Three Poems from Some Questions on the Cultural Revolution

Alistair Noon

Some Questions on the Cultural Revolution

Which way up should I hold
this tube of clear liquid, red stars,
and tumbling, miniature tinsel?
Photons alter their patterns,
like auras about a Great Pilot’s head.
If I shake this fuselage,
the stars disperse. In the crash
that brought down the traitor
did the cabin door wrench loose,
or was it left unlatched?
Particles chorus and dance:
a touch, they reform; a tap
and the statue’s face is smashed
on the teenagers’ own Long March.
Made in France. The stars
remingle and flash.

Conversation with Professor Smirnitsky

Face me across our compartment and feed me
your cold potatoes and pickled eggs.
The landscape’s a Tolstoy, best read at speed.
To talk with you is to exercise my legs.

I have used your 55,000 entries
to understand poets, post and prose,
to follow Bulgakov up to the sentence
It was the severed head of Berlioz.

In the exploration of new minerals,
I have used you for The Truth surrounding
the sale of communal flats in Kaliningrad.
As the headwords fly from your mouth,

they dangle a string of chemical phrases,
the atoms adhering into molecules.
Your gold lettering fades and fades,
but the black binding somehow stays glued.

How is the work on the editorial commission
where you pluck double bass in a black quartet
of my two notebooks and Mandelstam’s fission
of words, those instruments with no frets?

I think I can hear my language changing,
along the iron framework of the bridge
across the Volga that the team start repainting
before they have even finished.

The Written Complaint

                       Oh Lord, now let thy servant depart

As I wait for the train to leave
from Frankfurt’s giant iron arches
where bright green letters hallow insurance,
as I wait for the towers to recede –
those bar charts of metal and stone,
copse pumped up with growth hormones,
the treetops high above the forest floor
where small creatures urinate, and the injured
fumble the pavement for syringes –
as the delay grows ever longer,
the announcements ever sorrier,
as my emails breed, and I think
of my to-do lists left alone at home,
oh may some round of croissants come
that I might leave on a full stomach.

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