Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Leaving by Andrew Johnston

Taupata scrapes the house all night,
a madman brushing off spiders. You try

to fold the map small enough
to find a place to live, but

the wind prevails, fraying the sky,
making it hard to

read the directions. Outside
the day is ceramic, brittle --

a bright hood: its
crumbs of light.


Your belongings --
as if you belonged to them --

vanish as the funnel narrows:
you want to weigh down

a few precious things,
open the doors,

let the wind take the rest.
Days of boxes, allegorical days:

the sky turns its huge puzzled face towards you,
and then it turns away.

from Birds of Europe (VUP, 2000). Posted with permission.

Andrew's poem looks simple on the face of it -- in shape and message (couplets, another leaving poem), but in fact it's packed with arresting images -- aural and visual -- that wrestle with each other as the speaker of the poem wrestles to understand, or live with, what is happening.

The taupata (a plant also known as the mirror plant for its shiny leaves) scraping the house like a madman brushing off spiders is an image of irritation that morphs into nightmare. The folding and folding to get a map small enough, the wind, the belongings vanishing, the boxes - all evoke the internal mayhem in the poem. The final puzzled face of the sky is like the speaker of the poem - a still sad image.

For some reason I keep thinking of songs by the Mountain Goats like Belgian Things and Woke up New which have that same surface lightness and underlying deep sadness of parting. On first reading, I took the poem to be about a departing lover, but now - and after a brief communication with Andrew on Facebook - I think it is about someone who is leaving what he knows.

I am a big fan of Andrew's work and have posted it before - not least his brilliant double sestina The Sunflower - but this past week saw me run into his work again. Propitiously, I think. You see, I have started a new job working as a new publisher in association with another established publisher who just happens to have his office right near the wonderful secondhand bookshop Pegasus Books in Cuba Street's The Left Bank. On my first lunch hour I popped in and bought Andrew's Birds of Europe - a very nice copy that was handed to me in a brown paper bag (I think the best things come in brown paper bags) - and I glanced through it back at the office, then spent the evening reading it from cover to cover. A thoughtful and sensual collection - including a captivating series of poems about the French tightrope walker who walked between the twin towers in NY which I'd love to post another time.

Andrew lives in Paris and we communicate via Facebook, so I asked him via message if I could post Leaving and he said, yes I could. So I did. Lovely.

Now please please please click HERE to go to Tuesday Poem's communal birthday poem - 18 stanzas posted by 18 different poets around the world over three weeks, and it's finished!! It is quite astonishing - clever, jazzy, fun. Hard to believe it's not all from the same brain. Such a blast. Happy Birthday to us. Happy Birthday to us...


Michelle Elvy said...

Goodness, this is good. I love the opening lines of each part -- and thank you for the note about the taupata. I also love the simplicity of the lines --

Your belongings --
as if you belonged to them --

And that recurring wind. And that ending -- the puzzled sky, turning away. WOW. I really love this.

Mary Macpherson said...

I love the opening lines - the image of 'a madman brushing off