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  James Sutherland-Smith
James Sutherland-Smith was born in Aberdeen in 1948 and was educated at Leeds University. He currently lives in Slovakia, where he is a British Council Lecturer. He set up the first Creative Writing Course in English in Central Europe, using writers from Britain and Ireland. His most recent collection is In the Country of Birds (Carcanet 2003).



A Dead Mouse

We found it beside the felled walnut tree
Thumbjoint-sized, thimble neat,
Paws raised in minute supplication,
Bark-coloured except for the yellow fleck of its anus
That you noticed, which I had to put glasses on to see.

We thought it dead from cold or the noise of the chainsaw
So placed the mouse on a walnut leaf
Whose middle segment drooped like a Florida
Torn off from America.
Branches lopped, the tree lay ready to be made good money.

I picture you mouse-nervously
Lifting a violin with walnut veneer
Its lavish burnt-honey grain between your chin and breasts,
Its harmonics higher than a mouse's cry
Pitched against winter coming on, against becoming money.

Fiddler with Card Players

Blind drunk they have faces
You do not care to touch. You stop down faces

With your naked fingertips. You hold your face
At least an arm's length from their faces

And your face is always vertically
Adjusted on your tears not their lopsided grins

Thrown into your wound, your distaste,
You stop down, you carry like a pinch of salt.

Look, they say, pour your face into our wounds
Smile at us with a pinch of salt.

Let us take your face to our lips,
Let us slurp up its saltiness.

And they turn away overtrump face with face,
Slap face face-down on face.

You play a gale through your two faces
Opened against each other.

You release your face from its chains,
Grind your face against your face,

Lock your face with the key of the fiddle case
Which belongs to your other face.

Your face arises, vanishes and you lower
Your bow and become a face among faces


What would the rest of us make of the pronouns without you?

Their transparent forms might all at once become opaque.

They'd be motes and beams in the eyes of their beholders,
smoke and cloud moulding as a solid architecture,
towers, basilicas, the word as force, as dogma.

Speech would be blown about like a kite in a high wind
as the proper names try to take down their umbrellas.

Griefs would bend into the gale homewards to permanence.

The pronouns would encumber our lives more than ever.

That 'I' would take up a bedroom wall,
a wardrobe nobody will take off our hands.

With you around, the pronouns are light as airborne seed
taking root and blooming in and out of lives.

They multiply in sentences until clipped back
to their appropriate place in the infinite sentence language is supposed to be
though lives are not sentences where we serve time
until released into some sort of bliss of repetition:
the language of paradise row on row of tonsured pronouns
chanting "pro nobis, pro nobis."

Lives are sayings leafy with names which incline towards any source of light
then stop mid-sentence before we think we are quite done.

Say on, I say, say on.

© James Sutherland-Smith 2005