When the International Language Crimes Tribunal
has considered Collateral damage, Liberate and Friendly Fire
they might turn to Love. Love and the French.
Love and French films in particular – the verve and sanity
they drain from the most important word there is.
It’s the moping and mooning they do, those lovers,
at the traffic, into the mirror and out of it,
the way they’re in love with themselves in love with
themselves… Where is fun, real adversity, ordinary luck?
What about the grit, and the time, the sheer time love takes?
Love may make you smile. It makes them desolate:
je t’aime (glycerine glazing flawless cheeks); je t’aime
(achingly chic cardigan pulled around skeletal shoulders
since, whatever else, ‘love’ ruins appetite) as though
to utter it brings them eyeball to eyeball with le néant.
O love distilled to the mating dance of moths!
They’re children in a chocolate shop, tearing off
the wrappings. Je t’aime, they pant, between mouthfuls;
or even je vous aime since, often, they’ve met so recently
they’re not even on tutoying terms.
In fact they should come clean and go intransitive:
J’aime,they should say, je désire immodérément,
to describe a condition like hayfever or a craving
for celeriac: something seasonal and a yawn, except
to fellow sufferers. Je t’aime – it’s almost a nervous tic
but you’d better believe it, at least a little, because,
otherwise, the whole film collapses like wet meringue.
So you almost manage to put yourself in her place, or in his,
except that what they need, you realise, is animation –
soul, and muscle, and a hell of a lot more speed;
and ‘what was all that about?’ we say, as we stumble
out of one more ill-spent evening. ‘Love’. Of course.
But surely we missed some irony, a hint of the sublime –
we who won’t recall this story of ‘love’ from a dozen others;
we who don’t know the meaning of the word, apparently.
Wild splashing – a lizard,
fallen in the rain-water bucket,
was scrabbling at the smooth sides
frantic to get out,
delicate fingers not up to it,
flanks fighting for breath.
It’s a privilege to save a life;
some people never do.
And since life is life, indifferent
to worth or benefit, it was as though
I’d saved Mahatma Gandhi, Shelley,
Barthes – or any joker
whom attentiveness and a well-placed hand
could have turned from premature extinction.
As it was, it was a lizard with no tail
I tipped, ungrateful beast,
urgent for ants, twitching for a quarrel,
into the rest of its singular career.
She’d always loved the word
‘immaculate’, until they explained.
Even after Gabriel, it wasn’t clear
this was a permanent commitment.
Not just a virgin but The Virgin.
The hydra-headed dragon
came to her door at night.
She smelled corruption on its breath
and pitied it, its skin scored
its terrible amour with death.
She looked it in the eyes, saw
herself: a tinselled effigy;
her Eternal Life sentence
a juggernaut of pain and terror.
She ran out of the town,
into the clean silence of the desert.
How many desperate decades of the rosary
reeled backwards to her then;
countless pleas for intercession.
She saw she was to star
in a two-thousand year long tragedy,
a non-speaking part.
That timeless trap, the allure
of making all the difference …
And though the khamsin whispered
tears … miracles … make nothing happen,
she stopped running. Across the sand
the creature crawled to drag her into history.
Where are they now, the women you loved?
Eight of them sip Bordeaux, standing on your lawn
the day you are reduced to ashes, they to tears.
You loved women the way true explorers
loved Africa, moved by difference;
to find the source because it must be there.
Now, eyeing each other, they watch their words
and wonder what happened to the photographs:
Venus, Olympia, Origin of the World.
In each grey head, a girl unfolds herself from
tissue wrapping, relives Lake Naivasha, or the time
you made love thirty thousand feet above Dubrovnik:
lost girls, the ones who might have loved you differently;
who can’t think for the life of them… when no one since
has made them feel so beautiful, or laugh so.