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, 23 December 2010

How then to live in the space there is?

As apples round into form, from the core
take on the heft of substance, fill then fall.
As birches turning, tall on hills, drop gold, and jays 
shout at treetops, flash blue temper, caw and call. 
As wax wanes, burning in pools, glows and spills,
and the lemon-scented leaf sends down
its downy messengers, unfurls, roots, grows.
As the solemn, solitary child plays.

The edge of space we touch at our finger ends,
we cast out webs, threads, spools, 
hashing up space like cheese wires, cross,
form nodes.  We run along them,
jump, hang in the air. 

How then to live?  As if the moon
were always over snow-lined fields
where crows walk, and the dull blue 
glowing curve of evening cloud, so
the leaves snap with cold at the road's edge
and you know that pheasants hunch
amongst the spikes of sedge and bone yellow
umbels of the winter weeds, but let them be,
coming home as you are to the hiss of the fire.

And what do you see in the flames?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Where would you be if not in this place?

The hydra-headed question, its fangs deep
In wrist and ankle, burns in the cage of bone.
No response of grace or wit, no cry, no leap
Of inspiration can release its grip.
Instead it breeds another question
And another, twisting to escape.

How to be in two places at one moment,
In adjacent, unconnected universes?
Or here, at this given moment,
The watcher and the watched,
The force that thought represses
And the flood dispatched?

How to be in Babylon in time?
Spinning beyond light and shade,
In time for lunch or the end of time?
Yes, a one-way ticket is a tease,
Sharp and fatal as a Samurai blade,
Dressed with oil of cloves; and promises?

On The Bullet, now, from Tokyo
To Kyoto. The country hurries past
Too fast to know it,
Or to know, beside me
The suited man who quietly reads.
He rises and bows, Goodbye," he says.
I rise, I bow, Goodbye," I say.

A conversation never had.
But, in a fine rain, instead,
Among manicured trees, I hear,
Repeated, the same hollow note.
A bamboo tube, pivoted
In the stream, fills and tips and falls,

And knocks a stone at intervals
Long enough to forget, and short
Enough to recall its repetition -
A lonely sound, hollow as a bone,
That, coming back, takes you by surprise.
I'm still waiting for it to return.

How then to live in the space there is?

Monday, 1 March 2010

What's in the box?

Perhaps if I open it, let me see... Crack!
Leering and swaying and squeaking with glee
spiked on a bedspring, out will jump Jack.

Or is there a cat there, fluidly
slipping out, purring and curving - unless
it's dead, poisoned and rigid? Or might there be

a dog which has learned to be helpless
shuttled and shocked, carefully tortured
by a peer-reviewed high-priest of happiness?

If I turned out the box, perhaps I could
still find hope there, a rattling, lone
remainder, a tarnished coin, good

currency, tender still, though very much down
in value. But soft. You've already told
of a perfume of citrus-peel, blown

from the lands of spices, of lemon trees, old,
brittle, but fragrant still, contained inside bright
glossy red lacquer patterned with gold,

a tiny, dried wonder. And something so slight
can, for a moment, by alchemical grace
cast out all evils, put them to flight.

So cup your hands round it, and hold it to your face...
Where would you be, if not in this place?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

What on earth shall I draw to day?

Imagine, when you look, how the eyes
Of Rembrandt and Picasso widen,
Their bleak gaze, hard and black,
Your book open like a laugh,
Pencil sharp as an angel's foot,
Your eyes on the scrounge.
Watch fissures in walls and faces,
Narrow and wry, where lenses
Cannot go, where in the dark in the skull
Or in a spiral shell, particles
Dance at one time in different places,
Or in "the infinite spaces
Between the stars" which terrified
Pascal; or in the spaces
Between the head and heart
Where animals watch for prey ...
A line will do, just a line
To wire the air, connect the thought,
Lead from one thing to another,
Hang an apple on a tree,
Place a loaf on a table.
Answer if you can on the way
The questions that come up:
What is hidden in this jar
Or in that lacquered Chinese box,
Where, hard and dry, curled segments
Of tangerine peel are stored
(To perfume ice cream or soup),
Faded but aromatic still.