Title: Love Etc

Author: C.K. Stead

In: Sport 32: Summer 2004

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, December 2004

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Verse Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 32: Summer 2004

C.K. Stead — Love Etc

page 203

C.K. Stead

Love Etc

I. Fragment XXXI (Sappho), poem LI (Catullus)
Has he a name
this man I make
equal with the gods because
his place at your table
confirms a rumour?

He bends to listen
catching word and breath in one
and your easy laugh—
how it stills my tongue,
blinds me,
runs over my skin
like wind over wheat.

You are his, then, Clodia
and I am nothing.
All my past
he takes without knowing.
All my future
you give him with a smile.

page 204

2. Ode I/iv—to Venus (Horace)
‘Intermissa, Venus, diu.’

No Venus
you've had more than your share of this poet.
There's not a part of his being
you haven't camped in,
Enough of that.
Hasn't he earned a rest and the right to smile?

Look, here's a Christian girl commanded to love,
and there an atheist wanting it for himself.
Confound them both—
set them at it in a hayfield.

As for yours truly,
leave him to his late-night paper and pen—
or if you haven't quite lost
your taste for tease and torment,
demand he pay you back-rent, a page a day,
and if he should fail, if he should come
empty-handed and whining to your door,
let loose on him by way of encouragement
the remembering dogs.

page 205

3. My Recurring Dream (Verlaine)
‘Je fais souvent ce rêve.’

It's of a woman
never quite the same
but always the same
who loves me,
understands me,
sets my heart racing
and can make me calm.

About appearances
hair colour for example
I'm uncertain.
I can't quite catch her name—
hear it only at a tone
soft and sonorous
like the names of the Romantic dead.

Her eyes see in and though me,
her voice is a silence
that speaks of silence.

My lover, I thought at first.
Now I know she's my death.

page 206

4. Poem LXXVI (Catullus)
‘Siqua recordanti benefacta.’

Catullus, you seem to think
your steadfastness should earn you
reward in your final years.
So now you ask the gods
no longer that she be faithful
or even love you—
only to give you strength
to free yourself from bondage.

‘O gods, O greatnesses’ you pray
as if you believed indeed
the Silence of space had ears—
lsquo;in return for my piety
and virtuous observance
rid me at last, I beg you,
of the disease of love.’

Do you really not know you ask for
what's already granted?
It's the habit of love, Catullus,
not the fact of it
that burdens you still.

page 207

5.The Portrait (Baudelaire)
‘Je te donne ces vers.’

I give you these lines
so that if in some future time
when you and I are dead
my work should find new readers,
your ghost, wanting only rest,
will be called on to explain
that moment when you turned
your back on me
and walked away.

‘Why did you do it?’ they'll ask,
and you, lacking speech,
will have no answer
but re-enactment.

This gift I owe you my love,
my dark-eyed angel,
because you it was gave me cause
to perfect my art.

Take it. It's yours.

page 208

6. Elegy II/xiii (Propertius)
‘Non tot Achaemeniis armatur.’

If you insist the heart is the source of feeling
then hear my heart when it speaks.
If Cupid must be the deliverer of love
then yes, his shafts have delivered.
However you wish me to decorate the fact
love it is indeed dictates these lines—
and not to foster growth in the Sacred Grove,
nor to charm wild beasts from their lairs
into the path of hunters,
but to praise this woman beside me.

Even an ugly man
can bring beauty to his bed;
a fool will win a countess
if his desire for advancement
burns like a passion;
and I, who care so deeply
for wit and discrimination,
have found and loved them in her.

Great Jove-of-the-Arts
as long as compliant others
are there to praise and serve you,
from you I won't receive
the laurel crown;
but while I have her ear
and her approval
I shall not need or want it.

page 209

7. Evening at the Green Café (Rimbaud)
‘Depuis huit jours.’

At the Green Café in Charleroi
I order rolls and butter
and ham.

Eight days
I've worn my boots to shreds
on stony roads.

Now look at me—
legs stretched out
under the green-painted table,
reading the wallpaper
and happy.

Here comes the smiley girl
big tits, bright eyes
the sort not frightened to fuck
bringing the rolls, the butter, the hot ham
(pink and white, with a whiff of garlic)
all on a hand-painted platter.

She pours me beer from a jug—
plenty more where that come from!

Down goes the sun.

I tell you.