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.

Wednesday 18 July 2007

Handbook for Explorers 16 to 20


Sometimes you may be surprised to have lived

In the times you have; to find yourself where

You are; and not more than halfway to where

You want to be. You have, by chance, survived

The guns and bombs of those, who have been sent

To enforce rules, which you know nothing of,

And bring bland messages disguised as love -

The teeth which gnaw the fabric of your tent.

If you have time to reflect a little

You'll see what's to come is a hazard still.

Helped just by experience and skill,

Free of both dread and hope, you'll stand or fall,

Moved by no evangelical belief,

But by the strength that brings the tree to leaf.


There are places, where you'll want to rest for days

Months, even years, which you will come to love,

Where in deep grass, you'll watch calm cattle graze;

And this will only strengthen your resolve

To be off; though someone may linger on

Beside you, stroke the edges of your spine,

Help you lift potatoes, and bring children

Round your knees to command your attention.

But when bluebells and anemones appear

You'll remember what you've long forgotten;

That, before you breathe again, you must move on:

Home isn't where you are or where you were,

But a place where you know you've never been,

And must, again, be ready to begin.


As often as you've come safe through the mist

And brushed the sunlight from your startled eyes,

You'll have tumbled from a precipice

And all you've gained will have been lost;

Though just to have survived evens the score;

And there'll be more to do; languages

To learn; instructions and maps, for ages

Forgotten, to spread out and decipher;

Yet by the time you've made sense of them, found

Words of guidance for the route you'll take next,

You'll begin to ask if you can trust the text,

And then look down to see the shifting ground

And your brave policy admit defeat,

As rocks begin to slip beneath your feet.


And yet, you must keep saying, "and yet",

To preserve your mind from loss of balance

And keep on thinking that there's still a chance

To find a route, which you can safely bet

Will lead to an unlikely country

Where people have learned the art of kindness,

With no rules of play and no blind duress,

No referee to insist how you must be.

But if they tell such stories to keep up hope;

And if you choose to sing as you trudge on,

Valiant hymns of love and salvation,

You'll feel better; and feeling better stop

To reflect: that no end is more worthwhile

Than, when it comes, you can't hold back a smile.


There'll be no one to talk to where you are,

Just horses galloping away from you,

And towards you, savage flesh made air,

And people scarcely ever passing through,

And when they do, not to communicate

Except with lowered eyes and expletives.

Though you'll have words of careful thought and wit

To share with others about their lives

And yours; or so you'll think, but cannot tell

If they're worth the trouble, till there's a note

Of recognition, a murmur or a yell:

"That's what I felt, but couldn't hit the spot".

So, on endless prairies burned by sun,

You'll tell the long, white skyline what you've done.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this left me with pounding heart and quite breathless!

Fire Bird said...

Last one made me think of blogging - 'telling the long white skyline what we've done...'

Lucas said...

Breathtaking - I like the way sculpted and natural images complement each other and surround the text.

tristan said...

blogging seems a bit like casting out a message in a bottle ... to drift away for who knows how long, far beyond that "long white skyline"

Unknown said...

Bless you for that, Tristan.

apprentice said...

Beautiful and as someone whose come through their own troubles I found the ideas about the nature of survival very apt and true.

robinstarfish said...

So tactile and immediate, this handbook is becoming a treasured volume to pull out of my electronic knapsack whenever I need a reminder of how to live.

Thanks again for the time and effort you pour into these meditations.