October 15, 2011

Days of the Accord


Days of the Accord
by Isi Unikowski

Because it was wet and neither of us felt like working
we traced concessions on the greasy table and negotiated borders.
I was ready to relinquish epochs. You, to my fury,
quibbled over neighbourhoods. I’m sorry:
what you called contours were, for me, terraced facades
wary with washing, child- flitting alleys
that led to the old port and the sea, an imperial coin
embossed by clouds, the vaults and cardos
a proscenium for intrigues, zealots, dialectics.
The Ghibelline towers stranded in sunshine
stapling a welted sky to the orchards’ green ledgers
seem to admonish these empty enterprises. Lacking
the specified detail to replace the lack of intent,
we fall back on studied courtesies, merest chords,
slivers of sound dispensed from the crenellations.
Accompanied, hectored and lectured between
the fallen columns, how could you understand
the double demerit of our haruspicy –
that it was used and what it portended?
Now that I have conjured you beside me in the lamplight,
take off that toga, or those spats, these antique graces:
all our mosaics proclaim we advance
by accommodation, for all that ancient bluster.

* * *

Isi Unikowski is a public servant who works for the Australian Government. He lives in Canberra where his poetry is currently circulating as part of a 'poetry on the buses' program instigated by the Australian Capital Territory Government.

What do you think is the most important part of a historical fiction poem?

I think the most important part (and I express this as an aspiration, not with any conviction that I have yet achieved this to my satisfaction) is to find the right balance between the historical reference and its contemporary resonance; in other words, not to bury the history by the overwhelming weight of one's contemporary values, perspectives and language, nor to crush it by the inevitable way in which we turn history into allegory. I think of Cavafy as an example of a poet who has found this balance, or space in which each element of the polarity is given its weight; and perhaps, using a smaller timescale, our own Les Murray.