PICKINGS

Poetry from NHI publications



THE GUITAR-PLAYER OF ZUIGANJI
Under the cool groves of cryptomeria
the caverns in the sunny sandstone
are tanks of darkness, overhung
with weeds and wildflowers, tufts of pine.

Out of the long, chill blackness of the cave
shivers a faint sprinkling of notes,
a fistfull of water, lightly thrown
on the sun's curtain. It sounds like a rainbow.

Outside, on the humming threshold,
I look into the horizontal pit.
The ground is dark with wet, the walls
of golden stone are greened with slime.

In the distant depths that music draws
nearer, the eyes distinguish, slowly,
a phantom materializing out of blackness:
two white hands, bare feet, a tingling guitar.

And over its dark mouth a head is bent
as the moon over a breathing ocean; a skull
shrouded in white, that watches always
the crabbing fingers, (plucking, as if they did not

belong, the denses wires of the dark),
like pale sea-anemones clutching loosely and drawing in
to hungry hands the nourishment of liquid sound,
seeking always in one place, with fans of fingers.

He never looks at me, and yet
he knows that I am there, a stranger,
and plays, a revelation never heard before,
the faded monotonies of "Home, Sweet Home."

I drop some coins in his little tin.
His fingers, crumbling sand, perform a fugue:
the chords come crisply staggered, like
a street-piano's, unpredictable and sparse.

I turn to go, and catch a glimpse
of his face raised for a moment:
a black beard, and round black glasses,
the place of the nose marked by shadowy nostrils.

He bows his head again:
the white cloth covers his haunted face.
After such radiance, it is now the dark
that dazzles, as I turn into the lonely sun.
JAMES KIRKUP
from
Headland #8

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This page last updated: 29th November 2006.