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.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Whence comest thou?

Out of a cracker, me! A bouncing plastic toy
With a joke inside is my progenitor.
From the bottom of a bottle, it pops up -
A story as likely as any other.
Fish-like, I view the world through glass,
Could spend a lifetime on the answer,
While pulsing screens regurgitate
Equations, theories, prophecies.
Note, in the the margin of the script,
This man - the grandson of a trilobite,
Friend of every plant and animal that's fit to eat,
Of elephant herds and starling swarms, the shark,
The python and the goat -
Is puzzled by the noise he makes,
The ferment in his vat.
"Hey, you!" he shouts at the mirror
Which is shouting back at him:
"Hey, you! Where's my lunch?"

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Who will police the policemen?

Grinning like a nutcracker, hell's bells
jangling on his cap, he knows
just how to deal with them
- takes more than a bungling cop
to keep him down!

Slapstick's the way to do it;
leaving mayhem and murder, infanticide,
stolen sausages and the crocodile, all
behind him, with the hangman's noose
still dangling up ahead, he goes
to and fro in the earth,
and up and down in it.
Pleased as Punch.

Whence comest thou?

Monday, 13 April 2009

Are you smiling?

It comes and goes, the smile:
Involuntary, a sign of grace
But forced, becomes a scowl,
Or the fixed grin of a crocodile,
The sneer on a camel's lips.

It's what's inside the head that counts
Yet hard to know, of all that's there, what
To show; and when to check a quiver
At the corner of the mouth, or the light
That builds up in the eyes,
Alive with pleasure or surprise.
But when the gaoler turns his back,
Breaks for lunch, or for a nap,
With no one guarding it,
A memory rises, like the sun in mist.

Yes, I guess I'm smiling now... and yet...
Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

What do you know of crocodiles?

In sluggish, yeasty rivers, they glide like logs;
time laden. They sleep in mud, clogged
with a cruel sacredness. They lie and weep,
weep and lie, showing that grief's for fools,
and tears are trickery.

Dense and old, but moving fast to kill,
their only wisdom's stony memory. Still
cold and glassy eyes reproach
from long before we were us,
and other monsters were.

They swallow time, and, to keep them safe
their children too, so that their jaws
are cradles, and their mouths disgorge
the future. Their smile knows this.
And more, which you don't want to know.

Are you smiling?

Monday, 6 April 2009

What do you know that I don't know?

"I know how, on the inside of my long, thin wrists,
The oils of lemon and verbena smell.
Where my bangles measure the days of exile,
And the English words you told me how to use
Turn in my mind like spokes in a wheel."

Her story came to me from your memory,
Drawn out through time, and from the order
Of words and places, shuffled like playing cards.
She says: " I have such clever hands.
And memories, that nudge and natter,
Of shopping precincts and motorways,
And swamps that steam in every heart."

What do you know of crocodiles?
Of the wisdom of crocodiles?
Of their hooded eyes, live and greedy,
But still as stones, and their sullen patience?