A Bomb at the Book Launch
much happened then.
We vanished and the streets
filled up with others. Then there were
to read them. Books
were breath. Books were just air
in motion, words broken into
the stillness? Why
the silence after us?
Didn’t we deserve accolades
had happened. Things
broke. Matter exploded.
We were fragment and fire and air.
into the sky.
We were our own book launch,
We ourselves were the explosion.
ourselves exploding, blown
like soot into corroded air,
He had everything
and felt entitled to it.
Entitled is good.
The taxes he paid
were not the taxes he paid,
why should anyone?
People try to save.
It is natural to save.
Everyone does it.
The moon does not yield
all the sun’s light. It must save
some for its own use.
The sea’s energy
belongs to the sea. Why should
the sea not prosper?
It is natural
for the sea to salt away
salt for its own use.
Far away islands
are a natural resource.
They are resourceful.
Far away is good.
Islands that are far away
are good for business.
Wealth is natural.
The way things are is nature
We are far away
and natural. Nature is
just and generous.
You see them perched in a row on a beam
high above the city. They have no harness,
no safety rail. They are munching sandwiches
prepared by their wives sixty storeys below
or bought at an early morning stall. From there
they survey the world like gods without power,
like flightless sparrows or shreds of windblown paper.
At school, when asked about careers, they answered:
this, this girder, this vertiginous height, this pay,
this beer, these sandwiches, are what we aspire to,
life being short, and frequently shorter,
occasionally abrupt and always dangerous. This pride
is what we master, this mustering of self and air,
this, and fatherhood or livelihood, the fight
in the bar or the alley, the triumph or disaster
of a joke told to gods on the same high beam.
We’re born for this, to this, it is our station
and pride, our working principle. The foreman
strides among us, the boss approves the plans,
the food appears on our plates. It is our domain.
It is the urban wind that blows between streets
that are yet to rise to their full stature. We hang
between floors like decorations, a rank of medals
strung to a ragged chest. It is our choice. We make it.
Then they descend, one by one, along more beams,
down steps, resisting gravity, as they’re obliged to.
I was is not
the man I am, he said,
his brow darkening with effort,
I was is not
anything special now.
I don’t even remember him,
what you want but
something gets in the way,
he said and laughed again, then took
not just yourself.
It is some other thing
you must deny and so you do,
it from the start.
I was the bad thing there
just waiting to happen, he said
my hands where they
could be seen. My eyes were
open and smoking. I was clean,
it gets too much,
he said, but you have to.
Speaking is useless, as are tears
You are impossible
and guilty and it’s the guilt that
I think of harm.
It’s my business I think.
At least it’s me that’s doing it,
is dead. My death
is born out of his. But
this is not death. This is just me,
Four Notes after Felicia Glowacka
They lean towards each other as if
life had bent them out of true.
Is it love? It is the very fog they breathe
and stumble through.
Weighed down by their own
lack of gravity. It’s late.
It’s there in the twisted bone.
Night’s unutterable weight.
There are people one bows to. To others
one bows lower still, averting eyes.
Few of us are born to be brothers.
One is of a moderate size.
emerge from a stray
thought into frozen air
then bawl and sway
and vanish into day.
George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948. He is the author of some fifteen books of poetry and a roughly equal number of translations from the Hungarian. His New and Collected Poems (2008) was poetry book of the year in The Independent. The Burning of the Books (2009) and Bad Machine (2013) were both short-listed for the T S Eliot Prize which he had won earlier with Reel (2004).
“Then they descend, one by one, along more beams,
down steps, resisting gravity, as they’re obliged to.”