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This piece is about 4 printed pages long. It is copyright © Tracy Ryan and Jacket magazine 2008.
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Jacques Brel

Tracy Ryan

Watching Brel

1. 700 grams nightly

Soul-flame, you leap and bend,
gutter and recover,
sweat on your flesh like wax
droplets from a candle —

the Roman sort that notches
off time as something abstractly
renewable, yet bodies so perfectly
its burning down

and with each gram you lose
through performance, the light holds
a little longer, I can piece my
way through the dark corridor
that led you here and led you
off-stage again, though that
is elided here, we see no exit,
my eyes shaky as
that hand-held camera, I can bear

now to lie down in the humid,
complicated air of my own
small room in my own
electrical storm, hear
in the distance that train repeating

obsessive-compulsive, the
abandon, abundance of your
refrains, abbé, celebrant of
fixation, of transience, frenetic

dispenser of syllables like so many
spells against the silence you somehow
longed for and which I can feel now
descending with midnight
on the train that comes after.

2. Legs

Hampelmann, jumping Jacques
on your unseen
string, you saw and mimic,
sparing no one (some say misogynistic
and homophobic, still
it’s all in the self-ridicule),
horse at a gallop, shy boy, woman’s
plaything taut with poetic
choler and resentment, balletic
expanse and retraction, the give and take
of a bitter and passionate dance
you could never quite give up on.

3. Hands

Hands too large for your lean
incarnation, as if you were
burdened with them, prophetic,
prosthetic extensions of voice, protesting
flesh alone will not suffice, child’s colouring
outside the lines, but a man’s reach
should exceed
                          even his word.

4. Close-up

Not one face but many
disputing your features
beau-laid alive with

so that I try to settle
on a likeness
as if that would solve you, finally
and free me

for thinking, recourse to public
memory, to put you back up there and not
here, too near to me:
                          not quite the Lee Marvin
my husband suggested, but somewhere
between Nureyev and Willem Dafoe, a
soupçon of Guy Pearce, those stark cheeks
and brow confrontational, relentless

but these will not do, there is
still the pull between
this Flemish frame, that
Latinate fabric, mouth
that spits and utters
in a tongue not your ancestors’
but wholly your own

which has worn those lips and
been worn by them — kissed, bitten
by the same muse that harrowed
Baudelaire, Rimbaud, you who said

When I read Baudelaire I know
the full extent of my failure

how should I begin
to place you?

5. Shadow

It’s not you who are early but I
who am late, you wrote

and I, dévote, would chant
those words back to you, atonal

struck dumb that spirit can
be fed on the trace

of a trace, reanimation
of an after-image, stir at a voice

that is now no more than electrical

             in this fierce
lightning I race about the house
unplugging everything

self-insulating, and this small
sustenance I’d bolster all

nerve, all survival on
is gone

gone before, shadow
of your shadow

Tracy Ryan

Tracy Ryan

Tracy Ryan lives in wheatbelt Western Australia, but has also lived in the UK and the USA. Her most recent book of poetry is Scar Revision (Fremantle Press, 2008).

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