Strindberg in Berlin

Robin Robertson

All the wrong turnings
that have brought me here –
debts, divorce, a court trial, and now
a forced exile in this city and this drinking cell,
Zum Schwarzen Ferkel, The Black Porker:
neither home nor hiding-place, just
another indignity,
just a different make of hell.

Outside, a world of people queuing
to stand in my light, and that sound
far in the distance, of my life
labouring to catch up.
I’ve now pulled out
every good tooth,
in search of the one that was making me mad.
I squint at the flasks and alembics,
head like a wasps’ nest,
and pour myself
three fingers and a fresh start.
A glass of aqua vitae, a straightener,
stiffener, a universal tincture – same again –
the cleansing fire, a steadying hand
on the dancing hand, the great purifier,
clarifier – one more, if you wouldn’t mind –
bringer of spirit and the spirit of love;
the famous transmutation of the leaden
into gold, the dead back into life.

The Pole at the piano, of course;
Munch opposite me, his face
like a shirt done up wrong.
My fiancée in one corner, my lover in another,
merging, turning, as all women turn,
back into my daughters,
and I am swimming naked at night,
off the island, in the witch-fire of mareld light,
listening to the silence of the stars,
with my children beside me,
my beautiful lost children, in the swell
of the night, swimming beside me.
And back
to the bright salts and acids,
the spill and clamour of the bar,
the elixirs, the women:
my wife-to-be, my young lover –
one banked hearth, one unattended fire.
Christ. The hot
accelerant of drink.
The rot of desire.
And out, out into the swinging dark,
a moon of mercury, lines of vitriol trees
and the loose earth that rises up,
drops on me, burying me,
night after night after night.