Hansel and Gretel wander lost in a wood.
They should never have been there or here.
They should have resisted their step mother.
They should have berated their weak father.
They should have done this or that
and now they are lost, tired, hungry,
near a pretty candy house in which lives
a witch who waits to welcome children
then eat them.
more purposeful perambulation, now in a strange forest filled with exotic birds
The forest is lively with the sounds
of wild birds. They have names
but the children have never heard
these words, never seen such birds.
In the dark branches of fir trees
birds whistle or shriek or chortle.
They make this little known wood
which is already full of terrors
more fearful. Fear fills both children.
an absurd clown or mechanical toy
How it has no soul
but is animated.
How it is driven
but there is no driver.
It moves this way then
stops, jerks to go
another way, hits
against a trunk, upsets
itself but its legs and arms
where it lies on the forest
floor, still twitch, still
operate. The children
watch, nearly laugh at the toy
but cannot make it stop.
a savage chase around a country fair
He goes after him, past the merry go round
and past the strong man who could carry
the burden of the world on his shoulders.
Ah ha, the persistent and the dangerous
chase that threads through gaps,
between a couple about to embrace,
or a crowd round the coconut shy
behind a man who tries to throw
a ring over a shining foolish desirable
thing. Under awnings and behind the tents
a man runs, another chases with an axe.
Fearful and urgent, this flight.
Unceasing and determined, the pursuit
to see, to chase, to have, to hold,
a disturbed, obsessive expression, possibly of life in communist Russia
As a filing cabinet shuts with a flat noise
so these days make a grey life and cheerless.
Here are the lives of prisoners who are innocent.
Here is snow and ice bound rivers.
Here are persistent police and correct
decisions and the typed reports
and a frozen ideology.
The churches locked, their maintenance
abandoned in these cold days
where there are bleak, short days and sunless.
Where a metal filing cabinet closes the gape
of its drawers, slides shut.
a wailing peasant-like lament, recurring
I don’t want to leave this far away country
for Ohawe Beach but dolente, the word.
pulls me to a bach and a lament next
door all through one summer night.
We did not know the word kuia.
An old lady had died we said.
The woman I stayed with, called
next door ‘to pay my respects’
she said. That sounded foreign,
a phrase you could italicise.
The night was short and the night
was still except for this improvised sound,
organised by customs I did not understand.
It was years ago this happened.
I was sixteen years old. I remember
that grief in Taranaki, the wailing
that excluded me.
surreal, releasing us finally from the microcosmic world Prokofiev has held us in.
There and there and there,
two lost children,
one dark wood,
We too feel lost.
in the middle
The cries of birds
disturb us unnecessarily
or we watch a pursuit
at a fair, the chased
and the chaser fast
the chased man gained
upon but never caught.
What they did was watched
from a concrete office
observed, noted, filed
There and there and there
until we woke
or until we found
our way through the wood
We emptied the offices
and filing cabinets.
The mourners stopped wailing,
went back to ordinary lives.
Mary Ayre played nos i, ii, x, xiv, xv, xvi, xx from Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives Opus 22
in the Nelson Cathedral on 29 November 2014. Her programme notes included her idea
about each vision. It is her notes I’ve italicised and used to start each section of this poem.
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