Love is a place
LIGHT AT COLERA
Evening falls and, from the terrace,
listening to the leisurely waves,
I stare at the beach, with a lukewarm sun
and calm, green and orange sea before me.
I see a tall woman arrive,
almost naked, with a silent child,
and he is stark naked. They are the only ones on the beach.
The child sits down, and doesn’t move.
The woman drops her gear and the clothes
and moves around him, picking things up
and dropping them again. She does not speak to the child.
All at once she leaves.
The child gets up and dips his feet in the sea.
He stands still looking at the horizon.
The woman comes back: she is carrying a drink.
I feel the chill of the setting sun on the nape of her neck.
She hasn’t said a word to the child and they both stand
with their feet in the water.
The woman goes back and continues
her dance around her disorder.
Even distance cannot conceal the desolation.
It was a wooden piece of furniture, huge and dark,
polished like a mirror:
my father would never allow
anyone other than himself to work it.
He would always play the same record,
as though trying desperately
to find out why, when he listened to it,
it arrived somewhere.
Robert Schumann, Concerto for piano
played by Friedrich Gulda.
I go on listening to it and remember
a street of small houses in Las Palmas,
each with a goat on the flat roof.
In the background, the sea.
When I was a young man
I built a dome made of iron.
A few months ago they demolished it.
Looked-at from the place where it’s ending,
life appears absurd.
But its meaning comes from forgiveness.
Each time I think more and more
about forgiveness. Already I live in its shadow.
Forgiveness for a dome made of iron.
Forgiveness for those who pulled it down.
He underlined as he read: he did it as though the book
were a house on fire.
His mind was searching for something
implacable and abstract that they had hidden from him.
Lots of pages ended up covered
by underlinings in pencil and ink,
black and coloured, one on top of another.
His meticulous, confused self-portrait.
His face gradually set
in the fixed expression of an anger
that came from having lost his way
in some profound incompetence.
And later there arose
the innocent smile of his silence.
He didn’t know me:
I was part of the lands
he had with such effort won back from the sea
and which the sea was flooding again.
THEY WILL WANT YOU TO DIE
You hear this calm evening sea,
half organ, half cello.
It grows dark. Like all the old, you keep watch
over your approaching end, while all along the beach
the sea is a piece of silk unfolding.
You listen to what the breaking waves tell you:
that those who will love you, will want you to die.
Because you will love them, you will want to die.
The implacable logic of love.
The implacable logic of death.
The relief that comes from knowing they are so close together.
Closer through that which no one will ever know,
we raise our two glasses.
We see our light, each in the eyes of the other.
A man and a woman, in an instant,
can be wrong.
But the instant will never come back
One night we took him with us
to his first concert.
He sat so quietly between you and me.
The light from the spots made an island of
piano and sax. In the dark, in his shy eyes,
there was the gleam of the instruments.
The most profound rightness of music
will be his shelter in the face of loneliness.
He will still have the warmth of his dead sister.
Our companionship. At any concert whatsoever.
When I turned fifty I bought myself
all eight volumes of Gibbon because I thought
that at the end of my life I would read them.
Sometimes I go over to where they stand,
and simply touching them with my hand calms me.
I haven’t read them, but they keep me company.
Now, an imperceptible voice tells me
it’s high time I started reading Gibbon:
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
is this History known as Universal,
the only kind that consoles.
As useless and magnificant as an aerial view.
From what dark place inside me
do two magpies silently fly away?
We were young, travelling by car
and, as we came round a bend
we saw them there on the tarmac,
pecking furiously at a dead dog.
Just at the last moment and without haste
they flew up unfolding the elegant
black and white of their plumage.
We said nothing – you were driving
and made a gesture of disgust.
I have never forgotten it. If I look at you,
still in the depths of your eyes, slowly,
two magpies silently fly away.
I love what is left to us:
this nuptial flight and the carrion.
Nobody comes along it any more, the path
we see from the house. Grass grows over it:
now there are only nervous blackbirds
pecking at quiet absence.
It’s a path of no return. The house
endures slowly and, very often,
muffled in mist.
Here inside, memory turns welcoming.
Welcoming and sad, for nothing
protects as sadness can.
Love now means gazing out of the windows,
for the past is a holiday
for us alone.
THE SUN ON A PORTRAIT
I am looking at a photograph
on which a ray of sun is glancing.
So much talking and so much arguing
while our love was slipping away from us.
No logic can cross the abyss
there is between saying I love you and not saying it.
I smile in front of the photograph.
We love for a long time.
How reluctant it is to leave portraits, the sun.
THE DARKER PART OF THE PATH
I went down to the garden very early
and, like lance-points, the stars were marking
the distant and exact siege of forgetting.
When I went out into the chill beneath the trees,
a fox, when it saw me, stopped
on the shadowy lawn.
The two of us without moving
for a few moments stood staring at each other
and then, without haste, it went off
towards the darker part of the path.
I saw in its eyes the mystery in my own
and I think that at another time as well,
crossing a lawn one night,
I entered another garden where I surprised
with my glance another pair of eyes.
Something is being sought after. For all I know,
nothing but dignity.
That of life while it goes off gradually
towards the darker part of the path.
THE HOLOCAUST MUSEUM, JERUSALEM
I went inside into the darkness of the great vault
where all the tiny lights of dead children
were trembling as in a night sky.
A voice was reciting, never ceasing,
the list of their names, a prayer
so sad no God has ever heard its like.
I thought of Joana. Dead children
are always inside that same darkness
where memories are lights and the lights are tears.
I am too old not to weep for them all.
I have constructed buildings like cattle-trucks
with skeletons of iron. Huge trucks
that will one day come back and drag people
off to an end they already picture.
Because everyone has seen the truth,
merely a gleam on a puddle of dirty water.
The hall of the dead children is inside me.
I am too old not to weep for them all.
PEOPLE AT THE BEACH
The woman parks the car in a street beside the sand.
She gets out and, slowly, takes out and unfolds
the wheelchair. Afterwards, she lifts the boy,
sits him down and puts his legs straight.
She pushes a few stray locks of hair from her face,
and, aware of her skirt billowing about,
starts pushing the chair towards the sea.
She reaches the beach along some wooden planks,
but the planks stop several yards from the sea.
Nearby, the lifeguard stares at the sea.
The woman lifts the boy out: she grasps him
under his arms and, her back to the water,
walks dragging him while his feet
leave two sad tracks in the sand.
She has brought him to where the waves reach,
she has left him on the sand and gone back
to fetch the sunshade and the wheelchair.
The last few yards. There are always
these cursed, terrible last few yards.
They are the ones that will break your heart.
There is no love in the sand. Nor in the sun.
Nor in the wooden planks, nor in the eyes
of the lifeguard, nor in the sea. Love
is these last few yards. Their loneliness.
The candle, the sparks from the stove
and my sister in the cradle,
where she would die before dawn.
The winter night devours angels,
but that was home:my father and mother
came in with the cold sticking to their overcoats.
The doctor ordered her to be bathed in water with ice.
Once the tiny body had been shrouded,
they put me to bed.
While they were covering me up, I comforted them
saying: You’ve still got me.
HAVING HAD SUPPER
I hear a ring at the door and go to open it,
but there’s nobody.
I think of those whom I love and who won’t return.
I don’t close the door but maintain my welcome.
With my hand on the door-frame, I wait.
Life goes on settling itself in pain
as houses do on their foundations.
And I know for whom I linger leaving a sheaf
of hospitable light in the empty street.
AN OLD WOMAN
She has read every novel
that speaks about couples or about mothers and daughters.
Love stories, therefore.
She hasn’t a whisker of belief in any god,
she doesn’t believe in anything but people.
When I come along with my cynical views,
she listens to me and grows sad. I have realised
how much I still desire her, but she
regards my love as being far from passion,
perhaps through so much death, through having had
a full but difficult life: tremendously full
at times. I haven’t understood her well enough
and don’t know enough of what she has understood about me.
But there is a refuge for both of us.
And I enjoy a privilege: I carry
her poem written in my glance.
I wouldn’t know how to write a poem at all like her.
Just as it was for Sisyphus,
life for me is this rock.
I take it up and carry it to the very top.
When it falls I go back to searching for it
and, graspiing it in my arms,
I heft it once again.
It is a form of hope.
I think I would have been a sadder man
if I’d never been able to heft a rock
with no more motive than for love.
Carrying it for love to the very top.
THE SIGNAL IS FADING
Don’t pity the man you have been,
because pity is too brief:
It doesn’t give you time to build anything there.
At night, in a small airport,
you watch a plane taking off.
The signal is gradually fading.
You feel the conviction that you are living
through years with no hope that are now (already?)
the happiest of your life.
There is another poetry, there always will be,
just as there is another music.
That of the deaf Beethoven. When the signal is fading.
They taught you to do everything really properly.
Playing obediently, you became used
to the safe places which one day would fail you.
Order is as dangerous as disorder,
they are the locked rooms of childhood
and at the same time the draughts, the slamming doors
in a house where nobody now lives.
With a shy smile you come from a long way off,
from your peaceful black and white world
with a mother and a coal-burning stove
and a gallery with thin window glass
through which the heat of one weather escaped
towards the cold blue sky of an island courtyard.
You started to become used
to not trusting yourself. To not knowing
you had done something wrong so that you could come back
with swearwords you didn’t utter
and scornful gestures that weren’t you.
Loving is something you did well,
but as for life, how much death it brought
to your hard eyes which now have gone back
to expressing the shy tenderness
of that well-behaved girl in black and white
who learned to do everything properly and well,
so that she could save our love all these years later.
SHUTTING UP THE BEACH APARTMENT
It’s all clean and tidy now.
The wardrobes closed, the windows too.
We haven’t forgotten anything on top of the furniture.
The bedroom with the bed made,
the bedside table with the picture
of the girl with her eyes lit
by a smile.
By herself all winter and listening to the sea
PENULTIMATE POEM TO MY MOTHER
With the war over, we would play in the street,
and on hearing a plane you would come out to find us
until the sound was lost beyond the clouds.
These are the ruins of that safe place
that once was there for childhood.
One morning, I got up
very early, and you were in the dark,
sitting at the kitchen table
just like a gull in the cleft
of a rock during a storm.
All I see is the tiny light of a house
that is no longer there,
but it makes me feel less wretched.
Until the danger is lost on the horizon.
IT WASN’T FAR AWAY OR DIFFICULT
The time has come
when life that is lost no longer hurts,
when lust is a useless light
and envy is forgotten. It is a time
of wise and necessary losses,
it is not a time for arriving, but for going away.
It is now that love
finally coincides with intelligence.
It wasn’t far away or difficult.
It is a time that leaves me only the horizon
with which to measure solitude.
The time of protective sadness.