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Michael Schmidt
Michael Schmidt

Michael Schmidt was born in Mexico in 1947. He studied at Harvard and at Wadham College, Oxford. He is currently Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University, where he is convenor of the Creative Writing M.Litt programme. He is a founder (1969) and editorial and managing director of Carcanet Press Limited, and a founder (1972) and general editor of PN Review. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he received an O.B.E. in 2006 for services to poetry.
The Poetry Business Presents: Michael Schmidt

Michael Schmidt

          Choosing a Guest          

          1

 

          Whom shall I invite? The centrepiece

          Is five red apples on a walnut dish.

          The table takes their sheen. Whom

          Shall I invite to what the trees provide?

 

          2

 

          Before I choose a guest I go outside.

          It is evening almost, almost winter here:

          Under the apple tree a pungent mud of fruit,

          One bough fractured by the wealth it bears.

 

          3

 

          I have chosen. And will she come?

          It is like necromancy to invite

          The guest who yesterday, the day before,

          Laughing, turned to darkness at my board.

 

          4

 

          Absence I will invite. I will invite

          The morning birds, and I will not ask her.

          The birds will not come, and she will not come.

          The sheen will pass from fruit into the dark.

 

          5

 

          It is too late to eat, too late to ask.

          I shall say grace but break no bread.

          The lamp will not be lit; I shall sit still

          As shadow takes the taste instead.

 

          6

 

          Here is my bed. How the scent of apples clings

          To my breathing, and the scent of her.

          I am alarmed

          How nothing leaves me, though the light is gone.

          

 

 

 

          From the Love of Strangers sequence

 

          XV [Robert Frost]

 

          It wasn’t snowing but it should have been.

          You were an old man, nine months from the grave.

          Your hand was very dry and very hot

          And large, as I recall (I was a boy,

          Fourteen years at most, I led you round

          Part of the school, your guide; you seemed to listen).

          That night you read in a slow, dismissive voice

          That left the words like notes on staves hung in the air,

          No longer yours, but part of memory --

          You talked about Miss Dickinson of Amherst

          And said aloud the eight lines of her poem

          ’The heart asks pleasure first’. And from that night

          I’ve known the poem word-perfect, part of me.

 

          I think you let more lines free into language

          And memory with your rusty, lonely voice

          Than any other poet of our age.

          It must have been like freeing doves

          And watching them go off to neighbouring cotes

          Or into the low clouds of your New Hampshire

          Knowing they’ll meet no harm, that they’ll survive

          Long after the hand that freed them has decayed.

 

          Those lines are wise in rhythm and they lead

          Into a clapboard dwelling, or a field,

          Or lives that prey upon the land and one another,

          Or the big country where we both were children.

                    

 

          Also, poor Yorick

 

          Yorick’s heart is moved: how beautiful, he says,

          And grasps then what it must mean to be human

          Returning rested from the afterlife

          Into the lovely dew of resurrection.

          Bare feet, with the worms and roots still in them,

          The puddles cool between their metatarsals.

 

          The skulls bay with joy, and all are grinning,

          Popping their knuckles, counting their vertebrae,

          And now they dance alone and now join hands,

          And as they dance there, in their ribs and rigging

          In each grey skeleton a robin perches

          Plumping its feathers, pulsing out its song

 

          Red, and the twittering’s blood as well as music.

          -- Never has he witnessed a scene so vital,

          The dance of life the scripture guaranteed.

          Faster as shadows shorten and noon rises

          The skeletons spin and conga into the air

          Making a cloud, a halo on the sun.

 

          He takes his spade and sets it on his shoulder.

          He’s old. Till now he’s known so much regret.

          He’s buried his grandparents and his parents,

          His kings and queens, his brothers and his friends,

          His lovers, all of them, consumables,

          Cinis, pulvis, nihil, the bones bearing

 

          In their chalk wholeness so much love and light.

          In his own graveyard, with the dear departed

          One unfamiliar skeleton stands up

          Tall, gracious, folding down his finger bones

          Over two holes; where his hurt feet strike stone,

          Sparks from the rusty nails, and in his side

 

          A spear, perch for a phoenix. Jesus Christ

          Risen in this garden, and the wounds,

          Or the bones that keep the marks of wounds, are singing.

          It’s noon, there are no shadows. This is true.

          He raised them and himself is rising up.

          Also, poor Yorick. That was judgement, it is over.

 

          Later in the day the Prince arrives,

          Stepping from his script as from a carriage

          Drawn up among the holes in which the dead

          Waited, and from which they are all delivered,

          Just like an audience when the play is over

          Elbowing their coats into the dark.

 

          Anxious, a bit deranged, he finds occasion

          To hold a conversation with a skull.

          Is it a skull or a stone that looks like a skull?

          The heads are all gone to heaven, Jesus too,

          The sexton himself put off his flesh and followed.

          (Ophelia was already on her star.)

 

          Poor prince, alone with just a book of ballads,

          With just the plot nothing can raise him from.

 

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