Poetry at Sangam



WATERHOUSE by Vesna Goldsworthy


I enter the café and there you are, seated
Under a reproduction of a pre-Raphaelite painting
Of Jason and Medea; looking
Like an illustration of some ordinary moment
Of an ordinary morning on an ordinary day:

There’s the newspaper, the crossword puzzle,
Your hand mid-way between
A cheap knife and an expensive pen,
A cup of tea, a slice of toast on a plate:
Still life assembled on the Formica table
Whose surface pattern brings to mind
Something sawn in half,
Annular rings of a tree unknown to man.

These are the isosceles of the map
I will soon be tracing with a restless finger
Knowing that I am about to surrender
To the waves of syllables,
The hiss of sibilants,
The whistling of the sea in the blowholes,
The bustle of a thousand translucent limbs
Of soft-shelled crabs scurrying in rock pools,
To the dance of sea anemones
Desperate to re-anchor themselves,
To this language I do not speak.


If he pauses now, he loves me, I know I will think
At some point, unavoidably.
Such spells are the only secret power I possess.

I can lead you here, make you spin a story,
Snatch a word before you
And make it disappear,
While you halt and puzzle over the hiatus.

But you quickly bridge the moment with a synonym
Buttress with another, just for added measure,
In that distinct pleasure of safety regained,
Like some Saxon builder topping a stone wall
With crenellations of Latin polysyllables:
Your perfect resting place — the state of equilibrium.


And outside, the sea will go on looking
As it always looks just before the storm,
Passersby will lean by a few degrees,
Umbrellas like lances tilted for a joust,
Taking the measure of prevailing winds,
The calculation of profit and loss.

On carousels covered by tarpaulin for the winter
Six hundred golden horses will charge to the end
Of the pier veiled by the shroud of rain descending
As though it might, just, lead across the sea.