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George Szirtes

Grey Wood


Out of this wood do not desire to go. Here is where enchantment starts. Here is where confusion begins. Here rulers of different realms assume masks of faun, ass, wall, moon and lion.


Out of fallen beeches creep the ghosts of time. The wood is full of ghosts. Of burned leaves if nothing else. Then they disappear and then the trees are burned.


It is a strain talking on several levels like this. Wood is not wood. Ass is not ass. Wall is not wall. Enchantment is not enchantment. Talking like this is just talking.  It is like being stripped naked.


The naked are enchanted. That is where we begin. That is a faun. That is a lion. The ghosts of time enter the wall. We don’t talk of ghosts in walls. The wood is the ghost. The word is a ghost.


Here is where the confusion begins. It is a strain talking. Like this. Like that. What will they do with all that grey wood? Wood is not wood. Ass is not ass. It is like being stripped naked.



The Immigrant at Port Selda


I got off at Port Selda and looked out for the harbour

but it was quiet, nothing smelled of the sea,

all I saw was a station by a well-kept arbour

with a notice pinned to a tree.


It said: Welcome to Port Selda, you who will never be

our collective unconscious nor of our race.

This is the one true genealogical tree

and this the notice you will not deface.


It was beautiful there. It was Friday in late

autumn and all the birds of the county sang

their hearts out. I noted down the date.

The sun was shining and the church-bells rang.



from Minimenta: Postcards to Anselm Kiefer


2. Wind, Cloud, Drilling


How often have we watched trees

move against dark cloud, their frail

armature part collapsed, part thrust

against the wind, the leaf-sail

of each bud billowing to squeeze

light from dark, energy from dust?




Unrest. The un-ness of things. Twig

like a broken No. Concrete steps.

A drill. A bulldozer. The cold lips

of November pursed for a kiss

that is more like a blow and all this

far too late, too troubled and too big.




Everywhere the human voice. How can

we help but hear it in grass and air?

Even a wall is only a tall noise with brick

syntax. High clouds whisper human

non-sequiturs that turn to rain. Where

can we hide? Why this sense of panic?




A man and woman in a field. The rain

starts and they take shelter. The grass

runs all one way. They embrace. They hold

each other as if they could not do so ever again.

Above them leaves fold and unfold

in the downpour that will quickly pass.




The construction site constructing.

The square empty but for machinery.

The cafeteria with its litter of trays.


Everywhere institutions. The lost days.

All this will be broken up, everything.

There will be no drama, only scenery.




And then he turned to her and ran

the back of his hand against her cheek

very lightly. It was as if wind had stroked any

surface whatsoever. He was an old man

or a young man, and she could not speak

or find words because there were too many.



–Bad Machine is published by Bloodaxe Books on 24 January, 2013 (£9.95).

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