Questions for Stan Laurel

How could the body not be comical
when the music it plays is the fiddling of bones,
the deep fart of flesh in the stalls,
the high whine of bagpipes in the ear,
a fusillade of drumming automatics,
a small rattling of hollow balls,
the faint harmonics of the queer?

How could the body not be comical when one
is fat, the other thin and the belly droops
to the crotch, and the sliding trombone
is the ripping of pants in the sunshine,
when comedy is being unhurt in the shadow
of the great cliff having fallen from air
and proving the hard ground harmless?

How could the body not be comical when grace
is the other name of loss, along with scapegrace, disgrace,
the un-grace entailed in clumsiness?
How could your body not be mine and mine yours
in the constant exchange of bodies, from the svelte
athlete, the ploughman with his lunch, the groan
of the almost defeated Bulgarian weightlifter,

when it is the child’s body that holds
no surprises? When the song and dance
you break into begins as something twangs
in the doorway and the barbershop boys sing
you into the eternal bar kept open for such as you,
and the terrible force of the mallet on your head
makes you break into your one true falsetto.

for Marilyn Hacker

Somewhere there is a perfect architecture
where light, form, shadow, space all move
to form a language beyond architecture,
where to dream of the wrong architecture
is to dream of dying. But waking bans
the dream and reinvents the architecture
of the empty day that is all architecture
and no dream. Is there somewhere a culprit
we might blame for this, and is the culprit
ourselves? We make our own architecture
and live in it as in a house of ill fame,
it being all we desire of fame.

Our fame is inward: it is a private fame
for which we must create an architecture
of outwardness if only because fame
cannot remain private if it is to be fame.
We know our names and must pronounce the bans
from the pulpit of our anonymous fame.
Who can object to this? It is our own fame
we give names to, couple with and move
house with. It is ourselves we move
and no one else. We proclaim our fame
to the walls that recognise a culprit
when they hear one: name itself is culprit.

And what, after all, is it to be a culprit?
It is to have a certain portion of fame
and take it for self, blaming the culprit
for desire to survive merely as a culprit.
It is the self building an architecture
in which it may be possible to be a culprit.
But who could bear always to be a culprit,
a culprit, what is more, at one remove
beyond the self, unable to move
a culprit in a pulpit perhaps but still a culprit,
subject therefore to all the usual bans,
both hating and welcoming such bans?

There’s a certain kind of building the city bans,
the builder of which it treats as a culprit,
applying not only these but other bans,
because cities depend on applying bans
in case the rampant self obscures the fame
due only to cities. Order dictates bans:
bans dictate anonymity. No one bans
no one. None may construct the architecture
that is merely a building calling itself architecture.
The self may bar itself against some bans
but no self can afford to stay still. It must move.
There’s always another building, one more move.

Self is an architecture that must move
in order to accommodate. No self bans
movement because it knows that to move
is to survive. Heart must beat, blood move
around the building. To live is to be a culprit.
And then another enters with a neat move
slick as a poem that is obliged to move
the heart, which is all a self can know of fame,
bestowing fame through accommodation. Fame
at last is words like these, constantly on the move
turning the building into architecture
or simply calling the building architecture.

I touch the miraculous architecture
of your face feeling its own solitary fame
knowing myself both self and culprit.
Something inside the word rebels, bans
conversation. It’s language on the move.

George Szirtes was born in 1948 and arrived in England as a refugee following the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. Trained as an artist, he has written some dozen books of poems, the most recent of which, Reel (Bloodaxe, 2004) was awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2005. In 2008, his Collected and New Poems will be published by Bloodaxe in the UK and by Sheep’s Meadow in the USA.

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