The 2012 judge of poetry written in English was George Szirtes.
A brown eel caught itself on a casually thrown hook,
Anguilla anguilla where are all the marshland glass wrigglers?
weir and dam, net trap and poison you slithery boy
as tricky as a spiv closing in on the next deal.
Brown fen lurker, yellow canal threader, green mud swimmer,
an elusive thought slipping in and out like a rumour.
Surreptitiously you respond to an ancient voice,
the Sargasso pulling you back into its mysterious stillness.
Only your offspring return, catching the current –
eel breed, eel feed for your lives, for all of your long dark lives.
As if hands were holding my heavy body back
on the brink of sleep. Rain is falling steadily
through the city night; I hear it swaying
against the window like a peaceful drunk.
In streets of offices and tenements
Unwatched hands are switching off the last
of faintly buzzing lights. Massed ranks of glass
and stone step back into shadow and silence
as if discretely, all duties done. It is hard
to stop the mind, once it begins, from
fraying into dreams. Even the world, all
its hard materials, holding like the buds of rain
on the window before loosening; as if there were
hands amongst the stars, inside their great, lit buildings.
Back bedroom and the parlour underneath,
fireplace of rough-sawn stone and polished slate,
the part that used to be his cramped farmstead,
is where all this takes place. Wood-burning stove
is never lit, so there’s no tendency
to linger there; year-long you feel the chill.
The kitchen is the space she likes to dwell,
framed by the hearthside’s gilding under-glow.
Next door he taps his pipe against the grate,
refills, strikes up. She smells tobacco, hears
his old man’s cough-and-hack into the grate,
the chatter of hobnail on flag, discerns
his little dog scrape by into the hall.
Each morning she puts food out for the birds,
nest-boxes everywhere, garden and wood.
She leaves her husband once: “Plenty of time,”
yet when they try, no luck! The only one
she carries through to term is damaged goods,
conceives her canker as a punishment.
Some nights, the cradle ticking like a faint
heartbeat, a live time bomb inside her head,
she hears the cello. Locals tell he played
slow airs when beasts came near their time or yields
were low. The place was blessed with life; kids thrived,
pitched in amongst the calves and lambs, way back.
Half dressed, she conjures him, deep voice, in welsh,
severe. Strong arms wrap round her waist; rough hands
expose her belly, breasts, between her thighs,
as though examining a troubled ewe.
“What are you doing here? Why have you come?”
The Madonna of Oxfam
The orange dress comes with its own beasts –
higher and bigger and closer together than mine.
I’m not ungrateful: I’ll borrow their secondhand air
in stiffened cones let into the bodice lining. I like
the hand-embroidered label, the trouble she took,
the specialness cotton dresses once used to have.
Fifty years on the material still feels live, unpapery,
not just an exhibit of how she lived. For the rest,
the Le Cruset-coloured frock fits like a dream –
not, as things do now, with Lycra’s eager adjustments.
It’s someone’s just-married summer again, as soon
as the splashy pattern lays itself out in pleasure
on my bones. It comes to mind how the English took
to imported cotton, how people said silk underwear
never felt clean. You think you know what’s what
on days like these, then some other woman steps out
from behind the curtain for trying-things-on,
more than dressed-up, a great deal less than decent.
When you fly
the wild lingerie
of a spinnaker,
when air – pitch-perfectly
curved – balloons its
the whole hull
- salt-tongue scented – surges,
Stiffens and lifts.
You are in love, you are
through shredded silk.
Each wave’s pearling hiss
predicts in aural
the heart’s slow –
motion capsize, the dumped
lung drowned in it.
Záhrada – The Garden
In the film there is a man in a black and white garden. His face is round, framed by the small portable television balanced on the armchair. His chest is bare, his trousers are baggy. With a brush, heavy and dripping, he paints the trunks of the trees that surround the house. His father shakes his head in disapproval at the holes in its slumping roof. There is music, plucking perhaps or a repeated chord. I’ve finished teaching for the day. It’s dark and the building I live in is quiet. I’ve boiled two eggs, same as every evening, opened a bottle of beer. There is no one to speak to. A girl visits the man. She is pale and pretty and they sit side by side under the trees, biting into fallen apples. He lifts her shirt and sees her bruises. She stands ankle deep in an anthill to show she can’t be hurt and to calm his bites she crouches, puts his hand under her skirt, and pees. I’ve never lived alone before. During the day the rooms in the building are offices. My boss walks in without knocking. A cleaner makes my bed and moves the votive candle from the side of the bath to the table in my room. Lunch is in the canteen; tables of boys in boiler suits from the engineering school next door. In the film, an angry woman arrives in a car and opens her shirt. While she sleeps, the man measures her body with a yardstick. In the evenings, I write letters, read A Hundred Years of Solitude, print photos in the bathroom with borrowed equipment. Sometimes Peter and his girlfriend pick me up in his orange skoda and we go to a bar in town. Drinks come in pairs: tea and rum, whisky and coke, coffee and orange juice. It takes three languages to have a conversation. The girl is in a trance. She lies in bed and doesn’t move and the man holds a mirror to her mouth. He carries her back to the house and waits. Tomorrow I will ask my favourite class about the film and they will piece together the story for me. Miro’s eyes will light up. Miro, who has never missed a class, will hold his finger in the air and describe the final scene; the father sitting next to the man who is writing backwards in his notebook, the girl standing on a table in the garden, reaching to pick the final apple then lying on her back and rising into the air, floating above the table, and the father looking back and forth between the two. Everything, Miro will translate, everything, as it should be.