At the Funeral
When I said where in Bradford I had lived
all those years ago
she told me she went to school
just there, just over the hill, through the copse,
that Clifton Villas was as well known to her
as her school or her home and street,
and repeated the name Clifton Villas
She pulled from the gullet
of her memory the site,
its scatter of houses, plane trees,
But when? she asked.
Our years overlapped,
a pincer movement of our histories,
two lives caught then and there
on the silent cul-de-sac
and we never knowingly crossed,
there across the same minutes
to look and to be looked at,
captives of the time
before we knew ourselves.
This is written into the place
as much as it is imprinted in her.
If I took a cross-section of her mind
under the microscope to examine
the ganglia I would expose its parts
and read it closer than she can read her own self.
But I would not read it to her,
only tell her that a common place
changes slower than our minds develop
and our long separation
was loss dropped into darkness
and sealed once and for all.
‘a spring shut up, a fountain sealed’
Song of Solomon, 4.12
My rough-dug disclosure under the soil
came as a find, a gift, a bounty of gardens
that turned archaeology into reverie.
An old path, a linear forty square metres of flags,
something historic: a lost monastic way,
my thirsty soul conjectured.
Though it led nowhere. Like a stranger lost
on the hillside I tried to make use of this:
a monk walking preternaturally slowly
reading his breviary, head bowed to the text;
or a mute landsman, head bowed to the earth,
choosing and planting, pausing and cropping.
Perplexed by these prospects, it was
as if a gear had not engaged,
was just running loose
and drew into my mind,
like a necessity,
the wish to detain a passer-by
attached solely to prayer or the land
who would tell me what I have not already heard
and account for all the places where I have lived
and where and when the deepest moments happened
(which is how time is measured and recorded)
though these can never be known, except through code
and documents, things found
and minded, and divination,
all grown over like a meadow.
When Lutus, a stranger,
spoke to me in my dream
I listened hard for the accent
in his fluent English, hard
for its turns and rises and falls
as I sought truth
alive under the surface.
He was incredulous that I knew Latvia
and was its student, listening not only
to its sounds but its longings.
He was a student of archaeology
so he understood layers,
painstaking with exposure,
his hands a surgeon’s, also a stonemason’s.
When I looked up his name
it did not exist.
When I measured my study of Latvia
it was thin as gauze.
Above ground, daylit, I considered that Lutus
was more than the fabric of my dream.
He was held tight in a captive language,
perceivable only in the dark
inside a summation of desire
looking outwards as well as
down into the land.
When Gerda, waitress, gave her name
she trilled its r like a bird, in Estonian,
then on request said it again.
She learnt her fluent English on YouTube,
listening as a survivor, hard,
for the sounds and intonation.
I too tried with her language, rolled the r
always, as instructed, then heard her
like her pupil, in her homeland.
My r, her r, never to meet,
two histories, wide as Europe,
a canvas stretched to tearing point.
In a third language that lay obscured between us
I wished to tell her things never spoken before
as their proper resting place.
And whole days alone, not a word required,
entire and separate as islands,
water lapping the shores then withdrawing.