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.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

If you could would you go?

A ball of string

"To escape Crete and its poisonous mazes,
which bend the mind and leave it empty,"
said Daedalus who survived the flight,
"such extravagant gestures are permitted."
But Icarus flew too high, some say too low.
His crafted wings, softened in the sun or soaked in spray,
lost wax and feathers
and he fell down for ever.

To explore unpredictable spaces in unfamiliar elements
is to follow the most delicate of birds, which drinks
as it skims the water, crosses oceans and continents,
feeds on flies, perches on telegraph wires
like musical notations, knows where to go, where to land
and when. Its nests are mythic architecture.
which country people do not touch
for fear the milk turn quickly sour or  the hens stop laying.

One of the ape family, adept at negotiation and deals,
I hang on a tree, one hand gripping a branch, the other
in the air to catch the birds that fly overhead. Earth remains
my element. If I could I 'd dare to enter the vast intelligence
of the unsuspecting and the unaware, to navigate without compass
or chart, and challenge gravity with a careless laugh.
But, discrete and far too clever, I cannot track the swallow's flight
except with wavering and uncertain thought, the dupe of fantasy.

A ball of string would help me find the way out
through the way in.  Though not alone. A forest of broken threads
testifies to other searchers who have got nowhere.
We bump into one another with apologetic grunts. It's dark.
The noise augments  the sense of bafflement and loss.
Swallow, where does your thread lead?

2 comments:

Barrett Bonden said...

Two years ago, in profligate mood, I included a couple of lines (in a sonnet, no doubt) about swallows dive-bombing our Languedoc swimming pool. And now you've shown me what I passed up. And also explained why they had an extra appeal down there compared with house martins (not as easy to incorporate into a poem) that do roughly the same thing round our Hereford house: in France the swallows had purpose, and we as holidaymakers didn't.

Apologetic grunts!

I have this idea now of a poem about the Mediterranean where all the myths are happening at the same time, there's a ludicrous sense of over-crowding and various mythic people and creatures "bump into one another with apologetic grunts". The swallows are the first to recognise this and say to themselves "Let's go north."

With this ping-pong series, is one allowed to be mischievous? In your final line swallow could (just about) be ambiguous (ie, as in a pint of ale). Leading off in an utterly mundane but different direction. I favour transforming the mundane rather than starting out with a heroic characters. Sorry, I'm wandering.

Lucas said...

After reading this philosophical poem several times I realise that its key is the circular journey that starts out in a maze skims across oceans, shares the leaps and flights of Icarus and Deedalus, returns to the jungle of human cleverness and ends up again in the maze where "we bump into each other" hanging on to varoius threads which may or may not get us out. However, like all good poems the summary of its subject matter, can do no justice to it. It lives and is rememberable through its images. The one that sticks for me is the ape in the tree who tries to catch a bird. A recent documentary about cranes amazingly showed apes watching excitedly as the cranes flew over, and commenting excitedly on this event.