In the Corridor

I passed through, I should have paused,
there were a hundred doors. One opened.
In there, someone whose name
is not yet known to me lived out

his middle years in simple terms, two chairs,
one place laid for early breakfast, one plate
with dry toast and butter softening. There
his mind raced through writings

he had memorized long ago while he tried
to get hold of himself. Once
in his youth he had studied with love
in the corners of old paintings

matrices of fields and towns,
passages intricate and particular, wheat,
columns, figures and ground,
classically proportioned

in lines that were meant
to meet, eventually,
at vanishing point. They continued,
nevertheless; they troubled the eye.

He collected sets of books printed
in the nineteenth century, unyielding
pages, memoirs of the poets,
engravings of rurified private subjects

in times of public sector unhappiness,
frescoes of human oddity in gatefold printing.
Why does it continue
to chasten me, he says to no one.

It does. It is a painful mistaking,
this setting something down,
saying aloud, “it is nothing yet”
when he’d meant, not anything—

but then nothing peered
through the keyhole, nothing
took possession. Snow on the roofs,
snow in traces on the ground,

passersby with wet trouser-cuffs
looking to the pavement as the hill rises,
light gathering in the river
and gradually spreading.

More Poems by Saskia Hamilton