Friday, 31 October 2008

Someone: A poem for people who have no name

A tribute to the "little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love" that make all the difference!


In the streets I am no one
just another face
milling among the millions
until a child looks up shyly
hides his face behind his mother's dress
then peeps out again and waves
and then, for that moment, I am someone.

In the streets I am no one
a stuffed shirt like all the rest
swept up in the crowd like a leaf in autumn
until a lame, limping, tattered old man catches my eye
and tilts his head as if we were accomplices
in some mysterious plot.
"Tough life," he says
and for a moment I am someone.

I duck into a side street
behind a familiar door.
Out there I have no name but here
there is a bottle with my name on it
familiar figures on barstools
faces lighting up with recognition.
Here I am someone.

And in the mornings
if I fall asleep on the crowded train
there is a lady who wakes me
and together we climb the steps companionably to street level.
I have no name for her and she has none for me
but through her I am someone.

In the streets I am no one
but I have a home to go to
and when the snow falls in the street and the neighbours all go out with shovels and someone brings a tray with tea and biscuits
then, then I am someone.

And when I leave the streets behind me
and turn to spaces filled with only trees and birdsong
and a narrow path to come and go by
and there is room to breathe and to be someone
I don't thank God (who, after all, has much to answer for)
or pride myself on being a self-made man.
I think of neighbours shovelling snow, the lady on the train, the smiles as my bottle comes down from the shelf, a limping old man, a child - all those who weave
the web of my creation
through simple recognition
that I am someone.

I am someone
when I am smiled at, spoken to, acknowledged.
Someone when I am greeted, welcomed, warmed.
And when I am alone and have time to recollect
I paste the smiles and waves and nods
the passing greetings and the sweet embraces
in the scrapbook of my memory and hold their authors there
with thanks
because, for me, you too are someone.

Craic at the Cow (Folk Poem)

Tonight the Celtic bards will sing
And you will drink the flowing cup
To make your drooping heart take wing
And lift your flagging spirits up.

The fiddler's here, and the piper too
To set your toes a-tapping
And by the time that they're all through
You'll all be wildly clapping.

The wild guitar will fill the bar
With chords of rippling glory
And the mandolin will make you spin
While the bard chants out his story.

So now's your chance, get up and dance
You're in the company of giants
In magic haunts of leprechauns
All unbeknown to science.

And when you wake tomorrow morn
Feeling all hungover
Don't just lie in bed forlorn
Or curse the day that you were born
Get up, get out and face the dawn
And be forever a wild rover!

Folk Poem: The Gipsy and the Gorgio

The "Gipsy's" banter is actually lifted from the repartee of Irish Travellers. This one has a smattering of Romani ("Cushti bog"), but he's basically a Tinker, or Pavee.

- "Good day to you, sir - or, as we say, 'Cushti bog'!
What brings you here this fine morning?
- "Oh, I just happened by, while walking the dog."
- "Then take heed to a Gipsy's warning.

"But first, have you a pound - a pound you can spare -
A pound to buy milk and bread?"
- "I've not got a pound for you, so there!"
Was all that the gorgio said.

- "Then show me your hand, and I'll tell you your luck,
Before you go on your way."
- "No, no, my friend, you just want a fast buck,"
Was all that the gorgio did say.

- "Well, I think it but fair to warn you,
For I saw it the moment you met;
Ever since the day you were born, you
Have had all the worst luck you could get!"

- "Don't curse me, I beg you, old tinker;
Let me go on my way as I came!"
- "I'm not cursing - what makes you think a
Man like me would play that game?

"You were born with the bad luck upon you;
Let me take it away,
For - how much have you on you?
A fiver, let's say?"

- "Oh, come off it, now, really!
I'm not such a soft touch.
And can you say you, sincerely,
Believe it yourself all that much?"

- "Tis the bad luck you're having, believe me,
Of that I'm extremely sure;
Let me take it away now - 'twould grieve me
If you had to endure any more.

"For I see you've a heartful of sorrows
And a headful of troubles galore;
You've mortgaged away your tomorrows
And banished good luck from your door."

And the gorgio, he felt a stirring
Inside, at the old man's words;
And his heart rose with the whirring
Wings of the dickie birds.

- "Very well, then, five pounds - and what'll you do?
- "Make three wishes at the well when you're gone.
Health, wealth and happiness shall be coming to you -
God bless you, sir, 'twill be done!

"Now I'll bet you've a fine singing voice, have you not?
Will you sing for us on this fine morning?
I'll bet it's the fine singing voice that you've got
Will stop my wife from her yawning!"

So the gorgio sang and the Travellers grinned
As they made up the fire that day.
They passed him a cup of tea as the wind
Caught the smoke and blew it away.

- "Come along, sir, take this and drink up,
And then I'll be able to tell
Your fortune, sir, from the leaves in the cup,
Before I go to the well!

"By the way, that's a fine pair of boots you're wearing!
Would you be parting with those boots by any chance?"
The Pavee and his wife couldn't stop staring
As he kicked the boots off and started to dance.

Barefoot and penniless, he bade them good day,
And the last word went to the old Pavee;
- "I have changed his luck, by taking away
The burdens that stopped him being happy and free!"

Jazz Poem: Echoes

A poem about life in academia.


Half-asleep in the crowded lecture hall.
Face after face, row after row
and me. Words like flies buzzing round my head
like memories of summer.
Outside, the whirling flakes of snow
the ivy climbing on the redbrick wall.

Somewhere or other, lovers are kissing
the bereaved crying out in woe
and soldiers writing epitaphs in lead
while tiny daisies flower
beneath some crumbling stonecarved Buddha's toe
on which a shaggy mountain sheep is pissing.

It's all out there. It's all going on.
We don't have to bother with it though.
We just sit here drowsily instead
and as the snow falls harder
and murky afternoon begins to grow
to murky evening and neon

I swat the troublesome words away
(forgetting they're not flies) and so
heedless of whatever's being said
float off along a river
long deepflowing beautiful and slow
until I hear the droning voice say

'When all's said and done,' and I wonder
when it comes to that how will we know?
When everything we write has all been read
and every word and gesture
each kiss, each killing, every stone we throw
mere repetition, will a voice of thunder

booming awesomely from the sky say
'That's your lot!' leaving us with no
new words to say and no new paths to tread?
Will the TV announcer
make a song and dance on the late-night show?
Will there be a sign up on the highway?

Silently a snowflake falls to earth
people pass by in the street below
a crow caws bleakly overhead
echoing snowflakes cover
the world, cold Jurassic winds blow
unheeding mothers go on giving birth.

The Book of Life

Another panegyric to the academic life!

The book of life

I searched through the card catalogue
under book and under life
pored over microfiches
tried every category of computerised search
and scrutinised the list of periodicals

Then the hard work started.
Filling in requests for books stacked underground
scanning the open shelves systematically
checking to see if what was between the covers of each book
was really what was written on the spine

I took copious coffee breaks
tea breaks, sausage sandwich breaks
breaks to perform various bodily functions
and even found a corner of the west wing
to bed down in at night

My personal life suffered
my clothes began to smell bad
my bills went unpaid
the phone was cut off, then the gas, the trickery, the water.
It was worth it, though, in the end.

It came to me in a vision
on the twenty ninth day
of the second month
of the twelfth year of my search.

It was one of those visions
that blind you on the spot (the spot
being in the middle of the tenth of twenty eight racks
nine feet high by sixty seven long
on the third floor of six on the south front)

I still had a long way to go; I hadn't
been vouchsafed the book, just the location code.
I scrambled to the desk as best I could
wrote the code down on one of the forms
(this was no problem, by now I could do it blindfold)

then, with trembling hands
passed it to the aged clerk saying
as I did so, I think it may have been misfiled.
He took it, though, with fingers like dried leaves
and with a voice like dried leaves

told me to return an hour later.
He was waiting for me. He took me aside.
He whispered in my ear
the book of life is out on loan
I'm terribly sorry

I could see he knew it meant a lot to me.
He said, We'll put out a recall on it.
We'll get it back. He patted me on the back.
I could see he felt sorry for me
he was just being a good old boy

But they didn't get it back
and after that my hearing went.
It took me a while to learn to read Braille
and even longer to write it
but in the end I put in a request

I want to speak to the librarian.
The clerk took me aside
and tapped a message in Morse code on my palm.
The librarian is out to lunch. Permanently.

I played my trump card
(there's no point embarking on a search like this
without one). At last
the sacred book of life was in my hands
the rest would come by grace

I took it to the library clerk, rejoicing
he led me personally to the lunching librarian
we turned the pages reverently
and turning into angels
the clerk and the librarian restored my sight

a heavenly choir filled my ears
my aged bones were charged with youthful vigour
and I read (the text was cunningly disguised
as a telephone directory for Stevenage)
my name was not listed