Pain

David Harsent

Let’s say a gallery. Let’s say ill weather. Let’s say you’ve moved
from L’Arbre de Fluides to La Fenêtre. Let’s say you’re not Marie,
not one of the Corps de Dame. Let’s say you’ve been better loved.
Let’s say that one of these, for sure, is what you came to see.

*

Red and black. Heart and hand. Sand and salt. You make a note.
The colours a cross-hatch. The body parts a badge. The minerals a potion.
The city is sunstruck and pitiless. Dog packs in the backstreets. And what
will come of white nights, journeys never taken, this sorry waste of passion?

*

Pain of what’s incurable, pain of what’s broken, pain of the missing limb,
of something suddenly kicking in: little ratchety flywheel snug
to the heart, of what’s beginning, even now, to swarm
in the blood, of what comes back, of what will settle, soon enough, and snag.

*

You wake from a dream where people go by rote. The clocks are set
one at the right time, one to fool the Devil. The penitents come out
hooded and gowned in holy white to flog themselves down the street.
The rhythm of that scourging, their dumbness, the rack of bloodied feet.

*

If not a cellar, an attic. If not walls of stone, then walls of glass.
Now music from another room, the way it hangs in air,
the way light scintillates, the way mirrors will pass
an image between them: raw scorch beneath the skin, that lidless stare.

*

Here, something is eating something. Here, a woman screams
into the face of another. Here, someone is banging someone. Here,
the women are reversed, or else they were never women except in dreams.
There’s room after room of it; go as you will: as often, as deep, as far.

*

Pain of remembrance, pain of possession, pain of the last look back.
A lock without a door; a voiceless choir. There are stories that govern this:
the father’s return, the lovers who walked a year in each other’s tracks
lost and appalled, the one-time touch, the fearful consequence of bliss.

*

The serial wife, that blonde recidivist … Memories of the city,
camera obscura, roofscape and street plan, her contour slipping past
noiseless and matt black. Love as hunger, improvisations of pity,
the all-or-nothing of the day-to-day: return to that if you must.

*

A train at midnight stalled between nothing and nowhere; from here you get
faces at windows, dead silence, tonnage, a line of leafless trees
marking the dim perimeter. Fixity like this depends on loss and regret:
freeze-frame on the unshed tear; still life with arum lily and hourglass.

*

Shadow play on doorways and stairways – merge with this, you’ll fit
as everyone fits, duck or hare, beauty or hag, some other self
sidling in, eager for news of you, eager to make the cut.
Walk in and out of the light. Now pause. There’s your half-and-half.

*

Pain in birdsong, pain in rough weather, pain in the sound of the sea,
the air thick with contagion, windborne, isobars of the fever chart,
skim on rivers, spoilage and spillage, gutter-run … In this cold simile
of God’s clean sweep, first to fall is the wise child, hand on heart.

*

As if someone might turn, lost and lost again, trying to take a fix
on stars for a compass point. As if the sun might rise
in a place of trackless dust. As if they might be tricks
of the light: the way on, the way back, and the day itself a disguise.

*

The perfect lie is a sculptural thing, dense and touchable. The perfect lie
has a steady inner light. The perfect lie goes hand in hand with you
to the point of no return. There’s a voice in the room, half-heard (don’t try
to guess at that) and out in the street wild music from which you take your cue.

*

A working model of the fall from grace, a back-lit auto-da-fé, the last
of the species, caught and caged. It’s a raree show: Iscariot’s fallen tear,
the Devil’s burlesque, something both fur and fin … and then the rest
one by one as the handle’s cranked – what you both love and fear.

*

Pain as quittance, pain as touchstone, pain as a last resort.
Imagine some long-limbed creature hauled by its hocks to be flayed,
the knife set right to the whetstone, music to work by, a caught
breath as the moment unpicks between flesh and blade.