This week’s Friday Poem is Tony Curtis’ Arvon Prize-shortlisted ‘Soup’.
This is one of many poems on the subject of conflict in Tony’s War Voices (1995) and will also feature in the soon-to-be published From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, out in October this year. Wednesday 27th January was Holocaust Remembrance Day and so this poem is an especially poignant choice.
One night our block leader set a competition:
two bowls of soup to the best teller of a tale.
That whole evening the hut filled with words –
tales from the old countries
of wolves and children
potions and love-sick herders
stupid woodsmen and crafty villagers.
Apple-blossom snowed from blue skies,
orphans discovered themselves royal.
Tales of greed and heroes and cunning survival,
soldiers of the Empires, the Church, the Reich.
And when they turned to me
I could not speak,
sunk in the horror of that place,
my throat a corridor of bones, my eyes
and nostrils clogged with self-pity.
‘Speak,’ they said, ‘everyone has a story to tell.’
And so I closed my eyes and said:
I have no hunger for your bowls of soup, you see
I have just risen from the Shabbat meal –
my father has filled our glasses with wine,
bread has been broken, the maid has served fish.
Grandfather has sung, tears in his eyes, the old songs.
My mother holds her glass by the stem, lifts
it to her mouth, the red glow reflecting on her throat.
I go to her side and she kisses me for bed.
My grandfather’s kiss is rough and soft like an apricot.
The sheets on my bed are crisp and flat
like the leaves of a book …
I carried my prizes back to my bunk: one bowl
I hid, the other I stirred
and smelt a long time, so long
that it filled the cauldron of my head,
drowning a family of memories.
Buy War Voices from our website, and look out for From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, available October 2016.