If you believe I met Chan Canasta in 1962 after hours in the cold at the stage door, Canasta sweeping through in his long black coat as I called out Sir? Sir? and he turned and loomed above me like a vampire, you may as well believe any of the things I dream about, watching his old TV shows – the way he handled a deck of cards up close (they couldn’t catch it with the camera) like pulling a silk scarf through his fingers, or the Slavic ghost in his voice, conducting his guests to pick a card, or think of a card but please ladies and gentlemen, keep it secret or how he held them all in the corner of one pale eye, and you knew somehow he had read their minds. You may as well believe that night we walked down by the canal was the first of many times – the narrow boats in their carnival colours moored in the mist, the smell of tar, and Chan not looking at me but talking, talking, as though I was the first person to ever ask him – of the family in Cracow lost in the war, of the shaded roof garden in Jerusalem where he had read book after book on occultism and mesmerism and practised his experiments – if you have talent you must polish ituntil it glitters and how he remade himself in Britain – pilot, magician, English-Polish gentleman. Was it the first light coming up brought silence? We sat by the lock, Chan pulling his cards from his pocket and holding each one up to his lighter until the flame spread and the symbols and faces cindered, and he flung them out across the dark still water, like firebirds.
Hannah Lowe's latest poetry collection is Chan (Bloodaxe, 2016).