Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Poems from a Decade (1)

Since I'm getting so archival these days, I've decided to transcribe all the poems in my purple folder of ninety-nine poems from 1995 to 2004. Except the ones that are too self-revelatory or too downright awful.

Absolution (2001)

Slumped in one shadowed corner of the bar
She pours her sorrow to a friend who seems
A patch of darkness, past the lamplight's beams
And tells the only tale where she's the star.
A hundred failures, none without its scar
A face nobody ever saw in dreams
And longs to hear some answer that redeems
Her pain, the healing words unheard so far.

What sin is there but failure? What solution
For helpless sorrows, but to drink your fill?
The world's indifference worse than persecution
Not young, not gifted, and not beautiful
She supplicates again the absolution
That only she can give, and never will.

Algebra (written in my teens)

Like some strange war in stubborn stalemate locked
The blackboard's lines of figures slowly fall
Upon each other, till each bloody stall
Is set immoveable, though racked and rocked,
And melted and combined, till no-man's-land
Stands independent, bullet-shielded, bare,
For undissolved in logic's stony stare
Unfathomable unknown factors stand.
Shift a and b to left and right, the dark
Stays undispelled, and a and b retain
Their sphix-like silence and their being stark;
And all around in life's long-charted plain
Let number-riddled intellect remark
How dark our ancient problems still remain.

Illusion (also written in my teens)

What now is chaos, blind uncertain shock
Will in the flight of future crystallise
Will set and cast and strengthen, as to mock
Our flailing with the safety of the past.
The sea is always here, the sturdy rock
Forever fades behind us-- memory lies
Most wretchedly, perpetually we strive
And always shall do, so no longer cast
That envious eye upon receding days
The vessel that you sail knows no dry dock
Except that conjured by the mind, which plays
Such biting games with actuality.
These waves of pain are native to this sea;
And that fair weather past deceives your eyes
Such tranquil hours are strangers to the clock.

The Atheist (2003/4)

(Someone I knew in my childhood committed suicide in his early twenties. Another old friend, who arranged that people who knew him would know about it and attend, was an atheist and I was shocked at how accepting she was of his decision, and how casual she was about his annihilation, as she saw it. And yet she was the one who arranged that people would go to the funeral. I was something of an atheist at this time myself, but I was still taken aback.)

She made the calls that filled these mournful pews
Although she hardly knew the guy who died
And will not take the comfort here supplied
by hopeful hymns and high-pitched halleluhs.
He jumped; he lost all that he had to lose;
And nothing holds him now, except the void.
None of her good deeds make her warm inside;
Those cold blue eyes have no looks to accuse.

Hers is the noblest struggle of them;
To fight an absent God's immortal curse
And help where hope has gone beyond recall;
To strive that ill might not give way to worse;
And kindle, before death's eternal stall,
One flicker in the cold vast universe.

Before and After (2001)

After the last and straggling schoolboy leaves,
Before the first commuter heads for home
The gardens are a softly-spoken poem
A tapestry that silence slowly weaves.
The middle-aged steal through these scenes like thieves;
All life is theirs' but this, where infants roam
About the lawns their fathers' fathers comb
With rusted rakes, this land that time reprieves.

Is this the dusk or dawn? Do graying hairs
Regain the wisdom of a toddler's prattle?
Too innocent or wise for worldly airs,
Too wise or weak for hunt of power and chattel,
Is this the single haven that life spares
Its squadron from its long, its fruitless battle?


  1. That was the second poem I read yesterday entitled 'Absolution'! (The other was by F.W. Harvey - I can't link to it on the Internet - I was reading it in a library).

    These older poems seem to me to uphold the human spirit less willingly than your more recent verses. I'm afraid I even had trouble understanding 'Illusion' (what is the second word of the third line?). That said, some lines ('That vessel that you sail knows no dry dock' and 'Such tranquil hours are strangers to the clock') I like simply because they are so enjoyable to say. The meaning is to some extent at the mercy of the euphony. Those lines also remind me of Dylan Thomas, which none of your other poems ever have!

    My favourite was 'Before and After', which proves that a poem may be melancholy or sorrowful but still uplift the reader, even if unexpectedly.

    (If you have a purple folder and a purple notebook, I can't resist asking why this blog isn't also purple! (Except on St Patrick's Day))

    1. Ha ha ha! As a matter of fact, I put a lot of thought into the colours and layout of this blog. I think the pale blue and light gray, as well as the type size and font, is restful to the eye. But the purple folder is only one of many folders, all different colours.

      Yes, my older poetry was much darker, though optimism broke through now and again. I always say I arrived at optimism through pessimism-- being such a pessimist, I realized that life was a lot better than we had any right to expect-- just as I arrived at faith through scepticism. The word you asked about it 'set', I must fix that. That poem, such as it is, is about how we look to the past nostalgically but the past was no better.

    2. Dylan Thomas, by the way, is a poet who has never appealed to me greatly, aside from Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night-- and that one because it is his most traditional.