top of page

Slow Wine | Jennifer Maiden

(from The Espionage Act)

How often were they actually drunk?

How often were they actually angry?

How often was the 'addictive personality'

intelligence agencies are told to recruit a reality?

Or were they shamming intoxication,

like Richard Sorge in a bar,

like Burgess guying little-boy-addiction,

like Philby pretending his love for Mitzi

was just a young man's lust, and not

a life-resolving passion, merging there

into quiet pretence with barely any effort?

I see him reading his book at last

on the balcony, the signal to go home.

And was he really reading? And alone?

The secrecy is always a companion.

There is a lyrical compulsion.

I see Sorge as cherry blossom,

Philby as salving snow.

When Pratt really was from ASIO,

predictable because in an NGO,

did he still have real affection

for thin bewildered Serbians?

And is there ever any one decision?

I wrote once that perhaps a spy

does not need to be one often, although

whenever I meet one of them,

I see them as an actor not a victim

and assume they are fully in charge of any

discrepancies in desire, although

it is always so tempting to explicate things

more over a slow wine, clumsy coffee.

But I find the truth soothing, and they

must be assumed to have another value.

Le Carre saw them as objects of pity,

and did not question his own loyalty,

knew only what was complicated, near,

but he had been beaten badly when he was young,

and that will narrow the game one-sidedly

so that a traitor not become a hero,

but just another specimen in fear.

I can't pity Sorge or Philby.

One can see in their eyes the book, the balcony,

and you and I can never sit out, calm,

there, wait for a Control to finish rescue,

and know that our unknown is always home.

Jennifer Maiden has 24 poetry collections, 6 novels. Awards include 3 Slessors, Victorian Prize for Literature, Christopher Brennan, 2 Age Poetry Book of Year, Age Book of Year, 2 C.J. Dennis, ALS Gold Medal. Latest books: Quemar Press: Selected Poems 1967-2018, Appalachian Fall, Play With Knives 1&2, 3&4, 5, brookings:the noun. 'Slow Wine' will be in her 2020 Quemar collection, The Espionage Act.

bottom of page