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Francis Scarfe

(1911-1986 / South Shields, England)

Kitchen Poem


An Elegy for Tristan Tzara

In the hungry kitchen
The dog sings for its dinner.
The housewife is writing her poem
On top of the frigidaire
Something like this:

    'Hear in the kitchen
    The crows fly home
    Into the red-robed trees
    That walk across the sky.

    Hear under the floor
    The three fountains rising and
    Trickling through the bridge
    Into the sea of poems.'

In the kitchen the housemother
Pours soup for her thousand children
As her man eats his silence
And the dog swallows its poem.

In all. the kitchens of Europe
The radio shouts good news:
'Millions have had no accident today
All wars have come to an end
An honest politician
In another country
Wants to become a plumber
All men will be equal, next year
Volcano vomits ice-cream
A silent poem has been invented.'

    In my holy kitchen
    I draw the blinds of night
    On the homes of sleep.
    I hold the world in my palms.
    Now that I am old
    I can measure life with words.
    There's a nightingale in my coffee.
    My bread is buttered with memories.
    Since the old woman died
    I have two souls.

When I was small we had a lucky black cat.
We had a magic horse-shoe on the wall,
It was rusty and brought no luck
But fetched the fields into the kitchen
And made us not forget horses.

When you are old you make your own magic.
You speak oftener for the dead.
You move free in the wonderland of the past.
You invent a future on the other shore of death.
You must speak for the dead,
You are their rusty horse-shoe
In all the kitchens of the world,
Not the mug on the radio
But a thought rescued from the past.

    (There was love in the thin soup
    A bone some lentils and great love.
    My mother's hands were clouds.
    There was a bluebird in the gasjet
    When she bathed us by the kitchen fire.

    There will be no such soup again
    Nor such transcendent poverty.
    I have lost the treasure of poverty.
    The old woman is dead and buried
    In her wonderland of oblivion,
    But lives in my kitchen poem
    In this 'sentimental' aside.)

Now that I am an old man, I think in bed.
I think nothing. I think poems -
The metronome of sleeplessness and death,
The art of being deliberately alone and yet
A centre in the vortex of the world,
Feelings stretched drum-tight on the grid of thought
As your decaying flesh taut on its bones,

Sensations phantom ideas dreams, pinned bugs
On the living conveyor-belt of experience,
While in the poem you are everybody else,
Each poem merging into another construct,
All poems rationally absurd impermanent
------------------DADA------------ ------
There being no poem ever, no poet ever.
An old man in a kitchen, cooking words.

    I am no poet I am
    Lived by unfinishable poems,
    The horse-shoe hammered
    On the anvil of my brain.

I think nothing. The poems think me.
I do not often write them down,
Being a structuration of the unknowable
That dies upon the page,
My inward poems whispered for the dead
While the living bury the living
With foul political slogans.

    An owl is hooting in my poem
    Which sleep will end.

    Good night, poet of life,
    Be with me always.
    I give you my kitchen poem,
    Immortal TRISTAN.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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Read poems about / on: poem, horse, poverty, elegy, magic, dog, woman, cat, sleep, death, future, world, silence, children, mother, red, fire, night, lost, home

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  • Rookie V.e. Perkins (3/31/2014 7:22:00 PM)

    I love the image of an old man in the kitchen cooking words. I've never before heard of Francis Scarfe, but
    it seems clear his childhood burned things into his soul and body that never left him after. His images are
    so fresh, so unexpected, his rhymes so subtle, his observations so nailed into reality it's almost terrifying.
    He's a creature from another world, yet we know we share it. It's only that we have failed to recognize ourselves
    in him and in his world. Vivienne Perkins, Ph, D. (Report) Reply

Read all 1 comments »

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