Dismissed as grey, cold-shouldered, distant, stern,
and harsh -- until I saw it in the light,
suddenly shining silver, every stone
soaking up the warmth of summer. Bright
sun gleams on every edge and corner, lingers
on lines lead-pencilled by an architect's long fingers.
The Town House turrets steeple to the sky.
You sit in silence on the long low wall
beside the quad; a way apart, I lie
balanced, hard stone between my shoulderblades,
hard stone along my spine. Not far to fall,
but far enough. The light begins to fade.
Your fingers curl around a cigarette;
I catch my breath. Your eyes stay distant, cool as granite.
It feels like cheating, meeting blogging targets by posting backlogged material (even though that still satisfies the point of the exercise, the unblocking), so I'll try to add some value to a seventh-rate sonnet by picking apart the process.
This is what I scrawled in a notepad while in Aberdeen earlier this year -- not intended as poetry, the line-breaks were necessitated by the narrow pages of a notepad:
I had thought it grey and cold-shouldered, unfathomable, until
I saw it in sunlight: suddenly shining silver, stone soaking up
the warmth. Every edge gleams in the light, each line is lead-pencilled
by the long fingers of an architect. The turrets of the Town House
are steepled towards the eye-blue sky.
I lie on my back along the low wall in the courtyard at King's, hard
stone between my shoulderblades and along my spine. You sit alongside
me, eyes distant, long fingers curled around a cigarette, cool as
My poetic licence doesn't cover the naming of names, so the subject (or object) will remain a cipher. People in poems are generally only really mannequins on which to drape words, anyway.
I tell myself I didn't have to invent anything: I just had to read it from the world around me, and write it down. But isn't that awfully disingenuous? The scene had already occurred to me; and the wall was there, and I lay down on it for long enough for the scene to be true, to prove to myself that it could be true. As if anybody cared. I built a secret stage underneath another person and made them an unwitting (and, had they known, doubtless unwilling) player. And my eyes were closed under the glaring sun, and for all I know, the eyes of the other player in the poem could have been fixed upon me. They weren't, of course. But they could have been.
What I wrote was two completely separate paragraphs: one of creative-writing-class alliteration and metaphor, and one of classroom daydream. (It doesn't have to be beautiful, it only has to be true.) I wanted it to be a poem, though; I wanted it to be designed and structured like a building. I wanted to take the two rough lumps of granite and shape them into symmetrical columns, joining them with an ornamental stone.
It might have been folly, but I wanted it to be able to bear weight.
I'll spare you the details of hacking away at two nuggets of grey stone in a misguided attempt to form them into some kind of many-faceted jewel. I could feel the real architect smirking at me from the margins as I put one brick upon another, planning and replanning, building up and tearing down. And the finished structure? Lopsided, unstable, unable to bear even the featherlight weight of the primum movens of the poem. It was not only not beautiful but felt somehow not true. Perhaps that's just some sort of misplaced metaphorical primitivism, some idea that the initial scribblings must contain more truth (and therefore more beauty), being direct dictations from the subconscious -- as if the subconscious could be trusted an inch with one's feelings, much less with the expression of them.
What are we left with? Two stanzas bridged by one line, two people bridged by a coincidence of place and time, and half a dozen half-rhymes clouding the air like smoke. I can't tell which side of the metaphor is which any more, but one side makes us grow taller, and we call that side poetry. If I'm standing on the other side of the bridge, then I suppose at least I'm in the right place from which to cross.