The Iago Gate

for Mark Young

Strange horizon in the city of styles. Reminiscences of Byzantium, of Carthage, of Trieste. Three buildings, side by side, from three different years. 1897. 1900. 1898. Their walls contiguous and the centre one ziguratted, with a stepped facade, after the fashion of houses in Amsterdam. Here is the African Market, here they sell leather goods, whips and chains, here is a travel agency where you buy tickets to Mars. At the other end of the strip I find two pictures of old Malacca, Jonkers Street (1890), where the (fake) antique shops are, Dutch Square (1880) which I don't know; but I remember the toothy wastrel in the annex of the roofless church on the hill who sold me an image of the St Iago Gate (1890) in the same manner for a fraction of what they want for these two prints. A gate, local superstition says, that it is death to walk through. And yet I did. The rows of poetry books are black with dust, it comes stickily off onto my fingers, sweat drips inside my shirt as I go to the counter to buy the one my friend wants. The proprietor remembers the poet, two months before she died, coming in with armloads of books to sell so she could feed her addiction. He shakes his head. Such a good poet, he says. So sad. I pause, waiting for more, but he just looks blankly over his glasses, folding and passing large denomination notes to the younger man at his elbow. Out in the street it no longer looks like antiquity but a future I don't want any part of, one made out of gasoline, pheromones and noise. Choose your seat, a man says, climbing a ladder with spanner and screwdriver. Cretin is an old French word for Christian, I recall, lion is still lion. In the Coliseum. My own book on the floor of the shop, in the history section, didn't look like one that anybody would want to buy. Sometimes the train arrives on the platform the same time as you do, sometimes fate takes a hand. I get on, feeling suddenly as if an un-sought-for destination has chosen me. Rookwood, perhaps. And what, after all, does Knäbel mean? Knife? Knave? Or some other knackery?

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