Sunday 1 March 2020

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: 'Idyll 8'


I would have loved what I write now when I was young.
Some dolphins brought ashore a face with salty tongue
which spoke in rhyming verse just like an age-old man.
And sadly, I’ve now said about this all I can.
I must conform to the authorities that be.
Some shitty kids chalk stuff outside my door, I see
that it’s old German verses that they write. ‘Ehei!’
it says in chalk there. ‘Tick tock, who are you then?’ I
am living payment in advance on my own grave.
‘You’re out!’ was then the chalked-back answer that they gave.
In all the narrowness of my one-person life        
I longed for king-size beds and always wished to strive           
to some distinguished spot where I my ears could lay
on pulpits of the holy that-which-one-shall-say.
With words on crystal words I would be dearly clinking
like pirates with their false teeth made of silver blinking
in alleyways at night. For wisdom was on hand
like pinchbeck gold, like foam that frothed and fanned
out over seething goblets of pontification.
Then gloatingly I’d quote old verse as my libation.
And I read Rilke, Hölderlin and all those guys –
Duino Elegies and ‘Patmos’ – closed my eyes
and dreamed of some affliction I could get in print.
And bust my arse off writing verse in one long stint.
I often dream I meet myself when young of limb,
a little bit naive but not completely dim,
and that I like some sort of veteran this man
must tell of all that lies ahead, the lengthy span
to where I right now find myself. That young man would
not recognise me. His so modest frame which could
and did turn into presence; the reverse now true:
he has a self-assurance which can quite outdo
the doubts that moss-like between paving stones start growing
like chalky nails on feet now old. For we are rowing
still further north and winter soon will come with snow.
We’re pummelled in the stomach by emotions, though
it’s us who wished to strike. The belly starts to slide.
From purplish fists it swells. And words like butter glide
and now melt softly down the stubbled chin, as if
to query what when stated first seemed strong and stiff.
They leak like dribble down our bib for fame and glory.
And my young I looks down on me at my soft story.
I understand what he is feeling all too well.
In his tempestuous blood my blood he’d like to quell.
Who I am now there’s nothing he would rather be:
a man whose blood-hot pen’s his only legacy.
I nod. ‘You whine,’ he says. And I nod once again.
I know what he’s about to say. ‘One book, and then
posterity’s assured. I have no child as kith.’
Spot on. I sigh. You seek someone to travel with.
‘My fame will on the hour, steam-driven, raise its knee.’
My young I in advance would like to outstrip me.
He asks me what I’m writing. The angel of tints
unfolds herself gladly in ancient scents and hints.
The angel of what’s sour licks ticking every hour
so I the wounding strangeness lastingly empower.
Their beauty is so fluid that a man can drown.
It sounds quite like a children’s song somehow, cut down
to something scary. Why is it you’ve let us write?
I ask him that. ‘To tell all those in power aright
the fact we really do exist.’ So we exist?
He says: ‘I’ve set my mind on it and I’ll persist.
I’ll write in chalk the German words outside your door.’
‘Ehei?’ ‘The egg’. ‘Tick tock?’ ‘The birdcall as of yore.’
Dead crows are snowing over every land and shire.
And weathered peoples all look forward to a fire.
One day you will be me. You find the thought OK?
‘There is, I really like to think, some other way.

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