Requiem (Poem)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Requiem
(for Miranda)

Yesterday you were still here.
Today snow has laid itself down
in the lanes, thick as fur.
The flap in the door is locked,
as it would be. You hated snow.
I expect you in my office chair
quick as a ghost, a look to say,
“I’ve been here all along.”
In your final days, my job
was to make sure you kept warm,
stoking the coal fire, tucking
your favourite blanket under
for the payment of a blink.
Once I thought I saw you smile.
Then that last fatherly duty
reassuring you, “I am here”.
My body looks for you at night,
a space at the foot of the bed,
and opening the front door slowly
I still look down before up.
No thud as you jump from the sofa.
No late-night wailing for food.
The house-sounds are empty sounds,
the space filled up with snow.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

“Homesickness”, Poem in Rattle Poets Respond (Online)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Cuckoo by Hokusai

“In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.”
-Bashō, trans. Jane Hirshfield

In some sense, homesickness is always a longing for a place that no longer exists. Which is to say that it is always, to some extent, existential. Yet with the rise of populism on both sides of the Atlantic, I have never felt more acutely that both where I once lived and where I live now are further than ever from “home”.

Rattle Poets Respond is a series in which poets submit poems in response to recent events. One poem is picked each week, and I am honoured to have my poem “Homesickness” appear in such estimable company.

You can read the poem on the Rattle website.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

The Eleventh Year

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Photo by Matthew Bedford from Unsplash

Eleven is drawn with parallel lines. Parallel lives.

In one, my son survived. He is with us in England, in the rain; or we are still in California, in drought. He is like me at that age — obsessed with science and discovery; or like his mother, he is at the piano, practicing. He is like neither of us, in surprising ways. Ways we will never guess.

I inhabit life on the other rail instead. It is definitely England, definitely raining, and I have become a poet. Science and engineering failed to show me how to address the vast inner landscapes I felt pressing from an early age. Miłosz, Dostoevsky, and Mahler succeeded. Subjectivity is the enemy of science, but the lifeblood of poetry.

Objectively, our son is gone. Subjectively, he is everywhere.

I am not a monorail. I am the smoke drifting up from a neighbour’s chimney, and I am the chimney, and I am the air.

Only at the place where parallel lines intersect, only there, at the point of points, can this all make sense.

One day I will join you in the space between lines. Until then, of each day I will try to make some kind of poetry, and in it, a space for you to dwell.

Godspeed, James, my son.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

X

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

“Who would give me a map to find you, the paper / superimposed with a constantly moving ‘X’?”
-From “Father-Son Conversation

Malcolm. Professor. Triple. Dos. So many x-es, so many ex-es. Expatriate. Expletive. Ex-father. Ex-son.

Two lines, for a moment, cross. This is how the Romans made ten.

In Arabic numerals, it takes two digits: father, one; son, nil. Zero is a placeholder: round, complete, and gone. A circle describes its absence.

It has been ten years since our son was born and died, and not a day goes by that he is not a felt part of me, like the fingers of my two hands.

X

Why I Should Be Over It By Now
(ten reasons for ten years)

  1. Because it was a long time ago.
  2. Because, after all, he was very small.
  3. Because hawthorn blooms a lace cover for its thorns.
  4. Because many couples don’t have children (yet, ever).
  5. Because you had choices (not choices).
  6. Because beech-leaf orange rages the valley unchecked.
  7. Because you look best in photos when you smile.
  8. Making overrated is good sense, because.
  9. Because who can remember his name?
  10. Because of the wonderful things he does.

X

The first snow of winter has dusted our part of England, and I am sitting by the fire, warming up after a long country walk. To prepare for a poetry reading this afternoon in London, I leaf through my new book, the one I read from all last year. Unlike the previous slim pamphlet, it contains no mention of James, our son. No dedication. Not a single poem.

X

Cognates of Grief

Kobus, Koos, Jago,
Jamma, Diegu, Joggi,
Ya’aqov, Yaakov, Iacobus,
Iacomus, Jakobus, Iakov,
Jakobe, Köbe, Iago,
Jaime, Diego, Santiago,
Yasha, Séamas, Siâms,
Yakobo, Jems, Jacques,
Jakku, Jaak, Jake,
Jack, Jim, Jimbo,
Jimmy, Jamie, Jay,
first, only, baby,
James.

X

We are in Edinburgh for his tenth birthday, visiting friends. It has become a special place to me, my most-visited city outside of London in the Old World.

I only know a handful of lullabies, but I sang them to James in his final moments. After the doctor confirmed that his heart had stopped, all I could hear was the refrain:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry.
Carry the lad who’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

X

Countdown

9  —  years of love (in a world in need of love).

8  —  Acht and Uno (and infinity).

7  —  Lucky (and miraculous).

6  —  For idealists (ideal father, ideal son).

5  —  It is complicated. It gets better.

4  —  Art, compassion, courage.

3  —  My inner life is my real life. In it, I carry my son.

2  —  I wash my hands as though life depends on it.

1  —  Compassion, poignancy — how much everything matters…

0  —  The essence of parenthood — that pure and selfless love.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Noman’s Land Common (Film-Poem Online)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter
<a href="https://vimeo.com/152471055"><img src="https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/552486948.webp"/><br />Click to watch</a>

Noman’s Land Common

A shadow passes over the meadow, effortless
in its cooling presence, a wake
of songbirds, for a moment stilled,
for a moment passed over
by a presence like night, a shoal of fish
beneath the barnacled hull,
tender in covering, blanket-soft,
the lids pulled over
our welling eyes, to shed a drop
in the pool of soft grasses,
which ripple, concentric,
in an unseen wind that blows
all things, together, onward, all things,
eventually into crossing,
into parting, into the covering-over
of life with — not death, exactly — 
but the other side, the other life
in which cloud, meadow, fish, ship
reveal their true names to us — 
flashes-through-sunlight, dark
moisture, ink of relentless progression.
A brush dipped
in clear water, the pigment’s smoke,
a cipher of leaves in the swirled cup.
The Hawthorn renounces her wedding vows.
Slow raptors finger the dryness of heat.
Nameless, in the new world, a congregation
of petals, root, trunk, and branches,
new leaves, in the unnamed world,
hold out their yellow hands to the rain.
A voice cries out
in a language you recognise, and the cloud — 
for that is what it is, just a cloud,
retreats in spinal curvature over the hill,
which is grass, then soil, then stone,
a foetus in the centre, its open hand
a gesture of greeting, of saying “goodbye” — 
and now you are on your knees, in a field,
jet-lagged, on a Wednesday, remembering
your name, a gift from your mother,
as the multiplication tables arrange
themselves before you, pieces for chess,
a calendar full of meetings in which
you can never say: for a moment, I was
that shadow, say, listen, I have been
to the other side of life, and a child
rests in the womb of the earth,
but instead stare-down at your ink-stained
hands, and nod, and arrange your broken
face into the gesture of listening.

Process Notes

With the tenth anniversary of the birth and death of our son James fast approaching, I find myself writing about the ongoing effects, including sudden and overpowering moments of grief. The text came first. I then shot time-lapse of clouds through an inexpensive toy kaleidoscope using a Raspberry Pi camera. I also shot real-time nature footage through the same kaleidoscope by holding it up to my smartphone camera. Valerie composed and performed the music. The title refers to a nearby patch of common land in North Hertfordshire that we frequent. One year, after extensive tilling, a field adjacent to the common erupted in red poppies, not unlike the no-man’s land of the First World War.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

2015 Roundup Year in Review

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

2015 was the year of The Knowledge for me, as well as a spate of film-poems, collaborations, and trips to new places. Here’s a brief look back at the salient moments from each month.

January: Nine Years of Love

I reflect on nine years since the birth and death of our son, in the year when my maternal grandfather and spiritual teacher also pass on. The conclusion is simply this: our world is in need of love.

February: Namesake (Film-Poem Online)

A paean to my namesake/nemesis, this bit of machinima plays with identity in the digital age using parallax techniques. It was both painstaking and fun to make.

March: Sneak Peek at The Knowledge

Excitement builds as Nine Arches Press publishes a few poems from the book online.

April: The Knowledge Arrives

I drive up to Milton Keynes to receive my first batch of author copies of the book. A surreal and wonderful moment on many levels.

May: Reading and Workshop at Walt Whitman Birthplace

I delight in setting foot in New York for the first time (!) to give a half-day workshop and evening reading at the Walt Whitman Birthplace.

June: "Mnemosyne's Tango: Poetry, Film, and the Dance of Memory"

A brief essay in which I lay out what fascinates me most about the film-poem genre.

July: Ledbury Poetry Festival

I take in Ledbury, catching up with poets like George Wallace, George Szirtes, and Daniel Sluman in various cafes and pubs.

August: The Essence of Instinct (Film-Poem Online)

Hot on the heels of the release of Google's new Deep Dream technology, I give it a try as the basis for a new film-poem.

September: Letting the Robin out of the Bag

Nine Arches Press puts my poem "Robin" on their promotional canvas bag. Beautifully done, it becomes the basis for a few Christmas presents this year.

October: World Literature Today Does The Knowledge

Piotr Florczyk takes a deep dive into The Knowledge, and comes up with a few pearls.

November: The Knowledge Goes Pining for the Fjords

Abby E. Murray sucks the marrow from this book. To know even one reader has read the book this carefully--let alone a poet I admire as much as Abby--is a rare privilege indeed.

December: Two Poems, and a Review of The Knowledge, in Poetry Salzburg Review

Ian Watson gives a ringing endorsement of The Knowledge, concluding, "The problem with The Knowledge is that there are just too many striking images, too many poems to cite. Just go out and buy it."


Roll on 2016!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter