Wordsworth v Chandler (reposted)

It rained on my Chrysler all day long

as I sat high up in the Hollywood Hills,

peering through my binoculars

past a soggy clump of daffodils;

beside the lake, beneath the trees,

till I was hit and fell on my knees.

 

Things went black for a little while

and when I woke I smelled of gin,

– not casually as though I’d sipped,

but reeking, as if I’d had a swim –

Framed, I realised at a glance,

a hasty departure my only chance.

 

A dame beside me, fairly dead,

and on the floor my bloodied gun;

a pounding in my aching head,

once again I’m on the run.

To clear my name my only hope

And catch that Stinky McFlintoff, the dope.

 

And oft, when on my couch I lie

and tell this story to my shrink,

I wonder why I didn’t try

the window high above the sink;

instead of making for the door

and ending up here in the clink.

Noir detective with daffodils

Humphrey Bogart, wandering as lonely as a cloud, o’er Hollywood Hills.

 

With apologies to William Wordsworth and Raymond Chandler.

*

*First posted in 2014. Today I had a (very frivolous) conversation (over here) about combining totally unrelated styles, or genres, of writing – chicklit and dada, & this made me think of my previous attempt to merge romantic poetry and hard-boiled detective fiction – another two deliberately incongruous genres – together. I think you’ll agree it’s quite ground-breaking. Of course, I don’t expect academics to discover its subtle complexities and put it on their  Post-Truth-Era Australian Literature reading lists for another 10 years or so.

PS – how do others repost old posts? I can’t see any simple way to do it so I copied and pasted the text into a new post, which means the old one also still exists separately. I can’t work out how to repost any other way. If you know, please share!

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Laundering at night (a poem)

Standing on a chair outside

hanging laundry in the dark

pillowcases fall like snowflakes

 into the succulents below.

*

Reaching down to retrieve them

I think to myself:

“drinking wine and then standing on a chair in the dark to peg out laundry

is really a little bit silly.”

IMG_3543

(The incriminating pillowcase was quickly removed from the succulents and hung on the line.)

 

The Centre Cannot Hold

I was about 6 or 7 the first time my mother was rushed to hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown, so I don’t remember anything about it.

Her condition was referred to as a nervous breakdown for the convenience of everyone else. I was never one to question adults, and, at that age I was as likely question my father, or the other adults that promptly began to arrive at our house bearing casseroles, on the diagnosis, as I was likely to question them about the existence of God.

I thought that whatever adults told me was true, and as for what they didn’t tell me, I never thought of that at all.

When I was about 9 or 10, Mum was rushed to hospital again, with another nervous breakdown. For the adults around me, it must have been easy to believe in the convenience of a nervous breakdown, after all, by the time of the second one she had five children, with the nervous breakdowns occurring in both cases shortly after the births of numbers 4 and 5. She never had been a confident, capable person so it was easy to see a cause and effect.

*

Of course, you could question how I could know that my mother wasn’t very capable back then. I was not old enough to make that judgement. Even now, looking back, my store of memories from primary school days are a few unconnected scenes, that don’t reveal anything about my mother’s personality, abilities or confidence levels.

Memories from back then, with my mother in them: there’s Mum, breastfeeding a baby (my brother G), and me being told by a relative to leave the room. There’s Mum, swatting at a dragonfly that had got inside the house. I think Dad was away that night. There’s Mum, with a scarf tied over her curlers, having washed and set her hair as she did every Saturday afternoon, before baking scones.

An actor could play those scenes in many different ways – brimming with confidence and a sense of fun, filled with doubt and anxiety, or conveying listlessness and emotional removal. I cannot say how my mother played them.

All I can rely on is a pile of memories accumulated after these events, that, compiled, build up a sketchy picture of my mother’s personality and state of mind. Those memories are augmented by the way she describes herself when talking about the past. In any stories she tells us, she always describes herself, with some amusement, as hopeless and incompetent.

*

As I was so young, I remember little about my mother being hospitalised, just that we kids were shipped off to my mother’s sister. My aunt had about 7 kids then (she went on to have 9), so in taking us in, she had about 12 kids to look after. Unless this was during school holidays, (she was a teacher), she would have been working full time. Some of my cousins were a few years older than me, and in families like hers,  kids know how to make dinner for 12 people by the time they are about 10 years old, so I guess we ate many dinners of 2- minute noodles. As far as we were concerned, we were just having an extended holiday while Mum was in hospital.

My only other memory of those events is that after one of my mother’s trips in an ambulance, a friend and I developed a new game to play at lunchtime at school. We ran around on the asphalt playground, holding a basketball between us, making a noise like an ambulance siren. In case you are wondering, we were an ambulance and the basketball represented my mother.

Nothing was ever explained to me or my siblings about this when we were young, and it was only as I got older, that I began to suspect that nervous breakdown had been code for something else. Mum took regular medication that was linked with the issue that was never spoken of, and I knew that every second Friday afternoon she saw a psychiatrist. It was hard for my parents to hide this, because when we were younger, we’d have to wait outside the psychiatrist’s office in the car with Dad, while she had her appointment. Mum didn’t drive.

When I became old enough to question it, my private diagnosis was Depression. (There was no internet in those days, so I couldn’t look up the symptoms of clinical Depression. This was just a teenager’s interpretation.)

Depression, as I imagined it, seemed to explain Mum having trouble getting up in the morning, usually not making it out of bed until after the older kids, myself included, had already left for the bus. It seemed to explain arriving home from school at 4.30pm to find the blinds drawn and Mum asleep in bed, my younger siblings watching TV in the lounge room. Or to explain the dinners that were frequently ruined, because after putting vegetables on to boil, Mum would go back to bed, and the dinner would boil dry on the stove.

Blinds were often kept down, and my mother slept a lot.

Mum was hospitalised one more time for a nervous breakdown, when I was in high school, but in my memory it seems that occasion was less dramatic. Perhaps it didn’t involve a sudden departure in an ambulance. Maybe we visited her in hospital on that occasion. I can’t recall any detail. It seemed to have less of a coat of shame and silence than the earlier incidents, although that doesn’t mean that any more information about it was shared with us.

In any case, that was the last time Mum was hospitalised for a nervous breakdown. After that final hospitalisation, and the treatment that followed, other strange behaviours that we, as a family had been resigned to, dissipated, and we were able to feel a little more normal as a family. Back in those days, there was a huge stigma around mental illness – even more than today – and although we kids knew nothing about what was going on, I imagine I wasn’t the only kid who internalised a deep sense of shame that there was something about my Mum that was so mortifying and unthinkable that we couldn’t talk about it.

Since that time, I’ve learned bits and pieces about what my mother’s condition was, and more bits and pieces about how she was treated for it, but I will leave that for another post, because all of this was actually inspired by a line from a poem that I haven’t even got to yet.

*

A little while ago I wrote a post that was partly about poetry, and since then I’ve meant to come back to that topic.

Recently I went to a gig in Melbourne that was a tribute to the poet W.B. Yeats. Various musicians did sets, performing songs that included lines from Yeats’ poems or were in some way inspired by them. I have never studied Yeats, so didn’t expect to be familiar with any of his poetry, but I liked the idea of a rock gig paying tribute to a poet, an Irish one at that. The decider, however, was that in the background of the ad for this gig, I could hear a song being sung by a musician I like, David Bridie, and it was the words that captured my attention: the centre cannot hold.

I must have heard this song before, having been a big fan of bands that Bridie was in years ago, but I’d forgotten about it. Hearing that simple fragment of a sentence this time, I was compelled to look up the poem.  It’s called The Second Coming, and these are the first four lines:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

These lines are up there with the lines from Macbeth that make the hairs on my arms stand up. In those lines, Yeats successfully conveys a fatalistic sense similar to the one that Shakespeare conveys (earlier) in Macbeth – that the natural order of things has been broken, and Man (in Shakespeare’s case, Macbeth) has lost any sense of control. In Yeats’ poem, Nature has taken back the reigns and cannot be controlled by man – anarchy reigns. Yeats, and Bridie, use the line to refer to an inability to control elements of the external world – Bridie’s lyrics, and the clip for the song, are about war and its victims, countries being torn apart, and people being displaced from their homes.

When I read Yeats’ poem, or hear David Bridie sing those lyrics, the centre cannot hold conveys those meanings about the outside world, man, nature, and the struggle for power. But taken out of context, and heard, or read, on its own, the line holds another meaning for me. It’s not about the outside world, it’s about the internal world. It’s about how unstable our sense of self can be. Its about how for some people, it can be a struggle to contain that within them, that sense of who they are. It can be fragmented or lost, the boundaries between self and other unclear.

It reminds me that when the health of someone with a mental illness is deteriorating, they gradually lose, or are incapable of caring about, our usual sense of social boundaries, that sense of holding it all in for show. It makes me think of someone much like my mother.

 

clip from timcolesoundart

X will mark the place

Lovers of poetry will gasp, (even, probably, faint delicately onto the floor) – but I will admit right here that while I am a fan of theatre, books, music, visual art, and just about any form of the arts, I generally do not seek out, or expect to get a lot out of, contemporary poetry. Well, traditional style contemporary poetry anyway, which of course is an idiotic thing to say. By traditional I mean, contemporary poetry presented as a written text – for example in a literary magazine or highbrow newspaper – as opposed to a spoken word performance, which to me feels like a whole other artform, which often sends chills up my spine and thus is not the one I’m not talking about here.

Generally, and no doubt unfairly, when I come across contemporary poetry by accident – believe it or not, folk, this does happen – I approach it with bias, expecting it to be obscure, or indulgent, or both. When I see a poem printed in a newspaper or literary magazine, I often simple turn the page to read the next story.

I know this is unfair of me. When I studied poetry in Year 12 English Literature, and discovered Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell, (at that time, their poetry was considered contemporary enough for high school Literature classes) I’d never encountered anything like their non-rhyming, anti-climactical texts. I was so inspired that naturally I even took to writing my own poems, as all 17 year old girls who fancy themselves as artistic types do.

Unfortunately, however, these poems caused me to like poetry so much that I took poetry as an elective in first year university and, sad to say, I was less inspired. Bored to death would be a more accurate description of my state of mind on being introduced to the poetry of Alexander Pope – and what he wrote, I cannot now tell you. I seem to recall some interminable lecture that felt like it went on for days rather than hours. It’s possible that I may have skipped a few of those lectures and instead hung out on the South Lawn.

In hindsight, I blame stodgy old Melbourne University for my suspicious approach to poetry.

Nowadays, it’s  increasingly hard for the Arts to compete for attention in a world where people are plugged in and switched on, listening to podcasts, watching Youtube clips, Instagramming and Snapchatting everything, and that’s just on their mobile phone on the way to work. So it’s particularly hard to understand how Poetry – an unobtrusive, pared-back artform that relies on a willingness to read words written on a page and allow the reader’s imagination to provide any or all of the accompanying loud noises, pretty colors or handsome character in the main role – can still expect to fight for a portion of that audience.

(If Poetry had any thoughts at all on the matter, I guess it would first turn up its hearing aid, and then agree that it has passed its prime but is quite enjoying its twilight years.)

Yet while I mostly avoid reading poetry, at the same time, I’ll readily listen to song lyrics.

I’m willing to listen to a song even if the lyrics are obscure and hard to fathom. If I judge that the music is worthy of listening to, it seems I can engage with lyrics the way I do with visual art, that is, by accepting that it’s up to me, the viewer/listener, to make my own meaning from the work when the meaning does not seem clear, and that there is no right or wrong answer.  In some cases, where lyrics seem nonsensical, I’m even willing to imagine that the songwriter was just having fun with words, and perhaps had no other intention beyond that.

Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
So we say, Hip Hooray!
Come and listen while we pray.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

The Clancy Brothers*

Music alone has power, but there is a kind of chemical reaction that results when the perfect combination of some simple words, with music that expresses the mood perfectly, and a human voice suited to imparting those exact words in that way, are put together. When that happens, even contemporary rock music has the potential to achieve the pinnacle that art is capable of.

What is that pinnacle that art is capable of, you may well ask at this point. Well, in my opinion, it’s capable of giving us a momentary glimpse of something deep within ourselves that feels intensely personal but simultaneously connects us to the universe (through shared experience with the human condition). You know when it’s achieved because it will make the hairs on your arms stand up and a shiver run down your spine.

I’ve written before about the shiver that runs down my spine when I hear, or read, Macbeth’s final soliloquy. That particular shiver is one of awe, in recognition of the insignificant smallness of human life, in relation to the unimaginable eternity of the universe. So I guess that shiver is the standard that I hold all art against.

And sometimes, listening to a song, a line jumps out at me that causes a similarly visceral response. Sometimes it’s sadness, or poignancy – a particular line that captures something I have experienced, for example the grief I felt at the death of my younger brother. These are personal responses, so I’m aware that the same line may mean nothing to another listener, or may mean something completely different to the person who wrote it, but in that moment of emotional recognition, it is of no importance whether my interpretation of the line is what the songwriter meant by it.

The example I have in mind today, and what all of this has been leading up to, is a song by Radiohead, from the album Hail To The Thief – yes, the album I was addicted to about 2 months ago. You’ll be pleased to know that in-between, I did stop listening to it for a while. Clearly, I started up again. It’s a habit that’s hard to shake.

The song is Where I End And You Begin. Lyrics are as follows:

There’s a gap in between
There’s a gap where we meet
Where I end and you begin
And I’m sorry for us
The dinosaurs roam the earth
The sky turns green
Where I end and you begin

I am up in the clouds
I am up in the clouds
And I can’t and I can’t come down
I can watch and cant take part
Where I end and where you start
Where you, you left me alone
You left me alone

X’ll mark the place
Like the parting of the waves
Like a house falling in the sea
In the sea

I will eat you alive [x4]
There’ll be no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x4]
There’ll be no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x4]
There are no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x3]

 

Now, I really don’t know what Thom Yorke had in mind when he wrote this, and any interpretation I can give it doesn’t quite add up. For example, it’s easy to interpret the lyric Where you, you left me alone, as being spoken by someone missing a loved person who has died; but the earlier lyric I am up in the clouds doesn’t make sense in that context – that sounds like the person who has died speaking. And what can I make of the last lines, I will eat you alive, there are no more lies? – I have no idea.

So whatever is meant by the song as a whole, I don’t know, but what I get from it is a theme: separation, ending, being left alone, and, possibly, that the cause of this separation and loneliness could be death.

The thing is, I hadn’t stopped to analyse any of that the first time I listened to the lyrics. I was just listening along -and probably chopping onions – when I heard Thom’s ethereal voice sing, about an octave higher than the previous verses, X’ll mark the place, and as soon as I heard him sing that line, I felt a jab at my heart.

I don’t care what interpretation anyone else gives the song, or that line. For me the change in the tune, the lifted octave, the lyric itself, all helped to convey that X marks a place where someone has departed from someone else’s life. In the moment I heard it, that line conveyed a new image to me: an imaginary X, that will mark forever the place where my brother died, and an X that will mark the place where I was when I heard that he had died.

The weakness in that logic is that those imagined X’s mark two physical places, but there must be one final X. That is, after all, the point of an X that marks a place. You don’t have treasure maps with two Xs on them. You didn’t do algebraic equations to find out what two different Xs equalled. (At least, not in high school maths.)

I guess for me that final  X must mark a point that exists on a metaphorical timeline, the point when my brother departed from life, while I continued on living.

*

*Have I ever mentioned that I grew up listening to my dad’s Clancy Brothers albums? I’m sure there was a song that went “O, ro di diddly dum, o ro di diddly dum, de diddly diddly diddly dum, de diddly diddly diddly dum.”

(And yes, I could sing that if you don’t believe me.)

Poetry in the workplace

Think back, if you can, to your earliest days at primary school. Do you, like me, recall interminably long afternoons that seemed to drag on for ever, inevitably in a swelteringly hot classroom?

Corr Blimey, teacher, what did Harry Potter do next???

Corr Blimey, teacher, what did Harry Potter do next???

Pic: BBC- Primary History

(Is it a common phenomenon to recall only the hot afternoons? For some reason I don’t have any memories of being cold at primary school, even though logically, I should have experienced a lot more cold afternoons at school than warm ones, particularly when at least 6 weeks or so each Summer are spent away from school enjoying the holidays so cleverly named Summer holidays.)

Well, now try to imagine as an adult, working in a company where an all staff meeting that seems to be designed to recreate that sense of primary school ennui is held every single week on a Tuesday afternoon.

While you are picturing that, I’ll just interrupt your train of thought to note that I began the draft of this post at my previous work place. That means, in case you are a step behind, that I’m not referring to my current place of work. This makes it a lot easier to finish off and post now, since I have the benefit of distance.

Happily for me, the long, drawn out, mostly pointless, Tuesday afternoon meeting is now a thing of the past. I look back on the memory much as I do on the memory of myself in the Prep-Grade 1 room at primary school – basically I feel a sympathetic affection for the bored, listless figure of myself sitting in the classroom/meeting room, probably staring out the window and daydreaming and not benefitting from anything useful that might accidentally be said in the lesson/meeting.

Now, it wasn’t always hot all year round at my previous workplace, which, let’s face it, was not in Saudi Arabia, but in fact was only a 25 minute drive from where I currently work, in an inner suburb of Melbourne. In Melbourne, we like our weather to range from 40 degrees and sweltering in the morning, to 16 degrees and hailing the moment you need to leave for work, and then sunny and warm again in time for (afternoon) tea.

Yet when I think back on those unbearably long Tuesday afternoon meetings, I always picture us on a hot afternoon, crammed in around the table in the old office where the airconditioning never really quite managed to make any difference to the temperature, all sweating in the heat.

About 10 staff would attend those meetings. The agenda began with a section that you could reasonably expect to take no more than 2 minutes, where everyone around the table stated their days in/out of the office for the next week. (This tradition began under a previous director who ran such a loose ship that it got to the point where the majority of staff , including management, would email, or text someone, at about 11am (presumably when they got up) to announce they were “working at home,” taking “Time  In Lieu,” or coming in late. This culture led to at least one scenario where I only discovered through a casual comment that there would be literally no-one in a building that is ostensibly open to the public the following afternoon unless I took it upon myself to change my own hours around.)

It should take only 2 minutes for 10 people to say if they are in/out of the office over the next 5 working days, but even this section of the meeting sometimes took 20 minutes, as some people felt the need to elaborate on the reasons why they’d be out of the office and then go off on tangents related to that.

After that section came updates from the General Manager, and then each staff member updated the team on what they were currently working on. The entire meeting would not infrequently take 2 hours. 2 hours, people!!! 

 

How riveting, another staff meet...zzzzzz

Oh excellent, another staff meet…zzzzzz

Pic: Global English

Due to the regularly overblown meeting length, myself and a few other thoughtful/busy human beings would keep our updates to approx 3.5 minutes, and would avoid asking questions or commenting on anything that was not a matter of life or death (ie, nothing) during other staff updates, for fear of increasing the length of the meeting any further.

As you can probably gather, these meetings were not well adjudicated. Some staff tried to use them to try to raise issues that they wanted to hash out with certain other staff right then, and some just wanted to make sure the team, and the GM, were aware how much they were doing.

The usefulness of those meetings was questionable. I wouldn’t say that the entire 2 hours was a waste – but in most cases, about 1 hr 45 minutes of it did nothing to provide me with any new information that would inform my work. As the minute-taker, I would often find myself just sitting there and not typing, waiting until the meeting got back on track and wasn’t just a 2 person conversation about when to organise flyer delivery, for example.

On other occasions, the topic under discussion would remind someone of an amusing story, which they did not hesitate to share, clearly having no doubt that we would all like to extend the staff meeting for a further 10 minutes, to hear them tell it.

Somewhere along the line, I realised that there was one thing I could get from these meetings, and that was an amusing list of totally random topics, since there were so many discussed at every meeting. As I was the minute taker, I began to sneakily note down topics discussed during meetings that were either entirely unrelated to work, or so vague and useless that time should not have been spent pondering these things out loud while holding up a room full of people who were being paid by the hour to sit there.

The list looks like a stream-of-consciousness by someone with, well, not very much on their mind.  I like to call it Workplace Poetry. Following are just a few items that were discussed for at least a minute or two, over two or three staff meetings:

  • Swing dancing
  • Star signs
  • (lengthy discussion re. how many people around the table are Virgos)
  • Everyone is wearing polka dots today
  • Academy Awards(TM) use the same  software as we do
  • (lengthy description of an artist’s studio)
  • 3 poodles were seen sitting side by side at the cafe
  • We purchased some chairs from someone who apparently was friends with an ex-staff member, but no-one can remember who – perhaps she was the friend of a friend? (- time spent on discussing who it might have been)
  • A potential client is going to Paris, and has already arranged to meet with our GM when he gets back, to talk about Paris
  • A tradesman who’s name sounds like “Precious”. (- A few minutes spent debating whether it’s likely that he changed his name.)
  • Mineral foundation
  • Wild Orchid
  • 80s trash
  • X’s parents – she may use a water gun on them.
  • Barbeque – need to sacrifice a person on it first time you use it.
  • Make a list of people and burn the list on the barbeque
  • MONA (The Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania) is very well organised
  • There was sun, people lying on the grass, very nice
  • Leatherwood honey drops are an acquired taste
  • They put a man on the moon in 1969, X. watched it on tv at primary school
  • 40 years later we can make tea and coffee in the office
  • Staff fun day idea: staff ride around on the lighting rack
  • OHS issues with above idea.
  • Cupcakes from the city are the best.

That’s the end of my list, but I kind of regret now that I didn’t keep this list more diligently.

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear to me now that the hidden stream-of-consciousness poetry within these meetings was the best thing about them. It was just hard to filter out the half-arsed attempts to address work issues, to see that at the time.

*Update, April 2015:

Clearing out some old emails tonight, I found an email to a colleague at that job, containing more random topics from the previous day’s meeting:

  • The Oscars
  • Sperm piercing ova
  • George Clooney is gay
  • Shame – 4 ¾ stars
  • X talks about being a creative professional and dealing with nutbags.
  • Spiderwebs in the signage
  • People have unrealistic expectations. X tries to manage them but they run away from her like a runaway train.
  • Tips for applying for jobs – if you ring up, try and make a good impression.

Final Break

Like many people, I suffer from a condition known as fear of bad poetry. It’s not an irrational fear. Bad poetry has a lot to answer for. It’s responsible for making those of us who love other forms of the arts, steer away from one little subsection – poetry. Too much bad poetry can make us forget that there is actually good poetry out there.

Occasionally, however, I recall that there is good poetry out there. At school, and university, one of my favourite subjects was the study of literature (I studied both English and Russian literature!) In year 12, our literature studies included a unit on poetry, and I recall now that I did like at least some, if not most, of those poems. My favourite was “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” by Sylvia Plath, but we also studied Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sonnet number 116 by Shakespeare, and other poems I no longer remember, by William Wordsworth, Ben Jonson, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Lowell, amongst others. At university the only poem I remember studying was The Wasteland, by Yeats. (Clearly that year was worth every cent of the Higher Education Contribution I am still paying off.)

But in two years of studying what was broadly termed “English” (but clearly, as seen in the list above, included American and Irish) literature, one poet that I did not come across was Irish poet and Noble Prize winner Seamus Heaney.

I discovered Heaney via his poem, Mid Term Break, only in the last two years.That was when, after the death of my younger brother, I was searching the internet to see what others had to say about the experience of losing a dearly loved brother. When one undertakes a search to find what others have written about grieving –  dare I say it?  – there is a lot of bad poetry to be found. Perhaps, in the hands of those who have not yet mastered the form, poetry, more than any other artform, lends itself to an uncontrolled outpouring of emotion.

Surprisingly perhaps, a lack of emotion is probably the strength of Heaney’s poem about the death of his younger brother. On the surface of it, there is no outpouring of emotion at all. I could go on to surmise what makes it a powerful and moving poem to read when grieving the loss of a brother, but I don’t want to spoil the experience of reading it, for anyone unfamiliar with the poem. I just want to share it with you, and say that, after reading this poem, my search to find a shared experience of someone else grieving at losing a brother was complete – I didn’t need to look any further.

What prompted this post, you may ask? Well, sadly, Heaney passed away on Friday.  And, in a fortnight, it will be the 2nd anniversary of my brothers’ death.

 

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble,’
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Seamus Heaney

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