Darmstadt in the Greenwood

for David Selzer

1986
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.

2020
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.

Ariel’s Magic

for Susan

Cut free from his forked pine by words –
see them sawing away at Sycorax’s wooden knots
through bark rougher than a mother’s tongue –
he [or in a show I once was in, a she] falls into a
different kind embrace, becomes its instrument –
a spelled out reading from another captured
heart, an island-limited old man in whose great books
are all the matter of his universe, his principality.
And in the air above a simple stage, set in a
castle ward, against its walls, the hate, the
vanished love of brothers for their other
selves, the grumbling venom of ambition,
lust and greed, the sleeping innocence of sex,
tumble out like swallows in the cooling blue-touched air
And far above, and all in ignorance of this
fine web of so much going on, a Boeing
rules a line across the space beyond,
takes west its own intriguers, courtiers,
lovers who have barely met, and men whose
words are destined to achieve their ends,
and then to vanish in the setting sun.

Alnwick
June 1995