George Szirtes

George Szirtes

Four Grotesques for Robert Graves


When he bent over, the seat of his trousers bore
an uncanny resemblance to the balloon in his pocket,
which in turn looked remarkably like his face in the mirror.

There was no sign saying KICK ME yet something did
and slipped away through the door of the establishment
without remark leaving behind only the smell of sulphur.

Nor was it the devil as everyone agreed. The devil would
not slip through a door, nor write his signature
directly on the door he passed through.

And his face continued to resemble a balloon
and the trousers did not split, nor had anyone kicked him,
not properly, not with a genuine display of regret

nor with a smell of sulphur nor any of the devil’s marks.


Having spent her life being looked at she took her eyes
out of the bathroom cabinet and threw them away,
but the gentlemen in the sewers discovered them
and deployed them for purposes of their own.

The last night of the professor’s life was spent
writing down a list of his honours followed by those
honours he resented not having received.

At midnight precisely two undertakers, one with the face
of an eagle, arrived to take him away but could not remove him
from his desk without severely damaging the desk.

The undertaker with the face of an eagle suggested
he fill in the requisite form making one excuse or another.


When she died the bonfires were already burning.
Immolation or drowning? came the ultimatum.

Who lit the fires, she asked. Who brought the ducking stool?
You did, they answered. She hesitated briefly in the doorway

then executed one of those elegant turns of hers
as if her body could be divided into fire and water.

GEOGRE SZIRTES’s Reel won the T. S. Eliot Prize for which he has been twice shortlisted since. His latest is Mapping the Delta (Bloodaxe Books, 2016).