Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Canzone: The Small of the Back


He who has numbered the hairs on your head and knows
precisely the finite number of blades of grass
in the open field and the grove full of flowers, knows
to perfection each little part of you.  He knows
the elements, how they are composed, how small
and perishable they are and we are.  He knows
our limits, our beginnings and endings, knows
days and minutes, counting them forward and back
and forward again as in dreams.  There’s no going back
for us, but for him it’s the same either way.  He knows
about forward and back, has counted the grass in the field
that stretches forever, a closed yet open field

in which numbers alone constitute the field.
And what do we constitute?  The doctor knows
what lies within his own professional field.
I see his ginger hair, his black bag, the broad field
of his back as he crosses the street and over the grass
verge, up the drive with its gravel.  His field
is comprehensible, part of a bigger field.
He copes and prescribes for a body of small
disasters, for a self that has shrunk to a small
map of the world.  His numbers cover the field
entirely.  I only know the small of your back
in my hands, the hour of night that will not come back

to greet us.  I move to touch the small of your back
where it narrows before widening.  My field
of operations is narrow.  I stroke down your back
then up it again.  It is ageless.  As if time could look back
on itself while moving forward.  The body knows
time as movement: as rise, crest, fall, then back
to where it started.  So my hand knows your back.
It is marble and milk and summer and smooth grass.
We were stretched out together, lying on the grass.
It was summer in London.  You lay on your back.
Below us the hill rolled away.  The traffic was small
creases on a vast map, we ourselves distant and small.

He who has numbered the hairs on your head, the small
god we imagine moving through grass at the back
of our minds, counting the seconds, the god of small
comforts, of minutiae, of all the vast small-
ness of the universe that is this field and that field,
the god of the moment – that god knows the small
of your back better than I do.  He comprehends the small.
We want him to number us, want someone who knows
what number is and means, someone who knows
the time, who binds us to a world that is always too small.
We want him to number all the blades of grass.
We ourselves want to lie out on that grass.

We know the words.  We know all flesh is grass.
We’re handfuls of dust, breathing in dust.  Our small
numbers are divinities of dust and grass.
There’s nothing better than dust and the fresh grass
on which you lie – I feel the small of your back
smooth under my hand, the field of grass
rolling away.  Here is the image of grass.
The image of time lies somewhere in the field
where people are running beyond our visual field.
They are, like us, a movement in the grass.
They are familiar names that no one knows.
They are the moments everybody knows.

Grass is a cloud of green.  The god who knows
each blade is counting them up.  Beyond the field
lie houses and chairs and beds.  Still further back:
the road down to the coast, the beach, the small
waves nudging over the scree, the dunes, the grass.

–George Szirtes


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