George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948 and arrived in England as a refugee in 1956.
This poem is from his collection REEL, published in the UK by Bloodaxe Books in 2004.
Your image destroys itself, remakes itself, and is never weary.
Octavio Paz, The Prisoner.
Impossible to look directly into
another’s eyes. Impossible to look
into your own. You read the dense book
of being like a document you flick through.
Eyes, even an inch apart, are blurs,
clouds, like the concept of yesterday
which has an entity you sometimes stray
into beyond the limits of his and hers,
The unknown: the roughest of the rough guides,
and all it says is: you’re here, you’d better make
the best of it. You entered by mistake
and so you’ll leave. It’s what the route map hides
and languages obscure, the magnetic pull
of all you ever see of the beautiful.
But I have seen the beautiful. I know
its contours and the rough guide it provides
is blissfully specific: the hand that rides
the ridge of the collarbone or moves along the brow,
the perfect form of momentary light
in this line or another. It’s what Blake
saw at the top of the stair, the terrible earthquake
at the root of the flesh we think of as delight.
It’s what you see when you shut your eyes and see,
the angel with the whip or a flaming sword
that burns your eyes down to the spinal cord,
the shit, blood, semen smell of mortality
you get used to because it follows you
everywhere and is both beautiful and true.