Round Table: Gawain

This is part of a sequence of five vignettes of Arthurian characters and dilemmas placed into historical contexts, written on commission from Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (link). For the full sequence of poems, click here (link)

For an audio file of my reading of the full sequence click here (link – note, it may autoplay)

For a podcast of myself and Momtaza Mehri discussing our poems click here (link), and for a transcript of the podcast click here (link)

Gawain – Teufelsberg – 1989

If I had thought I had my honour, mine
it wasn’t much. I crossed the greying
border, cycled, my papers clear, I, just one
of many men moving steadily past the gate
between one Berlin and the other –
somehow alike – and yet unalike. A different
tone to the grey-paved streets, both the
same, and subtly different. That fear
each time of betrayal catching at me,
the guards with guns this great game
centered on one crossing of the line
between the sides, between the spies. If I
thought I had my honour, then one drink
fewer, one lady fewer, one alluring
temptation to blurt my secrets – fewer.
When put to the test – sir – I know I failed.
Not for thumbscrews or for torture –
I would carry those alone, and laugh
at pain and death, but for these eyes
that spoke, and softness. I, too long a
lonely soldier had thought my resistance
to be stronger but here, in this second
raining city, seen and watched by life itself,
sir, I gave her my address. She was young,
vivacious, I refused a fuck – refused a kiss,
kept my shining honour unimpeached, and
then she asked, just to write a letter,
and I agreed. No secret, I know, that I
was there – this dance of spies – we
see each other, play the same long
game, the cards, the same green papers
no secret my address, they watch my
flat at night, but sir, I failed for the
temptation to feel desired and alive

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