‘The Ship of Endurance’ And Three More New Poems

Alan Brownjohn

The Ship of Endurance

Some opt for the Terrace, the sunshine, the breeze,
And divide between tourists — letting in the draught
By taking their time to saunter through the glass doors —
And locals, who go out quickly. The tourists ignore altogether
The people preferring to sit at the tables inside,
And deliver the café a hurricane — single
Pages from broadsheet papers — notes on lectures — credit
With precious landline numbers that took months
To extract from their owners — inspirations
That just had to be written down — there they go,
Chasing over the just-swept floor, people’s whole days
Lost in fury and despair…Therefore I thank
The tall mindful local woman who when
She went out herself only opened the Terrace door
At the most acute angle enabling her to escape
— And before that had gathered up all my flying poems
In her hand to return them to me.
I dream up awards
For the — strictly speaking unrequired — courtesies
That make up the threads which hold the Ship of Endurance
Together. But all I can do for the moment
Is thank you, sincerely, Karin Johannesdottir,
Even though your business card speaks about “IT”.

Akureyri, 2012

The Answer

I’ll wait for you where I can tell you and no one hear.
Take these directions: turn half-left outside,
then follow the street which bisects
the opposite rightangle of the intersection. Pass
the Daylong Bar on your right
with its purple dome; you should recognise
the place — where the newly-slabbed pavement gets
uneven again alongside the site planned
for the new emergency hospital until last month.
Just think: it could have installed two hundred
stitches for mishaps on that stretch alone.
At this point the Centre has become
the suburbs, and the road awaits scheduled repairs.
They have chalk-marked — look — the opportunities
for revengeful potholes to assert their rights,
so walk warily past the Cross-themed railings of
the Third Church of Christ Consultant, and on
towards the unmistakeable Herm of
the Half-known Soldier with the eyes
that follow you to affirm that the Racial War
just ended was indeed the very last.
Oh, and here you find the final pharmacist
before the mountains, and on her favourite
verandah (note the spelling) Madame Slutski.
Look twice, because she’s moving slightly,
being real and not her statue, waiting for
her quantitative lover to ride up
and ease her sorrows. At this point ask yourself
why verified history and the un-
illuminated present have to lock
pure evil and ignorance together
with stupidity in an endless chain.
— But keep going, keep going, keepgoing. Stop! Here’s a painted sign
where a sharp incline starts suddenly,
and the road is a rocky slope. How far behind
the Last Upstairs Billiard Hall seems
on the edge of the forest, and its rumoured bears
seen once by Grandma from her scullery window,
come down to trample the fuchsias;
or the indefinable fanged and clammy things
that eye you from small bushes predicting the treeline.
Still, keep on, keep on, and prepare to cherish
the thought that you are carrying several
boxes of Safety Matches in case
you need to strike them and throw them
at wolves appearing from nowhere,
You truly have passed the very last
outpost of civ-il-i-sa-tion, here
are rocks only, no vegetation, and that
is not the ultimate summit, the next one is,
or perhaps the one beyond it, or the one
beyond that. When you are sure you see it, stand
silent below it, and shake the snow
from your sandals, identify
the twenty-four seven shadow thrown
by the hut where I am waiting.
Enter, greet me, put your hat down,
and remember to refer to the circle of deckchairs
on the sunny lawn, where the gameplan
was originally decided; and now you
are sure no one can hear me, ask me the answer.
Oh, I’ll give it you to save time: You
yourself are the only answer.

March Snow

It lies in strips on branches as if that were arranged
For somebody to paint them. It’s sprayed on the backs
Of four chairs left leaning over a garden table
When a meal was stopped by the August rain.
I need to be out, so get most carefully
Down the eight steps to the pavement and press a catch
To spread against the wind a black dome lacking
One spoke which is broken, at least protecting
One half of me, on a late March afternoon.
The snow sweeps at my ankles from where the street
Has been collecting it in the cause of silence.
Above my head the ceaseless pattering
Goes on, not like rain, like the lightest fingers
Come back to drum on a window expecting
To be let in and understood despite it all.

An Affirmation 

I go out, and the front door shuts on me
Abruptly, as though someone slammed it. Could it be — ?
No, there’s nobody. The draught from a narrow space
Where I’d opened a window found a sudden power
To reject me as dispensable, when of course
I can go back at any time, can’t I? Yes, my hand
Finds the key in its usual pocket, it’s there, it’s real.
I might have understood such a fierce farewell
If I’d left for weeks, or months; though I always try
To leave it tidy then, so I feel secure
When I finally return; although I shiver
At the too-patient look of a place long not slept
Or eaten or worked in, its neat old chairs
Still vacant, the bed made up, the books unopened.
— And that tangible dust on a table asking me
To reassert my claim to be living there,
Out of gratitude for its loyalty; which might
Not last for always.
How long does emptiness
Need to settle in on spaces I’ve left behind?
…I think I need, in the street, as I walk away
To affirm once more that I shall be back. Today. 

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