'Rudolf Schnabel was sitting outside his little house,a carpenter, retired,
and had his dwarf there too'. Letter from E.S., 16 August 2007
Herr Schnabel is sitting out in the sun. His dwarf
Plays in the shade, pulls geranium heads.
It's hot in a calm way. Hot. 'Now he's grown up
He can still fit the clothes he wore as a boy, the shoes
Only have had to get bigger, see how big his feet.
He sleeps in the cot I built for when he was five'
(Herr Schnabel was a carpenter before)
'In the pointy space there up under the gable.
And he makes himself useful, you see how he keeps busy.'
We watch him, rooting now deep in the shrubbery.
'He sometimes whistles. I don't like him to sing.
Though he is little he has a grown up voice
Like a toad, ugly, gruff. Come, Kugel, whistle.'
He emerges into the sun and stands quite still.
He tilts his head to one side, makes a bristled beak,
Emits a fluty dance tune, tapping a foot.
Herr Schnabel pats his crown, 'Enough,' he says,
Resting a hand on the hump of this pet of his.
Above our heads, a cat projects its yellow paws
Over the edge of the gutter. It yawns like an angel,
All its needles sharp and clean, then recomposes,
Golden, unwinged, a purring emanation.
Kugel meanwhile takes the besom and sweeps up the heads,
Whistling a little, growling a little, sweeping.
'When I am gone who will look after Kugel.'
Herr Schnabel concentrates on the river, beyond,
The trees in sunlight climbing to the crest
And behind, another crest and beyond that
A stark escarpment, and the spinning sun.
I don't dare ask if he has other children.
I don't dare ask if Kugel is his son.
He says to Kugel, 'Bring two glasses, the schnaps,
The speck, and a black loaf. Be quick now.'
Did we feel desire? We felt it. We felt desire.
And what did we do with it? We suffered it
Behind the ribs, between the eyes and the ears,
In bowel and groin, as if struggling for breath,
As if we had been tackled or felled or had fallen
Out of a normal day onto a fist.
Our own palms sweated and pricked,
We peered out between our fingers. It had not seen us.
What did we do next? We read it, we got it by heart;
We put our ears to it and heard its little lungs
Puffing. We kept it warm, we fed it sweet things,
We sang to it, we turned it on its bed,
Plumped its pillow, cleared away the pans.
We held it close, it smelled yeasty, it smelled of soil.
What did we do? For a year we harboured it,
As if we were a modest town by a bay
And it dropped anchor, furled its sails, ran up its pennants...
The beautiful sailors with their sharp starched blue flaps,
The captain a wingless angel... no, the captain a man,
And at night the Chinese lanterns, bobbing, enchanting,
An ensemble of pipes, tabors and a fiddle
Shuffling the heart, making it dance. It danced.
We watched from the quay and never went aboard.
They urged and urged us but we never went aboard.
One day it was all over. We woke, it had gone.
Like when the circus leaves a suburb lifeless,
Or it's Epiphany and all the lighted trees
Smoulder in back yards and the smoke makes tears.
We turned to one another then with nothing to hold
But one another. We stayed in the town by the bay.
A moon swelled out of the sea and, once risen, abated
Into the now literal night we inhabit together.
[Michael Schmidt OBE FRSL is the founder and editorial and managing director of Carcanet Press Limited,
the general editor of PN Review and Professor of Poetry and convenor of the Creative Writing programme
at the University of Glasgow.]
Copyright © 2008 by Michael Schmidt, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law.
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