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Saturday 10 May 2008

A Family Occasion

For sometime now, I've had a couple of true stories buzzing around in my head whilst I wondered if I could (should) use them, and if so, how. Then, not a hundred years ago, I swanned over to Ken Armstrong's Writing Stuff which is always different and always a pleasurable experience, and blow me, if he didn't have a couple of posts that might have been meant especially for me. One was a true story in which Ken was himself involved, the other a tale about the tale and how he came to write it, leading to a moral, almost a moral imperative, you might say, which convinced me that the true stories with which I have toyed long enough are asking to be written down and should get their wish. One of my stories is in verse, the other in prose. The one is a mix of childhood memories, mist and maybe even false memory, the other perhaps does not project my true image, does not show me as the totally lovable, virtuous guy I truly am. Hence the hesitations. No matter, Ken has made the issues clear enough: not to worry about getting it right; get it written. So with a "thank you" nod to Ken, here is the first:-

A Family Occasion.

Out on a limb above the Anderson,
hands reaching for the choicest plums - those velvet
bombs of taste, incendiaries of pleasure;
soft, waxy reds and yellows, blue-blacks and indigos.
Then suddenly alone upon an icy ridge
(though grandpa's hands were holding me,
tight as a rope around my waist),
the Anderson a lower peak; the tree
my Everest; the golden plums
small nuggets left by thieves - my treasure trail.
My plums! My own Victorias! - all mine, because
the tree was planted on the day that I was born.

You'd bite your plum along its length to leave an amber wake,
grainy, firm and juice-filled, then gently squeeze
until the sharp stone surfaced like a stricken submarine.

Those hands, though, strong and sure, whose were they?
Grandpa's, I was always told, but
I've a different memory: my relatives,
grandpa among them, sitting in the shade, in deck chairs,
by the house, their sherries and their beers and my half-eaten
birthday cake beside them on the ground (they, like
the day, were drowsy hot), when from the sky
a drone, and, looking up, a fighter plane,
black crosses on its wings. Then others,
distant, silent, high above the rooftops, out
beyond the chimneys, twisting, turning
the way our neighbour's hungry fish would pike
and swerve, challenging for food. One,
diving from the sun, was like the sly one
striking from his hideout in the reeds.

So I bellowed at the slumberers: "Achtung! Achtung!
Get down the Anderson, the huns have come,
the huns are here!" and heard my mother's voice:
"You'll have to stop him, John, we'll be in trouble
if the Bobby hears!" I saw dad rise and start towards us,
then stop dead. My anchor man behind, had weighed-
in with "Don't take all day, they're overhead!"

The shelter had a corrugated lip to be stepped over.
My mother slipped in hurrying, the lip
scraped down her leg, removing half the skin.
I thought she was the war's first casualty -
and that the bone might surface like a submarine.

Some things still worry me: those
German fighter planes... for half an hour or so
they must have stayed. Had they the range?
And mother's leg, could it have been
that badly injured? If so, who treated it,
and how? Who was it held me safely
as I crawled along that bough?

All I remember clearly, are the plums.


Conda Douglas said...

Interesting story poem, Dave, and I believe a bit of a departure from your usual style?

Ken Armstrong said...

I am very taken with this piece, Dave, and with the remarkable experience behind it.

And I am extremely pleased if my own scribbling helped in any small way to 'get it out'.

One wonders occasionally why one blogs at all - this sort of thing helps answer the question.

Dave King said...


Not as great a departure as you might imagine. I have written narrative poems in the past, mostly concerning personal experiences, though not entirely so. I have only now thought to put one in a post - due in no small measure to Ken's encouragement.

Dave King said...

My thanks to you for your kind words - and for the encouragement your own post gave me.

Yes, I, too have wondered on occasions why we do it. I am sure the fellowship is part of the answer.

Carrie Berry said...

Just came over to check out this poem from your comment on Jim's blog. False memories are a fascinating subject to me. I think these are the seeds of future fiction - the ability to mold random images and words into something of interest to others. Loved the poem.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, memory as assemblage, memory as collage. I'm sure that's what was going through Beckett's head when he decided what Krapp's memories were. (Part Three is up now by the way). We remember only some things and fill in the blanks, cannibalising what memories are available and inventing what's necessary to construct a viable remembrance. This was something that was also of interest to the television playwright Dennis Potter, at least in his later works, the workings, and misfirings of memory. We so often rely on aides-mémoire, triggers and I've moved so many times that there's next to nothing left from my childhood, a medal for running and a toy car, a horsebox of all things.

Like you though there will always be tastes and smells though I have to say I attach no special memory to eating plums although I do remember being given an apple by a woman on Third Avenue. I think it was my first Golden Delicious. All I remember clearly is that it was a kind my mother didn't buy.

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Having sat through my first Irish wake this week and listened to people telling family stories (my partner's family), it was really interesting to me to hear how everyone interprets and remembers and misremembers differently. And this post and piece of verse has triggered some more interesting thoughts for me about that.

And quite aside from kickstarting my own ideas, I really liked this prose-poem; the way it was written worked well for me: the memories and images and questions at the end.

Dave King said...

Welcome, and many thanks for the feedback. I am sure you are right about the seeds of future fiction. Indeed, I wonder if some of my earliest memories are not works of fiction flat-packed that I haven't managed to erect yet. What is actual memory and what family myth that has been absorbed along the way?
Thanks again.

Dave King said...

memory as assemblage and collage... I like the thoughts, they are promising concepts to follow, I think. But now, with Beckett and Potter you are speaking of two of my heroes.

Dave King said...

Many thanks for the kind remarks. I have never been part of an Irish wake, but I love those family gatherings where tales are told and argued about. The mis-firing of memory never ceases to fascinate me, and the thing bout early memories particularly is that there are always questions at the end of them. At least, there are for me.

Rachel Fox said...

On wondering why we blog....I've never been one for writers' groups or book groups or writing courses or having loads of writers as friends...I really prefer to get on and live and work...but I have found blogging with people like you and several others has been interesting and helpful and thought-provoking and work-provoking and all round a better experience than I imagined. It is like a writers' group without the bad bits plus you can fit it in... when it fits... instead of it having to be, say, once a month on a Tuesday and with only people who live in the same 30 mile radius.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that Rachel, it expresses absolutely what I have come to feel about the business of blogging. When I started out, I thought I would try it for a year - I gather the average "life" of a blogger is 9 months - and in fact, it was just over the year before I really got the response and sort of feedback you mention. I am really glad I stuck at it, for,like you, I do not get a lot from the usual groups. Writers' courses, I haven't tried, really through a lack of opportunity.

Lucas said...

I think it's the power of memory to rearrange and rewrite the past that makes this poem so powerful. The interweaving of danger, injury, safety, loved others and intense perfection of plums - all work to conjure up a tableaux that is true and timeless.

Dave King said...

Hi Lucas, and welcome. Many thanks for the kind remarks. The richness of memory seems proportionate to the square of distance, somehow. It is the distance that prepares the items and makes them available in usable form to the story-teller.