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Ben’s PhotoLee Harwood
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Vol. 34 No. 7 · 5 April 2012
Poem

Ben’s Photo

Lee Harwood

359 words

for Kelvin Corcoran

Just off the main square
at the entrance to a crowded narrow street
– this is in Bologna, 1992 –
a man stood erect, hands behind his back,
watching something, or just waiting.

A man about 60 or 70, wearing a cloth cap,
an old suit jacket, a worn but neatly ironed shirt,
neatly buttoned. No tie.
An afternoon in winter.

Don’t know why. This moment that keeps
coming back. Not haunting, but something else.

One pauses. As he did.

Through the mirror that other world,
almost like this? The colours maybe softer?
the world there harsher? The strangeness,

both sides, of a face, a scene.
What’s there before and beyond the glass,
but somehow outside. Beyond the fear.

One pauses.
‘Wait for the right time,’ but when is that?
And what does the book mean?

You pick up a cup, taste the coffee,
put down the cup. That moment midway
between cup and lips. A timeless pause.

With Japanese calligraphy you hold the brush,
elbow tight to your body, move your whole body
to make the marks. A flow of sorts.

Paint the character for ‘sea’ again and again.
What’s the character for ‘man under arch’?
Stood there swaying, brush in hand.

‘That was a close one.’ Stood swaying,
after the event, then shifting to a calm
where a cup or a curtain stirred by the wind
or a patch of winter sunlight spread in the street
becomes a marvel.

You were so close to the exit.
Yes, people carry on. In that narrow street
a crowd watching a TV in a shop window.

‘A British officer, William Pressey, reported seeing
200 French cavalrymen advancing across a hilltop
close to Amiens, a stirring sight with their plumed
helmets and gleaming lances. “They laughed and waved
their lances at us, shouting ‘Le Bosch fini,’ ‘Death
to the Kraut.’” Just after they disappeared from sight
he heard the dry rattle of machineguns. Only a few
stray horses came back.’*

Put the cup down on the saucer.

Looking up – remote but close –
you see the afternoon sun catch
a row of jars and bottles on a shelf.

Thankful for this moment.

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