Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Dubliners on the Adriatic

Dubliners on the Adriatic

La mia anima รจ a Trieste…


Trieste. Trst. Tristesse.

Rustle of sea birds rising

from this doubling bay,

suggestive echoes along the Canal Grande:

here, of all places, to stumble on

Joyce among the Hapsburgs,

blind bronze staggered mid-stride.


Unhinged from its hinterland,

this polyglot port’s piazza’s fading

hulks outline a century’s diminishment:

‘the last foothold before…’ etc, etc,

(barbarism, in short),

Austria-Hungary’s gravestone wedged

in the crotch of the Adriatic.


Distant Istria fumes blue in the heat.

White Miramar – from where

reluctant Maximilian despatched

for Mexico (and Manet) – plunges

foolishly above the sea,

imperial mockery mocked,

the silver, unmoving sea.


City of sighs,

where the wise

keep their eyes on

the empty horizon,

though no ships come

and the quays are dumb

as Franz Ferdinand

lumping up the Corso,

dead. Or the Risiera

where the Jews were killed.



But staggering mostly, by ill-repute,

he was, from quay to quay,

until Consul’s counsel held sway,

and he teetered off to the bahnhof.


Under palms, under plane trees,

Joyce whistled off-key by the Chiave D’Oro,

(girls there knowing him, by ill-repute),

for his Triestine tryst with Nora.


With other tongues loose in his mouth –

Honest, Jim, she’ll smell them on your breath!

and her fresh-flustered from the Zurich train,

he fanfared her exile into his free world,

waltzed her through statued gardens,

his animated, Babelous greeting:

‘Per donna, jam hors de clay.’


Tom Phillips

From 'Recreation Ground' (Two Rivers Press, 2012)