I have cast away the jewels of your lives
Having no space in this new flat
And smelling the mould beginning to rest upon them;
Reconciled instead ‘to live for the moment’,
Still tapping at faith, of a kind, like the wasp in my window:
Still brimming with purpose, like that keepsake of your
Nan as a little girl: coy behind her foxed vignette…
Alive beyond her fingertips, with its blue galvanic
Charge, is the life that rolls before her…
And in truth she sits composed, your Nan sits self-composed,
Assured of a future that must amount to something.
The Dead, however, died. Their poses were, as critics attest,
Essays in taxidermy – quaint to behold, like the faces of stuffed
Cats or parrots: and signifying nothing, beyond the secret fragrance
Of what they’d once meant to themselves. Fate gave the Dead
Nothing, nothing to last beyond a certain antique curiosity:
Like Attar of Roses in a leatherette handbag,
Like a joke from a pre-War cracker,
Like the poem that nobody read.
Live for what bloody moment? There’s no delirium of infinity
Down here, boys and girls, whether I’m rehearsing
For the grave or for the subway.
Here I sit: alone, unimpassioned and, I think, transparent to the light –
Throat choked, skin like the aftermath of a burn, a dry-ice burn,
As – in the clasp of vacant time – I scavenge the stains
On bedroom walls, and work a bradawl on the pupils of my eyes.
The tick of a sober oaken clock was the constant factor:
Marching through my life as it had through yours,
Indenting our waiting silence; bobbing like a marker
On the markless, passionless, waking sift of ultramarine deeps;
Treading water on your retirement, and for my squandered time:
For my life which is a diversion from life, a distraction from living,
Its dusting: a vexation of artful hopes.
About my childhood I remember little.
Tumbling dandelions to chase, fugitive as summer itself;
And scents of lilac in the evening.
My sister and I made, from garden pebbles, the temple for
A moth-god. We were perplexed she flew the nest
Before we could worship her (no doubt, before the bigger boys could
Tear off wings). In floppy, flowery hats and chopped-down
Shirts, we dug for Australia. Somewhere overhead, they put up
Telstar. Everything was as new and strange as optimism itself.
Each payday, with pride and quiet excitement, you’d bring
A new trophy: fabrics, watercolours, glass, some tiny sculpture –
Bearing it home, as if in splendour from samphiric shores,
Tokens of your delight, and something to
Hold onto, come…come, whatever came…
These were your prizes; bought, in the end, for us:
For me, shored up as I am in this plutonic space
Sucking in the remnants of your trust, like a tick.
Around me lies your weight of hope, and it recoils from my decline:
Would you have understood me? Could you have forgiven?
Should you have shared the blame? Would your heart melt,
Or could you feel only dismay, that my loveless life
Means nothing, nothing, nothing?
Captain Scott wrote it, in the same year as Grandma’s smile:
“Pray God look after our people.” Amundsen, of course, had
Got to the Pole first (thanks to a taste for eating dogs)
Leaving in his tracks the hard, unanswerable slap of despair.
A last Antarctic hut would be preserved;
Testimony, I suppose, to the noblesse of fathomless
Failure. And, still behind Scott’s door, lay cans of food:
Unopened, virginal in this refuge, pristine because entombed.
My life’s like that, you see. Give me what I said I wanted
And, before your very eyes, I’d pulp on the fresh
Air, like Monsieur Valdemar’s corpse.
So let us, rather, weep at troubadours’ laments.
Let every hope be unrequited.
Let’s strain to hear music in the crack of a crevasse,
Accomplishment in needless suffering,
Purpose, in what was ordained to fail,
Or destiny, in the patter of a clock.
An essay in futility, interia and perhaps above all guilt; occasioned by sepia portraits of my grandparents.