Poetry by George Szirtes

ABACUS

 

Listen to the rain

counting out your works and days

on its abacus.

 

How neatly it plots

each hour. How precise it is!

Set the clock by it,

 

there is still time. Rain

will leave you tender margins

to scrawl your name in.

 

 

 

A MYRIAD SHARDS

 

 

In the land of a myriad shards

there is a word that glistens.

It is the plain tongue explaining

plainness to itself,

slowly, deliberately, as fully as it can.

 

But what it loves, it loves: it loves

soft moon, hard stars,

the great green splayed nature of a thing

that can be told like this,

in this voice, among shards, however many,

however myriad, under however many hard stars.

 

 

 

AFTER

 

On the day I died

they made it perfectly clear

that I had not died.

 

Nobody had died.

It was there in the records

that we had not died.

 

It was consoling.

We celebrated the fact,

or would have done so

 

had we been alive.

 

 

 

from the Hungarian of Anna Szabó

MY SON’S FIRST PHOTOGRAPH

 

 

Unter den Linden, the even light aslant

My little boy and I are in the street,

He seeing, feeling, sniffing and touching the skin

Of the city – it is its bones I’ve come to greet.

The dead live here. They’re simply everywhere

Their monuments pulse through the Berlin air,

Beating at the pavement in a dream.

The great wall’s shadow falls across the ground

That you can cross as you would a stream.

A four year old’s awareness is still dim

The blank gaze is too natural to him.

For him no corpse, no wartime episode

But pixels of light on an endless road.

 

Can I take a picture? I bend down to his height,

And snap he takes a shot of me

A moment and it’s done. Preserved in light.

 

 

 

 

OCEAN

for Karen Redman

 

The utter misery of hanging in

when all you need is one shot and it’s past;

the wretchedness of living in your skin

when you could scatter in one silent blast.

You see confusion in the panicked eye

and enter it as if you were a ghost

before you’ve even had a chance to die.

The dreary ocean lapping at your coast

has not yet swallowed you but here you are,

a self unselfing, a mind letting go

its hard-acquired armour, avatar

to a being you once had claims to know.

The sea is dark but here and there the light

catches the waves even at dead of night.

 

 

About the contributor

Born in Hungary in 1948, his first book, The Slant Door (1979) won the Faber Prize. He has published many since then, Reel (2004) winning the T S Eliot Prize, for which he has been twice shortlisted since. His memoir of his mother, The Photographer at Sixteen, was published in February 2019.

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