First published in the Paris Review
Copyright © 1997 John E.Tranter
Thunder unrolling over the vulnerable city,
purple and ink-blue, above the huddle of workers
scrambling to commute, some to a bar where
neon and darkness
conspire to enfold them, the avenues alive with shoppers.
And rustling in the wind high above the age of doubt,
their transparent psyches rain-wet, rent by lightning,
spirits and angels
adrift in the jet-stream know that we have to die,
each of us heavy with hope but a faint shadow trails
between what we need and what's accessible, at noon
rest and distraction,
nightmares at midnight. These ministers query
then relinquish us, but not before this one listens
for alarms or burns, the sigh of passing time,
that one retreating,
skin all aglitter, for whom the avenue of blooms
shall never spell 'love'. The drinkers murmur their
ancestors' games, getting it right without
knowing the meaning,
code deviation: Drink, and drink. For that teacher
boys were everything, once, holding their breath
and proving their passion from a few paces away.
They can be cocksure,
crowded illusions, old pals, school buddies, dodging
into the past you should resurrect, or guess at,
a dim throng resemblance, who thought of your
soul as a plaything -
where to grow frankly through its enigmas means
foreign fucks, sad furious travel, this dilemma:
mud and air, part of the human breath it demands.
Listen to those guys
rattle and blather, he said, and you didn't remember
that melancholy, the twilight autumn air, then
the rumpled nameless force pushing us out
towards the horizon?
Garrulous history tells us that greed and ambition
stir the struggle to make great art, but then
the riders gallop up with their strange truth,
Secretive rumours hang about, floating over the turf
like a low mist, the way you pitched your gay smiles,
not meaning anything, but who spilt our secrets?
Blabbing and telling!
Told them the story, but we spoke outline English,
nothing solid, our filthy lies melting into the air.
Buy a memory or two at the pool, who cares if it's
a little dishonest?
Too bad you only smile to rake back a smile
to crush a truth, or in an instant forgive,
each time shadows falling across the yard
laid out in plots that
seem to be speaking, making a pattern, and
like the wind sneaking past, it's what we're
losing that tugs the brain, leaking out; we
kiss and a heartache
ruins our childhood. Yet - no, though
their cruel trade troubles us, the hot boys
grow, grunt and turn in that awful flux,
girls become women,
summers diminish, the snapshots fade, also the
pesky details and the hot bothers that seem to be
all we can recollect of that holiday, that was
more like a combat.
And I remember the neon glow on her lipstick -
click! - her perfume, its melancholy ambience -
these fragments constrain memory into grief, our
mortal lot sliding,
crushing together those dirty complex diversions.
We each knew awkward love, that frail-leafed orchid,
and on her lap a heap of those diurnal notes.
Baffled and restless,
breezes at sunset bring us groans and whispers;
now the tide is full that will carry us off,
afloat on that glassy flood, the sky stooping to
touch us with incense.
This is a painting, of a catastrophe cranked up to
the higher range: look at it, sweetheart, you dazzle,
spell benumb my mouth, pink heart-beats
asking for lightness, an enigmatic spice of hope,
but always at my back I hear a brutal rumbling,
the bursting roar of my own donut-fleshed heart.
A trace of my accent
colours your laughter, a linguistic infection. Upstream
the marriage blueprint's spoiled, and here on the porch
I'm holding you lightly in a dance embrace, watched by
drifting above our foreigner-inflected summer.
My life is just an escapade, not a tragedy, so
thank the energy of the fiery hour, thank that
a crisis that lets a new sentiment shape develop.
And our doting neighbours give us what you see,
unwelcome presents, and it's not even an occasion.
erasing the discord: there they are, portrayed naked:
two lovers aware of the hourglass - figured space
between us - and the futures they build there,
reading a novel
one to the other, pulse to pulse signalling
sex, fear and betrayal, culture rearranged
and magically loosened and tightened again,
appalling encounters, garlands strewn far inland,
haystacks aflame in brilliant streaks in the valleys,
and on that sombre green beside the pond
calmly alighting in the gloom under the trees.
Here the painter has depicted the world's end, two
plausible powers, the red and the black, demons and
hard-hearted men sunk
deep in their silent employment - is it for you? And
for you this dismal project, this politics? And yet
the boys still dive and plunge among the foam,
talking with kisses,
lips intermingled, and rest on your jealous breast.
See, the ancestors lie down before that portrait
and the movie palaces of your youthful solitude
now lie deserted.
Rising to meet us, the ebony hand of night.
Here, a stain of moonlight. There, rippling noises,
love swept gasping through it. Disguises,
painting on linen,
it's a delusion and a false fabric, a sweet elocution
with as little meaning as a blackbird's batty chatter,
the theatre of the mundane drafted onto a backdrop,
forming a pattern where the totally random must be given
a motive and a meaning, sketched across the foreground
near his head. So the artist figures things to come, a
Longing for meaning can be fixed. First it's a problem,
then it's the cure; but we are dispersed into a rigmarole,
into the telling fishhook of a style, and so he
releasing his insights like ink dropped into water.
The audience shivers, watching everything they knew
fracture, their future a lifeless illusion,
slowly at first, then faster: their career path diagrams
riddled by lightning. I'm nursing a drink at twilight,
looking up at the thunderheads lit from below:
into the future that waits for us but doesn't want us,
nor the children, who await their change of faith,
or so I guess, staring down on the late avenues
crowded with feelings.
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