Ian Wedde

Harry Martens

from Elegies

It’s time to find work for the word
‘paltry’, Harry, though I know

even before I’ve started that
this urge will take me places

I shouldn’t go, where
my worst nature will prevail

and what I say I’ll regret later.
On the other hand,

why regret what we say 
in anger, or irritation, or

just ennui – itself a paltry emotion.
Any way I look at it, our feelings

reach down into a terroir the way
the vine does that then 

swells the grapes that make
the wine we drink, which makes us happy

or sad, or sentimental, or
sometimes fanged with rage.

That deep rooted taste of where
anger comes from was what 

Mahmoud Darwish knew how to write 
and how to broadcast on the radio

to the early morning coffee shops 
at the bus terminal in Amman, where 

breakfasters wiped tears away 
with the ends of their keffirs.

The rage he uttered came from
somewhere in the stony ground

like that around the makeshift homes
at Baqa’a where, in spring,

I saw the freezing hills covered all over
by ranunculus, anemone, and iris,

whose corms lay underground
during the baking heat of summer

and pushed their tough flowerstalks
out as the snow melted after winter.

This rage of colour
was beautiful, and that’s why

the bus driver wept, turned
the volume of his radio up,

and floored the accelerator
as we outpaced our dust cloud

on the road to Baqa’a – and that’s why
his passengers wept, hearing the poet’s

beautiful rage spring from the ground
where it had seemed nothing could grow

whether the ground was hot or cold.
Another poet wrote, ‘Subject matter,

how I hate it,’ and I know what
he meant, that paltry

stuff that grows anywhere
without ardour or effort.

Author’s Note


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