Poetry Supplement Summer 1999, Volume 17.0
Nils Clausson is a teacher, poet, and dramatist living in Regina, Saskatchewan. In 1997 his one-act play "Tess and the Boys" won first prize in a national competition in Canada and has since been staged and published. His poetry has appeared in, or been accepted by, The Open Bone, No Exit, Afterthoughts, Blue Unicorn, The Connecticut Poetry Review, Sycamore Review, modern words, RE:AL, Slant, Atlanta Review and American Poets & Poetry. His short fiction has appeared in Zygote (Canada) and in New York Stories.
To Jean Cocteau
At the Musée Grevin
(the wax museum
on boulevard Montmartre)
I saw your right hand…
those pale, sad, effete,
warm fingers…your writing hand
under the glass case, lying there
like a latex glove in a white sink.
I fancied concealing it
under my raincoat, stealing
it away to a café
and letting it madly
compose poems, permitting it
to search my pockets, autograph
my thighs. And all the while
I would sip chocolat chaud
and pretend to read my Le Monde,
and affecting nonchalance, nod
obligingly to hustling
waiters…all the while
I would try to master
that fine balance
your hands effected between
art and severance.
Passing the day care, I stop and listen
to the children chant the verses
Rings around the rosies,
Pockets full of posies,
All fall down
their words leafed with
the innocent joy of a game
handed down, like a cleft chin
or an embellished family tale,
from generation to generation.
I watch them fall
and get up forty years ago
when I played this game
and we too rehearsed
the Dance of Death
the swift scarlet workings
of the bubonic plague
that decimated Europe
six centuries before.
As the children sing and dance
and fall, I can't help but admire
the original poet who,
like a doctor faced with
incurable disease, devised
a perfect placebo against pain.
But is it really a consolation
to know that what we fear most
can, eventually, become no more
than a pretty little jingle
to which these blissful girls and boys
dance and dance and dance?
That even death can't compete
with the oblivion of time?
'Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady'
Cold is that breast which warm'd the world before,
And those love-darting eyes must roll no more
Is this what it has come to, my lithe one?
Your bony angles jut, stiff with full stop.
The fact is rigid as dried chicken wings,
there is a hardness where the soft should be.
What once aroused aching is leather now,
under sheet you assert your objecthood.
A hollowness under the skin, a foul
stink, your gestures grotesque and permanent.
That warm grace of fountain fall is frozen
in a pose of ice that must melt…resolve.
The smile that lighted like a winter wren—
a grin with old lipstick and yellow teeth.
Adieu, my lady bones
your lifelessness in these lines
the quickening of your green eyes
when last you stood
on the outcropped rock
and saw suddenly
the sun on the gray sea
and the wind was imbricate
with your spindrift hair
before you jumped.