Life was never easy in the shade of greatness where
inspiration crackled in the air and the very hangings
thrummed in harmony; where my master taught
a starling arias and never lost his taste for jokes
with me the butt. May God safeguard his fate.
It was harder still to gossip with his wife in the dazzle
of her eyes, return their teasing gaze without guilt
reddening my face. When the fever of creation became
the sweat of sickness, my wretchedness could not compare
to hers. But I burned too, with bitter flames.
Yet there was the gift of witness: to copy fly-spot dots
and scrawls that scrabbled across staves; to have
my small ideas not brushed aside; to dare to change
a crotchet here, a bar-mark there when pain drove
splinters through his head. May my toil not be in vain.
It was a challenge to keep faith with God who’d
poured such gold into a mortal brain and then let flesh
decline, so that fingers couldn’t keep a sure grasp
on the quill and stippled ink spread discord down
the page. But surely he is called with all the blessed.
After my master’s death, it was a dagger to the heart
to see our labours touted round for finishing.
But when she came to me at last, Constanze’s eyes
were magnified by tears so, contrite as ashes, I took
the bundled manuscript, filled out what he’d begun,
improved the dabblings of lesser men, added
my own. Perhaps, after all, I made the light eternal
shine as he’d have wished. Posterity will judge.
But may my name live on – an echo-chime with his,
footnote to a genius. Lord have mercy on us both.
After Mozart’s death, his assistant, Süssmayr,
completed the Requiem in D minor
Polpeor’s desolate now: warped doors, cracked
concrete, rust. Once men with tides in their blood
came running at the call of bells, dared the path
against the gales, dropped to hands and knees
on the bend where fierce air clawed at so’westers,
bellowed oilskins and tried to sweep them to
the stones below. They pushed out wooden boats,
strained oars against the surge or battled to hoist
canvas while the wind fought back. They salvaged
crews and passengers from ships – Hansey, Suevic,
Socoa – their hulls ripped open on the Lizard rocks.
We’re on the gallery to watch a practice ‘shout’.
Bright in lifejackets and drysuits, men and women
are brisk about their tasks. The Rose grumbles
on the slipway till a whistle shrills, then glissades
until her bow bursts the shining blue. It’s safer
on this side: Kilcobben’s waves roll in untorn and
Atlantic fury has been tamed by fields and walls.
The boathouse curls its timber roof over all the aids to
soul-saving this century can devise. We let out our breath,
stoop to track manoeuvres through the open doors:
that vermilion will be visible for miles.
It wasn’t a reforming king, or time’s unkindness, but
a night-raid by the Luftwaffe, and seven centuries
of prayer were blown to dust. Without bitterness
a vow to rebuild beside the broken stones rose
with the smoke. Sandstone was quarried, ferried,
layered into zigzag walls, glass screens were scratched
with saints and angels, windows reared up letting in sun
to colour-wash the marble floor, charred beams and
ancient nails became symbols of the faith.
A man who refused to kill was invited to write the score.
On a framework of the Requiem, he hung the verses
of a soldier from an earlier war. For the Latin he called on
men and women who’d seen their cities burn, boys
too young ever to have heard a bomb, and a soprano
whose Soviet countrymen had died in millions.
An English tenor and a German baritone sang Owen’s rage
and grief in turn. Then at the last, against the consoling
orisons of choirs, they repeated the closing line in harmony:
Let us sleep now …
Summer after summer we saw flooded villages
like valleys abandoned for a dam, cars afloat,
old people hauled through windows into boats.
Now this: withdrawal of cloud, excess of what
we’d craved. Leaves hug themselves, blackbirds
eye my trowel with hope, the beanflowers wilt.
I harvest every drop: a bucket in the shower,
another by the sink for rinsings, kettle-dregs,
the run-off while waiting for the hot.
My friend Nafiso smiles, finds wonder in a tap,
a flushing loo, fountains in city squares. She gapes
at lakes, canals and sweeps of artificial rain
on crops, at swimming pools. But sometimes
she draws her scarf across her face to hide the flash
of tears for her distant land and those she left behind.
Years without rain: cracked earth, shrivelled maize,
the rust-brown river shrinking from its banks,
the miles to walk for aid. Fat generals.