Peter Hughes: Berlioz (Part 8 of 8)



I can’t stop shaking
the laudanum makes me
thick & insensitive
& doesn’t even take away the pain
she brought Shakespeare to Paris
Juliet    Ophelia   Desdemona
she opened up another world
in the mind of France
I walk through
the childhood of Christ
where I write my own words
& place them with my own notes
& none of it is mine


my first love
came back to haunt me
Estelle of the vine & hair
the white house on the hill
the little pink boots
there were times when I woke up
in the middle of the night
with a tune in my head
that pleaded to be kept
written down & teased out into life
I turned over & gritted my teeth
with tears mourning the ending


I will not speak about how
my love of Shakespeare was grafted on
my longer-standing love of Virgil
the most glorious episodes
of the Aeneid reawoken as a five-act
drama set to my mind’s best music
I can’t do more than cough it up
& spit it in a pot
all I have left
on a planet past its sell-by date
is my son at the other end of the world
sailing towards some blade or grapeshot
carrying me with him from the
wreck of Paris & the wreck of life


Estelle has allowed me to
write from time to time
I have even visited
when my health permits
she knows that I am
twelve years old & she knows
better than I
that she is nearly seventy
I think of her every hour
I am always writing
the next letter
she knows better than I
that we will hardly ever meet again


my first & second wives
have both been dug up
& translated to a new edition
a grander monument
I saw everything
under the sun
& become smaller daily
my skull has shrunk
around my eyes
my son died
in Havana
of yellow fever
he was thirty-two
it was a day in June
it was just a day
& then there was another


I burnt the documents
cuttings   letters
Royal commendations
attached to a past life
I visited Estelle
for the last time
in September
when winter came
I swallowed my future
for fuel & flared into
a final one-way flight
I took my soul to Russia
conducting concerts
in Moscow & St. Petersburg
Gluck Beethoven
Beethoven Beethoven
Beethoven Berlioz
running on empty


& then ignominious farewells
to the Mediterranean
I moved through my own estuaries
stumbling on the rocks
clattering face-first into stone
mistaking every bank & shoal
I heard noises in the air
malicious parodies of
outstanding lyrics
driven out of my head
the hills above Nice
felt like blasted heath
each of my vines
had died inside


Estelle is still alive
I want to erase time
walk with her up the coast path
to the hill overlooking the sea
there will be a white house
there will be vines & a flute
then orange groves
she will be eighteen
wearing little pink boots
I will be composing like a Trojan
& the rehearsals
at the finest opera house
in the world
are going well
I repeat myself often
just as the sea repeats itself
with every wave


my thoughts repeat themselves
the same thought passes through me
like a wave too early in spring
when the chill is not refreshing
but aches like a sick tooth or ear
I sent Estelle the words
I had written for The Trojans
& I asked her to read the page
marked with some dead leaves
collected from the garden
of the white house
where she lived
when we were young


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