Summer Solstice, Villa Bled, Slovenia
Tito’s getaway in the Julian Alps
has a lake cut from a glacier.
The architecture is monumental, retro,
June sees the blue-green water halted
in its heat; gondolas with another name
move people out at commercial intervals
to the medieval church on the one island
in this small, historic country. Once there
they can enter the picturesque
and pull the bell’s knotted rope;
your wish goes with each weighted fall
of the body with the arms. Everyone
in the town of Bled can hear the throng
of peels. Here we are, in the postcard.
Hip, rich and uncertain how we love,
but not too unsure; each has accidents
in the past that make us unlikely to be hard
enough for our own good, but we can be cold.
The view would make Wordsworth write
poetry. Not all of it good. Memory
rewrites greatness like it does
our faults; Was Tito faithful, this partisan liberator
to his wife? The church bells ring again –
some kid from Austria hoping for a loose buck tooth,
the guy with FRANK on his silver Cadillac
parked at the wish-rope, wanting more fish on the fork.
Beauty is where we visit, and pay for it.
I am glad I came. I know, with how we know things
in our informed age – with that tingle of knowledge
somewhere approaching pain – that this is
where I have always wanted to be. Near God,
and near totalitarian places, both similar, and serene,
I feel France Preseren’s Slovenian adulation for Nature,
and know, as if told by someone who I trust –
and always will – that here in Alpine climes –
two thousand metre peaks in the distance –
snow-capped, sublime, higher than any bird will go,
it is the best we can do to recognise what is special,
then blanche the acknowledgement with silent innocence
and then leave, and with it, take the cynical;
because, when we see and feel something rare and pure,
that too is a subject for the soul to torture and control,
or to fondle to kindness in the eye’s pleading bowl.
Bled is serious, and permanent, and she more beautiful
than I. This I will take to my personal history, until dead.
And what else, except for tragedy and birth, is there,
to sing, or singe with lunatic light, the shutterbug’s impulse
to cover every wondrous shape? Only, that even
after Tito and such stark buildings, we are this gently
capable of soft remembering. On the longest day of summer.
Todd Swift was born in Montreal, Canada, on Good Friday. After working as a successful TV writer in his 20s (HBO, Fox, Paramount, Hanna-Barbera, CBC, etc.), he moved to Europe in 1997 – first Budapest then Paris, where he organised literary events, lectured, and edited anthologies. A graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at UEA, he is a Lecturer at the Kingston Writing School, Kingston University, Surrey. His critical study of Anglo-Quebec poetry, Language Acts, co-edited with Jason Camlot, was a finalist for the 2007 Gabrielle Roy Prize. His Seaway: New and Selected Poems was published by Salmon in 2008. He co-edited Modern Canadian Poets (Carcanet, 2010) with Evan Jones. Poems of his have appeared in New American Writing, Poetry, Poetry London, Poetry Review, The Guardian Review, The Daily Telegraph and The Globe and Mail. He has new collections forthcoming from DC Books and Tightrope Books and is currently editing Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam. He blogs as Eyewear. He is married and lives in London.