'At the Grave of Asa Benveniste' - Asa Benveniste was a Jewish poet from New York who spent the last years of his life in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire and when he died in the early 90s his widow, Agneta Falk, managed to fulfill his wish that he should be buried in Heptonstall churchyard and have a stone put on his grave. Heptonstall churchyard already has a poet's grave, much visited and sometimes defaced. And this poem is dedicated to Fleur Adcock who visited the grave with me and to Agneta Falk.

At the Grave of Asa Benveniste


With Fleur Adcock and for Agneta Falk

Churchyard woman coming quickly from under the wall:
You’re looking for Plath. No question-mark.

no short way out of it but
follow the finger, stand
for a spell in the standing-place,

be seen, then duck off sidelong
to where under your stone
you’re remarked on less:

Asa, translucent Jew,
your eyebrows arched
so high as to hold
nothing excluded that might want in,

it’s proper to come your way
by deflection. Exquisite poet,
exquisite – will the language say this? –

publisher; not paid-up for a burial
with the Jews, nor wanting

to have your bones burned,
ground up and thrown, you’re here

in the churchyard annexe, somebody’s
hilltop field walled round, a place
like the vegetable garden of an old asylum,

lowered from the drizzle in the hour between
service and wake, inventions that made life
stand up on end and shake. The church

cleared for the People Show’s
deepest dignities, Kaddish
by Bernard Stone, alternate
cries striking the nave in brass –

Nuttall from the floor, from the rafters
Miles Davis. Your house filled up fast with stricken
friends muttering mischiefs up the stair
to the room where latterly
you’d lived mostly by the windows,

looking out, letting in, surrounded
by what used to be the bookshop stock,
priced up safe against buyers: I can’t have
anyone taking my good friends away from me.

Afloat on the mood all day, Judi
doing your looking out for you
for a spell. From the middle of the room
to the window and through it, steadily
up towards Bell House Moor. Downstairs,

barrelhouse music and booze. On. Everybody
freed to be with you in your house again, the clocks
seriously unhitched. And visible in the crush
through the dark afternoon, Ken Smith, suit
worn at a rakish angle, the face worn
lightly if at all. And on we go.

The stone’s as you asked for it:

your hat’s in the bathroom.

from The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe, 2005), copyright © Roy Fisher 2005, used by permission of the author.

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