The Host of Turns
We were gathered in this kind of circus-tent,
our faces candlelit and our children’s faces
too, to see the turns, we were the turns.
It had a Victorian flavour we were fine with.
The seats all full, I’d stretched out on the sawdust,
on the warm floor down there before row A,
my flickering face presented on one palm
at a rascal’s angle, watching the acts go by.
We were in a tent and watching a host of turns.
A neighbour’s child was doing this magic act
we liked. I clapped and I had to sit up to clap.
In the turn that followed, a girl or a boy was onstage
saying a question. I was stretched out on sawdust
having answered it. I had no idea I had answered.
I realised I had answered an innocent question
and the silence that had fallen had still fallen.
Something had been said that was still there
onstage with the green cloth table, plus a chair
alone beside it. Something had been said
by me in a trance in a dream but it had been said.
It was clearing the circus-tent of the great and the good
who file in and out of you to make their judgments.
The children were long gone.
In the waking dreams
that pressed to the wound like paparazzi my words
went with my friends and family to the deathbed.
In one I was playing croquet with some students
who believed me. I have no idea what I told them.
I woke up exonerated, loving this story.
Translator: Glyn Maxwell’s most recent book is On Poetry. His first book of poetry, Tale of the Mayor’s Son was published in 1990. Since then, he has published several collections, including Out of the Rain (1992), for which he received a Somerset Maugham Award; Rest for the Wicked (1995), which was shortlisted for both the Whitbread Poetry Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize; and The Breakage (1998), which was shortlisted for both the T.S. Eliot and the Forward Poetry (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) Prizes.