My childhood home was filled with poetry. Not so much in books but in memory, recitation, rendition. The poems we brought home came copied down from books that other people owned. (I talk about the way whole books found me in this interview I once did). The rest of the poetry came from my mother and there’s something I wrote about that exchange, her teaching, my learning, the abyss in between on this blog. You can find it here.
Everything else was what we, my brothers and I, wrote ourselves. Terrible rhyming poems, maudlin couplets on love, hideous bits of creative expression that I am glad survive to remind us all that we never let what we were bad at doing stop us from trying to do it, and that, therefore, we all eventually became writers graced with some talent with words. There were also the limericks my mother composed year after year about the cricketers on the Royal College team, and the books of poetry that my inscrutable father published, the ones that became part of academic curricula there and elsewhere, the ones about which at least one of his friends was heard to say, “there is such compassion and feeling in his poetry. I wish I could see some of that from him toward me.” The kind of statement that fills a child’s heart with all kinds of unanswerable questions.
Anyway, I was sitting at my desk and musing about life on this grey day, the weather so veined for making a writer think about the big things in life. And I remembered this poem. It was one that I copied down from a copy that had been copied down in turn by my oldest brother’s girl-friend then wife then ex-wife. I remember the elegance of her hand-writing – I can see it now – and the way the poem foretold a loss that was coming for her and for me. I, too, wrote down that poem thinking about a boy I loved back then. And in my mind it was predestined that he would leave me; I was so besotted that it stood to reason that I was also worthless of being loved in the same way by the object of my affections. I filled up every bit of space with all that I felt and having done that there was no room for either of us to breathe, let alone for me to see that there was an equal love for me. I imagined that one day I would find myself speaking these words. Instead it was I who left, my hair that lay in such silences and he who said, go and if you are ever unhappy, come back and I will still be here. And despite all that I had ever professed, and deeply felt, changed universities over, left a country for, despite all of that, never a backward glance once I chose to go though he, indeed, waited.
I still have that poem. It is written on the last page of a notebook that I carried all through college and after, in a script that tried to emulate the controlled clarity of the words written out by my brother’s girlfriend who became a sister and still remains one in my heart though our relationship – in the wake of the end of their relationship – is beyond repair, a passing I regret even as I feel an immense love for the woman who took her place. This, from e. e. cummings.
it may not always be so; and i say
that if your lips, which i have loved, should touch
another’s, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another’s face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;
if this should be, i say if this should be-
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that i may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face,and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands.