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, 16 August 2007

Handbook for Explorers 26 to 30


You will never be more than half way there.

Though the space in front and the space behind

May seem the same, you'd like to be the hare

And the tortoise; and the prize, you will find,

Is by its nature of no fixed address.

Why else should it attract you, traveller,

Who loves the form and content, not the dress?

Who's drawn to what's ahead and fleeter far

Than you could ever be, a flash of light

Touching the heels of something gone for good,

Whose steps you'll follow just to catch sight

Of where they went into the trembling wood,

Where in brakes of hawthorn, sloe and yew,

The trail ends as it meant to continue.


The opposite of what's true is true, too:

Mirrors may tell you lies, but to lie twice

Can bring up an image you never knew.

So as you get down from a train or bus,

You'll catch sight of yourself in someone's eye,

As you walk toward each other,

You'll wonder who's meeting whom and why,

And whether, when you first set out, you were

Who you are now and who you will be when,

Held in her arms or his, you'll remember

A scent of washed hair, an inflexion

Almost of despair, a low dove-like timbre

That gives you courage to explore again

A tree bright with starlings you'd forgotten.


To start it is less hard than to end it,

No matter who you are, what it may be:

You may escape the strains of gravity;

Then find, once free, you cannot but transmit

Non-stop signals, which (you hope) may inform

People, who just don't want to listen,

Of what is about to happen and when.

You might say you took shelter from a storm

Once, when the air was heavy, moist and warm

And watched, unready to take off, winged ants,

When black sheets of rain rolled up the distance

To engulf the frail shelter and the swarm.

The flood swept on, picked up houses and trees;

So it started and has not ended yet.


Rivers will have burst their banks and flooded

The routes you'll take, snatched houses up and trees,

Showed vanishing landscapes how chaos

Works; and helped you understand why ordered

Worlds connect with something deeper, more wild

Than you had thought possible from the start.

The current is so fast, you'll lose the art

Of equilibrium and, like an abandoned child,

Clutch at passing sticks; turn head-over-heels

And all but drown; until the water teaches

You about the growth of patterns - creases

In time, perhaps the incidence of petals

In a rose; how close the great is to the small;

How hard to tie the knot that grips it all.


Avatars will be ready when you're lost

In a city or a desert, with directions

And advice; they'll know before you ask

Where you are going, though you will not know.

Such certainty may comfort you for years

Till you see your rear light in the mirror;

Don't ask (for they will kill you for your doubt)

How you travelled nowhere with their help.

Instead you'll get your bearings on your own,

Will nod politely, and pass quickly on,

Your step light, no parrot on your shoulder.

And when you sing, you'll sing of the path

Ahead, glad enough to step upon it,

Still eager to find out what is to come.