Issue 7

George Szirtes
Four Poems

(15) Curtains / blinds

It was when time was finally receding
we found perspective, or rather it found us,
diminished and helpless on the far horizon.
Perspective was the thing we’d keep our eyes on,
since shrinkage was, for us, a form of bleeding,
and everything was closing in around us.

So everything closed in, and we were shrunk
within the very terms we thought we’d mapped,
our maps being vague approximations,
too imprecise for neater calculations.
Either our systems or our eyes were junk.
However free we were we still felt trapped.

However free we were we still were locked
in houses too small to live in, cars too wide
to miss a pot hole or a traffic cone.
The mind won’t fit the skull, it just gets blown,
and yet keeps spreading and will not be blocked.
It wants to fly because it’s stuck inside.

These words want out. They want a natural light
if only so they might feel less uncertain.
Perspective starts here where they say their names
so any drawing underwrites their claims.
Their vanishing point is what is lost to night
whose drawing is the drawing of a curtain.

Little by little she let down the blinds.
The light in the room obeyed her as she moved.
It was a work of delicate gradations.

She could control gradations in this way,
leading the light as if it were a horse
she might have ridden right back to the stables.

Horses of light were champing at the bit.
They stamped the darkness, breathed a thin grey fume.
Light trembled with excitement that was fear.

The blinds kept moving, light was growing thinner.
It was like dusk, or dawn, some half-way station
between two busy major terminals.

And in that darkening there was a moment
when breath failed and the pain slipped into numbness,
and night, or just the blinds, brought darkness on.

After Caroline Wright

1.The Rower

At which point was the boat quite lost to sight?
At which point did the rower realise?
At which point did the single oar lose meaning?
At which point did the land entirely vanish?
At which point did the waves become a wall?
At which point did the mind become the sea?

Because if mind and wave and wall and sea
are of one substance, and the loss of sight
result in loss of meaning - so that wall
is where the mind is - should we realise
our utter loss, we might entirely vanish
into a sea that never had a meaning.

But then, being alone with lack of meaning,
blank sea and brittle oar, the place we vanish
into is somewhere we can’t name as sea,
and where we drown is just an oversight.
There’s nothing there to know or realise.
It’s all the sound of wave hitting sea-wall.

I wish we could hear the voice that is the wall -
a single voice that concentrates all meaning
into oar or wave. How good to realise
that sense of being alone on a blank sea
in voice or name, to find ourselves in sight
of any land, even one due to vanish.

You’ll find this card tomorrow. The days vanish
in the usual haze however we stonewall.
I like it here. The sea is quite a sight,
darker than usual, flat, yet still a sea.
The weeks are almost endless. I’ve been meaning
to write you this. A card, I realise

is just a gesture. One can’t realise
all one’s ambitions. I seem to vanish
in myself. I’ve long been out at sea
without a landmark, no familiar wall
to climb or peep over. What kind of meaning
could I ascribe to it? Where is the sight

equal to this? What wall holds meaning
the way this does? I realise the sea
is more than sight, and some things always vanish.

2. Reverse side

Received the parcel
Safely, many thanks, Bella¹.
Monday. Leamington².

Received the parcel
Safely. Now it is Wednesday
And the sea is calm.

Received the parcel
Safely in the second year
Of the war³. Thursday.

Received the parcel
Safely, with many thanks. Sea
Calm. Nellie, with love.

Received the parcel
Safely. It is still Friday
And the sea is calm.

¹Name illegible. Bella or Ella or Nellie.
²Postcard sent from 30, Grove Street. Leamington Spa to Mrs W. Yerrill, 30, Mount Road, Haverhill in Suffolk. Neither place is by the sea. The sea is inner.
³Postcard dated 16th September, 1915, a Tuesday.

The Time It Takes
Quick time. Slow time. Time flies – Phyllida Barlow

By the time they got to Phoenix it was late.
Quick went the movie but the talk was slow
Down empty roads with hours to navigate.

From Tucson up through Arizona state
There’s nothing you would recognize or know.
By the time they got to Phoenix it was late.

It’s like an anecdote you’ll not relate.
You watch dust fly as wind begins to blow
Down empty roads with hours to navigate.

Time flies like dust, no time to contemplate
The journey. You go where you have to go.
By the time they got to Phoenix it was late.

The things you say! The words will not run straight
So time moves on with nothing left to show
Down empty roads with hours to navigate.

Let’s cut the talk completely, wipe the slate.
They drove in silence and preferred it so.
By the time they got to Phoenix it was late
Down empty roads with hours to navigate.

For Clarissa 11 July 2011

A quotation mark in space around the hollow
bones of the universe. A carousel spinning out of control.
You’re flung off to the bottom of a scroll
of dark where nobody can follow.
These metaphors for all that is outside you –
the vortices of the scary-beautiful –
look, they are inside you. You feel the pull
of your own heart as the universe rides you.
Those yellow flowers in that earthenware jug.
The spill of wind under eaves. Where are we?
Where are our co-ordinates? A fly dances
on a skim of air. It’s as if life were a drug
in the system. The universe spins free
of us. Here’s where we are. Here’s where we take our chances.


Chances, and several. The way sun dips across
a wall, the angle at which rain strikes a face.
Chance just has it so, that in one place
devastation, another the mourning of loss,
and here such happiness it fills a minute
for ever. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the older
woman’s face, as if I were its only beholder,
its sad crumpled beauty, its cabinet
of curiosities. I can scarcely believe my own.
Or yours, how the whole structure is maintained
and holds firm. Somehow we have gained
the world and are losing it in every bone
and cell, as if to chance. You eyes touch mine
in chance light, in perfection, as in rain.


Three times this week I have trodden on a shell
on the lower step when it was very dark
and I was too preoccupied to mark
the point at which it cracked before. The smell
of wet grass was gentle, intoxicating.
Clouds were bruises of thunder, the light mere spots
up ahead. Distinctions were lost in knots
of deeper or fainter black. My bed was waiting
for my mind to wind right down. Meanwhile at home
you lay in ours as if at the back of time
that too was waiting to draw and settle us
into its own bed. Like the snail in its brittle dome
it waited, and we rose next day to this rhyme
that swims out of the dark, this nautilus.