Poetry by Nils Clausson

by Nils Clausson


You’re so covered with lesions you forget
where they came from. Like nestless birds they sing
to the wounded who drop from the railings
of bridges to follow you. In bars

the cripples limp to your table, drag their
bleeding casts towards the crisscross of your
face. In stations the old sit beside you,
coughing their lives into your lap. And now

I have crawled from under your bed to lie
with you. I trace the Braille of your body:
the broken lip, the hole in the side of
your face. But you are emptied of stories.

So you press your lesions into my skin.
Softly, softly they cover me like feathers.

Circus of Illusions

You thrilled at the fluttering birth
of doves from rippled handkerchiefs
and the lady sliced in half by a saw

so sharp it couldn’t sever her.
But the showstopper, behind velvet
curtains, under purple light:

the tattooed man, neural freak
who drove a spike up one nostril,
smiled, then inserted a screwdriver

in the other, dark ichor running
in the heavy light, and as finale
(your eyes now squeezed shut, unbearable

for you the pain he couldn’t feel)
offered to stick a safety pin through
folded flesh of his arm, and snap it shut.

Perhaps you should have watched, to learn
the lesson of the festering sores on his skin:
Suffering unfelt is suffering that mutilates.

To Jean Cocteau

At the Musee 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 cafe
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 hand
authorized between mystery
and mastery, between art
and severance.

Pleasures of the Text:
A Language Teacher’s Complaint

(after Roland Barthes)

I try to teach him conversation
and the words for feelings, for
desires kept repressed. I think
he’s a submissive pupil, but one
engaging texts in a foreign tongue
made suspect by his proudly
unilingual home, which prizes
purity of intercourse and
makes a virtue of rejection.

I concede that copulative,
conditional and optative
are tricky: it’s hard to frame
“I would be happy if
I could hold...”, “I wish
that you would take me ...”,
“Had I the courage I would ...”
Even with a “please,”
imperatives may sound
presumptuous, perhaps
demeaning, dominating even.
“Please let me touch ..”
will always be a phrase
fraught with plurisignation.

Should he master these,
I will delight in our
joint success; forgive
his tears of aching discipline
and toil; take pride
that I could bring him to this
consummation, initiate him
to untasted pleasures of my
text: for such performance I
have world enough and time.

Yet . . . often I fantasize
what pleasures I could be taught
if there would come to me
a pupil endowed with such a
longing for language that it seemed
corporeal. I wish I might complain:
“Please, share your text with me.”


© 2001 Nils Clausson

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