Table Talk (consisting of three poems)
When people talk about people they say ‘they’. They do it
over the starters. You’re sitting between them and
nod now and then, but you have no idea
what all the spoons are for.
‘They’ are other people, not the people who are talking,
but the people they are talking about. I have never
claimed to love the word ‘they’, I just hear it.
I’m no fonder of ‘it’, you think.
‘It’ is something that happens in another country, in a big drought
with flies everywhere, the smell of fruit not even
describable anymore, all eyes directed at
unreachably distant, fat waterbirds.
They point out a spelling error in the main course, nudge
each other and laugh, butter their bread. It makes
me think of ‘a’, which is closest to my heart.
A table. A meal. A guinea foul.
When people talk about people they never say, there is someone
here that. Or someone who is clearly. There is definitely,
without doubt, statistically, someone here who.
‘They’ has excluded us from consideration.
Every dinner has a raped woman. A homosexual.
An illiterate. A man who knows what all
the spoons are for. You’re better off
not talking to him.
If you have to say something about meat you say ‘this’. This is the part
that has no eyes and no name, that didn’t spend days on end
walking around on boggy grass, a bit you didn’t wave at when you
Someone sticks the point of a knife in the back of your hand, someone
attacks you, someone asks for your heart as if that’s something
that belongs on the table, and you decide you’d better
make a joke of it. No one laughs.
It’s only when you’ve had too much to drink that you tell the story
of the meat as it really was. You would like to include a farmer
with a double-barrelled shotgun, a smokehouse full of wood.
But you talk about a screen, a panel with three buttons, the winch,
the advertising man who wanted to make love to his wife
in the middle of the night and then thought
of the perfect slogan.
Brainwaves, you say, are apparently easy to come by when it’s right
in front of your nose. When you really bury yourself in it.
Nobody wants to get into that at the moment.
Around the time the last wine has been poured a man gets up
from the table and kneels cautiously beside you.
You can smell what he’ll be like later, each evening, when he
has finished his meal, pushes his plate away and looks at you,
you can already guess the words he uses — you look away
and hastily lay your hands on your lap.
In Paris a woman is asked to share her life every minute.
Their existences aren’t cramped there, they are
quick to move up, sliding shelves empty
for someone else’s things, calling
their mothers with joy.
What you’d like to do now is make an impression. Grabbing
the tablecloth with both hands and whipping it out
in a single movement without knocking
anything over. Everyone clapping.
But the man has laid his head on your knee and
there are gestures you can never escape,
they come to you so naturally.
You stroke his hair, while thinking about
everyone you missed today and how,
vicariously, to touch them.