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from EUROPEAN EPITAPHS

 

Hôtel Beaubourg

        ‘Paris change …’
        Charles Baudelaire

What with the quickly flowing Seine
a muddy snow-melt flood,
there’s no more sleeping under bridges
in the shadow of Notre Dame;
so cold, it is, gargoyles spit ice,
the scent of urine and Gitanes
washed away by years, by the swollen Seine;
but those rough sleepers, they remain
though I’m no longer with them
in, for example, Rue du Temple
bundled up on a cardboard mattress,
dans le Métro, or the pouring rain –
as if what a lifetime changes,
it changes and yet keeps the same.

 

 

 

Crepuscules
        i.m. Geoff Ellis

There’s something about the light this morning
I wouldn’t have wanted you to miss –
as when twin towers’ and stained glass windows’
ashen stone was tinted rose
briefly by a dusk at Paris,

or the storm-light round a café awning
tormented by late squalls in the Marais …
No, I wouldn’t have wanted you to miss

today’s dawn, like a shepherd’s warning;
it sweeps low clouds of purple-grey
across those higher white ones
tinted pink too by the sun’s
emergence behind scratched winter boughs
with turquoise patches and some blues …
No, I wouldn’t have wanted you to miss this.

 

 

 

Airgraphs

Caught by a flak-pocked European sky,
blacked out, overcast in fear,
when only a boy I would imagine
as if it were a love affair
my father in the Westland 'Lizzie’
his mother hadn’t let him fly;

but there were peaches, pears and grapes
‘somewhere in Sicily’ in '43
and reading your airgraphs, dad, what I see
is a steel helmet ‘always full’ of lemons …

Your memories, then, would tease me out
from a fed imagination, drawn
despite the stony smell of death
at village-square memorials
because they too, the martyred dead,
had the mind of Europe in their bones.

 

 

 

Norway Foam
        for Charles Ivan Armstrong

Out for some air on a farther shore
past homes restored to pristine whiteness,
bargeboard houses in Kristiansand,
I hear gulls’ raucous morning chorus.
Haven glints fill each cross-street end.
Away, at last, beyond the embrace
of Tynemouth’s north and south pier,
a breath from the Skagerrak bending us
by moorings and communal wharfs
to a fort that fired on the English once,
here too are shrill, exilic voices …
Hark at them, over Norway foam,
this long-imagined strand, its random
glimpses of their home from home.

 

 

 

At Dieppe

Then on the harbour wall, Dieppe,
after driving through a night
to cross the European plain, non-stop,
arrived here, now, a couple’s
quarrel at this Channel port
comes to seem the sum of it –
like they had never loved at all

in their doomed marriage (oh no, don’t tell me)
or ruined love affair …
Dog-tiredness aggravates the quarrel,
and I can only look aghast, aware
it’s better to have loved and lost
(as the poet had it)
especially when that good as hurts us all.

 

 

 

Doomed Marriage

River redoubling round to embrace them
and in different tongues construed,
the newly-married enter sunlight
beyond town bounds, on crisp-laid snow,
and dazzling hopes enliven eyes
tender to relatives as they’re about to go …

Mountains fading into parlous distance,
nothing but an outline, a lacustrine sunset
or Adige and hills implied, see, love’s
been driven from the better or worse
robbing them both of a promised release
in one another’s tried embrace.

Threatened by currencies of words and coin
and called upon to make some reparation,
to pay again what you had paid before,
these stretches of imagination come
over love’s distances none could cover,
a belated epithalamium!

 

 

 

Currency Issues

        ‘ … mordaci velut icta ferro
        pinus aut impulsa cupressus Euro …’
        Horace, Odes IV, 6

But then fear-project calculations,
how they flourish their designs
when money like an antique wind,
a lingua franca from beyond
the Alps, now alters its direction,
comes troubling the cypresses
and gnaws at ranks of pines;

it passes on indebtedness
to bankrupt others, save its own,
and in this smoke wind raises, this
raining all the time, you know
who’ll have to fund those losses
costing the here and now.

 

 

 

An Evening's Red

Then just think: clouds in a sunset
diffusing red-rimmed light
might comment on the pressed commuters
taken backwards down these lines
enclosed in the green, Great Western,
nostalgic livery.

This charged dusk tone at springtime
flashes equivocal signs
off west-facing windows
on trackside glass developments
sandwiched in between failed firms’
whitewashed brick façades...

It grants an odd solidity
to hillside grass and copse;
then goes, as if this edge of Europe’s
Cimmerian, sunset lands
were bringing down the curtain 
on all our misplaced hopes.


 

 

England in 2019


Even as the hollyhocks will still grow tall,
lattice-work fencing need to be replaced,
bottle banks choke, the rose petals fall
across walls double-edged graffiti has defaced,
still the people’s will will have been done
and dusted, somehow, rain, it will still rain
from storm-clouds upon our fainting country, sun
pick out brick courses, into the bargain.
From a muddy spring, the mud will invite them,
rulers, managing interminable wars,
to reverse engineer a continental system—
spiting faces, beggaring the neighbours…
Then, as deficits mount, some phantom may
burst to illumine our chilly, real day.


 

 

 

[Peter Robinson is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press. His recent publications are Collected Poems 1976-2016 (Shearsman, 2017) and The Sound Sense of Poetry (CUP, 2018). A new poetry collection called Ravishing Europa is due from the Worple Press in March 2019.]

Copyright © 2018 by Peter Robinson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.



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