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.

Monday 10 January 2011

What I see in the flames

This new year, amid the crack of ice
And unspecified threats, I look into the fire
For help and comfort, or advice,
As anxious flames leap high and higher.
They're puzzled by the elements they're in,
Crowded down by elephantine shapes
In drifts of darkness they can't contain
While in the embers a salamander slips
In and out like a promise to be given.

What promises have you to give?
Or give up on?

I think again about the phoenix
And doubt the promise of redemption
When looking at the burning sticks;
Yet think of what is going to happen,
Of leaves composting in a bin,
Of yeast cells working through the dough,
Of  a spinning top's brief, trembling spin
And the crunch of frozen snow.
I promise that I'll watch the fire
Till it gives way to smoke, and the smoke
Has climbed the air and is no longer there.

What promises have you to give?
Or give up on? Or break?