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, 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?