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?


Roderick Robinson said...

Apart from dwelling on the central out-of-body/out-of-mind experience in which we briefly see ourselves as if through the wrong end of a telescope, I use your dialogue as a tutorial, as a list of possibilities. The opportunity to use (perhaps even slightly misuse, I'm not sure) the wonderfully euphonious "enfilade" or, better still, to evoke the past with:

The sadness of the tools eroded worn and bent,
Discarded in corners where the dust has fed.

The trick is to search for poetic potential in the colloquial which might at first glance seem to be an unfruitful source. I am also greatly cheered by the rhymes.

Unknown said...

Thanks for helpful comment. On a point of information, Chambers Dictionary defines enfilade as: a number of things arranged as if threaded on a string; a series of rooms with the doors in line affording a continuous passage. It also gives the military definition of raking a line with continuous fire.

Lucas said...

Sorry - got into a muddle with my previous ttempt to comment!
Here is a second version:
As the layers are peeled back they reveal not a single identity, rather a network of "rooms" where previous selves can be encountered.
The narrator is conscious of the effect of time. I really like how the imagery unfolds, the selection of the word "enfilade" and the "dark and ancient guile" of the mirror person.
It all adds up to a complex metaphor about what actually endures in the shifting realities of experience.

Caroline Gill said...

An interesting project ... and greetings from a Kentish lass (or am I a Maid of Kent? - can never remember which side of the Medway is which!). I grew up in Sevenoaks, and spent many happy hours on High Rocks. Saw my first (open air) Shakespeare in The Pantiles...

The Crow said...

Makes me wonder if this is what it feels like to become lost in Alzheimer's disease. All those rooms in the mind, cluttered with tools whose use we no longer recall...the slow disintegration of self into something no longer recognizable...the descent into madness greater, more insidious, than Lear's.

Gives me the shivers to read this. Good writing.