A Winter Convalescence by Dannie Abse

The coast shrugs, when the camera clicks,

deliberately. The cliffs blur,

and the sun’s mashed in the west.

.

It’s sac broken, its egg-mess sticks

on the winter sea, smears it.

The air develops ghosts of soot

that become more evident, minute by minute.

They’re clever. They have no shape.

Things hum.

.

Very few oblongs blaze

in the Grand Hotel.

God, how the promenade’s empty.

The pier’s empty too

but for the figure at the far end, shadowy,

hunched with a bending rod.

That one no taller than a thumb.

.

It’s strange the way people go smaller

the further they are away. Most of the time

you even forget who died.

But supposing things did not get smaller?

Best to go inside. Best to push

revolving doors to where it’s warmer,

where only a carpet makes you dizzy.

.

Inside, things hum.

Inside the insides the corridors wait.

A door opens, a hand comes out,

It’s cut off at the elbow,

it holds a pair of shoes

cut off at the ankles.

.

Walk faster. God, someone is breathing,

walk faster. Humankind

cannot bear very much unreality.

.

That’s right – lock this door, you clumsy…

Yet things still hum, things still hum.

Who blinks?

Who spies with his little eye

what no-one else has spied?

Best to pull the curtains on the night,

but then certain objects focus near:

the wardrobe with its narrow door,

the bible by the bedside.

.

Lie down, easy; lie down.

Who masturbated here?

Who whipped the ceiling? Cracked them?

Things hum.

Two blue, astringent eyes drag down their lids.

The dark comes from the lift-shaft.

.

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By Dannie Abse

from A Small Desperation (1968)

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Fun for readers: Which Grand Hotel is Abse speaking of in the poem? Answers in the comments.

Мужья со своими делами, нервами… (‘Always busy, plagued by anxiety…’ a.k.a ‘Husbands with their doings and nerves…’) by Boris Slutsky

Always busy, plagued by anxiety,

guilt-ridden, duty to be done –

husbands should be the first to die;

never the ones who’re left alone.

.

Wives should grow old slowly. Aim

for the four-score-and-twenty mark, even;

not every day, but from time to time

remembering their men.

.

You should not have left the way

you did. That was wrong.

With a kind smile on your face

you should have lived on,

you should have lived long.

.

Until their hair turns white –

for wives, that’s the way to wait,

.

getting on with things around the home,

breaking the odd heart if they can,

and even (well, where’s the harm?)

toasting the memory of their old man.

.

.

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий

(Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(1977)

translated by G. S. Smith

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Here is an alternative translation of this poem by Gerald S. Smith.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

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Мужья со своими делами, нервами…

Мужья со своими делами, нервами,
чувством долга, чувством вины
должны умирать первыми, первыми,
вторыми они умирать не должны.

Жены должны стареть понемногу,
хоть до столетних дойдя рубежей,
изредка, впрочем, снова и снова
вспоминая своих мужей.

Ты не должна была делать так,
как ты сделала. Ты не должна была.
С доброй улыбкою на устах
жить ты должна была,
долго должна была.

Жить до старости, до седины
жены обязаны и должны,

делая в доме свои дела,
чьи-нибудь сердца разбивая
или даже — была не была —
чарку — в память мужей — распивая.

The Uninvited by Dannie Abse

They came into our lives unasked for.

There was light momentarily, a flicker of wings,

a dance, a voice, and then they went out

again, like a light, leaving us not so much

in darkness, but in a different place

and alone as never before.

.

So we have been changed

and our vision no longer what it was,

and our hopes no longer what they were;

so a piece of us has gone out with them also,

a cold dream subtracted without malice,

.

the weight of another world added also,

and we did not ask, we did not ask ever

for those who stood smiling

and with flowers before the open door.

.

We did not beckon them in, they came in uninvited,

the sunset pouring from their shoulders,

so they walked through us as they would through water,

and we are here, in a different place,

changed and incredibly alone,

and we did not know, we do not know ever.

.

.

by Dannie Abse

from Early Poems

From A Suburban Window by Dannie Abse

Such afternoon glooms, such clouds chimney low –
London, the clouds want to move but can not,
London, the clouds want to rain but can not –
such negatives of a featureless day:
the street empty but for a van passing,
an afternoon smudged by old afternoons.
Soon, despite railings, evening will come
from a great distance trailing evenings.
Meantime, unemployed sadness loiters here.

Quite suddenly, six mourners appear:
a couple together, then three stout men,
then one more, lagging behind, bare-headed.
Not one of them touches the railings.
They walk on and on remembering days,
yet seem content. They employ the décor.
They use this grey inch of eternity,
and the afternoon, so praised, grows distinct.

by Dannie Abse
from A Small Desperation (1968)

A Night Out by Dannie Abse

Friends recommended the new Polish film
at the Academy in Oxford Street.
So we joined the ever melancholy queue
of cinemas. A wind blew faint suggestions
of rain towards us, and an accordion.
Later, uneasy, in the velvet dark
we peered through the cut-out oblong window
at the spotlit drama of our nightmares:
images of Auschwitz almost authentic,
the human obscenity in close-up.
Certainly we could imagine the stench.

Resenting it, we forgot the barbed wire
was but a prop, and could not scratch the eye:
those striped victims merely actors like us.
We saw the Camp orchestra assembled,
we heard the solemn gaiety of Bach,
scored by the loud arrival of an engine,
its impotent cry, and its guttural trucks.
We watched, as we munched milk chocolate,
trustful children, no older than our own,
strolling into the chambers without fuss,
whilst smoke, black and curly, oozed from chimneys.


by Dannie Abse
from A Small Desperation
(1968)

Interesting fact: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.