One day, bumbling about his normal business,
He fell through the net of indeterminacy
Into the great interstices of the
Earth. So softly did it happen
He alighted like down, or a sycamore seed,
Coming to rest in its native habitat:
He came to lie
Where grey tracts of frozen rock
Were woven like hair; the winds
Lifted him upon temperate dust,
Where a falling needle, or a hiatus on a
Pinhead, was an avalanche:
And high, beyond sight on some plateau or eyrie,
An Olympian wristwatch tolled the judgment of
Recumbent gods; beneath the luciferous glow of
Falling light, a crushed grocery receipt might wheeze
And groan, possessed by orgasms even after death.
Concerning his tumble, the critics had no doubt.
“He felt as little pain as a breaking branch:
Blissfully free of memory, grasping only how
Convivial it was, to be truly anonymous.
When he slipped from us, he was smiling as broadly
As a melon, and every bit as sincere.”
Fresh witnesses affirmed – he seemed beyond reproach.
“The rope that tugged from birth to his demise
He’d embroidered appropriately – without
Undue extravagance, and certainly without sensibility.
Like a clattering loop of Super 8, his brain
Recycled its final caption, a sparking punchline
Sashaying forever, as his once-living clay turned silty,
Unaware that Normal Service could scarcely be
Resumed; not worrying that now he didn’t matter
(As if any one of us mattered, at the best of times).
But let our records show: his Little Girl
Wanted for nothing.”
Not for him, the luxurious indolence of dark, winter
Afternoons. Instead the starving perished, whilst he slept.
Your secret is, that only you know where
He laid himself to rest, where now he crept,
Where defeat was quiet, sober, absolute, calm.
He has anointed himself with clear water,
As cold as charity. He has clothed himself
In lichen and the softly-ripening moss.
As first he said, “As a child, and in my
Child’s eye, I trembled like a trapped rainbow.”
Then he said, “It’s taken me fifty years to cover my nakedness.”
Of course, as both of you know well: something inside
December 2006: for Antony
Various things served as the genesis for this. First, I wanted to prod a little further Stevie Smith’s best poem, “Not waving but Drowning”. Second, one of my favourite films from the 1950’s had just been released on DVD – “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” What sharpened my decision to write something was my encounter with a supremely decent lad (shouldn’t that read, “young man”?) in West London who would never be allowed to spread his wings, but instead was being so smothered that in five years he could be little more than institutionalised.
But of course, there’s something closer to home as well. This is my commemoration for those souls whose lives have been blighted by the wretched scourge called depression. As one good friend put it, “The 1980’s, for me, were a bit of a blur.” So here’s a poem to celebrate all those good people who, for whichever of a myriad of reasons, fell through life’s cracks. Who knows if they might, otherwise, have shone more brightly than any of us?