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Published by: Melissa Hardie on Apr 20, 2012
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John Rodker,
 [from John Rodker,
Poems & Adolphe 1920 
, edited by Andrew Crozier(Manchester: Carcanet, 1996), pp. 133-174]
What had slit up his sleep? His eyes opened but the mind closed again. Piercingsweet the dawn star pierced him, his bowels shivering round it. On swooning mistand the far billowing of a lugubrious howl he swayed, till falling nearer, high burstingbubbles pulled him from his sleep. Morning lies round him. Behind the inn a bugle, ina far land heard before. A tent. A child skips, a trumpet to its mouth; a Moor throwsup a ball. His soul fled after her through the cold light; snow falls, whirling ...Outside, clouds chase wildly over the sky and plunging into a rift, the star flies swiftly,gaily; and is swallowed in a sudden billowing of cloud.In the wide street, under the bare trees, lorries; and in the drizzle a scattered crowd.A large white horse bumps round and round, a boy hanging to its cord. And still thedim lugubrious howl and rattling of bars.Pent in cages, their choking burning smell makes a jungle round them. Tired, bored,they crouch in the dark vans, their very breath vitriol. Behind the bars, heads, teeth,eyes: lion or hyaena? A chattering monkey slobbers ---Toms acold---and a negro,enormous, smiling, walks round the cages, a shovel smoking in his hands. Poles aregoing up, men are pulling guy ropes, an unwilling gaiety is being forced on the street.Why do they go on living in the close cage, their bodies burnt through by the vitriolcaptivity distils in them. A man says I will die and dies; their breath, their dung, ispoison, they will not die. And yesterday they were fifty miles to north, tomorrow willbe fifty miles to south, and every day, day by day, the lions tents waxworks will beput up; that mob chase off in a frantic jingling of coins. Forever lions, waxworks,funny men, chasing through streets, the forests of hearts like trees lining road andpavement, the distance months, not miles, from the advance agent posting bills tothe last dragging caravan.Let him move off. He will meet that circus at Brives, Rocamadour, Figeac, Rodez, orelse the bills announcing it, until by accident on some waste heath, he caught theflying Banvards come to earth.
How like a fish this woman in mid air Swims, teeth clenched upon a wire,
Taut body a new moon, hands that respire ...
 Himself. His wind-beaten, half legible placard still flapped on the walls of Claire, thecity of Anne, the capital of Marjorie, the wide empty street of Angela. Let him turn outhis lions, monkeys, blow his fanfare ... What then? A girl would tiptoe round her cage
with notes piercing sweet and wild. But[Page 134 ] if he dared look East, the sky lowers terror and dismay; or turning, the sun sets infiery cloud, a rook belated, caws to its nest over watery meadows and blackbranches, filling him with grief and an echo, 'Winter and time to go now.'The deserted city of booths, the morning wind, the sharp flap of canvas, drizzle,made him happy. Later Angela would come. When she saw the cages her eyeswould fill with tears, but tomorrow she would forget. He turned from her with distaste.She forgot the cages endured by him for her, thought it right he should beperpetually with her, his bile burning through him hot and fetid as a beasts. He hadno sympathy for himself, why then for them? They should be caged, they stood itworse, so he was avenged. And the time was long past since his beasts had donetheir tricks for her, and it was revenge had made him cage them.She will cry in her room because of them. That will poison the air, make me think ofher. I shall have to stop her. Her tears fall, and in me they are stones and rattle in mybreast, but she is lighter without them. I must stop her. But I hate her. I have hatedher from the moment our eyes first met. And never was a time that I left her but Isaid, I must never see her again, and something said Never? But how break? Whatletter write? Impossible! And if she comes for you? And her tears congeal about youlike amber. And as if that were not enough, her tears speak to your tears, and theytoo flow in treacherous balm. Or she will write, and after some short silence you willanswer. So you will go on tugging at that leash, till happens what you longed for butcould not provoke, death or worse, a lover; then, amazed you cry: I was faithful.Young, I could not be faithful, that too would not work. Today, each thought a ruse,life proves me constant.Now with a false trill, the roundabout wheezed loudly, battering cymbals, blaringtrumpets, and wallowing in waves, dragon upon dragon rolled past, jaws yawning,light shimmering from iridescent scales.The booths were now up, the cages hidden, the caravans drawn up in quiet streets,solid with trim doors, white steps and curtained windows; stranded vessels, theirstraying women shipyard figureheads.A channel. The cold sea wind swept in over mud flats. Lurid green light pushed outof dark cloud. Darkness was falling, the gulls crying round the old boats, lit by anoccasional warm light. 'Like Chrysomallo starting for her ride, joyously he hadembarked on the enchanting possibilities of Angela, but that love which at firstseemed frivolous and superficial, soon grew tenacious, tyrannical and full of torturing jealousy. The glaucous light shed from his spurs illumined the night, and was thesymbol of that onward spurring love which no restraint could overcome and whichinevitably must lead its victim into unknown fatal ways. It represented too, thepenetrating and tragic effulgence which a grand passion must shed on all thesombre pages of an existence.'
Yes, and today that penetrating and tragic effulgence was a mist enshrouding him incorpse light: himself that unsleeping horseman whose accompanying shadow roseand fell with each hoof beat; while, to his mist-laden mind,[Page 135 ]in which bright objects moved and confused shadows, that shadow was denser thanhimself. Jabs and spots of scarlet rose and burst like moths about him, struck up bythe flying hoofs. And once she had seemed hard and crystal clear but today he couldnot see her, and his incuriosity did not know what her shadow would do next.Once he had known so clearly what she was, what her next act must be, and that hemust not love her, so that after the first bright collision and repulsion, how soft, howwary had been his approach. Now for years she had come closer, till he could notsee her. But if he went away he would see too clearly, till hysteria blinded him,dragged him back; yet if some effort more pronounced flung him from her orbit, couldhe support the bleakness suddenly before him.The street was filling on all sides in a shuffling of feet, and from the booths like atwittering of birds rose the first timid cries of morning. And a sickly sweet smell ofvanilla rose, cloying all the wet air, till some more violent blast from a passing womanwashed it again. The road now lay between two rows of booths, where at intervals,stoves were frying potatoes in a sweet acrid smell of oil. All that like a crystal hadgrown about him since he awoke, and now part of it, drifting, he moved to and fro,half seeing but aware; his mind tall standards holding milky globes, a reverberationof deliberate feet on boards, faces drifting and featureless, pale in light, a sighing ofsea, black close but unseen. And afterwards a tunnel, about him wild faces; and acataract, an avalanche of light, twisting, twirling, a solid mass that bent his back andheld him down; and, near, the crash and report of a car, leaping and falling along aswitchback in a streak of light; a pale watery halo, a piercing scream of terror.The shining nougat, ice cream and fritter stalls he saw now were nothing to themarzipan joints, sausages and edible offal which sweated there and were scarlet. Allthat light like a sky too near earth bent his back, and painfully his eyes were twistedearthwards.The Marne at Nogent was better. The wet air was full of flying confetti, the street ofclotted confetti, the river too. It filled the road, overflowed into stands, swept intodancing places. Canoes, racing eights, dinghies, moved on the flat gray river; amongthem, in and out, up and down, a water bicycle, solemn as an insect. Shouting burstwhen a heat flashed past, balloons climbed in the air, a plane swerved and darted,the landscape swarmed with insects buzzing round a bush in full summer. From theimmense depths of sky mirrored in water, to the zenith, life swarmed.That buzzing round a hive, that violent life of bursting cells was Angela, but when?Never the same, and every day he shook all up again, again to make the picture thatwould satisfy him. But he changed too, so it was all to do again. That bored him, hehated her. If he could get away he thought, and saw himself press her arm closely,affectionately, already hurt at her hurt. Near him a long shaking hand climbed into ahouse; and on it people ran, staggered, floated, slipped sometimes, and were carried

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