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 26 July 2009

Who is it who can tell me who I am?

Why is it that I need to ask the question? Why
Should anyone who cares, be there to know,
On stage or in the wings, which actors throw
Their costumes off, tired of pretence and try,

From shame, to bring themselves to say, " I'm true"?
For actors may stop acting, and not just pretend to fall.
More likely then, that this doolally king can call
No longer for the respect and recognition due

To one who knew so many tricks and scams,
(As you have to, who struggle in the driving seat),
Who now must see the truth, its heart and hands and feet,
And discover routes worn through endless rooms,

The tables, chairs and beds inside his head,
Their range and content and arrangement,
The sadness of the tools eroded worn and bent,
Discarded in corners where the dust has fed.

From the lake of mud that steams and bubbles in the sun,
Rises this old boy, with one foot in the future.
He gazes desperate and bewildered at the questioner
And in a mirror catches sight of a person unknown

Leering back at him with a dark and ancient guile:
Someone else, elsewhere, in a hurricane lost?
Or the shreds of another, carved out of mist,
Who nurses in his skull an angel or a crocodile?

For many selves crowd through the enfilade
Of rooms with doors that open wide for them and close behind,
Where they search through time for others of their kind,
And with a tra-la-la, find joy sometimes before they fade.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

Thursday 9 July 2009

Who do you think you are?

Who? is hard. What? less so:
A bundle, a ganglion of fears
and hopes; a reptile brain
binary switching, snip-snap, between
life and the other; an eye, an ear,
a mouth, a nose... who knows?

A memory, mimic, mirror, though
speckled, smeared, unclear,
it gives back little; then again
perhaps you think you've seen
a shape something like yours here,
or heard familiar echoes, you suppose...

There is, they say, nobody in the driving seat
at all; no me, no you, no discrete
self to be, for self itself's a sham,
forms, fluid and dissolving, are our complete
story. Yet, still, we hear ourselves repeat,

'Who is it who can tell me who I am?'