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Peter Robinson

Six Poems

Furniture Music, Musical Chairs
A Quiet Day
Hearing Difficulties
In a Fog
Leaving the Country

Furniture Music, Musical Chairs

My typewriter
without soft pedal,

that black instrument
stutters its durations —

their lodger, remaining
upstairs, as he reads

out loud and moves about.
Words fail me, so left

to myself but listened for.
You’re nearly on your own.

It is colder behind
the door gap and close up

to the crack I’ll catch
those bitter airs.

They are trying duets
which rankle in my ear.

Unrhythmic shout, we speak
the word that silences.

That does for a quiet life.
It will not alleviate

tables, the fixtures
in their front room

but confirms them.
Never your intention

to harm them, you hum
immaterial music,

half-recalled snatches
underneath your breath.

Hermetically sealed,
your mouth allows

each day’s impingement —
which you are, ungreeting.

Too narrow accommodation:
skirting boards, he scrapes

up against her blouse.
The wallpaper flock

blooms close to his eye.
Then the day-to-day rub

became costly in small,
doubtful eye signals.

They patrolled the bounds
of a working privacy.

One day, he posts up
a formal announcement.

It says: ‘I’d prefer
not to meet on the stairs.’

from Overdrawn Account (London: The Many Press, 1980)

A Quiet Day

Why, with the bright quiet morning sound of workmen
over red roof tiles, through windows,
a steady slow hammering
on housefronts opposite which continues,
do I need to speak with someone
from the other life who knows?

Because you might confuse the noise
of ill-adjusted radiators
with jets low flying overhead,
hear radio voices of Tripoli, Rome
replying to bombs released from planes
victory rolling above my home,
or guess at latest fleet manoeuvres, sense
the shames of misalliance
in first moments of a fear...
Her cupboards have preserves in jars;
a fridge brimful of perishables
very faintly whirrs.

Hung on spokes of an allow halo
fixed around the stove’s black chimney
are my socks, her underwear.
Across the roofs, a swallow
announcing its return’s become
the echo of this straying flight...
Because I’m not familiar
with where each plate and saucer goes
in her ordered kitchen, tonight,
all day, I’ve had to speak with someone
from the other life who knows.

16 April 1986
from Entertaining Fates (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992)

Hearing Difficulties

About the shell of my right ear
It’s true there’s something ominous.
Added to the chorus
                             of voices I can hear
is a thin, continuous
rushing noise like the sound of the sea
or like an old valve record player
left on through the night.


In a hearing clinic’s waiting room
someone’s worse off than yourself;
putting up the CT scan
he shows what lies beneath the skin
and bad news after hours of patience
arrives in the shape
of a paler shape about the size of a coin.


‘God help you’ comes from overseas.
It means the very best of luck
in the English of a Japanese,
and it’s true you need it when

a consultant pats you on the knee
offering some courage,
lays his hands on you and says,
‘You’ll be wondering soon: why me?’


But I was thinking: Well, why not?
What would they mean, the hours of boredom
and jokes about a poet going deaf,
all things being equal in sickness and in death,
if not that here’s just another of those people?

So when you tell him we’re getting a divorce
(letting him know as a matter of course)
he replies, ‘It never rains but it pours.’

from Lost and Found (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1997)


It would have been better to ask permission
before stealing a glimpse of suburbs
on Vienna’s furthest outskirts with the woods,
and woodland paths for taking a stroll
one autumn afternoon, my words
taken into quiet air but still not quite
enough coming back to set me at my ease —
which is why there was yet more to tell
like a confession, a therapy session,
though no one would be paid for the time
and as if it were making the slightest difference
to dead wood crackling underfoot,
the creak in high branches, a rummaging breeze
that stirred perpetually tops of trees...
It would have been better to ask permission.

Poplar, walnut, birch, diseased
chestnut leaves are motionless
and, for garden statuary,
take this draped, reclining figure
held up by two wicker chairs
who’s talking to me here.

But I’m caught in an overly crowded dream
like the thick mist filling sunlit fields
from Innsbruck to Salzburg, its luminous gleam
populous with things you were to see
in the moments intervening, while he says,
‘Now we’re all for the freedom of art
in its own time, though painted with opprobrium,
become common property...’ and I’m
not even missing the closed Belvedere,
its glimpses of expropriated Klimts
with their gilt frames, gold showers, touched-up displays
like drowned lives that flashed before the eyes
of gallery-goers moving through silence
filled with the dispossessed, burned, and lost.

Equally ours, more ideas
start as conversations slow,
framing landscapes for the ears
in a light of near departure —
although there’s barely a shadow
of that cast on each feature;

and perspectives extend beyond the garden
to take in flea markets, maples, a shrine
with misunderstandings or taken offence,
as at those earlier attempts of mine —
bunglings not supposed to happen;
they did, the more-than-bargained-for
lingering still in each consequence
like visits unmade, a fast stain from the things
you didn’t do or, done, you can’t undo...
But now the mown lawn’s taken an imprint;
train timetables must play their part,
hushed leaves stirring memories to the last.
Taking my leave... He saw what I meant.
It would have been better to ask permission
before stealing away with that past.


In a Fog

Her father’s death would mean the end. Dust sheets thrown on in the Via Bixio, ghosts of chairs and tables freeze among air-roots of plants, heavy rustic sideboards, the chill marble floors, old prints of the city, a swirling abstract picture. But now I must leave them in his poor corner, hunched up on the bed perhaps, around them typescripts, scrawls, turned pages, chess men, dictionaries, and the fierce cold. They would be talking quietly. Her whole world, which had seemed so much more secure than his, was suddenly falling to pieces. Her father, by means of a promissory note, had sunk the family fortune in another’s bankruptcy. He’d been ruined by a lifelong friend.

So what was this friend of mine trying to do? He would help her through the perishing season, help her over an unspoken wound. Yet at the funeral, he was just an interloper. They’ll accuse him of only wanting her money, her inheritance. Inheritance? The family was putting what properties remained into different names, to save the little left, though even the lawyers — as it transpired — were picking clean their bones.

Now I’m in that icy damp, nose streaming on the Ponte Catena. Fog’s so dense both San Zeno and Borgo Trento have disappeared. There’s just this greyness everywhere. A blurry orange glow before me — Renon’s ice cream sign — is the only kind of reassurance... Her people are like frozen statues in the park back there: the relations between them obscure, the dramatis personae just a muddle of names. Yet dear among them is his blonde Italian, with a butterfly hair-grip in her drawn-back hair. She’ll be sat beside him on that rumpled bed. He’ll have his arm around her shoulder. He’s trying to talk himself back into her life.


Leaving the Country

Too suddenly over the park came evening to tinge a straggle of clouds and bring fresh intensities to the still green trees.
      Economic migrants in need of the money, no sooner were we handed our papers than, yes, it was time to be leaving.
      Nor did you think it all that funny being down on the form as an immigrant, an immigrant into your home town.
      But at departure gates, swarming with police, some of the passengers appeared to be in custody.
      Slow off the mark, it was only then I noticed their flights for Tirana and Bucharest.
      Beside the duty-free fashion emporia, these passengers were not so well turned-out.
      The last we saw of those people without papers, as our bus for the Gatwick plane passed by, they were being boarded on Russian-built jets.
      Already, already the immigrants were leaving.

from Untitled Deeds
(Cambridge and Perth: Salt Publishing, 2004)

There is a photo, a bio note and links to dozens of pieces of writing by Peter Robinson on his Jacket Author Notes page.

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