In memory of Anna Akhmatova
When you are surrounded
by admirers and freedom
and you live in the echoes
of great poets, you'd better
recall the vanished world you are
from before it is too late
- school where Pushkin went, Paris
with Modigliani -
before you age 100 years
in a single hour of war,
the short summer already dead.
Next, you are ordered to clean
the streets around your once-grand home;
which doesn't sound too bad unless
you are a princess-poet
thrown out with an abandoned era
in the revolution we all know.
When you discover in the garden
of your broken palace
that the oak trees there
are older than St Petersburg
as the Tsar's capital becomes
prehistoric ruins, you cling to
each tree like precious poems
for the people and their suffering.
Not long after, a friend comes along
and climbs the creaking back staircase
to another century
to meet you and your poetry
in the washerwoman at your door
and the revolution we don't know
of how you make the words for everyone.

We have forgotten how to feel.
We have these empty spaces
and try to fill them with music,
or with literature or with art
as though we had never loved
sufficiently for years
or even for a single day.
We need to bravely open
our eyes and question the world;
we need to think about opposites.
we need to think about parallels,
ironies, inequalities;
about reality, sanity,
unreal memory,
insane history,
something we've never done before,
not as real as this,
not this excitingly:
where there is always nostalgia
for the untold multitudes
of innocent
victims who are prematurely
and unjustly sacrificed
on the altar of history;
where survivors stroke these memories
to induce inspiration
for the safe future
of everything they hope for:
in dream after dream
that will not fade away.
It would be tickety-boo
if you took me seriously.
Do take me seriously.


When he said no poem should be
extended beyond a single line,
I replied, that is shorter
than the breath we need to live;
and what would remain is the last
word of the last sentence
of the last book in the world;
and even then something
poets can't quite remember.

For Pauline

Stromboli has been erupting
continuously for thousands
of years
             of spectacular
incandescences bursting
sometimes minute by minute
like a high-octave, incessant
and pulsating heart pumping with life.
It takes the same moments
to start a love affair
and make a romantic oasis
rising steeply from the sea
twice as deep as it is high.
Sheer cliffs look down below
on the eruption of love to come
in perfect traceries of light
streaming close enough to touch
and shudder in togetherness
like all true lovers do,
as Stromboli erupts.

I've just been thinking
how little I'll have
to leave behind;
but I'll be
in good company.
Although he wrote
600 songs
9 symphonies
world famous pieces
for piano and
chamber music
(one, the most
requested on
Desert Island Discs
Franz Schubert only
left a few clothes,
some linen, a mattress,
a large money debt
and an apparently
worthless collection
of old music.
Which gives hope for
the works which have filled
my life and fill
my room with not
seeing what others
see, things I saw
which no one else did
now waiting to be
discovered then heard
then celebrated.

     Geoffrey Godbert 2012