Root Canals - Poem by Martin TURNER
It’s all very well for you,
straight as a canoe or arrow,
to leap from your speeding bicycle into the air –
to follow a new vector in a thin medium;
but for us who could hardly bear
to greet or regard your so-stable coffin
only a few feet from where you should be sitting,
life, always a strain, is now more so,
a wending through the motions
of serving trays to the elderly,
walking a small dog, or otherwise
having our lives bent unwillingly towards others.
Forty-seven years ago you landed,
cocky, abrasive and eight years old
in our class of ten year olds
to antagonise all except me.
My hand of friendship eased your acceptance.
Our sturdy axis included others easily.
We seem never to have quarrelled
but had grown apart by twenty, when these dear others
who now stoop with tear-tied tongues
began to meet you. They speak
of your charge, the whirl
of your great adventure,
and the quieter lessons of courage
and far-sighted strokes of kindness.
Our excitements had been Pogo-sticks, abseiling
and weedkiller bombs.
You were your mother’s Benjamin
and her you told of the master who invited you
to a quiet, dark outbuilding.
You maintained a steady reserve
when he had to depart, for a job “in industry”,
with his young French wife and sickly baby.
Unapproached myself, I still woke decades later
from violent nightmares of the boot-room, pool
and places where boys changed.
Today your smiling face
in a team photograph
hangs only a few yards from the spot.
Around the quiet integrity grew ragged edges.
How many private memories are worth
the theorem that tried to emerge
as you went streaming around on bicycles?
Such intellectual intensity fretted
into rivulets in old Rumania.
Where is the work? Where the obituaries?
In my world, such immortality through others
is more to be sought than the clack of presses;
perhaps you knew this too.
Your mother had danced with Bertrand Russell
at a party on the roof of the LSE.
Was that faint 1930s beacon still
a sufficient distraction from the bread of angels?
Now you are sung on your way
by Rolling Stones and Animals.
At least the era is right.
And I am startled, notwithstanding
the news of subsequent centuries,
at the disturbance in my own deep childhood
at this sudden excision.
How I weep for the calm core rightly held to beneath
the éclat of fearless independence.
You were much better at loving, more resolved,
than me, who had the insignia and regalia.
Tremors in the biosphere come and go.
Perhaps we are as helpless as Thumbelina
floating downstream in a leaf.
Time means nothing; even death seems unimportant.
By listening to the mood music perhaps
we can spring to life and decisive action,
execute a Fairyfeller’s Masterstroke;
but some occasions never call.
Sometimes it seems nothing can come
to mend or console this daily-dragged journey
of unlifting fatigue,
nothing less than an upturned bowl of sun
in my face on a blue-green November day,
a fishpool, and the carp
coming up to show themselves.
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