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Friday 5 October 2012

Two Dead Penguins and an Iron Lung

On the square, tucked away beside the willow tree, the chalked outlines of a hopscotch game. All afternoon the skipping - more like dancing - had gone on, the children's numbers slowly swelling amid much laughter. All this between the showers, which as you might imagine, only magnified the children's sense of fun.

It is after one such shower that perhaps the smallest girl of all successfully regains her pebble and dances back, but fails to stop, dances on in fact, as though in celebration, as though to do a lap of honour round the square. In fact, once in the open, unobstructed area, she stops, produces a few sticks of chalk from her coat pocket, stoops down and begins to draw on the grey stones - what? - her own, private hopscotch court? If so, a hopscotch court out of this world. Overblown. A hopscotch court for giants, perhaps. Soon it becomes clear that this new figure is voracious, a land grabbing monster that has designs on the whole square. And as it grows,it takes on aspects of a landscape - a rather surrealistic landscape, home to denizens and features in need of some interpretation.
Where yesterday the empty grey 
of paving stones, today
two dead penguins and an iron lung. 
Newly chalked, a river flows uphill -
to run along the elevated section by the shops, 
and tumble down a flight of stone cold concrete steps.
It finds its end in its beginning - the penguin lake.
A ship of flowers descends the cataract.

From out the iron lung, the pink head of a mouse.
He's looking round to see what's what. 
Look closer, though, you'll see it's not continuous 
with what's inside! Decapitated patient in a bygone lung... 
End of!
Sure, there are figures here I can't decode - the iron lung, for instance - and the whole ensemble seems something more organic than a simple hopscotch matrix. An environment in which strange artefacts and creatures might take form - are taking form. Are having their mysterious geneses.
A mobile phone with painted face and paper skirt
is propped against the fence. In front of her
a faded flower and three rose petals ring a stone,
while just above the waterfall, dangerously close,
a tiny plastic baby on a matchbox raft.
She skips back to the game she left. The little girl invites her former playmates to her new homeland, though they are having none of it. They laugh and turn back to their game. But by tomorrow they will be victims of her web, caught up in a game whose rules and object are too complicated and involved, far too sophisticated for the likes of me.
Then will I be as I am now, a tourist in a land I cannot grasp. 
I see a mix of portents, charms and signs 
as in the world I know. They share 
the same two mysteries, my world and this: Creation how & why.
First there was not, and then there was; 
a magic wand scenario: a wave, 
a flash, and all is changed the way an island suddenly appears 
at sea, crop circles on the land or new stars in the sky. 
At least we know what those things are, or were, 
but this! Is this a game for children or much more?
Is this enchanted place for all? 

................................................................................ This poem was written for the dVerse Poets prompt - more than a prompt, a mastercless - by Anna Montgomery on Prose Poetry. Do go over and read the piece for yourself.

Some of you may have had a feeling of Déjà Vu reading this. I did post a version (without prose) back in February. (Here ) I was dissatisfied with it. Reading Anna's post it struck me that a prose/poetry version might hold some hope of salvation for it.


Mary said...

Dave, I do remember the old version. I like the new version with the prose included.

hyperCRYPTICal said...

A truly wonderful post Dave!

And your poetry is that that speaks to me as I read, tells me of its rythm and what lies within...love it!

Anna :o]

Ygraine said...

I liked the original version too.
I think each adds an extra dimension to the other, presenting a perfect whole.
A great post :)

Brian Miller said...

wow dave....surreal but...the imagery is startling and jarring....two dead penguins and an iron lung...the little mouse...decapitated patient...this is wonderfully written and it makes a great contrast as well against the innocence of the girl playing hopscotch....

Anonymous said...

Works really well. I am reminded of polio and a very different time--with its good and bad--now gone --to another time, with its good and bad - hopping along oblivious. Really interesting and vivid. Works so well with the prose and poetry. k .

Claudia said...

Then will I be as I am now, a tourist in a land I cannot grasp....this is such a cool write..great imagery, so real and surreal at the same time and so much depth between the lines...awesome

Rachna Chhabria said...

Wow, Dave. Love the images conjured up by the words.

Beachanny said...

My mind flew as I read this..it wound in and out of the images, it grasped at flotsam-jetsam ideas, bits of philosophy, the scare of "not going green" the wisdom of innocence, the world within a world. I hadn't read your first poem so now I see the poetry was yours but seemed so classic, I wondered if you'd found it--a feeling old and at the same time new--layered into the game that was more than a game, into the prose that merged with poetry to say more, ambiguity heightened to brittleness and wonder. Truly amazing write!

A Cuban In London said...

I have already read another poem on a different blog inspired by the same prompt. I loved that one in the same way I loved this one. Your creativity is boundless. Children's games are indeed an enchanted place that we sadly leave when we become adults. Unless as a grown-up you're still in touch with your inner child. IN which case you're really lucky.

Greetings from London.

Daydreamertoo said...

I really like this. Played so much hopscotch with friends as a kid and drew all over the roads and pavement with chalks too, I could see this.
Rich tale told so well Dave.

Unknown said...

Dave, in my humble opinion the rewrite makes a real statement that the original only skirted around. I think this makes the rewrite stronger, it stands on its own, retaining the surreal landscape of the child's imagination and your interpretation but providing a structure of broader themes. The implications of her drawing, it's spreading influence made me think about art, ideas, and as you say at the end 'much more'. There's a sense of fear that comes with being the tourist, is the new world inclusive? Should the child's imagination be curtailed before the familiar world is lost to this engulfing chalk otherworld? I loved how this evolved and that the prompt helped you find a new expression. I do think that's part of the process and why it's important to engage what we don't necessarily admire or may find intimidating. I agree with Gay, truly amazing!

Linda said...

A wonder filled post, Dave. I love your writing.

Anonymous said...

wonderful combination of poem and prose... and probably one of the most interesting titles i have ever read.

thank you for sharing this wonderful piece.

Elephant's Child said...

The first stanza of the poem made me think of Escher's work. Simple images in improbable (if not impossible) juxtaposition.
These thoughts stayed with me throughout and the prose is a wonderful counterpoint to the poem. Thank you Dave.

kaykuala said...

Brilliant, Dave! There're lots of movements in the imagery! Great blend of the prose and the verse! Children games can be so fun as they're normally a shared activity.


Dave King said...

Thanks Mary. Thanks for saying so.

My thanks for your generous comment.

Thansk. Very much appreciated, and a comment I find very interesting.

Yes, exactly what first struck me. There they were one moment playing your everyday hoch scotch - and then this! The iconography was difficult to decade at times - the two dead penguins I at first identified as geckoes, but then a penguin pool (from a magazine) appeared beside them, so hear I decided they were probably penguins. A valued comment. Thanks for.

My wife was a polio victim in her mid teens and has often talked of having an iron lung in the ward (though she was never in one) and the eeriness when it was switched off -usually at night - and you knew the person had died. This likely influenced my interpretation. (I doubt the children would know about iron lungs.)
Many thanks for your much valued comment.

Thank you for this - it means a great deal.

Thanks. Very much appreciated.

Dave King said...

Wow, thanks for all this. Thanks hardly seems sufficient, but I am very gateful for it. I had nursed similar hopes for the first version, but then felt that it fell short, so it's good to have such critiques.
Yes, I felt that this second version was layered into the game. Not so much the first. it surprises me slightly-- though I am quite happy with it -- that you found the first one classic in feeling. There was inevitably a lot of ambiguity-- again, which I am quite happy with -- as there was much that I did not understand. Thanks again for your so generous response.

A Cuban in London
Thanks for this. I agree that children's games are a rich resource - I wish I had mined it when our children were young, but I was not writing poetry then, alas. I think poetry itself does much to keep me in touch with the inner child. Thanks again. Good to have your thoughts.

I find it sad that -- this example apart -- there's not as much of either to be seen these days. Thanks for.

Grateful thanks for these thoughts and ideas. I totally agree with your opening sentence. The new input could --I think -- only have come in prose form, so sincere thanks for your prompt and the steers contained within. The sense of fear at being the tourist was one of the first sensations I got from the drawing - really a sense of fear at not understanding. It so happens that I have been reading prose poetry of late - and thinking of toying with it, but I had not thought of applying it to this poem. It took your prompt to do that, so again: much thanks.

Thank you so much.

Hi. Much thanks for your contribution and kind words. Good to have you visiting and to know that you liked what you found. You are warmly welcome.

The Elephants Child
A fascinating reflection. I shall have to return to Escher, a poet I have come across but do not know too well. Thank you for the re-introduction.

Thanks for the kind words. And yes, your last point is well made: they are usually a shared activity. And eventually, so was this in that the others finally joined in the game she had laid out - whose rules escaped me entirely. (Maybe I was thinking too much in hopscotch terms!)

Sabio Lantz said...

I commmented here, but it must have been eaten.
Loved the game of hopscotch and its metaphor. Well done.

Dave King said...

It was swallowed by the web's black hole, perhaps. Much thanks for taking the trouble to comment again. Greatly appreciated.