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Abandoned Histories, Unfinished Cities


THIS SOUND, DOCTOR

I

With a melancholy sigh,
the democratic vistas open up again
and the morning puts on something blue
to walk in The Philosophers’ Gardens.

All too few are drawn there now:
lovers too young for their own country
so citizens of the latest song; the mad
or drunk haunting their own lives’ abandoned film sets.

The fountains’ madrigals are spent,
their long pools dry and dusty, old drawers
sad with summer’s petitions to autumn;
deposit boxes drained in a crisis.

Without their sub-atomic veils
the statues are as interesting as last year’s news
but the baroque glass sculpture of the Double Helix
is still rather impressive if a little disconcerting.


II

Sometimes the old woman will walk with you,
pointing out how any part of the surface
will return a little doll of yourself as in another’s pupil;
rehearsing for you the fabulous eloquence

of the cherubs mounted in wide, shallow bowls
that seem unkind to such delicate pipe work.
One could fall at any time but unlike a fruit,
she will tell you, she can simply put it back

– really, it happened to a friend of mine.
Such junctures almost restore one’s faith
in having no faith to speak of as do the waters
    which fill the whole structure.
Here is one form of discourse in complex relation

with another and it’s quite impossible to say
if they’re held in limpid suspension or circulate
in every part unseen; at any rate, a distant
drip, drip, dripping can be clearly heard.


III

The Gardens are the certainties and pleasures
of a more active age. Now ‘city want
    happy hardware hour’.
It’s already filling with rhyming strangers
as evening strikes a match against the door

of first one bar-and-grill and then another.
In the yellow brick malls and retro-bars
people put their keys down on counters
and, with them, an idea of order.

Everywhere you look there are species
of mirrors, with available selves already filled in;
long fronts of communication moving in,
bursting over the dog Latin buildings.

Ministers of Fun turn on giant titles beneath which
    everyone’s a credit.
Yet, each morning after, dream therapists will report
    being flooded out
with loose geographies of old statues, gardens
   and tiny wings by water
and ‘this sound, doctor, like a melancholy sigh.’





INDOORS

The moralists are back, cruising heaven
in their patched and wheezing balloons,
winding themselves over our heads
in their rusty buckets, peering peevishly

this way and that through opera glasses.
The year dithers. It’s the month
of something to do with interest rates,
a fine time to tell me the destiny of our love

is like toxic emissions blown into the next state
from a 500 ft superstack. I think I preferred it
when you were a bridge and I was something
atomized and flung from your cables.

I’m much better off staying indoors
with the phone’s comforting mockery
of something organic; my young tom running in
all cheerful and shiny like a new top hat.






THE ENCHANTED LAKE

Small animals fossick in the undergrowth
at the edge of the enchanted lake
– it’s only someone rustling sweet papers
in a quiet bit of the symphony.

Beautiful young violinists of the student orchestra,
how you make me lick my lips
as I am
carried over the audience
on the crest of your unsalted concentration!

(Later, in their crusty flats, bachelors
young and old will nod over their catalogues
of dead flies and stiff socks and dream
of savouring long warm draughts of your bathwater.)

And you, Mozart, wherever you are tonight
I think you would find it paradoxical
that youngsters can give such conviction
to your sweetly yearning melancholy.





ESCAPE BY THEORY

The clean ashtrays confirm that all is illusion,
so much so you yearn for an escape by theory
from the miseries of choice as other patrons here
hope to palm this night through the devilish exercise

of inanity as poignant sophistication,
of absurd nakedness as sublime humanity.
But something startles the pigeon locutions
– very very double adverb extremely coconut -

and this makes for such initial surfaces
that ‘pattern, dream, game’ and ‘tale, teller, told’
get lost in the cracks between each other.
Truly, each evening is a one-time pad,

a single paper on glass on poor furniture,
in an empty novel that nobody rented.
Who asks and answers here departs forensically.
Only a drunk in the alley sees them – taking away
    the ashtrays.





THE STORY OF MACHINES

The following epigram “Pas une issue pas une
seule issue par naturel” is hardly a fulcrum
for lifting anything in the world. Nevertheless,
when you wake up and find yourself in the story

of machines, it dilutes the grief a little to learn
that the McQuigleys, that family of heavy drinkers
and extravagant practical jokers, first used it
back in the ‘70s. If you were a record you could

drop the needle down right between tracks;
and if you were a glass bell, fingernails
could strike you beautifully; and if you were a hedge
you could look like an iced éclair in winter.

Usually, you are a day stuck to the street
like a piece of gum. There’s the slow handclap of cables
against masts and clattering fits of pigeons.
A man could get lost between the map
    and his own wardrobe.





JANE’S HOUSE

A man could get lost between the map and his own wardrobe,
become the single blurred figure at the edge
of an unfinished beach on a bank of TV. screens
in a high street shop window; become one

of the misdirected souls of the telephone system,
    travelling the wires,
until they find your number free at
1.48 a.m.
and ring to ask in the voice of a Poe protagonist
“Is that Jane’s house? Is Jane there? Is Jane – ?

And you bang the phone down leaving them, so you think,
to surf the digital limbo but they network
with all the other Flying Dutchies and now they’re all out
to get you. The phone only rings after
midnight

and soon the voices start coming without the thing ringing.
If only you had what they
carried and lost! The kids
are morose  even for kids – and your wife’s a stress goddess...
And so, once again, the family pack their rucksacks.





CITIES – I

When you come to the tall city by the lake,
you will find people with a speech that is reverent
and cool as the wind that perpetually breathes there
for they believe every word is also a name of God.

And when you have grown tired of eighty storeys,
and one hundred storeys and one hundred and twenty
storeys and of the frissons of their amplitudes,
then take some time to experience the culture

in which everything, all art, is devoted
to the modelling or depiction of words
which, it is held, are also names of God.
Department stores sell mass-produced versions
    of LOVE and HOPE

and NOBILITY while traditional fine artists
create the same in stone, rare woods, jewels and inlays.
The rich have words of their choice chased across their houses;
the avant garde exhibits ANTI-SYZYGY in barbed wire.





BERLIOZ AT TANKERTON

The weathermen were wrong again:
the wind today loves us like the shingle loves our shoes.
Big music gusts off the sea. Out beyond the tankers
somewhere, Berlioz is back and this time he’s
    playing

himself in to one of his monster concerts,
with an electric metronome and twenty-four
subconductors relaying the beat. Stick figures flap
up and down the front – it’s the famine of the wind

brings out the scarecrow in people. Dogs, meanwhile,
sniff at aerodynamics and tack along as usual.
Far below the tops of folly-masts like aerials
for scherzo and mazurka, the main street

is a jangle of litter fervent to enlist
in The War of the Player-Pianos. Next time
you think weather maps are like scores melted
by a surrealist – keep it to yourself, will you!





TWO OR THREE INTERVALS

I don’t know much about anything, except
    a few rivers
but I’ve heard the smallest acts can echo
like appeasing chimes. And I think you must have too,
as you come towards me now with August dropping

from your arms like marmalade, bearing two or three
intervals and the very latest ‘aria-in-a-microscope’.
But that can wait: these intervals are simply
something else! Where on earth did you get them?

Look at this: a group of men, with pipes, some sitting,
some standing, round an open fire with the title
“An Outraged Countryside Is Roused”. Or this footage
of two macaws prosaically grooming each other’s vents

before a clump of rubbernecks, called “Incident
In The Botanical Gardens”. Such confirmation
of the fictional self is so wonderful and compassionate
that I tell you “This weather is best on melba toast.”


                    © David Kennedy 2002