Pages of the Sea

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I was involved in the Pages of the Sea workshops and was inspired to write something myself. This is it.

Late Memories

These are of course not memories for most;

Are postcards from that other country- The Past.

The Silence, the medalled men, the Last Post,

The lists of names, the Unknown Soldiers, are dust

 

That runs through our fingers leaving nought

But a smear on our palms, an idle boast

That we too have done our duty, fought

Our battles kindlier than these ghosts.

 

We know now what was wrong with all that- the Lies,

White Feathers, fools who sent our fathers over the top

Into the killing-fields, the no-man’s land, into skies

Of chlorine gas, over ground whose only crop

 

Was body parts and blood, nothing to feed

Lands fit for heroes, men grown too wise

For work and wages, men whose deeds

Could not be spoken of, or seen by unseeing eyes.

 

Of course you wonder sometimes if there’s a point

In learning history, reading the poets-

One way or another the time is out of joint –

Our tongues can find no new words, only quotes.

 

So why should we remember? And if we do

How choose among the dead, the grieved,

The nurses, the spies, the conchies, the few

Innocents who knew nothing of the graves?

 

Can the world ever be free of war?

If we pay the right attention can we make it?

Remember so intently what went wrong before

That we never never repeat the same mistakes?

 

Time will tell and history will judge.

More Old Lies, I think. If there be any judges

Who understand time and history and judgement

I ain’t heard of them- but who am I to judge?

 

It’s the same time, the past, as the future and the present;

The same but different;

Just like our sight of it –

The same, but always shifting.

 

I read down

the list of names

Expecting to find my own

Wade C.G.

Wade F.R.

Webster M

Webster W

Wilson –

No, it isn’t there

No White A

No-one whose face to see or hand to shake

Uncharted

I read these pieces at the private view of this beautiful exhibition last night- such a privilege to be involved. These poems are based on/inspired by Catherine’s pieces about water and words (‘words slip slide, perish’) and migration – the migration of peoples/the migration of cranes.

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                    Water as Metaphor

It’s water and it’s something other than water –

You wash your hands and imagine you’re Macbeth,

Or Pontius Pilate –

And while it’s

Comforting after the slaughter

To imagine that you can be cleansed,

There is a divinity that shapes our end

However we try to style it.

                           Water as life and water as death –

                           Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow

                           Is how the ancient wisdom goes;

 

But as for water washing the words away!

It’s terrifying –

I feel like Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey,

Although the metaphor here’s more highfalutin –

The words slip and slide under the tension

Slip so far from your first intention

That wounds cannot be washed with simple water

And you find yourself needing metaphors

                             Verifying

                             The necessity for putting the boot in

                             Before words tumble down the waterfall

 

             The True Language of Cranes

We cranes, you will be pleased to hear,

Speak English so that you may understand;

What’s more, we use iambic pentameters

Mostly, so you will know this as poetry

Without having to have that pointed out.

Up here, it’s quiet and that suits us fine

(None of us bothers to watch the in-flight movie)

We like to concentrate on what we are doing,

But in a relaxed way, as if this is not difficult at all,

Flying 3000 miles at 20,000 feet.

No movies then, but we enjoy the occasional poem

Many of which are about the weather

So you would probably enjoy them too

Although it isn’t quite the same, as cranes

Have about fifteen hundred words for what you call clouds.

Yes, we like to concentrate on what we are doing –

You might think we are out of harm’s way up here

But it is dangerous enough all the way

From Siberia to south eastern China

(China is always nice, for there cranes are considered auspicious-

Which is much better than being considered delicious-

We are symbols of fertility and long life;

Fidelity too- we try not to spoil that for them)

Yes, it is dangerous enough on these crowded flyways

So we concentrate on what we are doing;

But we take an interest in what’s going on below.

Don’t be alarmed- we’re not going to start

Coming over all wise and knowing more than you;

We’re not anthropomorphic cranes; we’re real ones –

We speak English, in iambic pentameters

Mostly.

 

No, what’s striking is how similar you are.

Here we are, migrating from Siberia to southeast China

Back again six months later

And there you are, moving to and fro all the time,

And it’s dangerous enough for you too, we observe –

Deaths at sea, deaths on roads, but not enough

To make you think you’re better off at home

Where, after all, more deaths take place than elsewhere.

Yes, there are many similarities –

You, like us, don’t want to become extinct

But you don’t appear to have found a nice winter home

Where people think your arrival auspicious

Rather than suspicious.