April 27, 2009

Knife-play by Fleur Adcock

Posted in poetry tagged , at 6:34 pm by placeinthestars

Knife-play
by Fleur Adcock

All my scars are yours. We talk of pledges,
and holding out my hand I show
the faint burn on the palm and the hair-thin
razor-marks at wrist and elbow:

self-inflicted, yes; but your tokens—
made as distraction from a more
inaccessible pain than could have been
caused by cigarette or razor—

and these my slightest marks. In all our meetings
you were the man with the long knives,
piercing the living hopes, cutting connections,
carving and dissecting motives,

and with an expert eye for dagger-throwing:
a showman’s aim. Oh, I could dance
and dodge, as often as not, the whistling blades,
turning on a brave performance

to empty stands. I leaned upon a hope
that this might prove to have been less
a gladiatorial show, contrived for murder,
than a formal test of fitness

(initiation rites are always painful)
to bring me ultimately to your
regard. Well, in a sense it was; for now
I have found some kind of favour:

you have learnt softness; I, by your example,
am well-schooled in contempt; and while
you speak of truce I laugh, and to your pleading
turn a cool and guarded profile.

I have now, you might say, the upper hand:
these knives that bristle in my flesh
increase my armoury and lessen yours.
I can pull out, whet and polish

your weapons, and return to the attack,
well-armed. It is a pretty trick,
but one that offers little consolation.
such a victory would be Pyrrhic,

occurring when my strength is almost spent.
No: I would make an end of fighting
and, bleeding as I am from old wounds,
die like the bee upon a sting.

***

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