Poetry at Sangam



VENICE, INTERMEZZO by Vesna Goldsworthy


Mid-February, Ash-Wednesday
And you and I alone
Grounded between the mudflats
And the fog.
We are not taking any photographs,
Nor wandering by mistake
In or out of anybody else’s frame.

In the fractured gothic ossuary
Anchored deep below the lagoon
By petrified Dalmatian pine,
Against the brittlest,
The most fragile lattice
Your hand is uncertain,
Unexpectedly calloused, cold.

But I take it, of course I take it.
What else could there be?
Beneath so much transient splendour
Lies a coast stripped bare.


We’ve escaped minders and interpreters
Only death beautiful and hundred-handed
Shelters in ornate doorways,
Always a few steps behind,
Wondering what we are up to
Still here after the final reading,
The last signing,
Having seen off that most insistent question
About where
One draws one’s inspiration from.

There is no sight
More charged with possibility –
I extemporise –
Than the line of cancellations
On the departure board,
The echoing terminus,
The railway lines running
Into the dunes


By midday the fog will clear,
And the planes take off again,
But at the moment the empty runways
Are lined only with flickering lights
Which pierce the mist faintly
With a Morse code transcription
In red and green,
Repeating, again and again,
The secret of possession.


Finally, I manage
To catch your inimitable handwriting
Your strange inverted iotas,
The barbed wires of your exes,
Your lunate epsilons more fragile
Than the broken moons of bridges.

In the ghostly grandeur of the empty city
At the beginning of the long fast,
I seal my forgery carefully in an envelope of fog
And leave it floating on acqua alta.


I carry your body forward thereafter,
Like a palladium chain,
Yet there it remains forever, at that inlet,
At the moment
When the furnaces of Murano
Begin to glow
And the alarms to sound across the city
Waking the glass factory workers
For another day of a thousand flowers.

Like Prometheus fire
Like Mozart and Allegri’s Miserere
That which I steal, I leave intact behind.
The sound immediately doubles up in memory.
When it’s all over,
Even you don’t notice a thing