OR WE COULD STAY IN AND LISTEN TO THE RADIO
And there will be a bright parade
while we wonder where the wanderlust
came from and where it's gone. After two years
with your survival kit you are going
to be doing different things as well. Now
you are still in the emergency time –
we want to know what it's like there:
I have a terrible head for heights. And there will be
another glittering parade while we wonder
where the quiet child came from
and where he will end up. For the moment
I am invisible but I think it's meant to
be like that. It was so good to hear from
myself. We're going away and will come back again
although we will hang around that weekend
and I'll meet you before we come back. You'll feel
so different and in some ways it will be better,
far from each other. It will be dark soon.
THE PERUVIAN MINES
Because they never raise their eyes pigs can't see the sky which is why they do not wonder and I am trying to forget the Peruvian mines from which I pumped the water until my heart's granite cracked but let's forget that nonsense it's time to brew coffee that is also from South America's seething cauldron of foreign passion and beans to which I have never been but of which often I have dreamed and I have further marvelled how polar bears can't imagine a world without snow until they see it and then they don't believe it which is much the same as my own eyes gawping when from nowhere appears the love of my life although only for a relative fleeting moment in this long and tedious life and then it's back to the cleaning lady washing the stairs with yesterday's water and although I always figured that if I lowered my standards I could have anything I wanted avarice runs strong in my veins and coming from the dark corner of town I have tried to hoist myself up by my bootstraps which reminds me of the story about the cobbler who had ambitions to be a milliner but his family insisted people like him had no right to go up in the world and to be honest I'm not sure that was all of it but I think that was all of it my memory isn't what it was or at least it isn't how I remember it to have been and I am trying to forget the Peruvian mines from which I pumped the water until my heart's granite cracked and it's becoming easier with each day that passes but still when I close my eyes I'm back in the Peruvian mines from which I pumped the water until my heart's granite cracked and you know those mines are a metaphor don't you?
HOW I WATCH A YEAR GO BY
I would try to spend Summer in my head
then discover I have a head of Winter. I must
have a head of Winter because snow
covers my hair, or my hair is snow, and ice forms
where a smile should be, or people
toboggan down my face and clamber up the back of
my neck in their heavy boots. Birds
who used to nest behind my ears appear
to have abandoned me for sunnier climes. Now
it's time to ditch this laboured metaphor
and embrace simplicity. It's December, or January,
or February – it's so impossible to tell the difference
between one enemy and another, with their lidless eyes
and darkness drugs! It's impossible to do anything
during an Ice Age, although I once wrote a poem
about a hat, or that had a hat in it, a hat for Winter, but
I digress, and already it's windy March, blown in
on the noon tide and a wife's breath with nothing
to commend it but kites and scarves blowing.
This reminds me how once upon a time
a long time ago I was a child, and I flew a kite
and wore a scarf and was blown by the wind into
the path of an oncoming steamroller which, fortunately,
was going very very slowly and I had time not
only to get out of its way but also to read a chapter of
Swallows and Amazons which is not a book
I would like now but I liked then and always
carried around with me in spite of its improbable
weight and Oh suddenly suddenly
suddenly April! here it is with its "the First" and showers
of showerings. I always associate the month of April
with renewal (Easter) and renewal with library books
(especially a book of anecdotes, especially one about how
one day a man was getting on a bus and left his left foot
behind on the road; an unexpected uncontrolled dog was
somehow involved and a brouhaha ensued; I mis-
remember the details). May my memory improve! But
it won't, for age encroaches and devours. And here
is May, as it happens, breathing hot and cold but not at
the same time. And all at once I am waking
to phantasmagorias! The wondrous of everything and blissful
excitement of all. Shape alongside a sensation to touch.
Reading and re-building the Selected Homes of Kate O'Mara,
prospect of plum in my mouth excellent fruitful times, so much
so incoherence follows. What a time of the year! Summer
must be coming, the flags are fluttering and
I feel almost foreign. For reasons unfathomable
the transition from May to June proves most difficult. They
have different names and weathers but although it's possible
to love both it's impossible to be faithful to either, and
as the heat intensifies it's also impossible to say exactly
what anything means. It's as if a maths problem in which
two unknowns must be resolved into a third equally unknown
is keeping me awake throughout the day, while
at the same time and almost imperceptibly one is growing
into the enjoyment of seeming transitory pleasures. Oh! July!
(Oh! Over-use of! exclamation marks, but I am so passionate!)
Well come (sic) to summer of choices puzzles
labyrinths and you are lost, aren't you? My private
conundrum, creatures who seem incomplete or who have
refined duplicity to an art, half-human half-beast.
And yes, it is it is, and it's so difficult to choose
between you and August, for you are almost identical,
(twin hearts, burnings, yearnings, and the rhyming turnings)
or would be if September were not such a sultry siren
beguiling me with her undertow and secret wishes. No!
Or shall we fall from here with grace and into
yon icy cauldron? Grey elephant lumbering across the horizon
trying hard to understand and unravel misunderstandings:
you are the September of late summer and early autumn
and wavering of belief. Only with the arrival
(imagine an ocean liner pulling into a parking bay
outside the new shopping mall) of
October and its unfeeling certainties does transparency
finally condescend to bully me with its presence. I am
reminded of how I once fell to my knees to
await a blessing and awoke to see my mother
hanging over me all but obscured by a thick fog. Then
all at once as if time were only a figment or
a fragment of imagination it's December, or January,
or February – it's so impossible to tell the difference
between one enemy and another. They approach
with berets and boots, whispering of swimsuits
and battledress, underwear and promises,
birds in the trees awaiting the thaw. Oh,
but I see nothing has been explained at all, that what
was supposed to be an explanation or
at the very least a description of
how I watch a year go by
has refused to obey the unwritten rules of the form
as well as the written, has not considered
the expectations of those who, attracted by the prospect
of hearing how I watch a year go by, stopped by
to see what I had to say and have now
probably gone home in a huff (a vehicle often taken
by those bearing if not ill-will at least
a modicum of disappointment). But to explain
has was never my intention, nor was it my intention
to describe how I watch a year go by. I am sat
at my desk on a cheap chair of the style described
in furniture catalogues as an office chair bought from a shop
not far from here in Tangjiawan (Chinese: 唐家湾)
and on the couch behind me and across the room
Li Min is sat cross-legged with her head in a book
(not literally, that would be uncomfortable; it's a figure of
speech, in the same way as one says, for instance,
I could eat a horse, or my feet are killing me)
and three days ago an idea flittered into what I call
my mind, and it was to write about a year going by,
month after month, somewhat reminiscent
of a shepherd's calendar but in truth
nothing like a shepherd's calendar at all, there are no
sheep here, rather mosquitoes and cockroaches,
but that doesn't matter, it doesn't, for an idea flittering
is only a seed, and one is reminded of Spring,
refreshment of the earth, and Chaucer,
whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
the droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
and bathed every veyne in swich licour
of which vertu engendred is the flour;
whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
inspired hath in every holt and heeth
the tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
hath in the Ram his half cours yronne, and then to
Summer, and John Ashbery, and no one really knows
or cares whether this is the whole of which parts
were vouchsafed--once--but to be ambling on's
the tradition more than the safekeeping of it. This mulch for
play keeps them interested and busy while the big,
vaguer stuff can decide what it wants--what maps, what
model cities, how much waste space. Life, our
life anyway, is between. We don't mind
or notice any more that the sky is green, a parrot
one, but have our earnest where it chances on us,
disingenuous, intrigued, inviting more,
always invoking the echo, a summer's day. And then we arrive
at Autumn, and a predictable but nonetheless Keatsian Keats,
and barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
among the river sallows, borne aloft
or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
and full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
the red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
and gathering swallows twitter in the skies
until Winter arrives, but our Winter is
Frank O'Hara and a city Winter, for we today are posing as
city folk, and understanding the boredom of the clerks
fatigue shifting like dunes within their eyes
a frightful nausea gumming up the works
that once was thought aggression in disguise.
Do you remember? I remember but choose
to feign forgetfulness, and I choose the girl before the gang,
I choose the year and not the life,
I choose the hearth over the party,
I choose the month and not the year,
I choose the discordant before the melodic,
I choose the week ahead of the month,
I choose the ambiguous rather than the debatable,
I choose the day and not the week,
I choose the puzzle rather than the solution,
I choose the silence over the babble,
I choose the present and not the past,
I choose the pleasures of peace, oh Kenneth Koch! and
I choose the surrender unto love – not the resistance.
LETTERS FROM THE LIGHT TO THE DARKNESS
Dear The Day,
I wish you were more handsome.
Some say you are charming
but I can't see it: charm,
as far as I know, is more than
possessing the ability to act the part
others expect. Also I do not care
for the way you come and go.
The next time you go, please stay gone.
Yours in the shape of a becoming dishevelment,
"The Fear of Dawn"
Dear Social Secretary,
I won’t be joining y'all
for supper this evening. Do I strike you as
the kind of person who likes diseases?
Yours in the shape of impending misfortune,
Dear Arranger of Flowers,
Do you not realize
that to place the crocii behind
the lilies is akin to placing
the minnow behind the whale for
the school photograph? But
of course I bow (as do we all) to your long
years in the world of flora and fawning.
There is (it says in your publicity material,
and in the transcript of your divorce proceedings)
nobody else living within range of
an intoxicating perfume who knows more
about where one beauty should stand
in relation to another.
Yours in the shape of several futile liaisons,
"The Lost Cause"
Dear Student of Mysteries,
You will find the answers
to every question in
a bottle or three of wine.
Do not always expect clarity,
only more confusion and little comfort.
But do expect warmth and companionship.
Drinking with an intimate friend is
more rewarding than drinking alone,
but drinking alone has its compensations
(and also its condemnations).
I speak of that which I have learned.
If you ever visit my humble dwelling
I will show you my scars.
Yours in the shape of sediment accumulating,
"The Advice Shop"
Dear Hope Springs Eternal,
I heard a very funny joke yesterday
but it loses quite a lot of
its humour in translation.
In fact it loses
all its humour in translation
so I'm not going to tell you it.
Instead, let's go together and gaze at
the sea in all its murky polluted majesty.
We can also watch the aeroplanes coming in
to land. Life is out there somewhere.
Yours in the shape of an all-purpose plastic container,
"The Microscopic Boy"
I have also loitered in vacant hours
and befriended boredom. And I have waited,
and know how pain feels as it evolves
and becomes despair. On the other hand,
I have welcomed the unexpected arrival of
the pantomime horse, and enjoyed
many very funny moments in its company.
Often I have laughed until I thought
my bones would break.
Yours in the shape of a pile of sticks,
"The Lingering Doubt"
Dear May Flower,
It's not unusual
for confusion to follow confession,
for despair to follow delight,
or for turtles to turn out to be tortoises.
The pants, if that is what they are, leave me
breathless. And in a rather self-conscious non sequitur,
the mountain one is now now faced with has
all the characteristics of the lunar landscape.
Yours in the shape of feigned merriment,
"The Turn of the Tide"
Try harder! (Fortune is not your Mistress.)
Yours in the shape of success on stilts,
"The Irony Monger"
It appears we are at odds
about the meaning of discipline.
From my point of view,
the aim of discipline is to ensure
a few moments of self-interested
pleasure during our sojourn in
this vale of toil and tears. It would appear
we have read different books on the subject,
and we have certainly seen different films.
How one can live a life
limited by such archaic strictures
beats me like a gale beats
the mind of an imbecile into nothing
as much as a bag of feathers.
Yours in the shape of an ill wind blows all the time around here,
"The Palm of the Hand"
Were I able to accurately describe my symptoms
I would be as the scribe in the time of
King Theobald the Rapidly Balding
who so perfectly wrote of the chill winds
blowing through the hollows of his bones
the King had him stuffed and put on display
outside the royal palace before he died.
All I can say is that the chill winds
that blow through my hollows
you would not want them
anywhere near your house,
never mind your body. What I need is
a placebo so I can continue to fool myself
rather than admit to my true condition.
Yours in the shape of misplaced optimism,
Dear Mr. Genius,
Sometimes it seems as if in writing
to you I am writing to myself, but in
the absence of any replies I shall have to
let that pass. Once, when riding in the back of the cart
on the way to market with my mother and Aunt Joan,
I was admonished for telling myself
a story to pass the time. It was then I first felt a feeling
since felt on numberless occasions:
a sense of injustice
at being upbraided for entertaining myself
when nobody else was offering to do it for me.
I have had to be strong; it has not always been easy.
Yours in the shape of confidence ebbing,
"The Seed of Doubt"
Dear Supplier of Dreams,
You draw me to you as a magnet draws base metal.
You entrance, hypnotize, enthrall and petrify me.
In your presence I am as a stone cast into a quarry,
a pebble lost on the beach,
a dust mote in the eye of a hurricane,
and a snowflake in a blizzard.
You take my breath away
as a flaming sheep stuns the ancient shepherd
on the hill of his forefathers.
You leave me speechless
as the glorious angel leaves two sisters
gaping open-mouthed and dumb
at the entrance to a garden of eternally sleeping brothers.
I would write my feelings down
so that my children should know of your dangerous charms
ere they come of age,
but I can't find the words.
Yours in the shape of expected malaise,
I have heard it said
when you pay a call it's impossible to know
if your stay will be brief or stretch
to the end of one's days. My home is
a humble one, and the rooms are already filled with
solitude, so perhaps you could stay with
my sister instead. She is more deserving,
and has a bigger house..
Yours in the shape of trembling hands,
"The Evicted Tenant"
Dear The Night,
I wish you were taller.
And I notice today
my shadow is thinner
than it has been of late.
Yours in the shape of one's own image,
"The Bed Man"
Copyright © Martin Stannard, 2013