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?


The Crow said...

A somber tone befitting the season, and my frame of mind these last several weeks.

This one I will carry with me for a time, to reflect upon, to ponder the questions it asks - questions that feel eternal and somehow familiar.

I enjoy this poem, very much.

marja-leena said...

Thoughtful, thought provoking and lovely! So wonderful that you are back with this series.

Dave said...

I saw one of those bamboo tubes -- a water chime, I guess you could call it -- at the Saihoji Temple. It was, as you say, just occasional enough to be startling -- which, at a Zen temple, was probably the point. Anyway, nice piece, and I'm glad to see the Compasses train moving out of the station once again!

Roderick Robinson said...

You play with time and place confidently and entertainingly. Suddenly the bamboo tube, instead of being a manufactured waterfall, becomes a clock. Making perfect sense. And there's that child's verse reference not just with Babylon but also in the associated cadence. And, ah, the structure. I wondered briefly whether the seven-line verse (vs. six lines elsewhere) represented a misplaced keyboard "Enter" then read it again and knew it wasn't. Yes, sometimes the iron bars of the sonnet cage seem so confining. Just one niggle: fifth line, first verse: breed(s?)

Unknown said...

BB, in particular. Thanks. The typo is now corrected.

Lucas said...

I have really enjoyed reading this latest poem on Compasses. It is excellent how the answers to the metaphysical questions come in the shape of images, images which themselves pose questions and haunt the reader. I also like the form and elusive rhyme scheme which seems to echo and enhance the content. The two lines:"long enough to forget, and short/enough to recall its repetition" are wonderfully evocative of that bamboo which too now I can hear.

The Crow said...

Plutarch, please forgive the frivolity of this: while re-reading your poem this morning, I googled the expression 'hydra-headed', and was presented with an explanation of 'hydra-headed evils,' which - because of my latent dyslexia - I misread as "Hydra-headed Elvis."

As I wrote above, I am enjoying this poem and am taking my time reading it to let the images evoked sink in along with the words.

Minus the Hydra-headed Elvis, of course.

Mike said...

I really like the rhyme you develop in the first stanza, and the repetition of "time" and "moment" in the next stanza's work really well. This is a great poem with really interesting language.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh Plutarch, this captures the sense of 侘び [wabi]. It brings back for me the charm (the sights and sounds and smells) of travelling by Shinkansen, and then arriving at a relaxing destination. Arigtou!