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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Intelligence Gathering

The light below,
which was always white in sitting room and hall,
but yellow from my post upon the landing,
could be a wedge to split a wall in two,
and then a horn or speaking tube that filled
the stairwell with a muffled drawl - deep speech

that might have come through water.
My great aunt and my mother speaking late
at night, their voices sounding foreign.
My great aunt's house. My sleeping
brother, five years younger, unaware
of how the world can change its shape and bare

its soul when darkness falls. Evacuees,
our world had changed uncannily; we'd seen
new images replace the old. And there,
in my mind's eye, on my aunt's bureau,
sat code books, two-way radio
and all the many trappings of the spy.

Sometimes above the gurgling, a sun-
lit phrase might leap in distant echo
of a half-forgotten sentiment once tied
to one of my first snapshots of the world -
now mis-identified. Inside my skull,
cold analysts, sifting the intelligence,

uncovered things I swore to carry to
the grave: an uncle whom I loved
kept skeletons in some dark kitchen closet;
my mother loved a man who wore a funny hat;
and, dying of an unknown illness,
I'd only days (or so) to live.

© David King


Marion McCready said...

interesting, I wondered if the 'I' was biographical then the ending threw me, in a good way!

Dave King said...

The "I" is biographical. The last verse recalls three actual misinterpretations of conversations I overheard.

Jim Murdoch said...

I connected with this poem immediately, the image of a young child listening in the dark, hearing and mishearing things. I have a poem about a child lying on the floor beside his bed with his ear pressed to the floor as I did as a child and misunderstanding much of what I heard because my father's name was also Jimmy. I loved the ending, especially the '(or so)' – a nice touch.

Unknown said...

This is wonderful! I was immediately transported there by these words.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that Jim. Strange is it not, the way such small things last so vividly in the memory and other, no doubt more momentous things, disappear.

Dave King said...

Hi Chainmagic,
Thanks for stopping by. Feedback is always very welcome.

Elizabeth said...

I loved this poem. I was the youngest in my family and often got my "intelligence" by overhearing. The funny thing is that now that I am grown (sort of) all the "adults" expect me to know all of the family stories. Reunions are difficult because everyone expects me to remember people that I met when I was very little. I always feel a little foolish.

Thanks for coming by "my place".
BTW, one of the things I love about crossword puzzles is the use of language. Remembering to have "agreement" in tense and usage is lots of fun!
Also: high energy lids...wouldn't have it any other way!

Dave King said...

Hi Elizabeth,
Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for the feedback. AS I remarked to Jim, it is fascinating to think about what we recall and what we do not remember. The last two poems I posted ("Spin Didn't Begin with Tony Blair" and "A Family Occasion") are, at least in apart, about childhood memory. I guess I'm into that at present. Also false memory, which fascinates me. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

The stately rhythm and the subtle enjambment frame this memory sequence so well. This is a fine piece, Dave, and, as Jim, I connect with it strongly.

Dave King said...

Many thanks for that. Much appreciated.

Ken Armstrong said...

This *is* a keeper, Dave - I've read it loads of times and get more from it every time.

You're digging fairly deep now, keep shoveling eh?

Funny this one evokes for me a memory that I think might just be too personal to Blog on - I'll debate that with myself for awhile but thanks either way for the memory-jog.

Conda Douglas said...

Excellent, multi-layered poem. Lots of meat to chew, and delicious too! I especially loved the line: "my mother loved a man who wore a funny hat." More, more.

Dave King said...

Ken, thanks for that, but I'm afeared the shovel might be losing its edge! I know what you mean by memories too personal, though.

Dave King said...

Many thanks for the kind words. I will do my best, but the wheels crank slowly these days.

Anonymous said...

You evoke what from an adult perspective seems such an enviable time of fresh wonder, but at the time it was rather frightening - like a disquieting dream - with no safe base of secure understanding.

Dave King said...

Thanks for dropping by and welcome.
Yes, you have put it exactly. It was disturbing at the time, but now I look back fondly to that time as though the fears and worries were somehow less real than today's.

R. Brady Frost said...

I really liked this poem. It reminded me of when I a teen, living at home... Oh how the vents in that house loved to tell secrets, painful, burning secrets.

Lucy said...

Childhood can be a terrible place; children's preoccupation with spies comes only partly from books and films, more from the sense that things are not as they appear, and incomprehensible danger and conspiracy lurk behind every surface. Other children used to get me going too; once when I licked dandelion juice off my grubby hands and remarked how nasty it tasted, my friend told me it was poison, but very slow, I would die when I was 'about 20'. I worried fro quite a whaile about that, though happily not right up until I was 20!

Dave King said...

Brady Frost,
Thanks for the comment. Yes, I know what you mean. We lived with my Grandparents in ahouse that was always whispering - until the pipes would tell it to shut up.

Dave King said...

I can absolutely relate to that. Your slow poison anecdote has brought back memories that I had forgotten about. Thanks for that. Childhood memories - even the bad ones - are so precious, I think.