Author Archives: hjs

Mantua

for Jack

We only ever truly see what we are missing.

That August night in 1328
Luigi Gonzaga brought to Mantua
an ache the size of a city and
a dagger for Rinaldo Bonacolsi.
Gonzaga had a mission: he saw
nine hundred gilded rooms
he and his line must build
and fill with all of Europe’s art –
a model city floating on four lakes,
a Mount Olympus rising from
the flatness of the valley of the Po.

We only ever truly see what we are missing.

Today we visited Gonzaga’s vision:
the palaces, the frescoes, statues,
tapestries, the churches, squares
and streets in all their glory and
grandezza. I was appreciative –
but I’m afraid it did not touch me.
We’d brought a different emptiness
to Mantua; and since it’s true
we only ever see what we are missing –

ah well: I only really saw the dogs.


Carrying Jack

I lift you up gently –
look, this is how we do it –
into the cradle of my arms.

I feel your solid weight,
breathe in your smell
of old dog asleep.

I carry you down
into the garden and
set you down softly

as I used to
for so many days
when you were alive

and let you go.


Tourists

In each of our lives
everyone else is a tourist.
I wonder do they find
what the brochure promised:
sights, decent food, cheap booze –
or even the experience of a lifetime?

Back home, are they going to
print out their pictures
and hang them on empty walls?
Will they share the experience,
send others my way?
Should I consider refurbishing?

Though – they say the locals
in the summer resorts can’t wait
for the rains, the cool weather and
the shutters coming down for winter.
Sometimes I think I can almost
feel the weather turning.


My Acceptance Speech

Mr President,
valued members of the Committee,
Your Excellencies.

Today
I have come to accept
the Nobel Prize for Literature

will forever elude me.


A Balance

War.
Poverty.
Extinction.
Plagues ancient
and plagues modern.
Abuse of children, women.
Global warming. Exploitation. Genocide.
The horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding.

Gradations of blue in hill after hill at dusk.
A man, a woman, laughing in the street.
The casual kindness of a stranger.
The smell of bread baking.
A candle in a window.
A blackbird’s song.
Piano scales.
You.


My father’s handgun

My father’s handgun was a Walther PPK.
Good guy that I am, after his death
I took it down to the local station.

Its weight felt oddly reassuring in my hand
but it was no use to me.

I never found the ammunition.


Map reading at 60

Should I feel lost these days
I will unfold my trusty Ordnance Survey map –
brittle from many a soaking, sunshine, sweat;

and though it is coming apart at the creases,
and yellowish areas of terra incognita
are spreading out from frayed edges,

when I take off my glasses to peer
at the whorls, dots, cabbalistic symbols,
I think I can make out where I’m at – look:

miles north of this place called Despondency,
and – except for a ravine and some ridges –
not far, not so far south of Contentment at all.


My Covid-19 Song

so somewhere in China
a new kind of virus breeds
they say bats are involved
and open markets and now
it spreads and breeds
new verbs so now we’re
social distancing
with the best of them
and all out of face masks
and the shelves empty of bog rolls

surely someone somewhere
must be sitting on millions of them
taking a gleeful crap
in the lap of luxury
the selfish asshole

and in the twilight
you walk the dog
the blinds are down and
the shutters closed
everywhere
provoking medieval visions
how they’re all lying dead
behind those blind windows but

the day was absurdly clear and bright

and there’s a golden moon in the sky
and one golden star

all alone


Jack at sixteen

Sometimes
he just stands there.
Just stands,

back hunched,
head drooping,
milky eyes unfocused.

Sans eyes,
sans teeth –
sans everything?

Whether he’s lost,
unseeing,
wondering where he’s at;

or whether
he’s following a fox
into the undergrowth

while you, helpless,
call his name
until he bursts from bushes

happy:
that he cannot tell you.
That is for you to decide.


New Year’s Day

Time to take the dog out
into pale sun.

Pleasant enough walking,
until we reach

the dark curtain of fir trees
where the path,

rising, turns to ice.
As if on cue the noon bell rings:

time to turn back.
After all, we’re no spring chickens;

after all,
we’ve been to that top before,

know that view;
why bother? After all, it’s only

the first day of a whole new year.
So we go on.