For every intellectual a lapse, for every horse a stumble, and for every sword (bearer) a disaster.
Weekend markets, Broome: The gypsy’s story
This town takes people like me:
people who must have a greater distance…
The night Grandfather told me he could not go on,
could not work the night train to Budapest, I took off
my coat and placed it over the old man’s shoulders.
Grandfather came for me
when I was twenty. He meant to see if I would work
to keep him but it grew into love a hard love.
From him I learned my letters numbers and the cards.
In Hungary where I was born
they never gave us education. They could find us mad
if we did not read or write so being mad
we could be shut away again and cities looked better
with us off the streets.
The coat would be of some use:
a trade for a pack of cigarettes perhaps.
My people lived on nothing, always moving on
and when a man could not move on, he made a quick death.
We were at the back of the yards,
hands under armpits for the warmth.
Grandfather’s head was silvered by drizzle, a faint moon
making him saint-like, and this so far from truth
as to be laughable, saving me from tears.
I promised him
I would remake our cards in some safer country;
bring back their honour by working them again,
hearing the dance of symbols and colours speak,
seeing their wisdom come.
Yes, this town takes people like me
and the cards call only those who wish to hear.
But the nights burn: dark returns me
to Buda or some other city where police pull down
our shanties, gangs are paid to hunt us out
and if sleep comes, it is in fragments.
The rattle of palm fronds on my roof
sounds like distant gunfire…