Two Poems

Tony Harrison

Fruitility

What a glorious gift from Gaia,
raspberries piled on papaya,
which as a ruse to lift my soul
I serve up in my breakfast bowl,
and, contemplating, celebrate
nature’s fruit, and man’s air-freight
speeding my fruit breakfast here
through tropo- and through stratosphere.
I praise papaya and celebrate
the man who packed it in its crate,
the worker or Hawaiian grower
in Kipahulu or Pahoa,
the worried cultivator who
scans the sky from Honomu,
with global warming getting higher
than is good for his papaya;
worries I myself had known
when, in Nigeria, I’d grown
what we called pawpaws of my own;
picked, deseeded, served fridge-fresh
I fed my kids their orange flesh.
1 gave my kids fruit to repeat
the way I once got fruit to eat,
not so exotic but the start
of all my wonder and my art.
My mother taught me to adore
the fruit she scrounged us in the war,
scarce, and marred with pock and wart
nonetheless the fruit she brought
taught me, very young, to savour
the gift of fruit, its flesh and flavour.
Adoring apples I’ve linked Eve’s
with my mother’s ripe James Grieves
no God could ever sour with sin
or jinx the juice all down my chin.
Still in my dreams my mother comes,
her pinafore full of ripe plums,
Victorias, with amber ooze
round their stalks, and says: Choose! Choose!
Now so much older, I,
more aware I’ve got to die,
use such ruses, I derive
from my mother, to survive.
Last week I saw here at the Met
a Wheel of Life made in Tibet
where Man Picking Fruit’s used to depict,
in both the picker and the picked,
ultimate futility. Such dismal crap’ll
never spoil my mother’s apple.
Fuck philosophy that sees
life itself as some disease
we sicken with until released,
supervised by Pope or priest,
into a dry defruited zone
where no James Grieves were ever grown.
I’d barter nebulous nirvanas
for carambolas or bananas.
I need to neologise to find
the fruit in futile humankind,
and fruitility is what I call
the fate which falls upon us all.
Meaningless our lives may be
but blessed with deep fruitility.
It could take pages if I list
all the joys of the fruitilitist:

Retsina and grilled squid in Greece,
that death-bed cut-out of Matisse
I chanced on on a trip to Dallas,
Sempre libera sung by Callas,
love-making in the afternoon,
the ripe papaya on this spoon
lingered over as my way
of starting on a fruitile day,
where 73rd and Broadway meet.
Even now the morning heat
brings the piss smells off the street,
Doberman’s and man’s piss soars
as far as us, and we’re eight floors.
This breakfasting’s my Zensual ruse
to counteract such Broadway views
as those below, where homeless spread
the books and mags to earn their bread
and, after bread, if not before
the rocks of crack some value more.
I read titles with my opera glasses:
Opera News and Chunky Asses,
Honcho, Ramrod, Newsweek, Time,
stiff from showers two a dime,
but, if like new, then four a dollar,
Bush, the Pope, the Ayatollah,
Noriega, Gorbachev,
and other ones with covers off,
a danse macabre, a Vanitas
of big cheeses, and the chunky ass.
Diva-adoring gays peruse
the laid out rows of Opera News.
Spectacles of temporal flux,
sidewalk piles of grubby books,
thirty copies of one play
billed a great hit in its day,
and some still supposed to be
a dollar each, or four for three.
And there’s a neighbour off to buy
the opera discs that help him die.
He’s young but shuffles with a cane
but will only use CDs for pain.
His father, who won’t meet him, mails
his sick son clothes from car-boot sales,
but Pa and Ma don’t realise
Aids makes their son a smaller size.
They’ve never talked of death or sex
but occasionally Pa sends him cheques
to buy AZT, as AZT’s
one drug that slows down the disease.
I saw him in the lobby:
                                Hi,
Pa sent me some more cash to buy
AZT, but I bought
these!
and showed me scores of new CDs.
My pa would think it such a waste
me and my opera ain’t his taste.
Got all of CaIlas’s CDs
to comfort me through this disease.
It’s Puccini next when Pa sends more

and he got off at the seventh floor...

There’s someone wanting to be Mayor
haranguing winos in the square,
under Verdi’s statue who presides
over crackheads, crooks and suicides.
Verdi with his vision blurred
by birdshit stares from 73rd
down at Dante at the Met
where Verdi helps some to forget.
But when they leave or enter there
there’s no avoiding Dante’s stare,
nor what’s beneath his constant gaze
and stays there, while the opera plays,
and pizza cartons three feet square
leave mouth-watering hot blasts of air,
a phantom mozzarella trail,
for carton dwellers to inhale
in lungfuls, hungry and alone
beyond the pale of Pizzaphone.
A claret goblet and WITH CARE
that housed video or frigidaire
now packages a shoeless man
who rummages the garbage can
already rummaged countless times
for cans you can redeem for dimes.
Shops redeem the empty can
but not the can-redeeming man,
nor that woman who’s got business sense
so beds down where machines dispense
24 hr cash, and men, when pissed,
might leave five dollars in her fist.
One niglit I saw a famous diva
stop her limo there and leave her
scores of fresh fan-flung bouquets
to wake to from her wino haze.
And when she woke they say she cried
with rage and terror, horrified,
the morning sun should wake her
laid out for the undertaker.
Death was all these blooms could mean
these tributes she was stretched between
beneath the bank’s cashpoint machine.
Once aware she wasn’t dead
she flogged the star’s bouquets for bread,
well, pretzels; those posh bouquets
kept her in booze for several days.

I dread the moment while I muse
on all my fruitile eighth-floor views
I hear the answerphone replay
the dark side of the fruitile day:
message one, a Scottish friend,
sick, insomniac, half round the bend,
drying out in St Luke’s, lying
all tubed-up, detoxifying.
His message goes as follows: Hi!
just checking in before I die!

The trolleyphone’s beside his bed.
I call him back. He isn’t dead.
Thought you were dying.
                I am! I am!
fucking dying for a dram!

Another friend made mad by Aids
leaves night-time answerphone tirades.
It wakes us when the tape records
his rabid ravings from the wards.
First his operatic repertoire
that made him a TV bar star:
Sempre libera, in falsetto,
voice corsetted as Violetta,
sempre libera, always free,
he from Aids and she TB.
In sigmoidoscopy he’d brag:
I am the world’s most buggered fag.
Your rooter’s nothing, every dick
I’ve ever had’s ten times as thick!

After the aria and the pause
while he curtsies to applause
and clasps flung posies to his heart
the mad Munchausen stories start
and I hear a new bass voice begin:

Those things like wine stains on my skin
those.fucking things like spilled Merlot
they ain’t what you guys think you know.
They came, these scars like fucking claret,
from the forest of the flame-flayed parrot.
They’re burns! They’re burns! I tried to seize
the cure for Aids from blazing trees.
I was in Brazil, Manaus, where I gave
my Violetta. And did Manaus rave!
They adore me, darlings, in Brazil.
They think I was just acting ill.

Braval Brava! on and on
beside the steaming Amazon.
If I chose 1 could earn millions
from
brava-bravaing Brazilians!
(Were you aware the rubber trade’s
booming again because of Aids?
You see the stripe-gashed cauchos oozing
condoms I never packed when cruising!)
I went up river in a cute caique
from Manaus with the urge to seek
the cure for what afflicts our kind
and the sights up river blew my mind -
1 saw pink dolphins, pink!
and I hadn’t had a drop to drink!
and no Colombia up my nose -
dolphins pink as any fan-flung rose!
I’d gone in costume. It was better
trekking dressed as Violetta.
Those creepers with sharp thorns don’t snag
my depilated legs in drag.
And where the forest was ablaze,
brave
Violetta, on behalf of gays,
in corsets botanising raced
through dense forest now laid waste,
charcoal gallows, charcoal glades
gutted antidotes for Aids,
the canopy deserted by
the roasted birds that used to fly.
And there were cures. They’ve gone. They’ve gone
in the bonfires of the Amazon.
Some creeper, bud, some bitter seed
might be the breakthrough doctors need -
all September it’s been blazing
to give more future Big Macs grazing.
Even now the forest flames
are burning cures that have no names.
In the ash of Amazonian oak
the cure for Aids went up in smoke...

All this gabble seems quite graphic
though culled from National Geographic
bought at the sidewalk mag bazaar
with covers of the passé star
or politician laid between
Butt Lust ‘Seat Meat’ magazine
and iron pumping Bulkritude
both with pages wanker-glued.
Then his falsetto ends the story:

Caesarono gli spasimi del dolore...

The sun sets here while it’s rising
on countries just industrialising
and day ends in a dying fire
hued like my rasps piled on papaya,
Broadway windows with glossed sheen
of cranberry and carotene,
sunset as the turning planet
paints New York in pomegranate,
with chemicals that now pollute
the skies to look like too ripe fruit.

The spoon-scraped limp papaya skin
goes first into the garbage bin,
then a big black trash bag, later
down the chute to the incinerator,
and the flotsam of time’s fleeting flux
goes into dawn’s first garbage trucks.
I’ll hear them grinding as it’s time
again for papaya spritzed with lime,
tomorrow’s rasps piled on papaya
chilled, ready for the life-denier,
tomorrow when my heart says Yea
to darkness ripening into day,
remembering my mother whose
gifts of fruit taught me this ruse,
whose wartime wisdom would embrace
both good and grotty with sweet grace,
she who always used to say:
never wish your life away!
Of all my muses it was she
first taught me to love fruitility.

English Opera

Sir Harry
Sir Gawain
Surtitles!