for David Selzer
We’re in a forest. Cunningly contrived
from plastic pipe and card. Lighting makes the
moonlight dance. In the illusion of a glade
we hunker down, imagining the beasts
that nightly prowl, the fears and loves
that have at you in a sword’s breath.
It’s Germany, the land that rose to conquer
Rome, and darken Europe with its soul.
I’m talking, waiting for the speech that
everyone else could make from heart. The wood
entrances, sighs. Moving to the edge of shadow,
I too hear my words – All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players.
And so it nightly goes. Our teacher’s troupe
on a cultural exchange, performing As You
Like It on a stage designed for opera
and oompah, in language we have learnt,
to those who Shakespeare was a European
giant, big as Beethoven or Brahms.
Ein sohn und eine tochter aus Elysium.
And out beyond our flimsy world, that packs
so neatly on the coach that brought
us on our theatrical blitzkrieg, the planet
continues on its way. The Rhine heaves past,
removing silt and ash. The cities that we crushed
or burned rise in concrete triumph to the skies.
Cars stream from factories, technicians
study for their grades, and memory recycles
as all pass. Relieved to find we are but people
in the end, we find ourselves at home with
families who feed us pickled herring and
are happy we have come to stay. This Europe
is their home, and we are welcome in it too.
The war is past – the communities and monuments
rebuilt. The Catholics were next, they tell us.
We were on their lists. And that reassurance
is what we’ve come to hear. That even
reputation and survival can be forgiven.
Hope shines from children, parents, players.
Exits and entrances. And all the world’s a stage.
But in no space at all, that candle on the set
is out. Bubbles dance and burst, and time goes
tiptoeing to bed. The hand is thrown away,
age, in its sevens, makes running cowards
of our state. Vergissmeinnicht. A soldier poet
shows a card. We are to leave, to no goodnight.
Thank you, John. I’m complimented, charmed and moved. The last verse – not least with its reference to Keith Douglas’s ‘Vergissmeinnicht’ – is the one of the most touching, and one of the bravest, evocations of mortality I have read. I shall remember its rhythm, its tone, its imagery, its steadfastness. Thank you again.
Since first reading the poem this morning I’ve been admiring the subtle ways in which you’ve used As You Like It in the piece. The play – and the production – are woven into the fabric of the work. Thank you again for a fine poem.
Thank you for that, and for stirring the pot of memory!