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Jacket 20 — December 2002   |   # 20  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

George Fraser

A Napkin with Veronica’s Face, not Christ’s

You can read Paddy Fraser’s memoir of her late husband in this issue of Jacket.


‘Leaving us only woe, which, like the moss,
Having compassion of unburied bones,
Cleaves to mischance and unrepaired loss’:

Leaving us woe to heap, as heavy stones
Humped to that high cairn’s top of Knocknarea
Avert worse woe, if offered woe atones

For the blue gorgon glare of sudden sea,
Bright, swooping, savage, after bog, mud, mist
Have clogged our passion down to piety

For Maeve, the rockfast queen of falconed wrist,
Who lives in stories, and who never was,
And yet her quern can grind us down to grist,

Leaving us only awe and windlestraws:
Stark on her kestrel roost with rakehell claws,


Leaving us only woe which, wan as clouds
Brushing some nibbled round low Border hill,
Mists the sheeps’ wispy backs in woolly shrouds

While high above the sea-bent birds are shrill
And move towards that blank wall of Tantallon
Whose blankness speaks us neither good nor ill

But says the rider of the horse is gone
Who rose this country since she was a girl
And Pegasus perhaps she rode upon

And heard haar pipers of the North Sea skirl
And while she twirled her rein with easy hand
Had all the thoughts in that wild head aswirl

Because debatable she found her land:
No soul could sing for heart to understand.


Swift years by weeping willows by the Cam
Fed mind to soul and added hurt to heart
And, to love’s power to bless, its power to damn:

So that there seemed a mockery in her art,
Delight in sorrow, sorrow in delight,
And word from world set warningly apart

Reading no riddle with the answer right
Except that in the dark all cats are gray
And in the utter dark all grays are white

And when cats sleep the mice come out to play
And nibble at the corners of old books
And gnaw a lot of learned rind away:

But blur their eyes perhaps and blear their looks:
So that one broth is spoiled by many cooks.


A broth of learning seemed to blur her mind,
A rich aroma, and but one stir more,
One pinch of herb, and surely she would find

The great elixir and the hidden lore
To make her the immortal Harlequin
Of death-blue profile on Picasso’s shore

And all her thoughts were angels on a pin
Or plunging horses on a carousel,
Whirling around, or weaving out and in,

Were webs of tapestry she knew so well
She’d stretch it wide to make the world her maze,
That mighty maze one word that she could spell

And cast a spell on, till the blinding ways
Of worlds, by words, she’d bind in nights and days.


Madness, illusions of omnipotence!
I am a poet, I have known them too.
You have outsoared the shadow of our sense,

I cannot check your flight, or soar with you:
Poor dead girl, choking on your messy pillow,
Poor plunging planet, to disaster true

As flowing water to the thirsty willow:
Shall any brine-wet word of yours remain,
Jetsam or flotsam, tossed upon the billow

Of gaping Time, or of my useless pain
Wooing your ghost’s grace with this artifice?
‘In evening dress on rafts upon the main’.

Style is the answer: it comes down to this.
Whirl to the wings, young dancer. Blow a kiss,


For ‘unsubstantial death is amorous’
And of our ghostly audience last to leave.
I saw you whirl so. I would hold you thus,

Tense teasing harlequin, and would not grieve:
Fierce innocent, you died and felt no shame,
Only loss, love, the ardour to achieve

(High spirit, blooded by the spur of Fame!)
The laurel and the rose in strenuous sport.
And, had it power, this verse would crown your game.

‘On Sestus’ shore, Leander’s late resort,
Hero hath left no lamp to guide her love’:
Is it eternal darkness that I court?

You were a spirit. Still I think you of
Some pure, strange kingdom where the purest move.

Check out this author’s work: Bookstores in Britain, and in the United States

Jacket 20 — December 2002
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