New Year's Eve ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

I woke up this morning with an old poem going round and round in my head. And then I saw that Duncan Graham - no mean playwright himself and a fine director of Harold Pinter's work - had posted a beautiful poem on TN, a valediction and homage for Pinter. Poetry seems the right way to mark the passing of the year, especially when this Christmas is marked by the deaths of too many writers - Pinter, Dorothy Porter and Adrian Mitchell - who seemed too defiantly alive to die.

The poem that nagged my dreams last night was, like Duncan's, about love, and was for another dead writer. I wrote it in 1990, at the height of the First Gulf War. And I suppose it was circling in my head because, despite everything that's changed in the past two decades, both in me and in the wider world, and perhaps even more because of what has remained the same, I still believe now what I said then.

Ode to Walt Whitman

Did you see me Walt Whitman beside my meagre river where I walk at sunset with my children
Who whinge and buffet my arms and will not be led in any direction
Marching with my sight closed to the rain and skittering seagulls while my children shouted look!
As the incandescent leaves shouted look! lying individual and numberless under the sodium light
Although I hurried on nagging and impatient:
Did you hear the haul of the empty trains into the vanishing twilight
Turning my face like a mint coin hope stamped on my mouth
To a night ambiguous with satellites
Hearing in my secret heart the radio noise of murders half a suburb away
Which all the loud news fails to report -
Walt Whitman there are evenings when love withers inside me
The beat you thrummed with your syllabled fingers those joyous rebellious prosodies:
Did you see the muscles of your teeming world
Smashing the earth unstringing the massive harp of the sky
When you sang of your body returning alert as grass
Or thrust out the spokes of your sight into the great unchanging wheels the miraculous sun and the tumultuous impersonal sea -
Walt Whitman the gods are tarnished now the cities mourn their dead no longer
Children roast in the fires of this terrible century
And no love is enough no elegy sufficient:
And yet I imagine you gentle imperfect generous man I would like to talk to you
Perhaps you sit already at my shoulder whispering that nothing changes
That sunset is enough for its brilliance decay enough for its iridescence
Old faker with your wise beard your lustful piety:
And truly what is my faith
Except a stubborn voice
Casting out its shining length to where I walk alone
Sick and afraid and unable to accept defeat
Singing as I was born to

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