Cliff Forshaw

SPA

Fantasy inspired by a residency at Borsec, Transylvania. The town’s name is derived from the Hungarian “borvizszék” meaning “Seat of Mineral Water”. Once a famous spa, it is largely delapidated now.

*

They say there is a spring for the broken-hearted,
a well for the cure of all the sad and lonely,
and that the water at the seventh source
grants solace to spinster and geek alike.
Those who married advantageously,
or for love, need none, but those who are hated
by their children have a crystal fountain.
There is one also for those who are a trial
and a sore disappointment to their fathers.
Here, you see a chalky well for dyspeptics;
another which is a specific against the pox,
unseasonable melancholy and unsociable wind.
The slime from this spring where toads and lizards bask
is balm for those disappointed in cards or politics.

*

The parish pump dispenses healthful draughts
to all, but is especially beneficent
to those who serve on municipal sub-committees.
It assuages ambition in the ugly and talentless,
and is known to put a smile on the faces
of both the chronically stupid and those who have learned
incompetence from long study of their masters.
A draught direct from this silver rivulet
is enough to lighten the heavy soul.
Those who grouch through late May afternoons
are immersed in this happy brook by the constables
and inundated by the prettiest prostitutes until
they can resist our glee no longer and break
into song. Listen! It has a most cheery burble.

*

The water at this well contains only water,
but it smiles on rocks which are the dry residue
of bitter tears. Other wells have been analysed
and found to contain trace elements
of alienation, pogrom, Holocaust.
Here is the Lethean Pool for those who wish
to divest themselves of wrong beginnings.
Bathe here and wash away bad memories.
Forget uncaring parents, unwanted childhoods,
the cruel boarding school, yet crueller vacations.
Here less is so much more, once freed
of the purposelessness of mediocre lives,
the house, the baggage, all the impedimenta
of loathed careers, the dead-end jobs and wives.

*

You, who have lived in the mountains, listened to the gossip of birds,
their endless chitter about their neverfound mates;
you who have heard the chink of forlorn goat bells,
the howls of disconsolate dogs, and, towards evening,
on the edge of the forest, the ululations of widows and witches
as the wolves leave behind their shadows for the bars and the brothels,
you are at home, here, on the path of the crushed snail,
by the Cabin of Holy Suicides, the Shed of Gall
and Kidney Stones. Walk through the shadow of the Valley
of Bad Breath, under the halo of St Halitosis; be glad to
pray in the Chapel of the Flatulent Shepherd; account yourself
lucky to prostrate yourself at the altar of the Virgin
of  Premenstrual Tension, throw yourself under the stilettos
of the Black Madonna of Fashion, the boots of Our Lady of Grunge.

*

As you pass through vistas of land-art, site-specific
sculpture, hear the echo of installation
artists weeping in their eyries and caverns,
note the gardens of zen gravel, the monasteries
with their libraries, wine-cellars, orchards,
hydroponic terraces for the cultivation
of  cannabis and herbal laxatives.
Marvel at the ivied towers of astronomers,
geneticists and geomancers. The temples
dedicated to augury and haruspication.
And remember your ancestors, just where
it is that you come from: those dwellers in villages
of woodsmoke, incest, lice and larceny,
hamlets of grudges passed down the long centuries.

*

Welcome to the Sanatorium!
You do us honour, very Respected Guest!
Allow me, on behalf of all our staff,
from Distinguished Doctors, our great Parisian Chefs,
right down to the lowliest (but all are pretty!) chamber maid,
to welcome you to this our ancient scenic town,
our state-of-the-art hygienic facility
and Temple of  Hydrological Medicine.
Here all is modern and yet so picturesque.
Please, enjoy your stay in our humble establishment!
(Though it will be obvious, that no expense
has been spared in pursuit of your well-being.).
All is here, from excellent conference facilities
to mud-baths for the anxious, a cocktail bar for the tense.

*

We have springs, of course, for those unfortunates
suffering from hardening of the concepts, unsuitable
sentimental attachments or debilitating nostalgias.
The melancholic have their walls diffused towards
evening with playfully erotic light.
In the Caracalla Wing, those making ends meet on a tight
emotional economy may relax in perfumed waters
conducive to the cultivation of abundant attitude.
Sitz-baths may ease those deep in debt to family piety,
assuage survivors of sanctimonious spouses
and the victims of over-rigorous scholarly rectitude.
The library has great watery chairs for academics whose stipends
have been mislaid through unseemly familiarity, lewd
behaviour or simple gross moral turpitude.

*

In the Yellow Room, neurasthenic poets
may, through vitrines of absinthe and water-lily
contemplate the faces of their critics
metamorphosed into hydrocephalics,
syphilitics or just plain dribbling idiots.
As is traditional, the Entrée des artistes
is at the back. The garret is famously host
to the consumptive but distingué ghosts
of several former symbolistes
who drank deeply of our Pierian Spring
and rhapsodised the nereids, nymphs and water-sprites
who dallied in these parts.  Those same nymphs sing
of Sapphic verse, which was itself once seen
written in water at the Well of Loneliness.

*

Spurned women, wan, troubled by wandering wombs,
are confined by convention to the lower floors
and the tedium of chancers, impoverished aristocrats,
political emigrés, and would-be belle-lettrists.
At least they can avoid those hateful civil servants,
who have learned to be neither civil nor servile,
and are avid for a second career with their dull memoirs
of justly-forgotten administrations. Meanwhile,
in the hotel the waltzes have now already slowed
and the orchestra is the merest echo.
The dance cards are all being stored away.
We have all overheard the doctors say:
this town can’t cure itself. It needs to go to away,
to another spa, and take their waters.

*

Windows have shattered.  Rain falls
through  rooms where birds and snakes nest.
The ceiling and the beds collapse,
the flowered wallpaper scarfs away
to swags of roses and bougainvillea.
The velvet curtains fade with sun,
until the mad or homeless pull them down
for something warm to sleep and piss upon.
For months, some stubbornly remain,
outfacing weather, growing heavier with rain,
until they, too, like all else fall.
Paper petals, leaf-litter, mushed underfoot.
The skeleton of the hotel shines through,
its bones polished by decades of rain.

 

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