Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
My uncle lies on the roof
of the youth hostel in Athens
because all the rooms are full.
He cannot sleep. It’s not just the heat
or his grief at the death of his father
whose family he has come to find
but the singing, in French,
from the open air cinema;
Catherine Deneuve in a raincoat
her heart breaking, night after night,
But I’ll never be able to live
without you… Don’t go. I will die.
It is 1964. My uncle is 21.
No need to sleep, dear uncle,
hum along, count the stars.
There is separation and rain
and a remembrance. I open it again
like an umbrella.
From quintet 3
having complied ‘injurious’ anew remiss
an unaware loss
ah! what has mattered, ‘has silence
indicted Narcissus, dimpled with solace
edged in sleety tenderness
being curbed in your resemblance – to its sluggish bounds
in the cloistral huddle
‘an unfinished sneer’s distraught laughter
in unfulfilled redemption – from our waney
The telephone rang while I was washing my hair
and getting out of the bath I misjudged the height and fell
on my right side (not the side I sleep on, thank god!)
and thought I’d broken at least a hip
and lay there grunting to myself like a piece of bad rhetoric
or that whale the seventeenth-century Hollanders admired so much,
washed up on the beach at Scheveningen for all to see.
Nobody listens to rhetoric but you can’t ignore a whale
so I thought I’d make a poem of it, telling myself
beauty is truth but ugliness means well.
The phone stopped ringing and maybe I’d missed a date with love
and broken my right hip into the bargain
but it’s not the side I sleep on and there are other times
and if I’d got there with all that water on me
I’d probably have been electrocuted dead.
You learn to take things slowly or fall flat.
From THE DISTANCE MEASURED IN DAYS – a novel
And so we had driven to Kew. We parked Inge’s car and went in through the gates. It was winter. On the grass under a black tree I squatted down on my haunches.
Somehow this meant freedom. We could split up for good now. Not just as a gesture. It could mean complete freedom to be myself again, and for as long as I wanted – not just for a few bachelor days in a friend’s absented flat. Even in the cold, I then began to feel hot. How could I think this thought? Shouldn’t we immediately have another? Surely I had to offer that?
Inge had walked on through the bleak gardens. Now, slowly, she returned to where I squatted under the black tree. My hands were pushed into my pockets. I had not seen our daughter dead and blue. Inge had told me of this. She had turned blue. I had not seen her myself. I had not pushed through the double-doors to look. After Inge’s call, I had hurried over to the hospital in a taxi. Inge had met me outside. ‘Don’t go in,’ she had said. ‘It’s too late. You don’t need to see her.’ She had said it only to spare me the sight. But then my nerve had failed. I had simply nodded my head. I had not insisted. Did I want to see her dead and blue? My daughter? Well, I agreed to leave it, to leave her there unseen, behind the double-doors. We had gone home from the hospital in a taxi.
From The Cross of Carl – an allegory
At that Carl started back, and had just time to see a leg severed at the hip lying bloody-stumped apart from that other huddle on the crater’s edge, when he heard dimly a shout behind, and looking, saw the sergeant with revolver pointed at him coming up through the haze. He could hear nothing of the words flung at him but understood the menacing murder of that glance and that glin- ting barrel, and terror urged him forward.
He turned and plunged into the mist ahead, plugging the mud heavily, his rifle trailing, and a weakness in his knees, for death is not pretty, and he had not seen it near before. In front he saw the backs of his fellows jogging slowly forward, all moving one way, in twos and threes; here and there a single figure, and at intervals larger patches, where many shadows blurred to one mass.
Suddenly he found himself in a crowd. He saw two officers close to him. One seemed to be urging the men forward, the other hung upon the rear, moving this way and that, as a collie cuddles the rear of his flock. In his hand was an automatic. At that Carl spurted anew, and drew up into the middle of the crowd.
Lorraine Mariner, Donald Gardner and Anthony Howell will be reading at our launch at The Rugby Tavern, Tuesday 22 March, 2022. Calliope Michail will read Iliassa Sequin. She is currently translating Sequin’s poems in Greek.