Poetry In Emotion

Geoffrey Longridge, a widower of twenty-eight years standing, had lost his wife in a car accident leaving him childless and alone. Since that time, emotion was something he employed sparingly, and in his memory of her he had, he considered, a sufficient reservoir of intimacy to provide all the nourishment required to live an ordered life.

Her photographs were everywhere in his house, and conversations with her departed soul remained central to his life. She had been his co-conspirator, his map and compass, and without her he had become a mannered, dutiful soul, working latterly as the chief librarian in his local town.

His sensibilities were tuned to connect with ideas and vistas rather than people: he had a quality of civilised distance about him which marked him out in the community. He was a receiver rather than the teller of stories, but you could tell the quality of your words by the power of his response. Sometimes, in a stubborn attempt to awaken interest in an artistic dimension among the local population, he would invite speakers to give talks at the library on matters literary, or sometimes just to recount their recent adventures. He loved the way some small event could make an individual discover themselves.

So it was that he invited a poet, who had recently returned from the tropics, to give a reading from her latest book of poems: the product of her experiences there. Her sense of life and its adventures seemed exotic to a man whose formative, and then more mature impressions, were gathered throughout a life bound by ritual and routine within the small English county where he had lived and worked all his life. At the appointed hour she arrived at the building and he guided her to the room were a small but appreciative audience applauded her entrance. Brief introductions were made and then the poet began her recital.

The audience was moved by her assurance and intensity: her words igniting their dormant imaginations. She was the living embodiment of artistic courage, a dramatic reader of her own verse, and the audience responded to her urgency. At last the reading was over and, noticeably, the applause at the end of it was more real and energised than the polite clapping of hands which had signalled her introduction. After the event, poet and librarian sat together on a bench near the entrance and looked at the abstract painting before them, which seemed almost like a conceptual map of imagination.

“Do you like abstract art ?” she asked him earnestly. “Yes” replied Geoffrey and suddenly he seemed to be no more than a puppet. A will stronger than his own pushed him forward and he found himself kissing her forehead, then her cheek and finally her lips with a release and abandon which, till now, had been entirely alien to him. She was the first women to whom he had opened himself in twenty-eight years and he was stunned by his own actions. Instead of shrinking away from him she seemed to be somewhere between the polite and receptive as he talked to and then kissed her in turn and again. Finally, without any comment on his behaviour, she told him she had a dinner engagement. They rose from the bench and he showed her to the door.

He had no address for her, apart from her email, or any knowledge of her circumstances, excepting some blurb on her website and after she had gone he sat down again and stared at that painting as if it might supply him with an answer. What does a polite man do, living largely within convention, when he has stepped outside himself and kissed a lady so? The painting offered no advice.

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The Inner Circle

As a young man, sometime before the war, I lived in a world “Of certain certainties” as some poet said, or may have said. I’ve never been of the bookish persuasion but you get my drift: we dressed for dinner, played cricket, gentlemen versus players, every August on the green, and obeyed conventions in public as if conformity were as natural as breathing. My private thoughts were of a different colour, but when has that not been true. After all, as another poet possibly remarked, “Manners the wild savage doth contain” and aint that the truth by God.

Anyway, in those times I, unmarried and a recent graduate from Cambridge visited my aunt in Hagley and found myself co-opted onto the cricket team, some young notable having fallen ill, and played, if I may say so, with some ability. A charming girl approached me at the tea after the match and remarked on my bowling in a manner which invited further conversation.

Her name was Araminta, I discovered, and she was the daughter of a noted local family. Her manner was bright, engaging and possibly beguiling and I wondered how I could extend our acquaintanceship to later in the evening when I knew a small number of the local “worthies,” among others, would be gathering at my aunt’s house for “Drinks” which in those days was a way of inviting people to your home without the bother of preparing a meal.

My aunt, who had little about her of note, apart from having attended the funeral of Queen Victoria, an incident which frequently made its way into her conversation, did what many in declining circumstances do, which was stick rigidly to convention, albeit on a reduced scale, so that offering “Drinks” instead of a meal was a way of clinging to the last of her contacts in gentrified circles without, in her case, the expense of providing full-blown hospitality.

Emboldened by Araminta’s friendliness and forward manner, I asked her if she was “Coming up later” for drinks at my aunt’s, whose name I told her,was Mrs Derringer. Her face stiffened very subtly, in the way only those who have been repeatedly slighted on social grounds would notice, and she said “Sadly I have other plans” before drifting off to talk to another young man I did not know but who had played in the same team as I.

She was a dazzling beauty framed in social caution who, I later discovered, went on to marry a senior civil servant some years older than herself who “worked tirelessly,” which just means worked, at the Home Office during the war. Later, I was employed by an engineering business in an undistinguished capacity, thus emphasising, much to my aunt’s dismay, how far we had drifted from the county set. I married a women who grew to love me in her own way but who disliked any “fuss” unless, of course, she was making it. I never met Araminta again, but my conversation with her was the closest I got to what many people describe as a romance so the snub I received from her remains fresh to this day. The harshest truths, it seems, are often implied rather than stated.

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Time, Truth and A Possible Destiny

Arnie was walking briskly down the road looking at everything around him when a man stopped him and asked the following question,, “Sorry to bother you, but do you have the time? ” Arnold paused, and beamed at the man as if he was a new believer and said. “The time sir: I have the time, the truth and road to your destiny. Let the joy of living pour out of every orifice. Let people share in the glory of your being.” He paused briefly while he considered this statement. The stranger was looking slightly unsettled but was currently doing no more than shift his weight from one foot to the other.

“Possibly not any orifice below the waist” Arnold corrected himself, and maybe not the ears and the nose is a bit dodgy….. Let the joy of life pour out of your mouth and eyes”. At last he’d got it right, but now the figure of the man was receding from his view at a brisk pace, apparently unmoved by this newly revealed road to joy.

Unbowed, our cheery prophet returned home, to enjoy a welcome coffee at ten o’clock on this Thursday morning. His wife looked surprised to see him, but before she could say anything he told her, “Let the joy of life pour out of your heart: let it shine and speak from your eyes and mouth.” Moving, and even inspiring as this statement was, his wife decided to put it on one side for the moment, and she asked him what he was doing at home at this hour of the day.

“I got sacked” he said, beaming with riotous exuberance, as the full power of his message coursed and galloped through his being. “Why?” she asked quickly, worried that he was about to launch into a fresh rhapsody before leaving Planet Facts. “We were having a ‘Blue Sky’ meeting about the budgets for the next year and Dave asked my opinion.”

“And you told him Let the Joy of life etc”. Her husband beamed at her, and even softened slightly because she always understood what he was saying so well. “Yes, I told him, ‘Let the Joy of Life shine out of…”

“Yes yes yes” said his wife, now fully ‘up to speed’ on the recent events. “And what do you think we should do now?”

“Face life with unflinching courage,” her husband continued,” Remain unbowed before setbacks, and march forward to the Promised Land. More specifically” he added seeing his wife’s attention beginning to wander, “I think we should withdraw our savings and go place them on the lottery. Say to the fates, bold, unbowed and clear. Here is our statement of intent, do your worst, extend the odds against winning if you must; frighten us if you can, but we will climb the mountain: we will venture through unmapped terrain toward our Shangri La.”

“Can I see your bank card for a minute”, his wife interrupted, and without thinking as his mind was busy assembling the next statement, he placed it in the relieved and outstretched palm of her hand. “You sit down for a second while I make you a coffee” she said and left the room.

What she did was ring his work place and ask to speak to Arnold’s boss. “Did you really sack him” she enquired, given that he’s your brother in law”. “No, I didn’t” her brother replied, but I was hoping the shock, might bring him down to earth”. “We’ll what got into him, do you know?”

“Yes,” her brother replied, “Some new guy started this morning, and when Arnie said he had a headache, this guy gave him an aspirin which may not have been an aspirin. He hasn’t been really been sacked. The bank manager is coming along later, and I didn’t want our accountant telling him about the joy of life and that we want to withdraw all our money and put it on the lottery,” he continued, “What we need is profits, and not prophets and then he started laughing and wheezing into the phone, until he seemed to be gibbering with hysteria :shrieking and sucking noises could be heard bouncing around the earpiece “Are you alright” his sister asked him. “I had a slight headache this morning” he said. “I’m coming over” she replied and put the phone down

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Beneath The Tree Of Life

I’ve read the words of men who walk where understanding grows: who’ve passed beneath the tree of wisdom and had its shadow grant them peace, briefly though it be.

Look in their eyes and you will discover glimpses of eternity. With them you sense the present is infinite, and events the actors which provide a change of scenery. In life there are many theories but few explanations. With time I discovered that we will know more than we can say, and understand beyond our powers of expression.

Sometimes on a crowded street or in a café, half hid from view, I might a man or women see, and tell myself, “They’ve been there, at the borders between eternity and the commonplace. Compassion is their constancy, wrapped in the scarf of hard experience. Hopeless though the venture is, they watch the pageant of our passing lives and see it stained by human greed, recognising, all the while, that knowledge of the timeless kind is often touched by melancholy.”

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Lost Conversations

Heard on the radio, a transmission from past decades: fragments of a conversation, picked up as the spacecraft travels its uncharted path. “I’ll see you soon, put the kettle on,” then laughter cut off by silence.

“Who were they” you ask yourself but cannot say: trapped as you are on this forgotten mission to a distant galaxy; sent out to explore the universe decades ago, before the Earth was destroyed by meteorites.

“Life on other planets, I hope? ” was all you could think as you turned to look at Greg, the captain of the spacecraft, now piloted without purpose or destination. “Shall I make a note of it” you ask, but he just shakes his head,

For what is the purpose? There’s no one left to talk to, and nothing but these fragments of conversation bouncing round in space to stir emotions. These brief relics of your vanished home, your world, reminders your families have become dust and memory has lost all context.

“Can’t beat the view” you say, trying to keep it light, but routine without purpose drained the magic from this adventure many years ago: silence is your constant companion. Now galaxies pass by unremarked by two souls lost in travelling, robbed of home and context by that catastrophe which destroyed the earth in mid-evolution.

“What does it mean” you ask yourself, but mute indifference has no answer. At some unspecified hour, you accept, some black hole or other matter will swallow this last evidence of man and his ambitions, and suns will rise and planets form without comment or exclamation from this lost civilisation now a particle in space.

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A Flirtation With Prosperity

At University you could get a bit of street-cred by striking attitudes, or looking mystical and muttering quasi-profundities such as “ Your past is not your future ” and then looking deep into a girl’s eyes as if a number of prophets and mystics were lunching between your ears. Of course, most of the ladies just told you to “Keep taking the tablets” but if you struck enough poses in enough rooms, some young lady would look at you as if you had recently parted the red sea.

That’s what happened to me with Josephine Splatter, whose eyes shone at me as I made a series of statements, which I realise in hindsight, would have failed to get published in a pack of Fortune Cookies. To add to the glory of the moment she became so enamoured with my inner gifts that she invited me to her home for the weekend, a mansion complete with sixteen bedrooms although on this occasion the house was only occupied by me, Josephine, her mother, also called Josephine, and her dad Ned Splatter, who’d made a pile or ten from something to do with cement plus a number of staff.

Mr Splatter didn’t seem interested in the relationship between the moment and infinity, or my observation that “Clouds pass like memories over the verdant fields,” Nothing was said exactly, until he mentioned during the evening meal that, ”Would I like to help Mario,” the waiter at their table “With clearing the plates away,” and staring directly at me, as if I’d stolen his shirt, which I thought was a bit rich given that it was only his daughter I wanted.

The next morning at breakfast, when I sat down, he gave me another stare and said, “I hope you are keeping your eye on the train times in case you decide to leave early,” and although I presumed at the time that this must have been a joke, the delivery seemed low on humour. The previous evening I’d popped along the hundred yards over to Josephine’s bedroom to say goodnight but found the door barred by some guy who was built like a dumpster truck, and seemed about as friendly as one: something in his manner suggested that normal courtesies could be dispensed with.

When I said at breakfast, “the truth will brook no dissembling” Mr Splatter looked at me with widening eyes. OK, a hint of profundity in my statement I admit so perhaps I was making a bit of an impression on Mr Splatter. I grinned at my newly discovered fellow mystic. Both mother and daughter seemed uncomfortably quiet and the reason for this became clearer as I left the breakfast room to see my packed suitcase adjacent to the front door. Mr Dumpster Truck was standing beside it.

The girls seemed to have melted from the company and the Nedster came up to me and said, “Get in the car and leave, and if I hear you’ve spoken to my daughter again you will become ill” “Is bravery a quality or an affectation?” I asked myself as his eyes bored into mine. It was a question I sought to answer during the ride to the station.

I never spoke to Josephine again, and the next term I saw her climbing into a Lamborghini with the door held open by some literal materialist who clearly couldn’t tell a Fortune Cookie from a Christmas cracker. Later, as I forged a career expressing my wisdoms for the greeting card industry, I remembered her and wondered if I should have fought harder to rescue her from a life of stultifying prosperity.

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Those Eyes You Can’t Forget

Value her as he did, and love her as he did he could not promise to value her always, and that scrupulous thought forced him to walk away and not look back. That look she gave him then, empty and yet charged, would haunt him all his life, as if he had, with conscious wantonness, trampled on some sacred ground: her sacred ground.

Before the age of knowledge, when she discovered him walking in his oddness, and smiling at the view it had all seemed so simple and innocent and tender, He, whose life was like some dried and arid plain, a stranger to passing moisture or interest, had wondered at her giving heart, and how she made a prayer of all she did. It seemed a wonder in his life, to be found and loved so openly, but he was young and oddly scrupulous.

He felt he must be understood yet free, and had still to discover that all things have their price, and that life cannot be lived without some compromise. Later, in years ahead, he often looked back and saw her timeless beauty and those haunting eyes looking out from his memory, staring up the path as they always would, and looking at him across his history and in each new circumstance, saying with a simple truth, “You never knew what I gave you” and he never had till now, when love, once more, was like a stranger in his life, and tenderness only touched him in his dreams.

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