Questions

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.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Just what have you been doing with yourself?


Sheltering by day from the sun I sit
In the cave, in the cool cave, watching the walls
For cracks and crevices to stretch and fit

The shapes of leaping animals that live outside,
Where nothing stands still for a moment
And the mouth of the sky is open wide.

The dust with which my mouth is full,
I spit on the wall, and shape with my thumb
A creature, half man half animal.

It's cool in the shadows in the cave.
The gods who live here are asleep.
I'll wake them with the din they crave.

I'll beat with a bone this tight stretched skin
Till it trembles. I'm not primitive; I know
It's the 21st century I'm in.

And I won't be here for long
To spit pigment on the crumbling wall,
Hoping the picture won't go wrong.

Most of us are waiting for a bus
If not an angel with a blinding light,
Until the screwers come to unscrew us.

The words with which my mouth is full,
I spit on the wall and paint in my head,
A creature half man half animal.
You there, in the bright air, are you cool?

8 comments:

marja-leena said...

Ooo, I love the caveman artist and that he's here even today, crafting images, music, words... while waiting for his muse methinks.

Plutarch said...

Funnily enough I thought of your interest in cave painting and rock textures when these images came to mind.

Rosie said...

a cool cave sounds cool to me...

Barrett Bonden said...

On a conducted tour of a cave near Perigeux we saw drawings that went back to - who knows when? But our guide was keener to draw our attention to un acte barbare whereby graffiti had covered part of the drawings. But the graffiti dated back to the 1700s. The wall had become a palimpsest (of ancient renown) and your spit marks merely await the passage of time to achieve their beatification.

I read what you've written not only with pleasure (especially the example of creative bathos - a bus vs. an angel with a blinding light; childishly pleased to pick up the allusion in the latter) but also with enormous relief. I misread Brewer's definition of terza rima and imagined the first/third line rhymes to be repeated throughout, turning my face away from this format as too difficult. Once I'm through with my little local difficulty I'll return. Thank you twice over.

Plutarch said...

A very crude form of terza rima, I am afraid.Dante used it in the Divine Comedy in its classic form. The rhyme-scheme (aba bcb, cdc, ded, ... xyx, yzy, z)runs from the beginning to the end of every canto.Each three-lined sta,nza is rhyme-linked to the one before and the one after, until the sequence is neatly tied off by a single line rhyming with the middle line of the preceding stanza. Italian lends lends itself better than English to the form, but Dorothy L Sayers, in her translation of Dante, manages it remarkably well.

Lucas said...

A fascinating poem. I like the way the outside world is where animals are, nothings stops moving and the sky has a "mouth". Whereas the cave is a still place where gods sleep and the painter uses shape and noise to wake them up. A 21st century myth in the making.
I wonder how or why the painter spits pigment at the wall? It sounds authentic though!

Plutarch said...

This believed to be how certain cave painters worked.

Toby said...

...and why wouldn't yet with half burnt ibex fat and stale summer water congealing on your palette - a good spit to mark the spot and give you luck for the next kill ..?