Temptation, poems by Alex Skovron
Alex Skovron is the author of six collections of poetry and a prose novella. His latest book, Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems (2014), was shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. The Attic, a bilingual selection of his poetry translated into French, was published in 2013; Water Music, a volume of Chinese translations, has just appeared; and his novella The Poet has been translated into Czech. A volume of short stories, The Man who Took to his Bed, is due later this year.
we are never where we are, but somewhere else …
—Derek Walcott, ‘In Italy’
The devil’s in the detail you don’t know.
I’m sorry, but I won’t apologize
for my position. Can’t you let it go?
If only you could see things through my eyes.
I’m sorry that I can’t apologize
for the misfortunes others choose to grieve.
If you could only reason with my eyes …
Feeling insecure, you’ll want to believe
in the misfortunes others bear; you’ll grieve,
anxioused by everything. We nurse our false
feelings of insecurity—we believe
we’re never where we are but somewhere else;
anxioused by everything, we nurse a forced
compassion that compels our hearts to bleed;
everything, it would seem, is somewhere else
than what’s in front of us—that starving need,
compassion, it beguiles our hearts to bleed
when stark realities (admittedly unkind)
become our daily front. Yet you don’t need
to do much more than shield a guilty mind
from those do-good brigades: you’ll realize
then that my position’s sound … Let it go!
Most stories are repositories of lies.
The devil’s in the detail you don’t know.
Jolson Sings Again
When I was, I don’t know, seventeen
I used to visit a friend in the high suburb
and we discussed many things, like music.
He was a thin, melancholy individual
with sparse black curly hair already fading
and a teasing humour that could get personal.
He played Barbra Streisand records for me
in his room, she was the most talented singer
in the world, he told me, what a voice.
How can you like Al Jolson, so unrefined,
he mocked. Maybe that was not exactly
how he put it but you get the gist.
I listened to Barbra with him in his room
and agreed that she was very talented, yes,
but I defended Al Jolson, because it was
Jolson who stirred my heart. This was just
one of the things my friend teased me about
but here is not the place to indulge old hurts.
I knew all the Jolson songs, I sang them
to myself on the way home from lectures
in the evenings, trying to mimic his voice.
When my son was a small boy, he learnt
every word in the two films about Al Jolson.
We watched them together, many times over.
What the Twilight Tells Me
The future is a stubborn upstart
too proud to share his secret
too distracted by the importunings of the planets
to hold it for long – it slides off
like a discarded prophecy into the waiting pages
of the thing we decipher as Time
with cracked spectacles in a grainy half-light
under a moonless sky in our sleep.
The past is an ignorant aristocrat
who understands nothing of herself
even less of all those magisterial conjugations
that magnify her into a realm
we label Remembrance – a poor old
substitute for forgetting as it hurtles back
into oblivion or forward
into the winking eye of knowledge.
While the present, cynical provocateur
forever coy and prevaricating
confuses its several tenses, jumbles its grammars
of be and become – but is confident
we’ll mistrust it once again
to slip gladly into memory’s rainbow dusk
or wedge ourselves at the ramp of dawn
while twilight dances its glory.
Having exited his quotidian freeway, he’d sit
through many a rare book as the season dwindled.
His interests were both quadrivial and trivial,
and when jaded by the illuminati he would repair
to the convenience mart, check out the latest
checkout chick. He tended to impress, well-versed
in the cosmetics of conviviality. And yet all
he ever embraced rapidly fled, for rock-headed
he became should a crunch come home—
he would burrow straight to the point, putting off
nothing but the promising guest (for you see,
his was an uncompromising thirst, skittery
and impolitical); whereupon he’d assail his wall
with fresh A4s of oily mergers and glossied
fantastical quenchings. But one swig, frequency
no matter, won’t a swallow make—while
his libido fattened his spirit sagged. So he retired
into villanelle imaginings whose repetitions
rhymed, sooner or late, whose closing conceits
always connoted ‘Welcome to my bed,’ she said,
etcetera. They crackled, like his operatic 78s,
and whenever his needle jumped he would
raise and relieve the arm of its burden, or illumine
the home theatre, return whatever antique tome
to its oaken shelf, open the cabinet to select
self-medication; or else he’d saunter martward
to check what new release might be perching there.
Sailing to Venezuela
You know the type: you’ve scarcely cornered
the closing flakes of a Caesar salad
and he’s there already, twiddling above you,
itching to whisk your dishes away.
Meanwhile the duo dealing noisily
metres along scratch at the remnants
of hurt attention to the page you’re on:
worse than the doof-doof seeping somewhere,
walled with such craft you can’t locate it –
you think to ask the congenial waitress
to twirl a knob, explain you’re working
and need to focus. You know the type:
you’d scarcely whisper your nerdy secret,
apologetic, but emblematic
of noble breeding, peerless decorum,
when almost before you turn to saunter
back to your coffee, she’s folded double
under the counter – the music softens,
she rises, glowing with admiration,
ready perhaps to drop her apron
and sail with you to Venezuela –
you know the type, you’ve no illusion,
she plainly fancies your mind, your body,
the classic Penguin under your pencil,
she’ll shove her notepad into the vest
of the pesky waiter, dribble her hair
with lewd abandon out of its primmed-back
incarceration and wait politely
for you to finish your Caesar salad,
your chapter, verse, your cooling coffee,
viciously wink at the frazzled owner
inching alarmed to your waning table, kick
at the chairs of the loudmouth duo,
sizzle a grin in your poor direction
and, flinging open the café doorway,
beckon you crudely to follow.
« Rosin your words, they’re too squeaky
clean! » the fiddler with the soundbox said;
she bristled – I mean it: hairline fairly moved,
a critic (you see), oh, a songstress was she –
sans song, but the melos mistakeless still
& the message not all unkind. « You’ve made
a name for yourself [quoth she] once you
make it into lower case! » I was meant to chuckle
at this (so I did, I did), she was trying to slap
the stuffery of clubs & of cliques, & impress
with her cool, her charm, her chic (her curvature
too) (you see) – in fact, I was starting to think
maybe she wanted me?
« Your G-string
needs tuning [she suddenly squealed], don’t forget
they’ll want a little sleaze – but don’t overdo it
[she grinned], your art! » & straddled her chair
with slinky jeans & that tight magnificent seat! Oh,
I’d have given a bagful of poems & prizes & grants
there & then, if she’d flexed (there & then)
concupiscently forward & breathed « You’re a poet,
put your mouth where your mind is! » But she
merely scribbled at one itchy knee, huddled the hock
between those hips, & reaching clean around me,
shunted my opus aside, secured the flask &
poured me a frothy quaff. So I bowed, loosened
my bow, & took a post-Freudian sip.
© Alex Skovron