When I was in my teens and twenties I hated business people with a violent passion. I seriously thought they were worse than criminals. I had a fantasy of walking up to one or several of them and asking: "Have you made anyone redundant today?". It never occurred to me that business-men are the ones who make job in the first place. I'm over it, even if I still think too much commerce-- or rather, too much commercialism (because they are not the same thing)-- is bad for society.
I came to a place where two suited men stood
As they looked through the rails of our town's little wood
And the first one said, "All of these shrubs are a waste
Blocking up where a decent sized Plant could be based."
And the high-flyers bandied their high-flying words
As freely as flew the park's low-flying birds.
One said, "Could we just swing the cousnillors' vote
And build on these flowers, then imagine our growth!"
"Say dry up the ponds, build industrial estate
And watch our competitors all liquidate.
And sweep what's left into our organization.
We'd profit well from such cross-pollinization.
They walked away, speaking more I couldn't hear.
Amidst the park's beauty I filled up with fear;
Not so much at what might come in the park's stead
As the thought of what thoughts fill a business-man's head.
I wrote far too many sonnets in this period. Come to think of it, everybody writes far too many sonnets. And far too many vilanelles, rondeaus, ballads, and haiku-- especially haiku. (I despise haiku, though I'm sure that they are very fine in Japanese.)
You know, I think that poets really should re-invent the wheel every time when it comes to verse form. What's the point of ready-made verse forms? What purpose do they serve? They're lazy.
The poem is not much of a poem, but the ideas are OK. I do find dictionaries tremendously exciting.
All sprawling histories, and every simple song,
Lie hidden here between each leather cover.
Amidst these doomed adventures to discover
The secret truths of words, to sift the right from wrong.
For words are not the element where truths belong
And language has no mistress set above her.
We are condemned to serve her and to love her;
And all the perfect poems are only one word long.
What poet has sought truth? Its thin voice speaks in prose;
What fool presumes to freeze a word in ice?
For sense and meaning fight it out as endless foes
And all our words spin on as ever-rolling dice;
The speaker speaks in every word more than he knows
Nor can he ever truly speak the same word twice.
Down Memory Lane (2004)
I am fascinated by family lore, though I have seldom written about it-- other than here. I'm not sure Americans have the term 'an old dear'. It's a patronising term for an older person, especially an older woman, especially a chatty and amiable older woman. I hate the term-- and I don't think I've ever heard any Irish person actually use it, as it's more English-- but this poem is written from the point of view of a rather obnoxious young person. (Re-reading it, I'm a bit taken aback at how obnoxious he is. I would tone it down considerably if I was writing it now-- enough for the reader to sympathise with him, or at least identify with his thoughts.)
The reference to the 'stained net curtain' is a wrong note, I realize now. A woman like this would have an immaculately clean house (even if it had the tackiest decorations). The reference to "old men who will curse you for your pains" is also a wrong note. This poem is about the traditions of the Dublin working class, and old men are generally courteous and stoic in that tradition (most especially in illness). Naturally, the reference to women dying from "child born after child" is just me echoing the anti-natalist prejudices of the age. (I won't hide behind the character in the poem; "he said it, not me!".)
The poem is quite autobiographical, in that I am a scion of a very working-class Dublin family-- I don't just mean a nuclear family (in fact, my mother's family was rural and well-to-do), but an extended family and lineage (for want of a better word)-- and there were times in my youth that I developed an intense dislike of the values, atmosphere and memories of working class Dublin. It seemed sordid to me. (Dublin slang, both past and present, is still rather too scatological for my stomach.) I hasten to add, though, that I now feel nothing but pride in my background and heritage-- especially my family heritage.
In terms of accomplishment, I think this is one of the better poems I wrote in those years. I think it grew out of the term "Memory Lane". I love that term, and the expression "A walk down memory lane".
Why did I start her off? And what disturbs me
About an old dear's memories? I try
To say "I have to go", but something curbs me;
Something inside that hazy blue-green eye.
The doctors said what doctors have been saying
So many years about her; sooner, now.
The fifth stage means (they told me) it's past praying;
So auntie Rose is taking her last bow.
And none-too-soon, I hate myself for thinking;
But then, why does she have to hold me dear?
Oh, all those cups of tea I grudged the drinking
And all those stories that I groaned to hear!
Her love is hard to pardon; should I love her?
I spent so many years pretending to;
Pretending that my thoughts were not above her
And seeing wisdom in those greeny-blue
And hazy eyes. Surely I've grown past lying
At seventeen. Another cup of tea?
Yes, auntie Rose; a kindness for the dying;
But turn those blue-green eyes away from me.
They see down streets of years best unfrequented;
A saga of the tenement's proud squalour;
Of doss-house days so stupidly lamented,
The happy hunger and the bare-foot scholar.
TB and broken biscuits; "look behind you!",
Cowboys and injuns on the silver screen
And how my sister's eyelashes remind you
Of cousin Kate who died at seventeen.
It all comes down to death; that's where your thought is;
The family plot you've tended twenty years.
How many have you kissed in rigor mortis?
Why do those blue-green eyes seem made of tears?
But then, just when I've put you down for certain--
You, and your dynasty in love with doom--
The midday sun beams through the stained net curtain
And brightness fills the dingy little room.
And love-- dumb, dogged love-- fills all my being;
Your love, not mine. This love is just the kind
I've spent the best part of two decades fleeing;
That raw, relentless love that doesn't mind
Eight to a room, and sweeping up the vomit
Of old men who will curse you for your pains;
Such perfect love; may God protect me from it!
Must broken hearts line all our memory lanes?
They look at me through you, so soon to join them;
The mothers dead from child born after child.
The five-year-olds with ten-year-olds to mind them;
The half-cracked aunties, all the men who toiled
Long hours to earn their poverty, who died
So long ago, their ghosts forget their names
And you alone remember; clannish pride
Propped up with would-have-beens and it's-a-shames.
And in those blue-green eyes it sometimes rouses;
The pride that burns more fierce year after year.
Your Memory Lane is full of shuttered houses;
For you, its echoes ring out loud and clear.
A world is dying with you; all these stories,
Who will recall them after your demise?
How could I bear to hoard these dismal glories?
Is this the plea inside your blue-green eyes?