from The Tourist in Seat 29
Madrid, Prado Museum
Two clergymen, one long, one short,
Stand before Greco’s Trinity:
The tall one twirls a single thought
Round some point in divinity;
The short one mops his heated brows
With a red handkerchief, dimly aspires
To levitate among the clouds
Upborn by incorporeal fires.
The desiccated blond inspects
The pages of her Baedeker,
Hoping that somehow culture and sex
At last will coalesce for her.
She who through Europe has pursued
Delight still missed en troisi me noce,
Beneath some vast exuberant nude
Of Rubens, knows the pain of loss.
Fading with cup and mandolin,
Goya?s country feast turns dark,
But soon the firing-squads begin
By lanternlight their bloody work.
Before that last anger and despair
At human folly, someone stands.
It is oneself that cannot bear
Those anguished eyes and famished hands.
Velazquez turns with easy stance
To the princess and the maids of honour,
Caught in a movement like a dance,
And calms the dwarf’s indignant humour.
Royalty in the looking glass
Fears its heavy image less:
The gift of water in a glass
Forgives the human ugliness.
Equal and intellectual,
Transcending flesh, transcending flame,
This passionless light that hallows all
Shall build us an eternal home.
from Inscription on a Paper Dart: Selected Poems 1945-1972 (Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press, 1974), © M K Joseph 1974, used by permission of Charles Joseph for the Joseph Family Trust. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974.