenched in your red, green, yellow neons Warsaw
Who’d have thought you’d have grown grey like my hair
like the rain,
like wind in the trees,
who’d have thought it?
Here you are every crumbling wall,
each ﬂickering nightlight, each glowing
salute of roses,
you are every new house
and each new storey.
I press your hair to my face but the wind is slack,
it slips between my ﬁngers,
and nothing remains but the sky in retreat,
and my heart which grows heavier,
between you, between me,
between earth and sky,
leaping without a parachute
in free fall.
István Bella (1940 – 2006)
Sweetly from the trembling string
When wizard ﬁngers sweep
Dreamily, half asleep,
When through remembering reeds
Ancient airs and murmurs creep,
Oboe oboe following,
Flute answering clear high ﬂute,
Voices, voices — falling mute,
And the jarring drums.
At night I heard
First a waking bird
Out of the quiet darkness sing. . .
Strangely to the brain asleep!
And I heard
Soft, wizard ﬁngers sweep
Music from the trembling string,
And through remembering reeds
Ancient airs and murmurs creep; Oboe oboe following,
Flute calling clear high ﬂute,
Voices faint, falling mute,
And low jarring drums;
Then all those airs
Sweetly jangled — newly strange,
Rich with change . . .
Was it the wind in the reeds?
Did the wind range
Over the trembling string;
Into ﬂute and oboe pouring
Solemn music; sinking, soaring
Low to high,
Up and down the sky?
Was it the wind jarring
Drowsy far—off drums?
Strangely to the brain asleep
John Freeman (1880—1929)
from London Trivia
Where Covent-Garden’s famous temple stands
That boasts the work of Jones’ immortal hands,-
Columns, with plain magniﬁcence, appear,
And graceful porches lead along the square:
Here oft my course I bend, when lo! from far,
I spy the furies of the Foot-ball War:
The ’prentice quits his shop, to join the crew,
Increasing crowds the ﬂying game pursue.
Thus, as you roll the ball o’er snowy ground,
The gath’ring globe augments with every round.
But whither shall I run? The throng draws nigh,
The ball now skims the street, now soars on high,-
The dext’rous glazier strong returns the bound,
And jingling sashes on the pent-house sound . . .
John Gay (1685—1732)
’Tis strange how like a very dunce,
Man —with his bumps upon his sconce,
Has lived so long, and yet no knowledge he
Has had, till lately, of Phrenology —
A science that by simple dint of
Head—combing he should ﬁnd a hint of,
When scratching o’er those little poll-hills,
The faculties throw up like mole-hills;
A science that, in very spite
Of all his teeth, ne’er came to light. . . .
The science thus — to speak in ﬁt
Terms — having struggled from its nit,
Was seized upon by a swarm of Scotchmen,
Those scientiﬁcal hotch-potch men. . . .
These men, I say, made quick appliance
And close, to phrenologic science,
For of all learned themes whatever,
That schools and colleges deliver,
There’s none they love so near the bodles,
As analysing their own noddles . . .
Thomas Hood (1799—1845)
“First on, there was nobbut God.”
Genesis I v. 1, Yorkshire Dialect trans.
First on There was silence.
And God said:
‘Let there be clatter.’
The Wind, unclenching,
Runs its thumbs
Along the dry bristles of Yorkshire Fog.
The mountain ousel
Oboes its one note.
Drips like a tap
On the tarn’s tight surface—tension.
And every second nearer,
Like chain explosions
From furthest nebulae
Light-yearing across space:
The thudding of my own blood.
‘lt’s nobbut me,’
Norman Nicholson OBE (1914—87)
I Shall Paint My Nails Red
because a bit of colour is a public service.
because I am proud of my hands.
because it will remind me I’m a woman.
because I will look like a survivor.
because I can admire them in trafﬁc jams.
because my daughter will say ugh.
because my lover will be surprised.
because it is quicker than dyeing my hair.
because it is a ten—minute moratorium.
because it is reversible.
Carole Satyamurti (1939—)
Oranges and Walnuts (Still life by Luis Meléndez)
We always remembered that Spanish still life
of walnuts and oranges.
We loved the coherence of its browns
and gold and almost green, the harmonious
light. The boxes held our eyes
with their persuasive geometry. Angles, triangles,
curves — the language of pure form in a world
of things, imperfections. You began
to talk about that lone orange almost
out of the picture — the one I’d missed: a reject,
was it, in a society of mellow aﬂluence?
And yet, I said, the atoms of this fugitive fruit
have come from the ﬁre of stars.
Daphne Gloag (1933—)
A Wanderer is man from his birth.
He was born in a ship
On the breast of the river of Time,
Brimming with wonder and joy
He spreads out his arms to the light,
Rivets his gaze on the banks of the stream.
As what he sees is, so have his thoughts been.
Whether he wakes,
Where the snowy mountainous pass,
Echoing the screams of the eagles,
Hems in its gorges the bed
Of the new-born clear—ﬂowing stream;
Whether he ﬁrst sees light
Where the river in gleaming rings
Sluggishly winds through the plain;
Whether in sound of the swallowing sea —
As is the world on the banks,
So is the mind of man.
.. . Haply, the river of Time —
As it grows, as the towns on its marge
Fling their wavering lights
On a wider, statelier stream —
May acquire, if not the calm
Of its early mountainous shore,
Yet a solemn peace of its own.
And the width of the waters, the hush
Of the grey expanse where he ﬂoats,
Freshening its current and spotted with foam
As it draws to the Ocean, may strike
Peace to the soul of the man on its breast —
As the pale waste widens around him,
As the banks fade and dimmer away,
As the stars come out, and the night-wind
Brings up the stream
Murmurs and scents of the inﬁnite sea.
Matthew Arnold (1822—88)
July 7, 1941
I want to live.
I want to laugh and give comfort,
fight battles, love and hate,
hold heaven in my hand,
be free to breathe and shout:
I don’t want to die. No!
Dec. 23, 1941
This is the hardest: to give yourself
and know that you are unwanted,
to give yourself fully and to think
that you vanish like smoke into the void.
Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger (1924 – 1944)
© Copyright retained by the authors:
‘Instead of a Letter’ from The Colonnade of teeth: modern Hungarian poetry. Bloodaxe, 1996.
‘Nobbut God’ from Collected Poems, Faber 8: Faber, David Higham Associates 2008.
‘I Shall Paint my Nails Red’ from Stitching the Dark: New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe, 2005.
‘Oranges and Walnuts’ from A Compression of Distances, Cinnamon Press, 2009.
‘A Poem’ and ‘Tragedy’ from Harvest of Blossoms: Poems from a Life Cut Short, Northwest University Press 2006.