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from Italian Sonnets

Mimi Khalvati

from Italian Sonnets

Bush Cricket


I picked out What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

from that blue bookcase on a garden wall

under the fig tree. Having scarcely read

four pages, closing it, I see a small


bush cricket, her antennae waving, mask

What on the spine, aligning it exactly

with her sides. What? her body seems to ask,

threading it through a green transparency.


Now what? she asks a glass jar. Through the glass

she’s slightly magnified as if through water.

She’s upside down but thinks she’s horizontal,


being used to the verticals of grass.

I think she likes diurnal roosting better

than asking questions so imponderable.



Reading under Trees


Never were texts less arid. Mrs Ramsay,

knitting, timed her rows with the lawnmower,

seeds and thistledown floated over Swann’s Way

while grass kept quoting ‘glory in the flower’.     


Insects flew on and off, streams mingled with

their sentences, wind muddled up their pages. 

The sounds of carpentry, the coppersmith,

faint traffic, rose behind their languages.


And once a woman reading under trees,

bowed to a book, sitting oddly at ease

beside a statue of a woman also


bowed to a book, the one a perfect echo

of the other, summoned a double rainbow –

one arc in graphite, one in primaries.



Postcard from Crete


I bought this one to keep. It half-recalls,

from years ago in Turkey, a verandah,

a flight of steps, flowers like waterfalls

on either side of scarlet, pink, magenta,


leading up to a tea-room in the middle

of nowhere where we once had Turkish breakfast.

The actual place seems immaterial.

What mattered were the chickens in the dust,


petrol cans potted with geraniums,

divans with rugs, an overhang of shade.

For people like me who belong nowhere,


places leave images we love to pair,

twin surfaces we’ve skimmed and overlaid,

cross-pollinating all our brightest vacuums.



My Mother’s Lighter


From place to place, her lighter travels with me.

People admire it. Gold and tortoiseshell,

engraved with her initials, marked Colibri.

Vintage, cased, but not worth enough to sell.



Half-sentimental, half-dispassionate

and with no true attachment to or knowledge

of my own history, I try its weight

in my palm, run my thumb along an edge.

I flick the lid, the miniature flint wheel,

and the same flame, its root invisible,

its body blue, tip gold, that she’d have seen


flares in the sunlight even as I feel

the wind hood heat up on my finger till

I snap it shut and rub my thumbprint clean.



Night Writing


Poetry startled me awake last night.

Stray lines, excited to be up so late,

streaked into view then melted out of sight

in light, without the lights on, grey as slate.


I listened, looked; half-blind, half-animal.

Cool air in a through-draught ruffled my fur.

I was a blind old tabby, dazed, forgetful,

letting the lines like mice race by the sofa.


Even in bed, Proust caught them by the tail,

batted them back and forth from clause to clause

till all the truth drained out of them and lay


pooled on the page. But my dim wits, my paws

were too illiterate to read their braille –

my mice would never see the light of day.



Background Music


You may be in a café reading when,

after the intro, Billie Holliday

and Easy Living  lure you out of Walden

and swing you in a trance out of the café.


You may be watching Shaun Evans as Morse

mostly to marvel at the mimicry

of his body language so like John Thaw’s

when you’re torn away, this time by Puccini,


away from the spires of Oxford to fall,

to fall as Tosca falls, defences fall,

that your heart breaks open a dungeon door


and griefs like prisoners crouched on the floor

bestir themselves and infant griefs like dolls       

sleep through a bell that tolls and tolls and tolls.



Background Music II


Music, being as wordless as they are –

these frozen griefs no trauma ever thawed,

these griefs that thought goodbye was au revoir

and thought the dead were living still abroad,


these unnamed griefs, forgotten in a wasteland             

where who and what and why have long dissolved –

seems, once brought to the fore, to understand

griefs neither time nor rhyme nor love resolved.


And sometimes dreams of dull bewilderment

when wrong and right change places without cause

while witnesses, thank god, seem not to notice


dredge up those feelings of abandonment,

the day’s debris for you alone to witness

a flood of shame that out of shame withdraws.










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