APPALACHIAN OR HIGHER
If only this poem would write itself.
Proof I'm no poet – no one at your
memorial service believed I was.
Science scares me now –
how I'd vanish into my head;
it was as if ‘dead like that.’
Did that kill you, the daughter
you never saw, songs of
loss in Irish bars – tearful
generalities – your little girl
growing up on her own?
It's not so wrong to judge. Let's worry
for children, the damage they suffer:
their absolute need for parents. Your
service, the talk of fluorine chemistry,
intricate successes. And who am I
to write of failure – drifted, wasted –
angry as a wasp at a window?
Long first-term afternoons, Inorganic
lab, Oxford blue into violet. Whirring
magnetic stirrers, heart-ache colours,
transition metal ions – surely that's
magic? Somehow it’s passed me by.
Imagine a hot afternoon, somewhere
in America, sidewalks and successes,
places with tenure and funding and
citations of publications. And then,
think of a girl who wants to see her
father – when he can't ever see her.
She's not invisible, but the strongest
spectroscopy won’t bring him to light.
Well, that’s it – all in the past – who can
count the bits? These constant seconds,
views from windows, odd thoughts on
old conversations – ‘we’re the loneliest
men alive!’ you joked – the morning our
finals started. No way to say I remember.
GIRLS FROM SAD HOMES
'Saw you once, never again –
this falls into my imagination.'
Even on days when the sun shone,
in the air was sadness – whatever.
Beds are warm; they made you sweat.
Keys left in doors that wouldn't open.
I've taught so many like you, and
I didn't do enough for them.
Now I remember the hidden glances:
children of junkies; domestic violence
witnesses, their pictures in battered
old exercise books – crude houses,
the sun not smiling but crying. It's
not convincing now, that emotion –
and my own little one, the smallest
change to her house bringing tears.
Things slide away, slowly then fast –
so, you could write an elegy – it gets
forgotten also. People can remember
being happy, not why they ever were.
I stole that from Auden (not the same
words). It's about all I think matters.
Once I was happiest driving any city, to see
the wonder of rooms lit, ground level or up,
far into the sky – to imagine so many lives.
Now I worry for my little girl, someday up in
one of those rooms – waiting for someone I
won't know, looking out over the incredible
distance. Who knows where she'll be then,
when I'm not here, maybe as if I never was.
Somebody once thought the same about me
and it sort of worked out. I got to be happy,
not without worry but managed to feel. Last
night I dreamed of my father, again; always
about moving houses, packing his things,
then forgetting one, returning – it was lost.
There was humour too – a podiatry clinic
because my toes were growing alarmingly:
the only appointments available at 6 am on
a clear morning of blue ice, beauty frozen.
‘How few the moments that ever get saved –
how long the time when we live in a grave.’
One day, time’s hands froze at an exact moment –
meaning something to someone, nothing to others.
The clock in First Quad, witness to so much, is
now stuck at 11.20: “Penis” time! From “Renis”, written
on a friend’s watch, which morphed into the former then –
funny once, it made you collapse, when nothing mattered.
It’s impossible to understand where it all goes.
Who hasn’t thought that too much happens
to be kept? That friend emailed the picture –
these images surfaced with hundreds more.
And then a dream with you in it, from
somewhere I couldn't find on any map.
Everyone consoling you on being dead –
discussing how best to handle everything.
Talking of your daughter
in Charlton-on-Otmoor, the
nights spent sleeping there,
away from her glass mother.
Your last trip, one
half-term – and you
couldn't find her.
Your son called – when
we got you to the phone,
you couldn't say a word.
I don't understand
why we dream of
the dead – they’ll
only tell us things
we already know.
WHEN DID I ABDICATE?
I mean, from all the pushing,
the advancing, the sense of
aim – worry about the future.
It must have been gradual.
I think one hot day I left the
Lab and just walked, all the
way out to somewhere on the
Iffley Road. I remember the heat –
awful, too much in a laser room
with blackout blinds. And all those
people – scientists are awful too.
(for Sean McGrady, 9th April 1964 – 12th August 2017)
Paul Sutton was born in London, 1964. He has had five collections published – most recently from the UK publisher Knives, Forks and Spoons Press: The Diversification of Dave Turnip, March 2017 and The Sorry History of Fast Food from Leafe Press, 2017. Falling Off (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, January 2015) was Poetry Book Society Recommended Autumn Reading, for 2015. His US Collection Brains Scream at Night (2010) is available from New York (Buffalo) publisher BlazeVox.