Friday 22 November 2019

Gerrit Komrij: 'Pepper and Salt'



I had this fright. Is fright the word? Dismay
And adoration, rather, when I sighted
Him in the crowd that filled the street that day.
A fleeting moment. I stood undecided.

I thought: why had I not hurried across?
Too late. He was no longer within view.
And I knew somehow: that one second’s loss
Is crucial for miracles. Yet my two

Feet felt ungainly and leaden. Was such a
Package-bearer as I weighed down, full-stowed?
Oh no. Come on. I had just left the butcher’s.
A quarter of minced veal was all my load.


I’d been too fainthearted to throw away
The mince, with no show of mercy or shying.
I’d have inundated his neck, his face,
His mouth with kisses, kisses there’s no denying,

If only, ardently and with no hint
Of hesitation, I’d cast off my mince,
That quarter of mince at the very moment
Of truth. Oh yes, it would have been a cinch

To grasp and entwine him not with a hundred
But with a thousand liana embraces,
If I had flung away my mince, not blundered.
Now tears left on my cheeks their scalding traces.


I was a spark, yet in that flash alone
Became a sea of fire. My body kindled.
Out of my hand the mince now fell unhindered.
Too late, too late, I thought. (Another groan.)

I rushed around, scorching all things in my way.
No cliff, no obstacle could halt my progress.
I’d lost my head completely in the process.
(If lava does the same, I cannot say.)

I was a ball of fire. I sought the town,
The golden gate behind which he, enthralling,
Sat proudly in a splendid, dazzling gown.
And I, poor slave - my flame was falling, falling.


It seemed to me eternities ago
I’d seen him thus across the street, before
A car - if I remember, a Renault -
Obscured him from my sight, but, to be sure:

How short a time I’d vacillated there.
Now hours last years - time holds me in derision.
I simmer on. I smoulder in despair
I am the lonely martyr of provisions.

Those who see beauty slipping from their grasp
Through their devotion to all everyday things
Deserve no better than, with one last gasp,
To crash from cliffs. Dead. Unlamented playthings.


I still recall it all. His dark-brown tresses.
The coursing blood suffusing his young cheeks.
His ears, of bright-red cartilage recesses.
The light that from his forehead scattered sparks.

His body was so skinny. A small jumper,
An open checkered shirt made up of daft,
Queer aberrations, four or five in number,
Sat tightly wound around his upper half.

The hand he stroked his temple with was quite
Like ivory (and bluish - it was cold),
His neck was long, his lips were almost white,
His eyes, though - pepper and salt! Pepper and salt!


Each day I buy my quarter pound of veal
And hope the miracle will be repeated.
My glimmer’s broken me, though scarcely real.
My eyes are wizened blackish beads, unheated.

And will I sense again his scythe’s soft swathing?
Oh God, I cry, I only wish I might.
My sky has been deprived of his sun’s light.
Without him I am lifeless, a mere nothing.

O save me, save me, I beg with persistence
Of passers-by, on foot or bike deployed,
From this accursed, meandering existence
Between the butcher’s and the bitter void.

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