James Sutherland-Smith was born in Scotland in 1948 but lives in Slovakia. He has published seven collections of his own poetry, the most recent being 'The River and the Black Cat' published by Shearsman Books in 2018. He has translated several Slovak poets and published three individual selections in Britain, two in Canada, and one in the United States. He has also Englished the works of three Serbian poets. His translation of poetry has been awarded the Slovak Hviezdoslav Prize and the Serbian Zlatko Krasni Prize. His most recent translation is from the poetry of Mila Haugová, Eternal Traffic, published in Britain by Arc Publications. His website is http://www.jamessutherland-smith.co.uk.
Who knows what an eye with little knowledge sees?
A xylophone with pink and yellow notes;
Tink, tonk your sounds fly up to the trees.
A woven purse of shot silk threads
covered in a glitter like hundreds-and-thousands,
a dust from semi-precious stones
so the purse is abrasive to touch
inside a black leather handbag…
White trumpets of flowers lean
from the bindweed that plaits
a fence of chicken wire
behind which three plastic buckets,
blue, pink and yellow, lie
beside an armchair left out
so long its legs are wormholed,
its green upholstery rotted,
and a table whose top has warped
leaving a concavity
where rain has laid a mirror
so clear I could gaze into it
and forget my origins.
We all disappear into a marble crowd.
It’s a pity it has to be strait-laced.
Once our characters were declared out loud.
Now with a chisel symbols are traced
which give little or no clue to character
except to claim that our absence is a cause for grief,
that the life eternal is the victor
though elsewhere if that is your belief.
After pies there was a visit to the garden
to see the toad, huge, motionless and sullen,
but not from a diet of sausage pie.
There’s not much to put the eye at ease
when we pass the abandoned garden;
tangles of string, planks and chicken wire,
a smother of snowdrops in late spring,
a quince tree with lichen, yellow fruit
rotting to brown then a winter black.
Is there a forgotten expression
in the language for which the bleak phrase
‘abandoned garden’ is not enough?
They’ll build a gas station in its place.