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This poem is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Summer Elegies Evelyn Schlag

Sonnet XI

from 'Temptations'

Sometimes you lie so you block out the sun
as if you wanted me to turn from grass
into bare earth you size me up and down
you force my flesh. I'm your adulteress.
So close to me. So far from you. I hear
your heartbeat calling me it knows the earth
is turning as I sense you drawing near
and meeting me. The sweet smell of your breath.
I say that if you wanted to be snow
I would lie down and play my part and be
the winter earth turned cold and hard so
you could be a blanket over me.
I would feel everything however small
curves hollows lashes trees. I'd take it all.

Summer Elegies


Last night when the lightning split the sky
For hours above our trees and I kept running
Like a deer into the headlights you
Slept on undisturbed to calm me said
With your whole body stay calm
And in the end I believed you just like
You believed me when I said there had been
A fourth wise-man and looked for him with me
And when we had found him told the story
With such conviction to our friends


These summer days
I leave you
Head propped on my hand
I run into the open arms
And books of a man who
Writes with all his senses
Writes to me several times a day

I tell him about our journey
To the Moldau in January
Setting out with a friend
To find the frozen heart
Of the river under the halted
Water the old river-bed which
Freezes to a different white

And how we saw it at last
Traced its contours
With our arms stretched out
In the icy air
A story I knew I would
One day tell someone

I tell it to a man
Who loves me and in a strange
Way it is not a betrayal as if
I had learned a more exact way
Of loving you truly

And the next moment I see
That it is your hand that
Holds me as I awake
In the late afternoon of this
Summer that was ages too short


I drifted in the sea within reach
    Of my books and saw
        Your arms lifted for the stroke

And it was still easy enough
    To wave to a stranger
        Who was standing further away

On the floating jetty and
    Looked like you when you
        Are about to dive and as usual

When you go I looked
    At my watch and began to
        Count forgot you for a while

Or thought of you only
    In pictures how at night
        You lay your heavy arm

Across me and I am inside
    And outside your sleep
        And you hold the prey, which has

So many words for escape
    Captive I drifted and searched
        Once more and was quite sure

That those two fishes beyond
    The buoys only a stroke apart
        And dancing together to a distant

Coastline were really you
    I drifted so long went so long
        In circles and out and astray

And every time I found my feet
    I floated up to see you coming
        Back and after two hours

When I came out of the water
    I saw you going in alone
        In search of me


In the Renaissance town of Ferrara where I
Forgot everything bought English books
Three times where people ride with little dogs
And palm-trees in their bicycle baskets

And where there's a palace to while away the empty
Afternoons and in the parched botanical
Garden a lizard sunning itself stretched
Across two mustard-brown yarrow leaves which

Didn't move apart like the beds in our hotel
Where old men pause in front of the cathedral
Lent on their bikes with their fancy carrier-bags
And women cycle past chatting into their mobiles

In Ferrara in the centre of town where you
Brought us with a single cowboy swerve
Ignoring every road-sign you said to me
I have never seen you riding a bike


You would tell how as a little boy
You tugged on the bell-rope with both hands
Stern voices ringing in your ear
That never made animals speak

I told you how I went to school held
My beheaded plait that now sleeps safely
Wrapped in silk paper against my neck
I was once a blonde-haired child

As we surfaced from sleep that morning
We reached out and found each other's
Hand - something we seldom manage
When we are dancing


Today the sun is splashing
The light like once before in the first
Hours of morning it smears and
Smudges itself across the fields
Regardless of sheep

Lambs calves little spiders
Young moles animals where the young
Are almost the size of the adults
With snouts that grow only a millimetre
The measure of a lifetime's experience

We only grow old in the eyes of
Each other not in those of the children
Who shoot up taller every day what
Is it that people expect from us

It always feels we have only just
Married as if we had found
Each other late after all
The mistakes and knew better than
The rest what love is the love
Of two people who always stand
In the full light of day


Who will take after us? Who will one day
Stroll the way we strolled across the
Emptied fields where the open cuts stare
Blankly at the sky? Who will make
The signs we made patiently shape
Their lips to say a word
The way we do? What is missing
When there's no-one to read our lips
And is there anything missing? Does
Language die out? Do words
Fall away when you rest your arm
Round my hips for as long as you want?


When I tell you the landscapes in
The poems of others always seem bigger

Freer 'that first winter in Wiltshire'
It gives the fields a meaning that stretches

Way back century upon century
When I tell you I am such a slow learner

I need years to learn to see our landscape
You say That's the way with everything one loves

And watches for years these dark mountains
We call our own that every evening seem to sit

Differently against those behind it's like that
With you it's like that with the Alps whose weight

We sense even here where the fruit trees
Are froth in May and remember the many harvests

Remember your figure dressed in black
Which I still cannot draw even in black


We inhabit the season long
Before it arrives we speak of it
For months tell all our fears
As if we had to haunt the fields
Through the long dark of morning
And search for the start of light

We stroke our fingertips across
Damp boards stare in wonder at
Our hand spread out like a child's
As if it were one of the many
Membranes still to be discovered
The skins that clothe the world

We school ourselves in the season
Of closed doors know that one day
We will lean against a door that gives
But holds us more gently than ever
We bathed in the gaze of a lover
More gently than we cradled
The yellow fruits on the tree

A moment without measure the moment
In which we change into the memory
Of the cliff path we so often walked
Memory of the centuries-old pictures
Memory of the people who stood with us
Under the sun and still stand
Under the sun a number
Which gets smaller every day


Last night I found the tom cat playing
With the belt-buckle on your trousers
And I tried very quietly to talk him
Out of it last night when I saw him
Creeping across our pillows I told him
That yesterday you stayed on your bike
All the way up the steep slope
Mist sleet and you turning
Back to our sun-tanned friend
And how we love this friend
When he nods in pleasure at being here
With his eyes shut for a moment as if
I had not simply cooked for us
But had made the world the way it is
When it is good the colours of mushrooms
The slick of wine in the glass and the wild vine
That trembles with crowns of berries
Like a peacock on the balustrade of the balcony


We are standing far away
In the grounds of the house
Which is not ours
Where all day long
In the many rooms
The sun plays
On the bare stained walls
With more and more dead flies

We are standing beyond the asters
That tell us by their first
Violet button-heads
That summer has broken

We are standing behind the chapel
With its pews carved for limbs
From a different age

We are standing in the old
Abandoned vegetable garden
With its border of little stones
And you mow the grass to the very edge
Like a perfect English lawn

On the spot where fifty years ago
The servants stooped to work
You stand behind me pull
My skirt up round my waist
My underwear to the floor


You have dozed off curled-up in the armchair
Legs flung over the arm revealing
White hospital socks beneath your black suit
An unforgivable lapse in good taste
Head resting on two fingers the other hand holding
An art magazine which slowly unrolls as thoughts
Flicker across the muscles of your cheeks
You are moving towards a decision of which I know
Nothing which is all the more certain to be about me
And your closed lips say no in a way
They never do when you're awake as if
They had learned it from the last visionary
In the oven the logs settle themselves
Giving off little sounds of relief


We are standing in Welsh rain the sheep
Follow the parallel paths across the hill-side where
Our neighbour sneezes during haymaking in June

Turn through one hundred and eighty degrees and
The evening practice of a brass band drifts across fields
Ditches fields we hear the tinny yelp of the dog

And close by the deer roaring at the moon
When the dust of the motorbikes has settled again
Every speck in a different spot from before

We hear the secret talk of a pair of buzzards
Which we crane our necks to catch we hear
Do you hear it? The martens in the attic-space

The car stalking its way across the gravel
Then turning round David Krakauer's saxophone
From the larder when I'm cooking

We hear the crickets and I alone hear
The fly buzzing at night we hear the cat
Scratching at the door in bursts of three

Or four and since war was declared we hear fewer
Planes the shivering fit of the fridge
We hear the colourless hum of the computer

And hear not a sound from the street and I
Store it all up against my fear that you
Will go deaf and I will become half-blind


For this one day of our summer feast
The summer returns with tables on the grass
And brightly coloured plates from the country
Where we all wish we had been born

Instead of in the shadow of the Alps and
With Gerhard who taught me to cook you
Are choosing wines for ten courses from midday
Until the early hours when we will huddle in blankets

From midday until the early hours we four couples
Will sit before the crumbling edifice to celebrate our
Friendship add more salt spoil the dog
While the cat skulks at a distance in the bushes

Two of us had been too far south to see
The darkness in the middle of the day the beginning
Of the end exactly like the pictures
In childhood catechisms and we believed it

And for a while everything seemed to be marked out
And everyone was meant for the one they were with
And we were sure if either of us departed
The other would be silent dark cold


The drawn curtain which hangs between
The open shutters brushes the window-ledge
Like an evening dress in swathes of white
And your knees are a mess where you fell
Off your bike your elbows grazed raw
The jays are squawking again after something
They have left behind and our friends are calling
Arriving too early taking the deer-path
Then you say prop yourself up above me and
And quite calmly we leave all calm behind
The little dunes of wood-dust under the wardrobe


Then when the asters were in flower
Against the west-wing of the house
In eight shades from pink to darkest mauve
And there was one great patch
On the south side of a single colour

I ran back and forth countless times
With the image of that colour only
Seconds away not wanting to cut
A flower to check but could not say
Whether it was the same mauve

Until at last I understood I did not need
A perfect sense of colour nor always to
Recognise your love nor could I count
On the sense of wonder every time
I fell in love when standing before them

I could only count on the sunlight
That dwindles a little each day
And obscures all the extra words
So the colours come into their own
Before the hastening the freezing night


For hours before the moon came up I stood
Alone scanning the garden to see you appear
Leaning against a tree or moving aside
A bramble with two fingers holding the leaf

I listened for your voice but the air
Was empty letting everything else crowd in
I had music in me sorrow sleep
Longed for the return of an apparition

Beyond the garden I could see a sea of yellow
Dandelions do those fields belong to us too?
I wanted to be able to read in your face
Whether the shadows there were the imprint of lovers

Or the dying? I know shadows they weigh heavy
Like a kind of pelt I trail along the floor until
The sun stops burning but what are we called to be?
And what is a lover what a dying woman? And

That would mean that someone has been here before us
That we have stooped to pick up names that someone
Else has lost along the way better people real
First people not charlatans like us

And then at last I heard you coming pushing
Open the heavy front door calling me
Throwing your bag on the bench and running
Into the garden or up the stairs all at once

And I saw your face with its traces of laughter and worry
Since the first time you slipped away from me
And we knew that we would one day have to leave
Because we do not deserve the bliss of animals


'Sonnet XI' is from Der Schnabelberg, S. Fischer Verlag 1992. 'Summer Elegies' is from Brauchst du den Schlaf dieser Nacht, Paul Zsolnay 2002.

This poem is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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