“What does it bring to light?/What meaning is there to land?/Have you killed a bit of me? I doubt it.”
You’re the first person—are? were?—
The first I’ve known
Who killed himself—well, sort of
Talking, working with a little:
As much as that counts as knowing.
You’re not the first I’ve heard of.
I’ll use “are”—or maybe “weren’t” is best—
There’s a knot in my fingers here.
And “who killed himself” feels
Wrong: before and after make
No sense. But do I need to, or can I,
Untangle this? It’s tied, firm,
Part of the given braid, not
Of my making: joining this, the material
In my hand to what’s light, invisible
In the water, afloat on the stream.
Who else is there? Is? Was? What
An untidy line: how loosely, how slack,
It falls. There has been a friend of a friend,
And I know I’ve been told of more:
Someone whose business I often pass
Shot himself just the other day.
Who was it who mentioned it?
The point is, they lie in the mind,
Out of the usual daylight—seemingly
Idling, half invisible in their shadows—
Then sudden in their stirring:
There when you look for them.
But you struck me—the fact of
Your death, that is—struck at me
In a grab, a snatch, of memory:
I thought, “I knew him.” The name
In the paper, the man who leapt—
Who was seen in a moment
Of clarity high in the unusual air—
And that place and moment impossible
To sustain—and fell under the wheels
Of a train. A high-speed train?
Commuter train? Something like:
It had some description of its own—
Some color thought appropriate
To tie to the story—a lurid spot
Set afloat on the passing stream,
Chosen to catch the eye, the mind,
In a jerk of actuality: something
Set to take hold of one’s drifting attention.
There’s nothing I can add to what’s
Reported. You jumped. You’d lost—
Or your fund had lost what
Was weighty enough and seemed
Secure, there on the end of the line,
In the general tumult, common liquidation.
You were part of the financial news,
A human face to put on the numbers:
It’s why you had the coverage—
Drawn into general sight, almost
Into significance—as a flash
Of living color—you gave
A glimpse, it could be thought, of life.
Journalists, PR types, I’ve noticed,
Like to call the markets “brutal.”
It gives the events—the fluidity, movement,
Loss of money—its flickering numbers—
Their evanescent brilliance,
The bright, moving flecks and dapplings—
Of a sort, something like physicality:
Bite. It makes what’s otherwise
Intangible—dark to most eyes, possibly
Usually dull—as it were more real. Can there
Be “more real?” Reality of a sort perhaps.
Whatever it is, it got through to you.
There was, I can see, an ending there,
A result of thought, of its uncertain activity,
And I can imagine other endings
Taking shape—trite, expected, moralistic—
All the common landings. I’ve come
To think that to look ahead, to anticipate,
Is to invite failure: ideas rise in the mind,
In their own instinct, but it’s will, determination,
Surely that matters. Always there’s the chance—
Almost the pull—of shooting
Past actuality to a general
Thought. But truth lies
In its habitual depth: beneath seeming,
The usual look, the shown. It can be
Hunted though—so I’m learning—
With practice, sufficient care and time.
It’s why I feel there’s something hidden,
To be found, in these reflective shadows:
A glimpse perhaps or capture of what
Lies, what lives, out of sight. For this rose—
The prompt to my reflection—in nothing
Of the here and now, but in the fact
That you and I as children
Played—unknown to each other—
On a common stretch of lakefront,
Under the same willows,
And on the wide grass reserve,
The mounds of sand, beside and between
The mouths of the fishing streams
That then set limits to our wandering.
You and I, meeting, talked about it
Briefly with surprise, amusement,
Perhaps some slight embarrassment:
A few minutes’ pretence,
Recalling what in truth we may
Have never shared. The fact we roamed,
As boys of a similar age, around
The same shores, unknown to each other,
The same half-dozen summers,
The other side of the world,
Was no hook to friendship,
But a lightly handled surfacing,
Nothing we were prepared
To tighten on or let run,
And one we both let go.
The discovery, as I remember it,
Was a prompt to another game—
Involving tact—not unlike
The cautious care children
Bring to introductions
Forced on them—a sort of circling,
Drifting, curling around something
Lying in private depths, our lines
Coming in and out of focus:
For talk of being children
Had no use in our professionalism.
It was not what we had come to share.
Why this pulling at me now?
Our meeting was in London, after all,
Far from our childhoods, any of its streams,
And the surprising fact is, you jumped
When I was back there: the week
That I was passing through. Back there?
How to reach, to fix, on the upstream?
It is another attempt at accuracy
That fails. I cannot place any thought,
Memory, exactly—with intentional precision—
Where there is constant movement:
Everything is swept forward, all is
Running away. But your boss, the chairman—
I have a clear idea of him—
Wrote a note to me when I chose
To turn for home. I could look it out
Sometime: It’ll be floating somewhere
Obvious, as everything written is.
I have no comparable hold
On anything when it comes to you.
But you stayed—you were high-powered,
More so than me—and must have
Loved what the environment gave.
Or were you held? By family? Friends?
Prestige? The money? The excitement
Of high prosperity? Whatever
It was, it certainly slipped its pull.
Things do. And not always in sudden
Loss. They lose attachment, fall away,
Drift off in the flow of the new. Look at this:
What point is there to any attempt at recall,
Re-creation? The fact I knew—half
Knew—someone who had
A connection with my childhood,
With the lake where I grew up:
What does it bring to light?
What meaning is there to land?
Have you killed a bit of me? I doubt it.
But this is true. I was there on Monday,
Just on dawn, to fish a stream
Not five minutes walk
From where we lived. And
Perhaps it’s this that’s pulling at me:
The feel of my own childhood, not you,
Your death, but something of my own,
Felt but uncertainly, a tugging,
Some subtlety of feeling rising below
The present, the visible,
In motion and in obscurity.
For an hour and more I walked the bank,
Fished the pools—saw, at times, slim
Shadowy backs, in twos and threes,
Saw the order they kept—the occasional
Flick of a tail below my curling,
Passing lines. And in this work too,
I know the joy, the patient play,
In the cast, the light landing, of a fly
On dark, moving water—the drift
Downstream, the knowledge—
At times, the sight—of trout lying
Over weed—but joy is not exact, complete:
There is still some quarry that I seek
In your suicide, the chance
Of our meeting, the link
With the lake where we had played.
I reel these words off, feel their weightless
Purchase as I turn them over
In the mind. There’s nothing to retrieve.
My attempts at sense come back empty,
Lightweight, or trailing weed.
In the sun, my net folded, bagged,
I strolled the lakefront with my rod,
Saw the house we lived in—
Now a fishing lodge—saw how
The neighboring roads and houses
Are all in place and altered,
Some done up, most decayed. Weatherboard
Near water rots without constant care.
The timber mill’s pulled down, its tall,
Familiar furnace vanished, the high,
Continual whine of saws long silenced.
The remaining sheds squat amid
Loose corrugated iron, rusting steelwork,
Abandoned timber, a stack of great, black axles.
The jobs the village had (a man came from
The machinery shop, where they fixed forklifts,
Other gear, when I was passing, about sixteen,
And offered me work, just like that)
All those have gone. The stony acres
Gathering junk were piled once
With stacks of sweet, fresh-cut boards.
I played among them with a wooden gun,
Hunting nothing that I could name.
The lake’s a mess. The water’s thick,
Grey, mixed with sewage, run-off
From the farms—effluent, fertilizer—
Breeding weed. The year I left school—
I’ve just searched the story and the date—
A visiting scientist called it
An unflushed toilet. Did you catch that?
See the stir? When we were young,
All the years we were away,
It was fouling—the moving water
We looked on, the depths beneath
Our boats, the shallows where we swam—
The whole allowed to fill with muck.
The river mouths are half-choked:
The black swans like it, and the ducks.
This is what we leave behind, this
Is where looking deeply leads:
A sink of waste, detritus,
Forms the past, the future too.
What’s ahead is what was dropped—
Bottle tops, can pull-tags, plastic scraps—
The trash I trod on to find a decent cast.
Perhaps I exaggerate. Resentment,
Anger, can be mere weariness, a stiffness
In the arm, a hint of incapability. At dawn
The surface of the lake still peels—
Silent, soft, its slow, gentle undulations
Almost level—away from darkness
And the thin, pale, lifting mist,
To spread its new, gleaming colors
Under the floating sun. Nothing else,
Thought or seen, interferes
With such a moment. It’s true,
I loved this place—the expanse
Of grass, the reserve, that runs
Between the houses and the water,
The willows in full leaf,
The boughs leaning over sand,
Shadowing the lapping shallows. Maybe you
Had some such memory flash in mind—
A momentary ripple—on the wide,
Deeply carpeted, directors’ floor.
Watching the water, I almost heard
The light pop and flutter, the rustle,
Of the minute waves tapping at the bow,
When I took my rod offshore
And, in the heat, gave up fishing—
A child’s always available choice—
To lie full length, rocking
In the sun, drying after swimming,
Too young for any retrieving thought:
Far out, drifting in my dinghy.
Who knows what your thoughts
Or memories were? What of your
Old attachments mattered? Perhaps
You fixed on other things. And you quit
Whatever purposes you had, all
You felt, thought, had lived—
Everyone you loved and knew—
In a startling leap. And, in truth,
The fact of it, that you jumped,
Means nothing to me beyond this:
That it’s a selfish sort of splash to make,
An act of sabotage, bursting
The accustomed hope, exertion,
Patience, of all alongside you,
All at every other stream:
A turmoil in the moving depths.
Who cares that you were among the kids
Like me? Mucking around on the sand—
Coarse, brownish, I remember it—
Digging down to make a pool,
Swinging on the willows, dropping
From a knotted rope into the water, grabbing
Minnows in the shallows—or trying to—
With your hands, diving under
The jetties into momentary shade,
Where the small, grey, scuttling
Crayfish could be seen, or drying
On a sandy towel, watching
The insects climb the glassy grains—
Even to repeat it matches their futility.
A fingertip sends them tumbling:
My words don’t put them back.
With a friend, I buried fish guts
On that beach—the wide,
Open one the visitors chose—
When we had cleaned
The trout we caught. Purple, red, cream,
Bulging, slippery ropes, impossible
To hold—filled with a mush
Of black and green—
We tipped our knivings into
Shallow graves, where we hoped
They’d spread their towels, lay
Their picnics out. It was an attempt
At ownership, at keeping our childish
World in some sense exact, immaculate.
What use in casting anything in words?
The appeal of description
Obscures what’s there, falsifies
What was. Words—mine, any—have no
Attachment to the real: they follow on
Each other, and reach to nothing else.
There is just a stream—a fact—
That begins in cold, dripping clay
Under wet, green lichen, moss,
Amid the tangled roots and the dead,
Fallen trunks and boughs of trees,
And fills through widening, eddying pools
To flow into a spreading lake. It’s where you
Catch them, though: big rainbows, strong
And bright, let to run, played, and—
With luck—hauled into sudden daylight,
Slippery in their sheen of color,
Their wet, iridescent brilliance,
Heavy in the hands, smooth-bellied, fat.
I caught these as a child, brown trout too,
With a child’s tackle. It’s not enough
To please me now, the little skill
Of then, so these few weeks
I’ve hired a guide who knows the lake,
The several streams, better than
I ever did. Everything once
Familiar, overlooked, is no longer
This, or what it was.
It is a demand on me to see.
Where we park for the bigger stream—
By the skeletal, graffitied railway bridge—
Was a dairy factory once. A child,
I saw the men, in their white hats and boots,
Packing butter into cardboard cartons:
I smelt the churns. But what was
Is not to purpose, it is not the ground
We tread. Our focus is on
The actual, and I know not
To bother present minutes,
With anything of this. We pack
And walk with a job to do.
It’s what he’s good at, has learned
And mastered: the setting aside
Of supposition, the dreamy in engagement,
The childish in inexperienced approach,
The impulse—that, one moment, was your own—
To give up. The difference is, I see,
In exposure to an ability that must be
Shown, some standard beyond
One’s own, that can be leant on, followed,
And this it is for me, in siting myself
Properly within the dark and flowing
Cold fresh water: no longer standing
To the side, on either bank, and looking,
But being at one with its shifting passages,
Becoming too at one with its living
Mysteries, accepting this mixed juncture
And estrangement—the part of certainty
And that which is ambiguous—so to
Impose myself and prevail within
The various holes and reaches
Of what are no longer childhood streams.
With this shift in place and myself,
I have come to see—at times to be—beneath
The reflecting surface, the gleam that attracts
And clouds—and tell significance
In the slightest bubbles in the rings of a rise,
The least bump of a nose on the tippet,
And know too to remain alert to chance:
As when I picked up the paper and
Saw it was a name I knew. And the story
Of your life and its end was there and
Was not there, was touched on
And flicked away: as it is here and
Not here in the circling, the trailing,
The light reeling in and playing out
Of lines placed now and then
On things existent and things gone,
As they are and they were,
In the streams of our childhoods.
These are the depths and shallows
Where you and I have travelled
And travel now together, weaving
Among others in their numbers
Flowing past, or stopping at, the appeal,
Blandishment, allure, the presented
Nourishment of things, their form
And color, the business of material
Enticement at all angles: individuals
Coming in and out of visibility,
At home in the current—
Full shade on one side, a glare
On the other—the sunlight
At moments catching accessories, flashing
From jewelry, gleaming on bags,
Sunglasses, shoes, as if this and these
Conferred and protected life,
Being itself, in bringing the whole out
From the common stream, the unthought
Certainty of natural existence,
And its deep, shared darkness, into
A brilliance momentarily in air
Or as briefly landed, and all made new.
Harold Jones is a New Zealander, educated at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an Exhibition to read English. For 20 years and, more recently, another ten, he sent no work for publication, preferring to work at its development. His work has appeared in major poetry journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and has won the attention of leading critics and poets, among them, Ted Hughes: “I hear a real voice, a real movement of mind cutting through resistances.” Recent work appears in Merion West and VoegelinView.