HERE YOU ARE
Like even those litterbins know where they are:
stencilled with the one word QUI
as if telling citizens here you are
(here across a children’s playground,
here at the corner of an empty street)
while through August’s dead weight, cranes
are balancing, still, in the stillness and heat.
Though faded now, they will invite us
to treat these places as we would a home –
us scurrying like ants among salt grains
(no sooner arrived than about to leave)
when again I notice them, never that far.
It’s like even the litterbins know where they are.
SEDUCING THE UNCANNY
We live in thin air sold off by a villa
screened by one flank of its tree-lined drive:
up on the fourth floor, where birds would soar and dive,
see, poplar-leaves quiver when the branches are still.
Beyond them, suggestions of windows, a doorway
with lamp lit above it in the gloaming, we see.
Then yellow, a risen August moon gone astray
startles, complete, above surrounding greenery.
It’s as if I’d invited that full moon to our bedroom
and in spite of these mosquito screens, it came
filling the new house with a quieter light –
while you, quite naked in the French window frame,
silhouetted on a wall’s late-modern, matt white,
have seduced the uncanny, being home.
Look now, how one anonymous tree
(pollarded with leafed thin branches)
pushes out at fiercer angles
from rampant stumps gone grey.
It’s here each morning at the glass,
a kitchen door, roo-coos of doves
and brick end-wall for scenery.
Those violet-grey doves flutter
up through its vinous leaves
trailed across a green mesh fence,
a line of barbed wire on the top:
daily this happens, and a stray cat
limps by on three legs, as chance
would have it, without a drop
of memory or aura or even sense …
Notice, at the tree-trunk’s base,
how a plastic, garden chair
hasn’t been sat on for some time:
a bath upturned, the building gear,
and you are grown familiar, bare –
as if the view from a kitchen window
were all the panorama left here.
That August stillness has its day,
another round of ripening grapes
and green chestnuts is upon us
in a literal Italy, as I say.
The curtain flapping at a window frame
interrupts oblique sun rays
from this summer dusk, the sky’s
semaphore in a room’s high corners
darkening shadows, wrinkles under eyes,
as if a sense of depth were made
not by the damage time sketches
but simply alternating light and shade.
It’s a moment not to be repeated.
The light of this 8:30 sunset
slants across our profiles seated
round a dining table, their secret
histories, not ones cultivated
by tired eyes, no, all you’re fated
to be left with when we lose
cheeks enlivened on one of those days.
It falls upon two photographs
of those who die again the instant
any flushed faces recall them alive
and a house guest in this history,
you glance around the shadowy spaces
at swallowed phrases now distances
between you, me, and the others here
a few feet from us look like years.
Repairing where an old world was still stored
we were sheltered out of life’s main force
amongst poor daubs, musty tomes and worse
furniture in pieces to be restored …
Though the leaves would press their points here,
none of those objects tickled our pallets.
Hitting cracked skylights, hail’s ice-pellets
pattered on flaked varnish and veneer.
Perhaps that smell was the chlorophyll
released from greenery in need of a rinsing,
mingled, perhaps, with dust stuck down
now earth lay dissolved by rain.
Our summer it seemed had found an end
in the cracking of a branch outside
and in those splintered boughs tormented
by a storm’s incessant winds.
Round by a terrace French window fixed open
against oppressive heat, the deep sky,
I stood still fathoming how change can happen
seeing as it’s not too late to try.
Yes, it seemed the newly charged, the scented
atmosphere itself had changed our minds.
Yet darkening, closing with shorter words
at kiosk, bar, dry-cleaning outlet,
routine’s features can’t but tell
how our faces will not fit
and the sense I shouldn’t be here,
have overstayed the season’s welcome
litters chestnut boulevards –
their diseased leaves bidding us farewell!
Forgive me. Forgive me my dismay
if I don’t have a good word for them,
if I seem to have fallen out of love
with leaf-strewn avenues after rain,
Arcadian temple and football team …
These are the term of disengagement
given a broadest hint from autumn
and, besides, it’s time we went.
Peter Robinson is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and the poetry editor for Two Rivers Press. The author of many books including collections of aphorisms, short stories, two works of fiction, and various volumes of literary criticism, he has been awarded the Cheltenham Prize, the John Florio Prize and two Poetry Book Society Recommendations for some of his poetry and translation. His 2020 publications were a sequence of poems, Bonjour Mr Inshaw (Two Rivers Press), and Poetry & Money: A Speculation (Liverpool University Press). Shearsman Books published his Collected Poems in 2017 and they will bring out The Personal Art: Essays, Reviews & Memoirs in Autumn 2021 as well as Peter Robinson: A Portrait of his Work edited by Tom Phillips.