Poetry by
Manon Meilgaard


Because freedom is impossible
or almost
I need the illusion
I need to be alone
My shame and despair
should be secreted
within me
where I can ponder in silence.
When I am in pain
I open myself reluctantly
to someone.
But on good days
I don't need men or creeds
or governments or faiths
or almost.
When there is something to say
I shall get it out
with a vitriolic pen
convince myself I am free
of the seething polyp
we make of life
or almost.

Hydra, Greece

The Period of Nothingness

Again the period of nothingness
when autumn is decay
and the sky heavy with the birth pangs
of the first snows.
When mouths are garbed against the wind
and the last October leaves
rot in dampness.
When northern blood begins to chill
and summer tans are yellowed.

Children throw breadcrumbs
to desultory ducks
as seagulls grieve
and poodles strain on leashes
against legs of ageing discontent
in Persian lamb coats.

Old men shiver on benches
because there's no warmth at home,
and slides and swings are deserted
in a sea of ochrous mud.
The old summer palace of kings
looks bleak in this skeletal park,
and from the neighboring zoo
echoes the hungry bark of a seal.

My footsteps churn in sloughed earth.

And thoughts are of gloom and despair
and lost loves
in the period of nothingness.

Frederiksberg Park, Copenhagen


The Little Mermaid

In summer she is courted
by a battery of cameras.
Professional tourists
clamber slippery stones
to better catch
her imperturbable profile.
She is embraced
by ladies
from Ohio, Liege and Leeds,
whose predatory smiles
will be pasted in albums
or shown to yawning guests.

She does not smile.

Artists paint her
and her tender nakedness
is exploited
for the sale of cheap ashtrays.

In winter she is weary,
neglected and alone
on her icy rock.
Unassailable, unapproached;
waiting for a prince
or eternity,
she gazes out to sea
with sad, sightless eyes.


You Don't Own Cities

The city belongs to itself,
indifferent or benevolent,
embracing or rejecting,
depending on your mood.
You walk endless streets,
rejoice in anonymity,
or long for a familiar face:
it all depends on
the mood you are in.

The city can't help being neutral,
it's his or her nature.
They all have sexes though,
and it's no good looking
for soft palpable things
in a masculine city.
When she is feminine
she is a cunning whore.
Don't try to be phlegmatic
or demand her favours -
she will defeat you.

Rather, admit you are exiled,
breathe the familiar dust:
that doesn't change,
even though your male city
may have turned hermaphrodite
since last you left.

Male or female
the city goes on breeding,
and has scant patience
with changes you might find.

Time is as meaningless
as the suburban station clock
which no longer works.
Whether you've seen too much
or too little,
your he/she city doesn't care:
love in other places
is outside the pale.

Memory, that's all it is,
nothing but that
and nostalgia's bitter bite.

London 1969


Mi Tierra

I live without sustenance
like the Mexican cactus,
stalwart and barbed
mean to the touch,
fibrous roots pushing
into arid soil.
I'm like the maguey plant,
untended, but producing sap,
the strong pulque juice,
one violent blossom,
this year,
in ten years' time
perhaps in twenty
but showy
and only once.
I'm a parched desert
of bleached bones
where delicate flora
perishes without rain,
and even the tenacious rose
will die.
I'm a prickly pear
a gaunt rock plant
living without nourishment


Thoughts on the Birth of a Deformed Child

They brought you steaming from the womb
wrathful and red,
crying your unearthly newborn cry
as your mother turned her head.
Lusty you were, greedy for life,
unhappy boy child,
your flesh the gall of sorrow,
gentle Jesus meek and mild.
Your fingers were crumpled flowers
withered on the stalk,
your feet were broken wings
never to fly, never to walk.
Your eyes were unseeing and open
still ignorant of pain,
are we created boy child
to know only the abyss of shame?
Salt tears as useless as your limbs
death not being dead,
forgive us God our deformities
but give us our daily bread.

Hospital Civil, Monterrey, Mexico

Green, Red and White

The Mexican Flag
Green green, moist and fecund
the delicacy of beginnings,
maize buds in exhausted earth,
life's oily stagnant pond,
and the stench of putrefaction.
All these are green.
Verdant and expectant is the source,
and green the gangrenous limbs.
Red red, drooping and sad,
the sick emblem of passion.
Red the corpuscles of life
grown pale with usage.
Red the froth of young blood
spilling on city streets.
Red the viscera of dead animals
on the roads of Mexico.
White white, poor and soiled,
hiding a hypocritic smile
behind the plumage of the dove.
White the polluted light
and the bone-bare dawns.
White is the colour of the shroud,
and white the cassock of the priest.
White is the face of fear,
and the curdled milk of the moon.

Mexico 1968

Puerto Vallarta
A sudden squall,
and they all make haste to fly,
although the first raindrops
burst softly, without sting.
Now the Pacific
is slate-grey as the North Sea:
waves curving their spines
before the death spring.
Skeletal structures,
soon to mutilate the bay,
become organic growths
muted by the mist.
And sodden palms
savaged by the wind,
are no longer stage-props
but real trees.
It's very beautiful.
And I'm alone
in the wind and slanting rain,
dancing a wild dervish dance
at the sea's edge.
Soy triste,
pero no estoy triste.

Mexico, Olympics 1968

The Border Town

In the eyes
In the throat
In the hair
In the entrails.
A blistering stretch
Of weary dreariness.
A main street
Of plastic furniture
Dirt-rimmed china
Drooping paper flowers
Cheap shoes
Pastries coated with dust
Tawdry souvenirs
And aimless apathy.
Refuge in a cafe
A radio screaming,
Sleep a sleazy hole
With a hot wind blowing.



Your portrait Maria
Sweet patrician
Virgin wife
Mona Lisa smile.
Your compassion Maria
Sanctified sadness
sinless deity
mother without lusts.
You, and only you
Have achieved this enigma
Without fall from grace.
Did men create you
From the contrariness of their natures,
Or did their natures create this contrariness?

Mexico City


I hung my crucifix in the kitchen
Above the spice shelves
Where the smell of basil and thyme
Was like incense.
I hung you there, for if you belong
You belong there too,
Your icons the pots and pans
Your temple the kitchen.
And sometimes I talked with you.
Were you a charlatan or a fool?
At least you always understood
Plebeian work of hands.
I do not worship you, it is true,
But strangely, even now,
When all the old beliefs have died
You still move me.
I hung your broken body in the kitchen
Where your thorn-crowned head
And patient look of sorrow
Pierce my heart.



Don't go, stay awhile,
or say something before you leave,
before walking into the blackness
of this steamy, scented night.
Outside the lighted terrace
ripe pomegranates plop softly
and bullfrogs
croak an incessant lament.
Life and living and swift
death are all around,
tangible, in the air.
The pinkly transparent ghekko
waits patiently for prey,
while we stare, silent,
at the dregs in the coffee cups.

Monterrey, Mexico


Flowers bloom for you
this I don't deny
different flowers
other seasons
other times.

Yours come in Spring
I have forgotten Spring
February snowdrops
moist and wilting.

Mine shout all year
purple, coral, loudly pink
Yours are sweet smelling
palely muted
We know nothing of each other.



Again the church bell
and its one persistent note,
and again I am awake
dry-mouthed with fear.

It is the Eve of All Hallows,
the night of the witchhunt.
Dogs bark as the tocsin sounds
and the torches of the righteous
are like glow-worms in the fields.

Up in the high pasture two sheep died mysteriously.

I have a black mole beneath my breast
foulness is tangled in my hair
I have consorted with Balaam,
been possessed by Leviathan
danced at dawn with fumed spirits
polluted the wells with venom
bewitched the pastor's pining son
put the evil eye on the hare-lipped
child made tisanes from noxious herbs
kept a black cat.

The church bell tolls
and Satan's daughter burns
on the pyre of her iniquities.


The Nun

Bride of Christ, inviolate,
All I wanted to be
In those distant days
As you glided noiselessly
With your puma tread along
Chalk-smelling corridors.
Teaching the logic of algebra
With soft County Mayo voice
Or reprimanding gently
With one upturned finger
White as wax,
Eyes compassionate and wise
Under a starched coif.
You, untroubled by stirrings
Of the flesh
Knowing all and knowing nothing,
What was the secret
Of your tranquility,
Your uncarnal serenity?
And how could I know
I would never be like you?


We know only that life is a moment,
A brief anguish, a sudden joy:
Though each man, in his bones,
Believes in his own immortality.

The comfort of the paradox.

It takes courage to tread
A spiky atheistic path:
More, to hover in the limbo
Of the great not-knowingness.

We reason, scheme, yet are afraid
That like spume left by the wake,
All that we thought and felt and did
Will dissolve into the waiting void,
And as matter or shrivened molecules
Our course will be immigrant and lost.

Restlessly we will wander the earth,
Though the throat of the lark is dry,
And the dying leaf is gnarled
Like the hands of old women.

Our voices will be spectral sighs,
Our words forgotten in a day,
Or quoted with hushed reverence.

To go down in the great annals
What is that to the living?

Our faces will be phantom-like, remote,
Pale smudges in a yellowing album.
Our sins will be pitiful things,
Smeared over, forgotten in time,
Or exaggerated by a merciless patina.

And if we are remembered at all,
Remembrance will be tinged with guilt:
The changing of flowers on a grave.

We live and we crawl like maggots
On a piece of rotting cheese,
All striving for the centre.
A maggot life, and a maggot death,
And always, unwillingness to accept it.


One reluctant eye
and then the other
opens with loathing
on another grey
alcohol blighted morning.
Droplets of gin sweat
streak the body
as a shaking hand
fumbles for pills
tasting of white dust.
A white furred tongue
inspected with disgust,
an obscene thing
like butchers' offal.
And the day stretches
endless and empty
and lost.
The talk, the talk,
the endless exchange
of word-poverty.
In the mirror
eyes are naked
cat-malevolent, feral,
but veiled over
with the polished veneer
of daily evasions.
Erudite mouthings
barely conceal the
desire to spit
or to lick.
The old primeval light
curbed, tempered:
laced forever in the
strait-jacket of the mind.
Ancient lusts
currents of the blood
throttled, deadened
by the tallow glow
of reasoning's lamp.
Note, my love,
one admonishing finger
from her whorish hand
and we are silenced.



There was a time of enchantment,
inanities whispered by candlelight,
soul probing, Omar Khayyam, all that
When lips, hands, body, thought, mind,
were indissoluble, synonymous, replete.
There was a time each glance meant
some deep, shuddering message,
as if eye meeting eye was testament enough
to the very constancy of love.
Locked in the monstrous egotism
of each deluded self,
poor fools, unlearned, untried,
in the dreadful finality of severance.

And now when we meet by chance
there's nothing much in our eyes
but a hurried greeting,
the discomfort of indifference ...

In Retrospect

Looking back through the aeons of time,
or the infinitesimal speck,
when your eyes first appeared
on the fringes of my worn life,
I slaked my thirst with your thoughts
in great indigestible draughts
in my endless search for being.
Through you I longed for freedom
with the ferocity of a chained falcon,
imperilled what I feared to lose,
let hard-won wisdom seep through my hands
like drifting grains of sand.
Tied to my mast I heeded siren voices,
half desiring my own shipwreck,
and hell was the courtyard of heaven
where horned angels smiled benignly,
stifling paltry conscience.
But the pinpricks of living defeat me.
That which was yesterday is not today;
captivity corrodes the edges.

So have I chosen, so must I live,
and nevermore think my life is my own.


Now, even now,
After an absence without end,
I still walk with your sorrow
And your destructive image.
I feel I am free of you,
But in the arms of unloved men
I lie on the corpse of your absence.
A grey mist covers the mountains,
The bougainvillea wilts,
The air is foul with dampness,
There is no sky.
His shadow still haunts me
But thank God,
I think of him less.

To Be Old

Someday, when this flesh is shriveled,
When these wanderings are remembrance,
When these vanities are fled,
When this restlessness is quietude,
And all the twilights without terror;
Then shall I awake and say,
"Someone I hated has died".


I sit fair or fitting
that in my flight from you
I should see your face
in the steamy window
of this moribund moving train.
That damned superior look
that same sardonic smile,
but still, now and then,
the hinterland of sadness.
Wheels move turgidly
and yet they move.
The body is propelled
and the mind is caught
in the rusting cogs of the past.
Flight is only distance
and distance itself a myth.


Why are we concerned with kisses,
and what are they anyway?
mingled breaths of garlic and booze,
mechanical gestures of habit,
pecks on the cheeks of enemies,
bites like the sting of the asp,
fumblings of exploration,
shy jabs that miss their mark,
symbols at railway stations,
comfort synonymous with tears,
intentions of betrayal, love.

Something Always Happens on a Train

For a short moment
Our train stopped
At a derelict station:
Bats nestling in the roof,
Timbers splintering,
Rust competing with dust.
Ancient gas jets,
Sagging and torn,
Nevermore to gleam
With yellow foggy light.
Disintegrating, dying ...
Until a bird alighted
On a broken bench,
A city-bred sparrow,
Seeking roots
In the sunlit desuetude
Of human waste.
Living, striving ...
It perked, fluttered,
Knowing its freedom.
With ticket firmly punched
I wonder where I am going.

London 1969


And still I am promiscuous.
A promiscuous gatherer of shadows.
Dissolving forms like pollen dust,
Blurred tears behind train windows,
Distorted shapes in fairground glass,
Underwater phantoms with streaming hair,
A stooped figure skiing out of sight,
Migratory birds with dawn on the wings,
And still;
And still;
My life is some rough texture
That will not be smoothed out.

The Island

The sudden hush of the island at noon.

No distracting voice to break the mood
of time suspended
on a fragile thread while life and thought pauses,
nothing but the somnolence of siesta
and the symmetry of a sail
far out to sea.
Nothing but the insistent waves
on the stony beach
and the hoarse croak of cicadas.
Only the crack of parched earth
on the hill behind us
and the olives ripening.

The beach is empty,
even the fishermen have gone,
leaving a catch of octopuses to dry in the sun,
like many-limbed crucifixions.

The rocks out there like mountains on the moon,
and you and I alone,
cocooned in midday heat.

Hydra, Greece

Manon Meilgaard 1928-2008

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