It’s a small anthology that I’ve occasionally dipped into, having heard Elaine Feinstein speaking some months back on Radio 4. Cities is a collection of poems inspired (as you might expect) by experiences and friendships in different cities around the world.
This beautifully paced piece captures perfectly the sensation she describes. The nostalgic ache of remembered peace before the storm – and the suffering that releases ‘the blood flow of poetry’ is an image that I won’t forget in a long time. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know precisely what caused the disaster – all we know is that it is a betrayal, perhaps by the person she lies in the sun with at the start. What matters is the way she evokes the experience, and this is what makes it so instantly recognisable.
Below us, the sea poured into the city,
silver and shimmering. We lay
together; hot, exhausted, happy.
Doesn’t it often happen this way,
just before some unforeseen disaster
cuts you open with a casual
flick – like a knife stuck in an Asian fruit –
that the world feels particularly gentle?
The yachts danced below us
on shiny waters, there were
orange reflections in the windows.
How could I guess
the pain waiting on the next page for me?
The blank of betrayal which would
rapidly scoop out my life and release
the blood flow of poetry.
from Cities, p37