Thursday, November 26, 2009

Robert Sheppard: Three Riga Poems

Mentzendorff House, Riga

The bearded woman with amber eyes
makes him tie elfin aprons to his shoes
which glide like galoshes over the polish
of the timbers while the bride’s stilettos
tap-tap up the stairs without reproach or restraint

The woman scraped away these walls
to reveal layered fauns and fountains
but when he plucks the harp that waits for him there
it lets of a slack dead sound. Escaping

their scrutiny he secrets himself in the mock
‘Poet’s Room’. The desk: a quill still rests across
parchment by a notebook embossed Poesie

He lifts the feathery pages loose from the flaking
leather spine and finds that they are blank

July/November 2006

Riga Duet

Prison Camp Violin

A brittle fiddle someone
Turns this on a lathe

Of the spheres where
Replica becomes the real

Thing thin
Birch treated knocked up

Catches an unhuman
Voice in its hollow

Thumbs moulded to pegs
Skewered into splintering holes

Tune the stolen wires a
Mollusc curled at neck’s end

Pluck the kinked tune free

Out of itself a
Collapsed bridge

Sabotaged by
Time mittens

The soup-bone bow-grip

Horse hair human
Hair taut straight like a well

Brushed bride’s
Bends the tamed twig

Tucked under your chin the violin
Splinters against your jaw

As you draw the grinty
Voice out from the mechanics

Of survival: extinct
Livonian love song

Mute Piano

This box could house
A stethoscope or

Paintbrushes its
Leather strap sags

A conspiring smile
Unclip the lid in

A double-thumbed
Ritual of rhyming

Clasps and prop
It open a jack-

In-a-box grin of black
And nicotine octaves

Three there potential
But one key escaped

Gives the game away
A peep-hole to the void

Mechanics beneath

Half-frozen fingers that

Soothe the smooth keys
And then in a furious

Double-fisted cluster
Rattle them with the

Padding stealth of
Rats upon boards

Stealing moist bread
From mute mouths

In 2018 'Prison Camp Violin' became the Guardian Poem of the Week (see here) All three poems were published in Berlin Bursts (details here) and 'Prison Camp Violin' was selected for History or Sleep (see here)