AIW – 2007

DAD, MUM & ALAN

On a Christmas morning many years ago I was born. Mum and I were in a small maternity home in Horton Kirby, West Kent. A few miles away in my grandparents’ terraced cottage on Hockenden Lane, Swanley, Dad and Alan (my parents’ lodger, turned closest friend) awaited the call. When it came via the only telephone in the terrace of cottages, they climbed onto their bikes and negotiated the lanes between Swanley and Horton Kirby. There was no snow; it wasn’t a white Christmas, but there was a hard frost and ice lay across the surfaces of the lanes. Dad skidded and fell off his bike so many times that on arrival at the nursing home, Mum’s midwife had to patch him up, much to my mother’s disgust. Alan, however, was unblemished. Calm, cautious and fastidious as ever, he’d navigated his bike along the gutters of the lanes, correcting his passage against pavement or hedge bank.

And so, as I stared blindly up towards the light, there were three faces looking down at me, not just the usual parental complement of two. And as I grew into sentience, conscious bit by bit of the world immediately around my cot, and then around the looming beds and armchairs and sofas, there were three grownups sharing my space. I had a Mum, a Dad and an Alan. This was the ordained way of things; this was normality.

Alan lived with us in our corner house in suburban Norbiton, Surrey, finally moving to his own flat in central London when I was 14. But the ties were indissoluble and he drove down every weekend, and still we spent holidays together. Many years on in retirement Alan bought a beautiful house in the South-East of France, which he shared with my parents and where they stayed for the greater part of the year.

My father died in 1998 and my mother in 2008. Alan died this April at the age of 98, still resident in his London flat, and his funeral was on May 7th. I wrote this poem while my mother was still alive and Alan and I were visiting her, each in 3-day sequences, Alan, increasingly frail, making the journey from Hyde Park Square to North Hertfordshire.

AIW – 2007

Sometimes I see us,
you and I, as two figures
in a landscape, empty

but for us, chalk-mark still,
our long shadows
in alignment at last.

You tended the edges
of my life
from the start

the good steward,
the gatekeeper. But the
hard, white lighthouse

beam of that
indivisible love shone
high above my head.

I knew only
my mother’s laugh,
her head thrown back,

my father’s tread
on the rising stairs,
and your silence.

Yet, even then,
its bending edge
cast light enough to read by.

Now my father’s dead
and my mother smiles,
lost in her sheets.

And still you radiate
(burning up hope
and your few years)

that love indivisible whose
fanatic heat binds us
here in this empty place.

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POPULATION VOID.

Yves PréfontaineOn July 25th 2015 my friend the poet, blogger and curator Dave Bonta was kind enough to publish on his eminent blog, Via Negativa  a first draft of French-Canadian poet Yves Préfontaine’s extraordinary poem Peuple Inhabité. Life in a time of Corona has given me the time to return to it and as result make some small but important revisions. 

Here;’s what Dave wrote above that first translation:

Quite a challenge, this one. It’s always a delicate balance that has to be maintained between ‘translation’ and ‘version’ so I shall be interested in any feedback from other Francophones.

I found a brief biog of Yves Préfontaine at the Electronic Poetry Centre (which, incidentally, opened for business way back in the mid ‘90s when there was virtually no poetry presence on the internet at all). Born in 1937 in Montréal, poet Yves Préfontaine is an anthropologist by training. He published his first poems at the age of fifteen and released his first collection at twenty. At eighteen, he began his career as radio script writer at Radio-Canada, with some incursions into television. He organized, amongst other things, a series of fourteen shows with Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist – who was also originally from Montréal. In 1959, he co-founded the journals Situations and Le Québec libre; later he joined the editorial board of Liberté, of which he was the editor-in-chief from 1961 to 1962. […] His poems have been translated into English, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian, and Croatian.

 

POPULATION VOID
by Yves Préfontaine, translated by Dick Jones

I live in a region where the cold has beaten down the grass, where  gloom lies heavy over the ghostly trees.

I live in silence amongst a dormant population, shivering under the frost of their words. I live amongst a people who have lost all language both fragile and forceful.

I live inside an all-embracing cry –
Speechless stone –
Sudden clifftops –
The winter a naked blade in my chest.

A snowdrift of exhaustion gently stifles this land in which I live.

And I prevail within the fog.
And I persist in speaking out.
And from my pain no echo returns.

A people’s language is their bread.
A place of light amongst the rotting wheat.

I live amongst a people who have lost themselves.
And the great territories of their joy wither beneath this endless tundra
This great disowned abundance.
I live inside a cry powerless now to pierce, to strike, to break through
these barriers of spittle and masks.
I live amongst a phantom people disowned like the ugly daughter.
And my footsteps mark a circle in this desert. A deluge of furious white faces surrounds me.

The land that I inhabit is a marble tableau under ice.
And this land empty of the men of light whispers in my blood
like a lover.
But I fight against this absence between my teeth, a poverty of words
that gleam and then are lost.

0O0

Peuple inhabité

J’habite un espace où le froid triomphe de l’herbe, où la grisaille règne
en lourdeur sur des fantômes d’arbres.

J’habite en silence un peuple qui sommeille, frileux sous le givre de ses mots. J’habite un peuple dont se tarit la parole frêle et brusque.

J’habite un cri tout alentour de moi –
Pierre sans verbe –
Falaise abrupte –
Lame nue dans ma poitrine l’hiver.Une neige de fatigue étrangle avec douceur le pays que j’habite.

Et je persiste en des fumées.
Et je m’acharne à parler.
Et la blessure n’a point d’écho.

Le pain d’un peuple est sa parole.
Mais point de clarté dans le blé qui pourrit.

J’habite un peuple qui ne s’habite plus.
Et les champs entiers de la joie se flétrissent sous tant de sécheresse
Et tant de gerbes reniées.
J’habite un cri qui n’en peut plus de heurter, de cogner, d’abattre
Ces parois de crachats et de masques.
J’habite le spectre d’un peuple renié comme fille sans faste.
Et mes pas font un cercle en ce désert. Une pluie de visages blancs
Me cerne de fureur.

Le pays que j’habite est un marbre sous la glace.
Et ce pays sans hommes de lumière glisse dans mes veines comme
Femme que j’aime.
Or je sévis contre l’absence avec entre les dents, une pauvreté de mots
Qui brillent et se percent

Jean Coulthard  – The Bird Of Dawning Singeth All Night Long. Poem for violin, harp and strings (1960)

 

 

 

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A CLEAR BLUE SKY

A CLEAR BLUE SKY

My dad was a man of prose – a specialist: words used
like gardening tools to conjure shapes, to fashion patterns.
Language mattered: correspondence ran to pages –
letters to the council; ‘thank you’ cards to nurses
that read like testimonials. Even notes to the milkman
came across like billets doux to an old and valued friend.
And the writing: tiny box-shaped words in biro,
whispering in lines, or gathered quietly in the margins,
small-voiced but insistent, looking for truths.

When he knew that he was dying, he sat at the edge
of his life, scribbling a commentary. Twinges
from a cancer hotspot got a note immediately,
draped around the Guardian crossword clues
or squeezed between the calculations in his ledger:
where it hurt, for what duration, and, in imagistic detail,
the character of pain (like a voice, like broken glass, an ache
like winter rheumatism). And, towards the end, in his little diary,
potted phrases: “Slept well”, “Insomnia”, “Coughing still”.

For we who sat around his bed, it was the silence
that confounded. To the nurses plumping pillows, lifting cups
from which he didn’t want to drink; to waiting family
fiddling with the radio, sifting through his laundry,
he said nothing. All his words were spent just days ahead
of the breath that carried them. And then, the afternoon
of the day he died, the clouds drew back, late spring appeared.
Mum leaned back towards the window, smiled and said:
‘Look – a clear blue sky’, and we turned to see.

My father didn’t turn his head. Whatever sky he saw
was far behind in time, or maybe just ahead. Whatever sky it was,
no messianic veil, no chariots of fire obscured the view.
His great abundance, just like ours, was absolutely empty –
birdless, sunless, silent and ineffable, mocking the mad commotion
down below. He drew in breath, breathed out and said:
‘A clear blue sky’, floating the words on the sterile air
like leaves. He didn’t speak again; he died that night and,
one by one, the stars went out, a lexicon set free.

mum202620dad2_2

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TWO EASTER POEMS

360px-Stained_glass_in_Dingle

STAINED GLASS

The quality of light: this, a piece
of late evening sky. How darkness
can shine: last of the sun, a first
breath of stars, a waxing moon.

Judas walks out of the small room
while they are still dining.
No one knows but Jesus
and his head is turned away.

But they can’t escape, these
protagonists, caught between
the ruby and green, the dark blue light,
the black bands of lead.

o0o

IN THE DAYS BEFORE THEY CAME FOR HIM

What interests me so much more than
those pages of scripture foxed with turning
is his choosing of a blue gown over a white;

his weighing of two stones in either hand, the one
mottled like a perfect moon, the other pale and blind
as a sleeper’s face,

and his standing by an open window
speculating the limitless sea
as a merciful place where to rest his head

against a turning back towards a roiling world
whose tide is in the flood.

Harry_Clarke_The_Sermon_on_the_Mount_(detail)

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IMMORTAL

dj in front garden

IMMORTAL

A summer morning.
I’m 10. I’m sitting
in a sandpit, back
supported by
a bucket
upside down.
The sun is brilliant,
and standing high;
it must be
nearly noon. I
tip back my head
and I yawn and
the sun fills
my open mouth
like a spoon
and I know
that I shall
live forever.

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UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

img_0130

Memories of loneliness within the crowd and seeking solitude in order to conjure up home…

UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

They were singing The Parting Glass. The fire was high.
Some eyes were closed with the weight of the song;
others gleamed. All there were drinking hard.

The windows ran with condensation and rain fell straight
in the windless night. I rose and threaded my way
to the door. From woodsmoke, I stepped into seaspray.

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.

Image: https://landseastars.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/the-griffin-inn-dale/

The Parting Glass at Peadar O’Donnell’s Bar, Derry

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LIFE IN A TIME OF CORONA 5.

the-enigma-of-the-arrival-and-the-afternoon-1912.jpg!Large

Another restless night. At 01.20 I stood at the window watching the skyline. During previous bouts of insomnia, there was always something faintly comforting about the long, probing lights of planes flying into Luton Airport from the east and descending elegantly behind the trees. Others awake like me, but in transit from Sofia, Talinn, Lyon, Kutaisi, Reykjavik, Cork. The enigma of arrival.

But in the small hours this morning nothing disturbed the skyline. And my sense of solitude was strangely heightened by the sudden doppler whine of a motorbike speeding by on the road below. But, of course, the solitude is real and its sense is pervasive. Yesterday we went for a walk. We crossed the fields and walked down the long slope of the lane. We were passed by just one car before turning onto the muddy track that took us past the farm and onto the bottom of the hill leading up to our house. As we walked alongside the meadow where the horses are grazed, half way up it a lone figure was slipping a bridle over the neck and head of a piebald shire horse. She turned as she gathered it into her arms and saw the three of us paused by the fence. With the solemnity of the stay-at-home edict still fresh in our minds, there was a curious hesitancy in the distant encounter. Then the woman slowly raised her free arm in a strangely stiff and formal salute; we returned it in similar manner; she turned and walked towards the stable buildings and we continued on our way.

So suddenly we’re strangers in a strange land. And as the economic structure purées all standard procedure around us, the normal social protocols go into suspension. In one street an act of inexplicable cruelty and stupidity occurs; in a parallel street the self-sacrifical kindness of a stranger demonstrates the extraordinary generosity that ennobles humanity in crisis.

And it’s all broken apart in a little over a fortnight. Here we all are inside our familiar house, moving from room to room, eating meals, binge-watching on Netflix, carrying our laundry upstairs, face-timing friends, sweeping floors, insulated briefly from the Mystery. But the outside world that we scrutinise through the windows has fallen away. The trees and fields and pathways prevail, but the few passers-by hasten in their transit as if anxious only to draw their own walls swiftly around them so that they too may themselves move from room to room, glancing now and then through the windows.

Ólafur Arnalds – Particles, featuring Nanna Brands Hilmarsdóttir.

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