The Shoe Leather Express

Writing and Comedy from James Harris

Category: Poetry

Gaspard

Recently I was in Europe waiting for a bus, in one of the lengthy journeys which have punctuated my thirties. I was in Lille, the bus was very late, and I noticed that waiting with me – in the tiny waiting area, no more than a dias above an elevator – was a French family. They were a grandmother, a granddad and two kids, a boy and a girl. As other buses came and went, it gradually became clear that we were all waiting for the same bus to London.

Eventually, the bus did arrive, and even late we had to change onto another bus at Calais. Once the disarray of relocation had settled, I found myself sat next to the boy from that family, who, I deduced by his grandmother’s frequent address, was called Gaspard. First of all Gaspard was sat near the window, but after we went through customs twice, I ended up there. I asked the returning young man, ‘Vous voulez à la fenêtre?’ and Gaspard said it was no problem, which disposed me to him no end.

We made it through that tunnel. Occasionally, the grandmother would ask Gaspard if he was alright, and he would say he was; an hour passed, and when I looked over next Gaspard was sleeping. I looked down on him, this well-dressed and exhausted figure, and wrote him a poem.

 

Gaspard, tu dors.

Le monde est grand

Et tu sais bien que

Tu auras beaucoup à faire.

Gaspard, tu dors.

Tu as bien raison.

 

Doing this amused me. And with the poem being so simple, I decided to have another go at it in German.

 

Kaspar, du schläfst.

Die Welt ist ja groß und

Du weiß schon, dass

Du viel tun wirst.

Kaspar, du schläfst.

Du hast wohl recht.

 

And, as I was still amusing myself, I tried it in English.

 

Cuthbert, you sleep.

The world’s so big and

You’re well aware

You’ll have a lot to do.

Cuthbert, you sleep.

That’s probably right.

 

That was enough for now. But perhaps others might want to try translating the poem into their languages? It’s called ‘Gaspard’.

Approaching London 0n 26.02.2017.

Entering London 0n 26.02.2017.

 

Later we approached London in a storm. The night was vast and no ideas counted; I saw pubs dashed by rain and blistered neon. I thought, I want nothing more than to be here, seeing this, and in some way this child’s presence is part of my feeling. For his part, of course, it is unlikely he will ever read this tribute or indeed even know of its or remember my existence. Still he was cool guy. When we finally arrived I wished him ‘un beau temps a Londres.’ ‘À vous aussi’, he replied, to you too.

*

In a delightful addendum to the story, my friend Elo Zobel has now provided an Estonian version. Tänan väga, Elo.

Kaspar, sa magad

Maailm on suur

Ja sa tead et sa pead

Palju

Kaspar, sa magad

Ja nii ongi hea.

Three poems about comedy

I.

Tonight I stood on stage in front
Of a thousand, and they laughed
For me. The cameras ran.
I celebrated the greatest triumph of my career,
A television host shook my hand.

Now I am sat in a Chinese restaurant
With my notebook open before me.
The restaurant is quiet, aside
From an old man drinking soup and
Soya sauce crossing my plate.

II.

Somehow a bad comedy evening is
Easier to bear than a poetry one;
At least you can get drunk.
Poets are so much nicer,
At times they grab each other’s shoulders
Out of pure delight.
Comedy is rougher – it takes all sorts
And has strong elements of a brawl,
Its agents are like boxing promoters
Talking their guys up.
And yet despite this roughness and
Poetry’s exquisite charm,
In the belief it makes a difference
I choose comedy.

III.

After the show

There is always one act of comedy
Who doesn’t do so well,
The gentle kid or one-time champ
Who is beginning to coast. The consolation is –
Nothing. All the faces know it,
And the only remaining option’s to be funny while you drink.

Mohammad Jangda/Creative Commons 2.0.

Mohammad Jangda/Creative Commons 2.0.

‘The giants’

I dreamt a sadness deep as pillows
These giant pillows on which giants slept.
And when the giants woke they felt the sadness
And, nodding sadly, wept.

My heart – a broken thing
And yours, a courgette.
The giants waited outside the windows
Of our fifteenth-floor apartment.

As the day went on there was a deepening
Of the way I felt about you,
No almanac recorded this, and what the giants sang
Simply wasn’t true.

I cannot say it. Can you say it?
It seems too profoundly deep to say.
Let the giants say it, say it, say it!
Ah but those giants have gone away.

Low

In memoriam David Bowie 1947-2016.

The great Cold War album, carefully conceived of
By the polite Englishman just arrived in town
Who spends his weekends driving over the border
To make recordings of onerous sounds. His producer,
Mild-mannered, is known to assist him
In carefully devising ominous noise,
Sounds black and explosive, essentially urban,
Hatched up in flats overlooking vast roads;
Music for exits, music to hand over
Briefcases at checkpoints as it turns to dawn.

Still playing now in a Berlin more modern,
A city which turned its grit into art,
The sleeve shows a photo of an unchanging Englishman
Cool as he pilots a green-bonneted car.

 

 

Nine Lives

Another year passes and I am not famous
Rather listless, beset by hidden rages. Best stay in,
Picking out the past on melancholy’s string.

Now the string picks out another, the afternoon your car
Left you at a country lay-by, standing contrite,
like Madame bobbing apples, who came up without a bite.