Questions is a collaboration by Lucy Kempton and Joe Hyam. Poems are based on questions drawn from an agreed starting question and formed by answers, which contain and inspire the next questions. In response to Lucy's first question, Joe kicks off. This follows our earlier work in Compasses, archived here, where Lucy's photographs illustrate Joe's series of 50 sonnets under the title Handbook for Explorers.

Thursday 5 July 2007

Handbook for Explorers 11 to 15


When in time, you come down from the mountain,

You may seem to people to be a god

Or his prophet, gifted to relieve pain;

Or else the vanguard of a horde

Of preachers, who scatter their convictions

Like viruses. You'll want just a few friends

To exchange views with, or find reasons

For another drink. But understanding ends

Before it has begun. They'll bring you gifts,

Not from kindness, but to compensate

You for the poisonous air that shifts

Across a land, where all are bred to hate.

There's nothing to be done that can deter

Their frantic genius for guile and war.


You'll wonder in time, if it's been worthwhile:

The search for gentians in rocky crevices

Or epiphytic orchids beneath high jungle

Canopies, where jaguars hunt; species

After species, that have to be defined,

Listed in tables, signed and countersigned,

Reduced to figures you must square or cube

To reach conclusions, which seem to make sense.

But amid the reckoning and statistics

(Shadows on surfaces where nothing sticks),

You'll want to turn back to the present tense,

To find new co-ordinates and refrain

From doing what you did before, again.


You may think you should begin again

Where you first set out; start on a new track,

Make new mistakes, go from now to then;

But you'll trip on footsteps if you turn back.

Better, the world being round, to go on,

To complete the circle; and if you're late,

Who knows if the continuous curve of space

Could lead you back to an earlier date,

The starting line for a different race?

In the end you'll reject the status quo,

Choose a status of your own creation

As the best of many lines to toe,

While you can't know what has been lost or won,

And doubt everyting that has been said or done.


Soon, you'll think, there'll be nothing left to find

That's new or surprising; and then you'll end up

In a city, from which there's no escape,

No sweet dreams in the corner of your mind,

And all that you thought you had discovered -

Sea anemone, elephant, chimpanzee,

Mayfly, humming bird, porcupine, leopard -

You'll need to see a second time, and try

Again to grasp the complex business

Of their origins and nature,

and, in each cell

Find a ticking universe as full of stress

As when you hear the hammer hit the bell;

Leave home; lose sight of land, of love and lust;

Get lost, just for the sake of being lost.


Water was the beginning of your journey;

You floated and grew limber in warm pools,

Found resonances in the moving sea,

Pull of tides and clamour of waterfalls.

In time you'll cross deserts, take to the skies;

And the scent of water will be the lure,

That leads you from mapped to unmapped places,

And, for most known ills, will promise a cure.

For in the new country, through which you'll roam,

You will discover a black, cold lake

Cupped in mountains, where you may drink and swim,

And where, in every bubble, new worlds break,

And you may find clues to the start of things,

A hope and reason for your wanderings.


Anonymous said...

Breathtaking work! The words remind me of one of the ancient runes or creation myths. The photos are works of art. Together, they'd make a gorgeous book. A wonderful collaboration indeed.

meggie said...

Yes, a book. Perfect marriage of words & pictures.

robinstarfish said...

I stumbled across this wonderful masterpiece quite by accident - except that there are no accidents - and was immediately transported to another world. I am enthralled and anxiously await the next compass heading.

Lucas said...

I really like the water images interweaving with the words, like an illuminated manuscript.