Norman Jope


Snails conjoin on the downward path

that crosses the Saxon graveyard.

You snap them with your camera

but there's nothing to capture but a streak of brown,

a footnote that tells how deeply in we are...

we walkers across the skies of the dead,

we sliders along time's line!

Yesterday, nothing could derail our progress.

We sat, with a carriage to ourselves,

as scenery changed and shadows moved.

Structures grew rickety, rust more resplendent

but also, private gardens. Thick grass beside the Maros,

hay carts, truck stops, burnt-out flats of Medias,

blackened tiles of Copsa Mica... what measure was this

of our passing lives, this mute procession of forms

that fled too rapidly to snap?

Still, like clouds of breath, topographies passed

and a fortified church came into view

ten hours from Keleti, then the citadel's form -

taxi drivers at the exit hailed

the remarkable fact that we were ten hours older.

So, today, the citadel's ours.

We've eaten in the Master's House,

sat in the square and sized up stalls,

confused by a bearded man

who strolled between them,

banging a saucepan with a knife.

Surveying History, the peeler of plaster

and ghostly editor of guidebooks,

we've taken Friday's picture -

Venus in her tower,  the mistress of its clock -

we've paid to be godlike, docile and serene

despite outpacing those snails

who'll live, if they're lucky, for a year.

Up here, the burghers of Schassburg

are buried beside their children,

some of whom lived no longer

than this, our sidestep from routine.

Olah, Kuhn and Binder rest, in 'native soil',

seven centuries from the first incursions

of an anxious people from the far-off west.

And, as if immunized, we can dream

that time has petrified around us

into buttresses and towers -

of all that heritage, its bone-headed force,

the Master spreading his cloak in the wind,

the gargoyle of history, rubedo-browed

at the end of its sad machinations.

The citadel, ours - its pain consumed.

It is then, however, that you vanish

in the time it takes to turn away

and turn towards you again.

It is then that the one-eyed beggar

bent almost double, blows on her hands

and heavy snow breaks the fruit trees down

in a phrase I intone, by the hilltop church.

It's as if I'd lived here all along -

haunting cobbles, scrying dates

on stone for an indication.

What does it mean that I know you

when you cease, however briefly, to exist?

In seconds, day gives way to night.

I descend to the square, to wait

in the most transparent place of all,

besieged by secrets, on a stage of stone

in the deepest recess of Europe.

It gets colder by the minute, but if you don't appear

then I know that someone will, and soon,

she does. Recognised from the morning,

from the souvenir shop, she passes

and her dark eyes darken mine, her body

lures me without my moving near her.

I know her and I know she knows you,

maybe your half-sister, maybe your lover.

I expect she resides in the ochre house.

All night, the snails might meld

in their spineless attempts to slow down time.

I, who was Tourist, king for a day

am a fool, Death's decoy, in a film of dust,

a fall-guy, dangling through a ghost-mated muteness.

And soon, black-robed, you emerge

to a muffled drum, a high-pitched flute,

faint cries of animals. Led on by her

as your blonde hair shines more strangely than ever.

She wears a crown and carries another -

one crown is of shadows, the other’s made of light -

and I sense you are not lovers, but half-sisters,

which makes a deeper sense. Your father asleep,

your mothers dust, you pass deserted stalls,

five centuries revenant, the ones who'll survive me

in your death-life, endlessly negating time

as I lust with a frozen heart, at the brink of self,

toppling and melting into porphyry dark

to be one with stone, in an after-life

as the fossil-form of a clown... before I drop,

a crown is placed on your head, the wine-glass offered

and the narrowed midnight breezes applaud.

In three days' time, the lovers will leave -

for thunder over the potholes of Arad,

flies and yawns at the border,

the city's twisted smells.

They will be bored, yet keen

to preserve each moment. Fables of un-death

may console them in their hopeless task.

So I switch off that night, returned to myself

on the path through the graveyard, summoned back to life

as you re-appear, and the snails untwine.

The motion forward and the noise it makes

is all we’ll ever know. Shaking dust from our shoes,

we’ll descend to the square, unfinished and uncrowned.

Norman Jope © 2009