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Martin Stannard

 

FORGETTING AND REMEMBERING
(Gadzooks! How I adore English life!)

Homage to Paul Violi

Too often I forget how it begins in the morning and ends
in the early night. I forget
how I love the way I can wake up into a day
and have a cup of coffee
and stare into the greens of a tree's leaves
and because I can't think of anything else to do
have another cup of coffee and congratulate myself
on not being the most dilatory person I know
but by far the most delusional.
How I love the way I can spend an hour
deciding what to have for breakfast, whether
it'll be full and traditional, or
continental and better for the body. Or
might it instead be food for the mind:
Tristram Shandy, or the song of a seagull?
And ought it not also be served by a waitress chewing gum,
and she a morbid blonde?
Indeed, it ought. And I forget how I love the way
the sea breaks and breaks and breaks on the cold gray stones.
I love the poetry of the moment.

And I love the way the mid-mourning hours drift
as plankton and kelp (or something like that)
drift upon the ocean between continents,
and as the aeroplane over the sea
carries an idea from the capital of the Old World
to the virtual capital of the New. I love mis-
understanding geography. And I love the way morning
is also like that, and I can have a cup of coffee
and do nothing but lose myself among piles of books.
And I love the office, or the study, its overflowing
with words and sense of life. And I love the way I can choose
between something that's been done before
and something not yet or dared imagined. I love the way
it's possible to learn anything is possible. The way
the fisherman's boy shouts, and his sister plays.

And I love the way lunch arrives on the stroke of midday
if the delivery boy doesn't loiter.
I love the smashed peas, the stunned trout.
And I love the cutlery, the handles of each knife, fork and spoon
embossed and depicting English history:
the beheading of Charles the First on each knife,
Guy Fawkes's execution on the forks,
and a swallow from The History of Tom Thumb on each spoon.

And I love the way Alice from Sunderland drifts in empty-handed
and drifts out again laden with empty dishes.
But she is not empty-hearted or empty-headed,
appearances oft-times being deceptive.
English reservation, English manners.
And I love the after-lunch siesta or,
as we in England say, "nap". Or "snooze".
The way one's head is taken away (a stately ship
going on to its haven under the hill) and brought back
in almost the same condition.

And I love the way how in the afternoon
one can teach a young gentleman, or gentle-
woman for that matter, to discourse with
plausibility upon any subject, pro and con,
to the admiration of all who behold him or her. For example:

          Did I ever see pigs in moonlight?
          Might I ever see any?
          Am I ever to see any?
          Ought I ever to have seen any?
          Or can I ever see any?
          If I should see any, what should I say?
          If I should never see any, what then?
          Did I ever see any painted? Described?
          Did my father, mother, uncle, aunt, brothers or sisters, ever see any?
          What would they give?
          How would they behave?
          How would they behave? Are pigs in moonlight worth seeing?

And I love afternoon tea. And I love
the wonder of idly imagining feeling the life
throbbing and glowing in the body of a tiny bird,
or a baby. I've known that feeling. And I love the curiosity
built into the folly, and how the magpie
is the most generous of birds.

And I love the way the evening arrives
through its several gradations of light. One mistress
leaving by the back door as another is welcomed
at the front. The way the imagination, having
festered most of the day (laziness and dream)
(drowsiness and drool), awakens with twilight
even as the world lurches into rest and respite.
I love the way the setting sun and the rising moon
mean the same thing.

And it's early night now, and nothing ends:
moonlight bathes the pigs and it always will.
And I love the way I can go to bed with a poem,
a girl, myself, a poem, a girl and me and a poem,
and we can relax and talk about what we have,
and what we have is like as to a building, a curiosity
built by a curious builder, a building to negotiate
(a dream in which you are one of the best poets in the world
if not the best, means you are asleep) (totem pole, wonder)
(who am I?) (make the world) (restaurant) (police blotter)
and we dream because that's what we do.

As I sleep, as I slept, as I dreamed,
I dream and dreamed of a teacher, the best teacher in the world:

in our English compositions he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image, unsupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre, Muse, Muses, and inspirations, Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hippocrene were all an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost hear him now, exclaiming "Harp? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Muse, boy, Muse? Your nurse's daughter, you mean! Pierian spring? Oh aye! the cloister-pump, I suppose!" Nay certain introductions, similes, and examples, were placed by name on a list of interdiction. Among the similes, there was, I remember, that of the manchineel fruit, as suiting equally well with too many subjects; in which however it yielded the palm at once to the example of Alexander and Clytus,
which was equally good and apt, whatever might be the theme.
Was it ambition? Alexander and Clytus! –
Flattery? Alexander and Clytus! –
anger -- drunkenness --pride -- friendship -- ingratitude -- late repentance?
Still, still Alexander and Clytus!
At length, the praises of agriculture having been exemplified in the sagacious observation that, had Alexander been holding the plough, he would not have run his friend Clytus through with a spear, this tried, and serviceable old friend was banished by public edict.

And I love the way I can fall out of bed
and land on my copy of Coleridge's Selected Poetry and Prose (Norton, 2004)
(left open at page 381)
and even when 90% asleep feel 100% alive.

I love to read,
but abhor the indulgence of sloth
and hatred of vacancy.
I abhor gaming,
swinging or swaying on a chair or gate,
spitting over a bridge,
smoking, taking snuff,
quarrels between husband and wife,
and conning word by word
all the advertisements of the daily advertiser
in a public house on a rainy day.

          I abhor gate-swingers and door-slammers,
          harlots and hookers and sidewalk cruisers,
          snuff takers, gamers, balcony losers,
          anglers and wranglers and passage jammers,
          notebook nosers, creeps and shrink consulters,
          idolaters, pillow stalkers, stranglers,
          storm arrangers, puffers, language manglers,
          choice deniers and osprey insulters.

          But most I abhor know-alls and crowers,
          shallow gravediggers and girlfriend takers,
          cock boasters, two-faced fakers, bird throwers,
          government dead heads and thread breakers,
          corner watchers and platitude spitters,
          politicians, beggars and sonneteers.

But Paul, you know I love to write,
and to write as writing is a journey,
not merely or chiefly driven by the restless desire
to arrive at the final destination, but for the pleasurable
activity of mind excited by the attractions of
the journey itself. I love that I've not always
worked out what's going on and where I'm going.
And right now I haven’t worked out at all
what's going on (I'm not even trying) and I don't know where I'm going
but I know I'm flat on my back looking up at the sky and wondering
if it's such a good idea to start at the first line
and hope to God the second comes along okay

but I kind of know it is
but I can't always trust what I ought to trust
but I remember I remember.
I remember.

 

 

Copyright © Martin Stannard, 2011