from “The Yellow Room”

George Szirtes

It is the burning room. The bright yellow room

seen by Chagall when a child, a desolation

that is, at the same time, rich with its own past;

a room of hush and wail and silent reading;

of newspapers or holy texts or sheets of accounts.

It is a room of which there are few proper accounts

and he is obliged to sit there silently reading

whatever text is presented to him by the past.

I don’t think he is thinking of desolation.

To him a room is simply a room, and this is the room.


                                Still the yellow room that is only


                 in the cold wind, hanging

          for a moment, then gone, like a


 that has stopped speaking, a room

                 in a questionable yellow, a light

that is a lantern constructed out of history,

     a peculiarly yellow history that breathes

                            its own yellow dust

 dust I cannot quite collect or recollect

   or even conjure by a simple naming. Rain

         falls outside in the square, soft

   interminable rain.

                             And dust, Right here. Right now.

His dust is still sitting in its box, not yet scattered

   in any place that might have been dear to him,

   since we don’t know what were the places he dreamt

   or hoped for, if indeed there was such a place,

   some street or field or room, a house or a bed.

   Might it have been the sea, settled on the sea bed

   or drifting off on the tide to a generous place

   on a distant island, an island I too have dreamt

   His dust lies heavy on me as if I should carry him

    to some coherence though I myself am scattered.


No point in arguing with the dead, still less so

with oneself. All one makes of that is poetry,

which is no consolation. We are at a standstill

he and I.   I see him playing cards

in a garden with his friends, a cigarette

in his mouth. He offers me a cigarette.

He shows me a handful of foreign cards.

He explains the rules. He sit so very still

it is as though he were composing poetry

in his head but he will not say so.