:: Article

48 & other poems

By George Szirtes.


see the leaves    what leaves?    the leaves
on the ground, the black hand flapping
the brown hand spread as if to grasp
grasp what?    a paving slab   a street   a sweep
of air    then some cruddy music    and leaf
leaf flattens, is pressed    is what?   is the body
as flat as this as brittle as surrendered   to what?
and some you burn and watch fly   and this
is    what?  an analogy as the mind makes it
of war perhaps    which war? dare we answer? dare
the body be its own dialogue? dare the
long, shall we say? rain beat down on us
and our music    is that the music? that cruddy
music you make in your bones and teeth?

who is asking the questions?    there are too
many and late and too soon and this answer
too is a question only you don’t see, no, you
don’t hear the question mark   – where?   – in the leaf
which leaf? that one there, that black-brown-green-
grey thing with its negligible weight, its music.


It was a woman’s face deep in the sea, self-constructed, as if one could make the moon out of flesh, bone, colour, reflection.

There was nothing there to touch. The sea was warm, the face gazed through it in its act of self-construction, that involved gazing.

This was it. The muse-face. The construction. The self-made moon on its seabed. The astonishing in its perpetual process of construction.

This was the face that could give and consume, made out of myth and moonlight, making itself, turning itself into gaze.

And I have seen her, said the words. That gaze constructs itself and the compulsive act. And a cold shiver ran down him. And more words.

Make me a poet, said the words of the poem. Undermine me, said the gaze. Be discontent, said the muse. For ever, said the moon in the words.

These are old tropes, said the muse. But you must keep opening them. The poem lies beyond the opening, at the origin of words.

But muse, said the poem, if I am not the construction I desire to be I will die. Be sceptical, said the muse. Believe, said the poem.

Sealed With a Kiss

We were always beautiful. always. When we wrote
each other it was our beauty we were committing
to paper, a beauty composed of forgetting.
It was beauty that caught us, that set us afloat
on the great painted sea of our disasters.
It was beauty that moved us against the tide
of dead water, that slowly pushed us aside
and beached us. Here we met the masters
of our fortunes: time, separation, space
with its inevitable music, the lost boys
of the movies, the sweatered girls, the slow
ring of dancers moving to white noise,
the simple sadness of the hand and face,
the loss of the sealed kiss, the long hard blow.

George Szirtes Poet and translator. His first book, The Slant Door (1979) was joint winner of the Faber Memorial Prize. In 2004 he won the T S Eliot Prize for Reel, and was shortlisted for the prize again in 2009 for The Burning of the Books. In between, Bloodaxe published his New and Collected Poems (2008). His new book, Bad Machine (2013) is a PBS Choice. Salt published his poems for children In the Land of the Giants in 2012.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 7th, 2013.