Back to 'Poems by Peter Brooke'


Against Photography




A Walk in the Mountains








I took your skin,
your mouth, your nose, your eyes,
your cheeky grin,
your little cries,
I flayed you then, and hung you high,
All of you that could be seen,
I nailed it to a screen,
and there you will gyrate and posture,
going through the same routine,
the same, uncompleted gestures,
back and forth and back again,
while what is left of you fills in
a half-life of obscurity.
But you cannot complain.
If 'esse est percipi',
I gave you immortality.








Every word is bright as a flower,
the flowers strung along a road
that have become invisible
because they pass by too fast,
they are not even noticed.


Like these flowers in a garden in Paris
in front of the Bibliothèque,
their odour lost in an ocean of petrol,
their colour in a sea of metal.


So words, trapped in prose,
lost, scared in a hostile element,
howling in a soundproof room,
they want to give but they give nothing,
they pass by too fast,
they are not even noticed.








In the age of the Last Men,
even our protests are poor.


We are of the age,
and the age is threadbare.


All the great adventures
turned into nightmares,


the only value left,
standing, the financial one


and a certain sensible moderation,
a little hashish at the weekend.


Money and brute force
and paralysing ugliness


fill up an empty space
that stays empty all the same.


In the age of the last men
who go to University


to study 'culture',


is the only decent option.
When everything is dirty,


we must touch as little as possible.
We must unlearn everything


and start all over again,
like little children.








The lights of the town are still, unmoving,
they do not change,
a constant, unrelenting pressure,
the steady force of electricity.
The electric lights at a distance
challenge the stars.
The heavens dance.
The town asserts itself.
It knows only two modes -
'On' and 'Off'; the only variant it allows -
the geometrically precise
displacement of a headlamp.
'Light' is the wrong word.
The light of a flame
gives rise to shadows
we think are sinister
because we are afraid
of any movement other than our own.
The lights of the town are reassuring.
They can give birth to nothing.








Because these people have names and faces,
splashed all over the papers,
they seem to be
human, but they are not
like you and me.
They live, differently.


Wise societies
know that when
you photograph someone
you diminish the person.


If you put someone's name
on a piece of paper
and put it in a drawer,
that person is accursed.


The names that are in all our heads
are substitutes for God,
for saints and heroes.
They are our common culture.
But, since the days of Hitler
and Stalin, they propose
nothing to live up to,
nothing to aim for.


Fame is a killer.
Even to know these names
is disgraceful.
We are enchanted
by phantom heads
that pass before us
where we are fixed,
tied to our seats,
looking at the shadows in a cave.









The child who strokes
the face of a donkey
confronts a mystery
made up of patience,
of terrible sadness
and inhuman beauty.


The animal is entirely
other than us.
It does not move like us.
Its poor hooves are not hands.
It cannot 'do' anything and yet
it sees, it wants, it loves,
it is conscious -
all the old fairy tales,
the Prince trapped in an animal shape,
shine through its eyes.


The child who pats the donkey's nose
has no words to express
the holiness of the moment.
It is the meeting of two worlds
of consciousness, each
greater than the material universe.


The donkey brays.
Its cry has more force,
more passion, more urgency
than all our books of poetry.


But it has lost its practical use
and the child will grow up to be
the most murderous and casual of enemies.








Astronomers today,
they are not architects.
They are the most miserable, carping of critics,
who cannot see the play,
only the stage machinery,
a dessicated intellect,
multiplying numbers,
multiplying space,
time without end, time without form,
time without Eternity.








These nights I do not sleep.
I lie awake,
full of smoke,
listening to the dogs bark.


I have the strange impression
I am on a train,
in a small space
hurtling towards an abyss.
The train has a hard reality
but everything else is blurred -
it goes too fast.
If I walk to the back of the train,
going against its direction,
I do not escape.
But if I could throw myself off, then suddenly
I would be still, surrounded by
a glorious immensity.








Music is an art of space.
Sound, with all its delicacy of near and far,
assembling and directing vibrations in the air,
confers upon space a plenitude.
It forms the universe around us.
It is the real crystal sphere.
The sound that comes from the record player,
monophonic, whatever they might say,
falsifies space.
The sphere is shattered by the loudspeaker.
A door is slammed shut upon the ear
and space flattened out as in a picture.


Painting is an art of time.
The ear is obliged to follow time,
moment after moment,
but all the moments in the painting
shine before the eye,


is like a single, stopped musical phrase,
repeated endlessly.


Painting on the wall and music in the air,
one tied to space that time may dance
the other to time to dance in space -


Photography and loudspeaker music,
the distinction disappears.
There is no time, no space, no intelligence, no player.








This dull frivolity
that has fallen among us
like a dark cloud
that shuts out the light.


Everywhere we turn,
the shopwindows full
of little jokes
on T-shirts, postcards, car stickers, ashtrays.


How can the heart be gay
when there is nothing in it,
nothing to long for,
nothing outside it?


We have built ourselves a house
with a low ceiling.
Even if it is infinite,
it is only space
and space is impenetrable.
The soul cannot talk to it.








Can form be formless?
Form is mysterious.
It looms in the night.
In the mist,
it speaks to us.


Form is not a circle. It is
the suggestion of a circle.
Form is terrible.
We realise it.
It escapes us.


Form is in our eyes.
It is in our hands, our ears,
waiting for us. Nowadays,
we despise it.
It is the 'nature' we have 'conquered'.


It has become nebulous,
pushed to the corners of our vision.
Our imagination,
tired through want of exercise,
cannot carry us.
Form is in faith.
Faith is the ability to walk.








The stopped pictures
of the advertising posters
bear down upon us,
heavy and enormous.
The huge face of a small child,
caught forever in a loveable smile,
or going through the same routine
again and again on a television screen,
Exactly the same - that is what appals.
The most frivolous of gestures
reproduced in serie by a machine,
death after death after death after death.
The advertising agents
are murderers of innocence.
The photographers
are butterfly collectors,
taxidermists without fingers,
stuffing the living moment
into stopped pictures.








We did not have the right idea
but we had the only idea.
That great, sluggish, monstrous, all-devouring worm
was the only thing moving in all our 'culture'.


The worm spoke in verse,
How could we, whose minds were stuffed
with Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Mallarmé,
fail to be seduced
by all that constant novelty of form,
inventiveness and violence of youth?
Youth has its own form,
unpredictable, destructive, always cutting open
new, impossible landscapes.


But, in the exchange of flesh, we should have seen
(we did see it, but what could we do?)
the lineaments of the great machine.
The capital invested in all that equipment
had to be reimbursed,
and how could anything healthy
come from all that money?
We, all innocent,
threw away our dignity,
stripped naked,
gyrated, trembling before it,
made ourselves ridiculous.
But, if it was not indifferent to our charms,
it laughed at our protests,
swallowed us up and spewed us out,
blind, impotent, perverted.


The generation that was 'anti-war'
in the late 1960s
has grown up to be
the generation that tolerated,
even rejoiced in, celebrated
the Gulf Massacre,
and all that electric noise,
the sensuality, the running after boys,
the drugs, the 'liberation'
of this and that
has proved not to be worth
the black in the eye
of a dead gnat.








That its law might live,
it has clawed its way across
a thousand obstacles.


It is a principle
(that its law might live).
It recurs,


like a pulse, or like the moon,
regular, mysterious.


Each of those seemingly frivolous considerations
(each of those 'vital' boardroom decisions)
has a set purpose.
An animal is feeling its way.
Animal - a principle of life.


It looks like life. It has its own
It eats and it excretes.
It seems to live in us. It too is of
a material that breathes.


Here we are then,
living a life that is not ours
(that its law might live),
we - built to be lived in,


empty and generous.
What is left of us when
the heart sets forth on its adventures?
When there is nobody left within us?
When there is no defence?


The principle is incarnate now
and slowly, painfully, every
knee is called upon to bow.








What there is within us
- vessels of wrath
- vessels of grace,
all that smoky violence
weaving through the marketplace,
dancing in the eyes.
We are the possessed.
Here within our house,
a table is spread.
The devils hold a feast.
All that is within us
turns to rottenness.
We stumble through our days,
pushed, this way and that,
into a bad infinity,
into an empty space.


What there is within us,
image of the Trinity.
The Trinity is vertical -
that which stands within us
in the middle of the feast,
vertical and enormous,
the model of our dignity,
circling within us,
bearing a new sharp threshing
instrument with teeth.


Where are we within us
- the devastated battlefield?
Called upon to wait,
waiting in the wilderness,
called upon to labour
(faith is mysterious,
and this is the mystery),
labouring in the vineyard, joyfully,
watering a withered tree.








Here in this box
I have put in prison
Some of the sweet
Smelling air of freedom


The sweet smelling air on the back of a motor bike,
Setting the world alight,
Roaring through the little country villages
In the middle of the night.


The sweet smell of exotic drugs -
I, known for my cruelty and violence,
Lie helpless before an army of images
And put up no defence.


The sweet smell of the city
Which gives the country-dweller hope,
Strong, sure and supple
As a length of rope.








The cat stretching
is a spiritual event,
a structure in time,
in consciousness, a
succession of sensations,
measure and cadence.
Circular. The end,
renews with the beginning.
The order is perfect,
one among countless
millions of circles,
folding, unfolding
endlessly among us,
endless turbulence
of the creature,
turning and dancing,
image and evidence
and of the nature
of a unique,
of an eternal,
bountiful stretching,
pushing the stars
ever further apart.








I sing a disappearance
which proved to be invisible,
a flesh whose accidents
proved to be mutable,
body and blood,
changed into metal
colours that flash by
in the twinkling of an eye.