When we were young, my friend and I, met a man in the road.
He was making snow angels, although there was no snow,
just the tinny, scratching sound of concrete and Dutch Gold.
He said the boys would take him away,
in a big, yellow van.
He said he hadn’t long,
then he laughed and then he cried.
He said the boys would come and run him down,
in a big, yellow van.
My peers and I gathered round, intrigued by this man’s breaking down,
we watched and talked of this and other things.
His body shook when he cried and set the cans around him trembling.
All that he had owned, was invested in this, his anesthetic,
for when the boys would come and run him down,
in a big, yellow van.
He talked of Star Wars for a time and then,
suddenly his body was righted,
his leg extended, children backed away frightened,
a girl of six or seven was lifted bodily,
his foot connected with her stomach.
He fell back to the ground, amid and on the cans,
and resumed his story of the big, yellow van.
Small but many were the hands that helped the girl to her feet.
She gave forth tears of pain and yet she did not cry,
to her little frame, the blow came as no surprise.
On seeing this, the silent knowledge rippled through the crowd,
each pair of eyes long since trained to recognise
those who were and were not “fine”,
according to the standards of the place.
The crowd turned its youthful gaze
back to the place where the man had fallen
and once more lay,
and I now realise, showed no sign of shame.
Though none approached,
some hand less juvenile than our own
had departed from its window and taken up its phone.
In due course, someone came and took the man away,
in a white and not a yellow van.
For now, at least, he was saved.
This could not be said of those he left behind (though not my friend and I),
beaten, bedraggled and dirty.
Many soon had children of their own,
and others died their sad and violent deaths before the age of thirty.
When we were young, my friend and I, met a man in the road
and afterwards, we bought a coke.
We talked of something else by the time we reached home.
To come just high enough in the world to know what is thought about those lower down
is to sit with Frankenstein’s monster and read the master’s notes
and to know that you are one and you are all alone.
In the eaves at the prow of the house,
there is a little songbird living.
Living and singing,
A soaring song
that lifts my chest and expands my lungs to a fullness,
a fullness of feeling.
A sorrowful song
that hollows my chest to a cavern conscious of its own emptiness
and where the air is heavy in stillness.
What madness it seems for the world to go on chattering.
Stop! Regard the songbird.
Be silent and heed the song.
For throughout all, I swell with an impossible pride;
impossibly large, impossibly real and impossible too,
because the songbird is not of me, it is not from me.
But when you sing, I will strain
to catch a falling note, to keep it for my own
and that much will be mine, little Songbird.
Ordinarily I refrain from providing my writing, poetry or otherwise, with commentary. Predominantly, this is because I hesitate to rob a reader of their own interpretation, often the most impactful (though it must be said, not necessarily most informative or broadening) reading a work can be given.
This accommodation for reader interpretation comes at the risk of the author’s intent being misread and subsequently misstated in circulation, something I would undoubtedly object to if it went beyond the realm of self-confessed interpretation and entered into that of philosophies or values not held by the author being wrongly superimposed on to the text. Fortunately, I have far too few readers to run a great risk in that direction.
Another reason I usually forego annotating my writing is that some works are simply littered with shockingly poor jokes written purely for my own private satisfaction. And finally, because I don’t believe that readers have time enough in their day for any additional nonsense from me. With that in mind, I’ll proceed hastily along to the explanation of this two-part poem, “The Revolution”, in giving which I break from what has hitherto been my conventional practice.
It could be argued that not all modern and historical episodes described in the nomenclature as revolutions, have been forces for positive change. However, both sections of this two-part poem presuppose the positive nature, and imply the author’s support, of the titular ‘Revolution’. Therefore the explanation of the poem will operate along similar lines, primarily addressing the concept of revolution as a positive force.
These two works are intended to be read together and are in fact improved by it. Yet they have been written as two divided parts.
For the majority of history, revolutions have typically been viewed in retrospective terms as one uninterrupted sequence of related events. However, a revolution (and in this instance I mean an upheaval causing a lasting cultural change as opposed to a purely political change which might be deemed a coup, an uprising or any number of things depending on its characteristics) is rarely a smooth flow of cause and effect, cause and effect and so on, eventually reaching a climatic and satisfactorily complete closure of the episode.
For English grammar enthusiasts, one might say that revolutions are described in a format that equates roughly to the ‘perfect’ grammatical aspect. That is, the event referred to is considered complete at the time of reference. Although, with the increasing availability of modern technology, this may be changing for certain types of revolution.
Revolutions, much like my sentences, are so often interrupted by themselves. There is division among the revolutionary forces and revision of the revolutionary ideology. Despite the typically linear reading given to them, revolutions bleed into the societies which both create and seek to destroy them, having not just direct effects but also indirect and far-reaching ones.
They agitate the culture and their influence provokes an array of reactionary feelings.
As a revolution gains momentum, efforts by the opposition also agitate the culture, attempting to coax and sway public opinion through a variety of means. The propaganda, the push and pull of each side and the general feeling of unrest often creating an atmosphere of apprehension and fear in the process.
The effects of revolution don’t unfold as the old linear story, rather they form like the ripples in a pond might do as one throws stones of escalating size. Thus the revolution itself becomes an epicentre of change.
This two-part poem would appear more at ease with itself as one piece, but has been divided. It might read better or more neatly, were it one smooth sequence, yet it has disrupted.
The reality belied by the perfect linear overview of its optimistic text has been achieved, at least to its author’s satisfaction, by introducing into the structure of the poem, symbolic division, disruption and thus the required persistence in carrying on.
In closing, I thank you for reading and hope that this none too brief foray into my thinking has not been dull. I promise to repay you by refraining from repeating the exercise any time soon.
Ps. There are other choices regarding the poem which could be addressed in this commentary, such as the decision to capitalize both “He” and “We”. But if I robbed you entirely of your interpretation, I would be doing the poem a great disservice. The best thing about poetry open to reader interpretation, is its ability to exist as so many poems at once.
“I insist that you stand down,” said He.
“We have but begun to stand up,” said We,
and thus the world was changed.
“I will not take this sitting down,” said He.
“We will not take it in any posture,” said We,
and thus the Revolution came.
The youngest of young loves,
barely budding on the branch.
The greenest leaves, I had yet to see
and promising all manner of flowers.
It survived two Springs before I ventured
closer to the garden, thinking
“Every thorn has its rose, let this be mine.”
Until I saw unyielding earth,
and found the soil to be unkind.
I have since wandered through the garden,
stopping for a lengthy shade,
but the willow wavered this way and that.
Now I find my oak
and its here I lay my hat.