Albrecht Dürer 1493 (pen and brown ink)
I marvel that the darkness of your ink
should convey the whiteness of these pillows
that what you leave blank on the page
is the smell of a fair linen cloth bleached in the sun
that there should be one strong outline
to each pillow, and hatching to indicate shadows
like contour lines on a map
that the strokes are fine as hair
that the pillows should not be maid-smoothed
but lie abandoned as if by children after play
that they should be wrinkled like aged skin
and have a softness we crave in vain for those who die hard
that you observe the direction of light from a high window
while snow muffles the garden
that you dip the tip of a goose-wing quill
in soot-brown ink
and create folds of cloth, clumps of down
that you draw what is at hand
and do not forget what it was like to be a fevered child
shaping pillows into valleys and mountains of another country
that I should remember this day
although these pillows must by now be dust or ashes
as are those whose heads lay on them
that my paper is made from rags such as this linen might become
that you are playing still as I see in the creases
an eye, an ear, a snout
a frowning beast, a fish, a rhino
that I could reach out and touch them.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I’m a jester, a prankster, a mathematician –
forty minutes precisely to circle the globe.
Love potions are my speciality, but lovers –
they all look the same to me.
A stroke of genius that ass’s head.
I transformed a hempen homespun weaver, but the plot
unravelled – what a rush to mend it for the nuptials
(when they talked through all of Pyramus and Thisbe).
Now it’s ended and I’m here with a broom
sweeping up flowers and bits of forest,
putting the stage to bed, dowsing the lights:
assistant stage manager, that’s my job.
It was just a jolly romp, in case you hadn’t guessed;
leave open the casement and let the moonlight in.
Egyptian hieroglyph: the folding door of a tent
Language pitches its tent
next day strikes camp, moves on
it is the merchant’s free trade
the fugitive’s only baggage
it seeps into folds of skin
or burrs on a silk skirt
it moves on foot as a runaway slave
finds north by the blossoms’ scent
it is the soldier’s loot and the dictator’s triumph
it is a letter from exile
it is the debtor who lives by borrowing
but never redeems a pledge
it leaves tracks in sand, snow, mud
and fisks about the fairground of the world
each word carries a trace of another
a tent flap, a door, a tongue.
Karel Čapek 1890 – 1938)
Gardening for you was science fiction,
a surreal future where nothing added up:
you were late that year – Saint Wenceslas’ Day –
and joked about a dearth of pots, a superfluity
of bulbs, disappearing compost, bone meal
not yet in stock – you kept on planting
like some crazed gardener’s apprentice.
Then you locked the gate to your heart’s ground.
seeds of snow sifted against stones, the Vltava ran
gun-metal grey, soot disgraced Prague’s walls.
On St Stephen’s Day miners
brought flowers to your funeral.
In that long week-end before the storm
did you foresee the blighted spring, the summer
long delayed? Your tools were snapped for kindling,
a sharp knife filched, and in the street your pots
were smashed like glass.
The clock of the seasons slurs. But each time the earth
hesitates at the year’s crossroads
those knuckled bulbs with papery skin split,
sprout, shoot petalled flame and open the gate
for Proserpina’s flowers.