So, against all my expectations, it is here. There were certainly times I thought it would get no further than the bin, but what you see making up the second half of this post is the third of my three poems, my trilogy on the boy who disappeared. I have to say that it's been fun. Great fun. Whether it's been poetry I'm no so sure. For one thing, a poem, so far as I am concerned, has always had to have compression as one of its qualities, and these poems have precious little of that. To recap a moment for the benefit of those who may have just tuned in, the first poem, A Tale for Today was given, as I like to think of it - or was as close to beinggiven as anything I have ever experienced. I have had these flashpoint moments before, when someting has sparked off a poem, but it was never quite as complete before, never producing more than a vague outline which had to be worked on - often unsuccessfully. On this occasion it produced far more: I was going through some papers, and got as far as looking down a list of words and phrases when something sparked between a couple of them. (I could not now say which two.) More quickly than I could get it down on paper I had the first verse, and more. I don't wish to suggest that it was dictated, or was some form of automatic writing, certainly not that it was another Kubla Khan (I don't fancy myself as Coleridge), but that the feel and style of the poem and the uncompressed nature of it (which at the time seemed the whole point of it) were all there. Furthermore, the lines, as I wrote them down, suggested further lines. The whole thing came very easily, really like unwrapping a parcel. It was extraordinary, but so was what happened after I posted it. First of all Ken and then Ellumbra followed by Maekitso, Hope at The Road Less Traveled and Dick at Patteran all commented as though the poem had been at least partly based on a true story (which it was not, though in developing the poem I did have in mind the public concern, much publicised in the media just then, with knife crime and with missing young people). The suggestions mostly were that it would be nice to know a bit more. They were saying, with good reason, that there was a quality of incompleteness about it.
Now these are all people whose opinions I value highly, from whose blogs I get both inspiration and pleasure, as indeed, I did on this occasion, for their comments led me to explore the story further to see whether I could unearth a little more information about the boy and what might have happened to him. This had not been even a remote thought when writing A Tale for Today, so I had not prepared the ground, had not introduced difficulties with a thought in mind about how they might be resolved. Least of all had I sketched out a scenario from which to select facts for the poem.
The second poem, The Almost Lovers (both earlier poems are in the ealier posts list in the side panel), which was meant to prepare the ground for this final poem, was a real struggle, and I thought it showed. This one has been somewhere inbetween, bits have come easily, bits I've had to struggle with.
The title for the post came from an email I received from a lad too bashful to expose himself in the comments to the blog. He picked up my earlier remarks concerning the necessity for compression and added: "There is no one thing apoem has to be."
Initially I thought it sounded sane and sensible, even if I couldn't wholly subscribe to it - without fully knowing why - but later I thought it sounded like one of those exam questions: "There is no one thing a poem has to be: discuss."
Into the house of mourning walks
one claiming to be him, the boy
who disappeared - repeatedly - and is feared dead.
He's like enough for hope, sufficiently dissimilar
for doubt; in looks and speech he is
and yet is not: the badger streak
much wider in his hair; the voice
less hoarse; the rudimentary third ear
less clear, less well-defined.
Suspiciously, he recollects
no further back than when he disappeared.
Before that day... zip, zero, nix. A set
of picture post card images begins
with the most perfect rainbow that began it all.
So by the light of that he gives
his affirmation, turns
the sadness of that house
to muddle and dismay.
Leaving Four Mile Wood, I saw it straight ahead,
a spray of light and colour in the nettles by the barn,
a spirit wake that arced the heavens where a messenger
had flown, wings folded back like hands in prayer
the way my world was folding back
to Miss Melissa's cadences;
to listening one blissed out hour that never left -
would never leave - my being. No,
not then, not after leaving Grey Moon Cottage;
not following the mallow trail -
sprigs left by either of the Mallows to beguile me
to the broken egg
and to the baffling nest above it in the tree.
I knew I must go back
(my life will be a life of going back),
my nature bade me back; a prelude
viewed in hues hung in the sky; an anthem
tasted, felt, or smelt in thunder or in flowers;
sonatas played by subtle plays of light;
things seen, not heard (as children used to be,
so we are told): all bade me back
and spelt out why
she called her works
small children of a soundling God;
why nothing now could slake my thirst
but her primeval sounds.
She'd meant to play him Phantom of the Idle Moon,
a psychic tour de force if ever there was one -
a psychic force, in fact. It would have stoned his mind.
The reason that she did not follow through
was down to his much altered state of mind,
because of which she did not pick up on his vibes.
He being now anonymous to mystic sense,
she missed his hour-long, second transit of Grey Moon.
He passed unnoticed and unsung,
without the contemplated change of tune.
Near where he'd walked had been
the other boys, the ones with knives, the ones
who'd thrown them at the hares.
They'd called to him. Perhaps he'd like to join their gang?
He would, part of him would, a big part would, a lot of him.
One word, a yes or no, but at its back.
those clamourings of fantasies;
ghosts carried under lock and key since prepubescent days,
now spilling out, too long denied - a fledgling mugger, he!
The boys had split their sides, derided him.
No matter then, the truth was there for all to see,
the genie out, no chance of its recapture.
The truth made manifest in words - and he within himself
could feel what others must have seen. And so,
from those who'd known him best he'd disappeared,
Like colours in a rainbow or like ink in milk,
his memories beyond that point, bleed one into the other:
Gutted he's missed out on the tall ships, slips. An old man
helps him to his feet; the Mallows ask him why he's crying.
(Boys don't cry.) They promise him a breeze
in Sea Sprite; catch the tall ships; picks
his bunk, sees not one sign of a tall ship; slips
silently to sleep, to dreams of snakes and spiders,
mushrooms and the Mallows -
who are fondling his hair.
There is a diary. A log. It doesn't seem to help.
... and still no sign of a tall ship, no ship of any sort,
nothing more than blackness like a sea of ink -
and navigation lights, occasionally them, though even they
are not reflected by this unresponsive sea.
I can't explain the total truancy of day. Nor dizziness,
not motion sickness, mal de mer... there is
no movement. And yet still the darkness dredged
up from the ocean floor, from Davy Jones's locker.
Hour on hour it works on me.
My mind begins to hang in shreds, like torn sails in a storm.
Then comes a sudden change of style:
... waking up last night and thinking I was buried...
Someone thought I'd died and buried me.
By contrast, dreamt of being born,
but not of woman, of the sea;
a whirlpool hurled me high upon the land - or deck,
I am a sea-horse made of quartz.
A little light, but half-awake, the day and I.
I stagger round the deck half dry
and try to catch a flying fish - of which
the sky is full. I see them falling back into
the sea, the sea, the sea holds everything.
The night outside is like a woman's gown,
jet black and starred with diamante, the whole robe
hanging on a living frame. Some life form is behind
the sky, beneath the sea and making inroads in the boat;
you see it in the way it moves,
the way the folds flow round the form.
The radio reports my sister's death. I shall jump ship
and make my way - hitch-hiking home - along the coast.
The moon petals the sea. Rose petals the sea. Stone sea. Stone petals. Rose petals of stone. Stone rising before me. Sea moves. How moves...
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