George Szirtes
for Clarissa Upchurch

You wake to car sounds, radios, the cold sunlight
Burning holes in windows, and you sense
The missing fabric of the previous night.

The city offers you no evidence
Except the collage of the overheard,
Extended clauses of a broken sentence

Of which you recognise the odd stray word.
A car door slams. Feet scutter down the stairs.
It is the Theatre of the Absurd,

A masquerade in which the company wears
Period dress, their every movement fragile,
Negotiating brittle stools and chairs.

Eclectic, Art Deco, Secession style
Buildings multiply into a capital
Of iron, bronze, glass brick, ceramic tile.

A statue balanced on a pedestal
Is leaning over to whisper a close secret.
Two yellow trams clatter in mechanical

Circles. Dull monuments express regret
For what someone has done to them, for crimes
Committed in names they’re trying to forget

But can’t. Here all the clocks tell different times.
All the statues point different ways. Film crews
Shoot Budapest for Berlin. The city rhymes

With its imperial neighbour, like one bruise
With another. People converge on streets
Where there is never any lack of news.

Here is a square where everybody meets.
Here is a doorway through which troops have pressed.
Here is a yard with women hanging sheets

And corridors where boys in Sunday best
Are waiting for a housekeeper or maid
To join them on a stroll in the soft west

Wind ruffling the embankment trees. Decade
After decade resolves itself in the traffic.
The filming goes on somewhere in the shade.


Once you arrive in the heart of the exotic,
Which is only a transferred idea of home,
Under the crumbling stucco, the faint brick

Of memory appears. Above the lanterned dome
Of the cathedral the familiar sky
Waves back, reflected in the brilliant chrome

Of legions of saloon cars purring by.
It is as if they drove some narrative
Whose visual sub-plot struck your painter's eye

With its peculiar imperative.
Even the light here has grown eloquent,
Its language sparklingly authoritative.

The city glories in its element.
I woke here as a child once in a narrow
Bedroom that served as my Old Testament.

Like a philosopher I watched Time's arrow
Winging towards its target and falling short.
So God is said to note a falling sparrow...

Genesis, Exodus... it was a fishing port,
An English holiday town, time blew me to,
Where I could watch waves, like immortals, sport

With bits of flotsam once the wind was through.
Here I find lost bits of my heart. In these
Dark corridors and courtyards something true

Survives in such obsessive images
As understand the curtains of the soul
Drawing together in the frozen breeze.

And you, born in the Far East, in a bowl
Of China dust, carried in armoured trucks
Along Malaysian roads, and down the coal-

Seamed valleys of Yorkshire, past viaducts
And airports, can now enter through the walls
To haunt the darkest residential blocks.


What hope for rhyme when even childhood calls
On fiction for an echo and completes
Itself in myths, processions, carnivals,

Displays that billow down mysterious streets?
The city is unfixed, its formal maps
Are mere mnenomics where each shape repeats

Its name before some ultimate collapse.
The train shunts in the sidings, cars pull in
By doorways, move off, disappear in gaps

Between the shops. It is like watching skin
Crack and wrinkle. Old words: Andrássy út
And Hal tér. Naming of streets: Tolbuhin,

... the distant smell of rotting fruit,
Old shredded documents in blackened piles,
Dead trees with squirrels snuffling at the root.

On balmy afternoons you walk for miles
Trying to listen to the architecture.
It mutters continually, waving dusty files

Of unsolved grievances. It wants to lecture
Even while it sings - and how it sings,
When the mood takes it! So you take its picture

And brood upon those mouths and eyes, the wings
Of its cracked angels and draw out the sound
In terms of light which darkens as it rings.

Bells of the city chime, round upon round.
The film rolls on. A car sweeeps round the bend,
Its shadow stripping grey from the pale ground.


Sooner or later roads come to an end.
The tram draws to a stop beside the bridge
Then doubles back. Cogwheel railways descend

To their terminus. You reach the world’s edge
To leap off or to turn around and face
The ardours of the tiring homeward trudge.

The beggars in the subway know their place.
The shopgirl yawns. A couple in the square
Seem to be locked in statuesque embrace.

Surely by now the credits should appear.
Our characters, our narratives, our themes
And leitmotifs are hanging in the air

As dusk comes on with the small print of dreams.
We get into the car and cruise away
Negotiating networks of dipped beams.


Everything snores. Even the fine spray
Of rain breathes evenly. The houses close
Their doors to the street. Bedroom curtains sway

And darken. Somewhere in the comatose
Suburbs two people chase each other through
Sequences of courtyards with black windows.

Today is history, only the night is new
And always startling. Slowly the paint flakes
On the wall. Eventually the film-crew

Pack their gear away. The darkness aches
For morning which arrives with bird-calls, gusts
Of wind and traffic just as the reel breaks.

George Szirtes
fot. archiwum autora

Selected Poems, OUP, 1996
The Budapest File, Bloodaxe 2000
English Apocalypse, Bloodaxe 2001
Metro, OUP, 1998
Reel, Bloodaxe, 2004

Strona autorska po angielsku

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