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Kawai’s Trilby

Cold comforts of a hotel room:
the air-conditioning and fridge
join forces for a chummy hum,
barbershop-style. Poised on the edge
of bed, I think how far I’ve come.

Two weeks ago we kissed goodbye.
Now in a towerblock hotel
in a strange land, I inventory
the trappings of my pilgrim cell:
bath, holy scriptures, a TV.

Outside my window, a huge sign
flushes, then cancels – Op and Pop
apotheosised! Brisk neon
routines jolly the cityscape,
like the desk-toys of businessmen.

I saw them from the penthouse bar
this evening, while musak thrashed
its pandemonium by my ear.
Symplegadean ice-cubes clashed
in a Scotch sea. I nursed a tear.

Maudlin without you, in a world
lacking all reciprocity,
I watched the emblems as they twirled,
the brand-names blinking, and briefly
felt the dull fear of a lost child.

An apprehension of Japan,
vertiginous and mad! I knew
the swimminess of limbo then,
its throb of silence, and missed you
to make sense of the things I’d seen.

An ancient blotched and fissured rock,
eminent on a pile of cushions.
Two toddlers playing shuttlecock.
Raw fish. The pavement urinations
of spruce old men. Crows in the park.

Yellow lizards in a glass jar
in someone’s window. Tasselled lanterns
at shrines, restaurantseverywhere.
The tedium of civic fountains.
Kawai’s trilby. Harbourside deer.

Memories occupy my mind
like bright lights in an urban void:
symbols you may not understand
when I report them; yet a word
in earnest may at times transcend ...

Thousands of miles from you, I slip
my clothes off. Bed-lamp lit, these sheets
look fresh as a new envelope.
I’ll turn the hot tap till it blurts
and drums the tub, for fellowship.

Our host speaks

Fog can cancel most things.
The water corrodes.
We are lucky still to be here
in this temporary city,
where windows are defended
by filigrees of dwindling rust,
and minor marine gods bleach and eat
the barn-doors of palazzi.

The old stone blots and softens.
Our citizens promenade
like ghosts apprehended through drizzling twilight
on marble veined and stained
by ancient seepings. This tessera crumbles
like a block of cork,
while others are vellum, buff, steak-red
or spattered like quails’ eggs.

We delight not just in surfaces,
but in their relinquishment as well.
Walls flake like bark.
Rope grows a waterlogged mane
and lions modify
their evangelical features.
You can grey your fingers
on the dust of endless eponymous saints.

The priests make an oriental sound,
droning, gonging the echoes off
celestial domes in mordant pleasure.
Churches dock
close to the pink and ochre squares
where pigeons gather
like applicants for the post of Holy Spirit,
or a drowned Christ hangs out to dry.

You must let me show you
the tiny boudoir-church
that is my favourite,
with its touch-worn Ovidian altar-frieze.
Here satyrs, popping pods, bull-tritons, leaves,
the innocent raptures of sexy mermaids,
flourish from marble. And Heaven itself
is graced by an off-centre patch of damp.

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