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Wang Xiuying

Wasted InkTony Harrison
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1.

So much black ink expended and still speared!

From here, where I’ve been happiest, and my most down,
I can see the last place you’d been happy in.
Down from Apollo’s wrecked temple with caper plants flowing
out of the cracks of once sacrosanct columns,
across Amphissa olives to Itea and sea.
Twenty years since then, I still can hear,
above the squeak of sneakers on the Sacred Way,
the creak of sun-dried giant fennel stalks,
the sort Prometheus hid filched fire in,
above the raucous ratcheting cidadas’ rasp:

poli zesti, poli zesti, poli zesti!
polar ice-caps, polar ice-caps, polar ice-caps!
schizophrenic, schizophrenic, schizophrenic!

like match-heads scratching on the striking strip,
pyromaniacs rehearsing the fiery finale,
to make us regret the gift in the fennel,
above all these, from down below, I still can hear
an octopus being slapped against a rock,
swung by two tentacles to be charcoaled less chewy,
each slap echoed back from craggy Parnassus,
you perched on the pier steps, happy and snapping
a live one in an ink cloud spared the harpooner,
me watching your happiness unaware it would snap.

It’s my heart now that’s slapped, slapped, slapped again.

‘How many does it take?’ I’d asked the man.
He said, not stopping slapping: ‘Three score slaps and ten!’

2.

He paces up and down between tables and harbour
passing me, eating octopus, time after time
and says, quickly and loudly, kali orexi,
kali orexi, kali orexi, kali orexi,
his metronome cicadas in the mulberry trees,
I recognise my greeter’s gait from yours
pacing long corridors between locked doors,
a paranoid schizophrenic on Haliperidol,
kali orexi, kali orexi, he says to me,
kali orexi, Greek bon appetit!

I look up from my octopus slapped into succulence
and grilled on the charcoal and see Mt Parnassus,
snow shreds, doffed dresses of once worshipped Muses.
Maybe Melpomene’s hypothermia’s terminal,
in what Byron called the ‘deserted shrine’
when he climbed up to Delphi in 1809.

kali orexi, kali orexi, kali orexi
like Lucky in Godot – quaquaquaqua –
a man gagging on the life he’s been cursed with,
‘divine apathia, athambia, aphasia’,
the least likely crampons for climbing Parnassus.

He’s going to go on till I get to my coffee
and each time I’m going to thank him politely.
More guest in my heart than gaunt ghost who stalks me,
I’d like him to sit down, share my octopus, talk,
but the drug he’s taking makes him too restless.
If I stood up and hugged him I know he’d take fright
and mistake my embrace for some form of restraint,
so I swear I’ll not ignore each gagging greeting,
but respond with a smile, raised fork, glass, cup.
I order more, some mussels and red mullet,
and, though the mountain’s Museless, looking up
from my bread-swabbed plate of octopus, implore
Parnassus for one poem of appetite.

[poli zesti Greek = very hot]

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