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A photograph of the poet

…history hopes to create reasons
for what we’ve already done.

Jim Harrison: Dalva

1          after Jorge Accamé (translated with Jack Ross)

There’s a girl
behind Pessoa. Hurrying over
the paving stones, she
turns her head. I wonder

what happened? No doubt
she was off to market
for a few bits of fish, not knowing
she’d be snapped. She’ll be dead

now. Maybe not. She’ll have
grandchildren, never have cared about poetry
and won’t suspect she’s been found
out. I doubt Pessoa saw her

coming, no friend to the looming
woman on the poet’s left –
and as for the thoughtful man
further back….

Where did the girl end up
that morning? Perhaps a car
idling around the corner
knocked her

down. It worries me, this
image from sixty years ago,
a tricked-out self
in a Portuguese town. What’s the good

of being here?


The reflection of an absent person
– the light is soft, the image is intimate -
a small square pencilled on a white wall
God is length, height, width, depth (St Bernard de Clairvaux).

Useless to queue for a blessing or kiss
with a blessing, with a kiss
useless as the sediment at the bottom of a wine-glass;
you must become an unbeliever to see the absent.


The tortuous facetious –
Pessoa knows the tenor of those overheard
enclosed entirely by the present
small-talk, energetic in their cliches:

mute now he sounds out summer before
falling into the verandah’s shadow. He
rehearses, waiting his turn to say Good day .
Upon the mantelpiece

no birthday cards with undying love
from Alvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, or Alberto Caeiro.
Pessoa kicks against the pricks, kicks
back. If this miracle passes unremarked

he’ll assemble Alberto Caiero’s voice from parts of speech:
he’ll decipher the reverse side of mirrors
with words that acknowledge good and evil
topple into their opposites.


One haunting also-ran afternoon
Pessoa’sovercoat lifted itself
off the hanger –in its right pocket
a wallet belonging to Ricardo Reis, who was

incongruous as a groom in a crematorium.
When the sun edges out of the picture
a man’s premature conclusion reduces the world
(like occlusion of the eye) to nuisance value.


Governed by his lover’s eyelids
Pessoa observes the curfew of their closure
with his mind’s eye, stumbling
across notional fields of mimosa

to wherever she sleeps without a thought for him.
A new leaf spans an orphan’s hand. So
what? If his mistress is stone
question her with a chisel – he uses his pen –

slough the luck. Rosebud. He tastes
burnt grass as an emaciated dog howls
down the stars. An arbitrary past
arbitrates his future: de Campos, Reis, Caeiro.

It is almost dawn – that ‘almost’ bores –
the Lord performs a ceremony where nothing is
but nothing is clear. He needs to seize
more than the day that takes him away, reclaiming

an absent rib.


Memory records yet never restores. It reorders.
The glare in the garden, the window opposite
where she washes (still). But not his sin.
He was a carpenter without nails, a mouth curling

around childish rhymes: ‘play’ became ‘obey’
as that bitch, Talent, went at it: Literature.
So he wrote: Fisherman’s lure.
And her body rising.

13.2.2000, Kingsley Street, Auckland – 20.8.2000, Avonside Drive, Christchurch


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