It is not what they
built. It is what they knocked down.
It is not the houses. It
is the spaces in between the houses.
It is not the streets that
exist. It is the streets that no longer exist.
It is not your
memories which haunt you.
It is not what you have written
It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.
you must go on forgetting all your life.
And with any luck
oblivion should discover a ritual.
You will find out that you
are not alone in the enterprise.
Yesterday the very furniture
seemed to reproach you.
Today you take your place in the
The bus is waiting at the southern gate
take you to the city of your ancestors
Which stands on the hill
opposite, with gleaming pediments,
As vivid as this charming
square, your home.
Are you shy? You should be. It is almost
like a wedding,
The way you clasp your flowers and give a
little tug at your veil. Oh,
The hideous bridesmaids, it is
natural that you should resent them
Just a little, on this
But that will pass, and the cemetery is not
Here comes the driver, flicking a toothpick into the
His tongue still searching between his teeth.
he has not noticed you. No one has noticed you.
It will pass,
young lady, it will pass.
How comforting it is, once or
twice a year,
To get together and forget the old times.
on those special days, ladies and gentlemen,
When the boiled
shirts gather at the graveside
And a leering waistcoast
approaches the rostrum.
It is like a solemn pact between the
The mayor has signed it on behalf of the
The priest has sealed it on behalf of all the
Nothing more need be said, and it is better that
The better for the widow, that she should not live in
fear of surprise,
The better for the young man, that he should
move at liberty between the armchairs,
The better that these
bent figures who flutter among the graves
nightlights and replacing the chrysanthemums
Are not ghosts,
That they shall go home.
The bus is waiting, and on the
The workmen are dismantling the houses of the
But when so many had died, so many and at such speed,
There were no cities waiting for the victims.
unscrewed the name-plates from the shattered doorways
carried them away with the coffins.
So the squares and parks
were filled with the eloquence of young cemeteries:
of fresh earth, the improvised crosses
And all the impossible
directions in brass and enamel.
'Doctor Gliedschirm, skin
specialist, surgeries 14-16 hours or by appointment.'
Sarnagel was buried with four degrees, two associate
And instructions to tradesmen to use the back
Your uncle's grave informed you that he lived in the
third floor, left.
You were asked please to ring, and he would
come down in the lift
To which one needed a key...
come down, would ever come down
With a smile like thin gruel,
and never too much to say.
How he shrank through the years.
you towered over him in the narrow cage.
How he shrinks
But come. Grief must have its term? Guilt too,
And it seems there is no limit to the resourcefulness of
So that a man might say and think:
world was at its darkest,
When the black wings passed over the
(And who can divine His purposes?) even then
was always, always a fire in this hearth.
You see this
cupboard? A priest-hole!
And in that lumber-room whole
generations have been housed and fed.
Oh, if I were to begin,
if I were to begin to tell you
The half, the quarter, a mere
smattering of what we went through!
His wife nods, and a
Like a breeze with enough strength to carry one
Over two pavingstones, passes from chair to
Even the enquirer is charmed.
He forgets to pursue
It is not what he wants to know.
It is what he
wants not to know.
It is not what they say.
It is what they
do not say.
Fenton (born 25 April 1949,) is an English
poet, journalist and literary critic.
He is a former Oxford
Professor of Poetry.