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.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Handbook for Explorers 31 to 35


These are the clues some travellers look for:

Clay tablets, papyrus and bone; coins

Minted in the name of kings and scattered

Like birds; ornaments of gold and copper,

Once fastened at the breast of priestesses,

Who had the answers that were wanted then.

You'll make of such clues, some sort of sense,

As, looking for connections to decipher,

You'll weave through narrow streets and boulevards

To places every traveller visits,

And hope that, behind the picture-postcards,

You'll catch sight of something not seen before,

An artefact that time alone has made

From stains, which spread out wide from then to now.


Take no flags to raise above a planet

Or a tract of countryside, where olive trees,

With twisted trunks distil civilisation

From a terrain; where, by a lean-to hut,

A woman, her face as hard as the stone

Of an olive, watches a string of goats;

And fails to quarrel with poverty,

Or with someone like you, without roots and free

To cross seas, and be able to reflect

On the otherness of other people.

No photos please. Theres nothing you can take

From here, no sword or bangle from a grave:

Except the fruit, cheese, bread she's offered you;

And her blessing, once she sees you go.


You'll wait a long time for the words to come

To describe the conflicts that you've seen,

The routes you've taken, the research you've done,

What you have discovered.

But they'll turn out

Not as you intended; and instead

Of the sentences you'd meditated,

Grunts and whistles will astound

The audience. Would numbers or music

Better convey the story of your life -

The howling of a saxophone, murmur

Of a drum?

The trail's been difficult,

And it's spiral course helps you see why

Fibonacci's numbers match the order

Of cactus prickles and of sunflower seeds.


Perilous routes call for confidence;

Forecasts may turn out to be accurate,

And will rob your story of surprise.

Trust in prophets, and you'll forget to think,

And repeat their dubious promises,

And neither see nor hear awakening birds

Blast the forest with their notes of crisis.

The sun will rise, it always has.

If not, it will be hard to say goodbye

To all the places you have visited,

To music and to staring pictures;

See cities and artefacts disappear;

Civilisations, which shout "look, look at me,"

Go with a bang, and no time for a tear.


Hope is important to hold in your head,

Just to keep alive the inquisitive

Urge, which fuels persistence on the road.

Though it may lead you to where dangers thrive,

It lives in trees and grass, sits in the wind;

Breeds joys, which taunt and gratify the eye,

The hand, lips tongue and curious mind;

Creates clouds like promises in the sky;

Sows ideas in your brain that will turn out

To lead their own lives, as words whispered,

Uncertain of their intent, become a shout;

Takes you to watch - alone without a word -

A house, where a slow flame trembles beside

A window, and you don't know who's inside.


jzr said...

Dear Lucy and Joe,

I'm speechless and know somehow, though we may never meet that I have found friends. I recently stumbled on Lucy's blog and today she sent this blessing of your collaberation. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! You speak a language I understand. This must one day be a book to share with so many others.

Marja-Leena said...

Compasses is truly captivating and speaks of Everyman's journey. And in a language I understand, as jzr said.

apprentice said...

Love combinations of word and pictures again. Lucy your photos get better and better.

I feels like a virtual pilgramage

Robin Starfish said...

Compasses continues to be a magical journey unlike any other.

"No photos please. Theres nothing you can take from here..." LOL! For once, something to contest!

Lucas said...

Wholly absorbing - words and images creating a new kind of montage.