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Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Five Poems
George Szirtes



What we talk about when we talk about talking

Some talk about things,
some talk about other things,
some about people.

Some don't talk at all
but pull faces and pretend
to listen not talk.

Some are trapped inside
an empty conversation
and can't quite get out.

Social intercourse
as hell? Other people have
devils of their own.

See that young man there?
Watch his mouth move. Watch his hands
as he tries to speak.

Something must be said
but it escapes him before
he knows what it is.

Something fugitive
is in the forsaken air
before its saying.

Pity the speechless
with their gesticulation
and their stiff white lips.

Where's the oxygen
of publicity now? Choked
off. Gone for a walk.

Some talk about things.
Some don't talk at all. Talking
is this. This is talk.

Charge Sheet

That is not a man.
That is a thinking machine
with eyes and fingers.

Look at him working.
He's doing nothing useful.
Those are only words.

Do words shift the load
hanging by a thread or turn
a key in the door?

Do words perform tasks
that address the rain and clouds?
Some of us doubt it.

Words have no substance.
They hang around street corners,
menacing shadows

waiting for something
to happen so they may spread
like an infection.

They take up the air
the useful need to function.
We do not need them.

They should let us be
and amuse themselves elsewhere
on some distant moon.

The doors are open.
Out there is light and silence.
Let the silence come.

A Quartet from Finland

What is the music
weaving the night together
like a small spider?

It wriggles this way
and that so delicately,
scuttling up and down,

you would think it had
an agenda, some design
beyond construction

transcending hunger,
when all it looks to achieve
is to build a web

and then shimmy up
and down it and to sit there
at its frail centre.

Eric Tulindberg,
you slender eight-legged slip
of a dead spider,

spinning through the night
in whatever Finland then
existed to spin in,

are you still spinning
your death on a short silk thread,
the draught still blowing

where it hangs and sways
while I wake from my own web
spun out of nowhere?

Is this my morning
or your night? Is it the two
we're both stuck between?


Consider the drowned
packing the sea and rising
like a dank mountain.

Crowding the water,
packed close like cargo, the drowned
vanish unlisted.

How deep the sea is,
how fierce and cold, untroubled
by its history.

We have history
in which we drown our sorrows
as in saltwater.

We don't understand
death in the way the sea does.
We set out in hope.

Now we lie, piled up,
as if we were intended
to be together.

But nothing is meant.
The sea does not bear meaning.
It is just a throat.

We too have our throats
but they are filled with water
and grief and money.

Those who ferry us
betray us. We can't trust them
but rely on them.

You will recall us
in your private drowned moments.
You will recall us.

Meet Harpo

Talking to Groucho
wasn't easy. He would roll
his big eyes and sneer.

Talking to Chico
was no easier. His fake
accent took over.

Talking to Harpo
was like talking to a blast
of angry white air.

They were familiars
not people. I knew them all
as shapes in dead fire.

Above all Harpo,
explosive, a child with fits
of terrible greed.

Outside in the storm
the brothers were blown along
ravines and high seas.

Everyone scattered
in the wind. It was wartime.
It was rationing.

Dread sister, Laughter,
have you no care for brothers
of thunderous talk?

Beware the silent
speechifier in the wig.
Cross your legs. Fight back.