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OTHER PEOPLE’S FLOWERS: Three Poems by Alan Horne

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I read once – perhaps it was a quotation from José Saramago – that the writer’s life is the detritus left behind by the work. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it sounds better than any autobiographical introduction I can think up. I worked years ago in a steelworks, have a very longstanding interest in psychoanalysis and – perhaps it’s a reaction to all those clinics – now spend a lot of time outside. Here are three short poems which bear on these matters. Thanks to David for the chance to put them before you. At age 14 I found that we had a new English teacher called Mr Selzer, a young iconoclast without whose bracing wake-up call none of this would have been written.

 

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THE ELECTRICAL CELLARS

Someone directs us all down the electrical cellars

beneath the mill.  By switches and hot valves

we duck like drowsy priests avoiding callers,

counsel the machines to help themselves.

Please read the plastic notices.  They mark

the wiry, shirtless dead: Victorians

entombed like broken tools right where they fell,

the gauntlets only passing to their sons.

Not us.  For us, the moment of control:  at worst

the hole in the overall and the small burn;

the alcoholic customs of the blast.

We’re special men just now.  But markets turn

on us, will cut our cellar-space.  We’ll squeeze

like pitmen, skid by on our knees.

 

 

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WILFRED BION ON A MOONLIT ROAD

As I was taught at the institutes: write it all down straight away.

So.  Someone has a light going; no, it’s the moon in a late guise:

supermoon, blue moon, doo bee doo bee doo moon.  Never the sun,

but a white light on the modern tumps, the subterranean reservoir.

 

And here you are, strolling past the moonlit earthworks

at the borehole, by the warning sign about voids and crawlspaces:

still a little military, still a little medical, politely unco-operative

– those you annoyed might say bloody impossible

still chewing over Freud’s Two Principles of Mental Functioning.

 

And it’s a stranger’s light you walk in, to the junction.

All too pale, it brightens the lane from the wrong angle.

See how the shadows won’t disperse, but huddle in cracks

in the roadstone, argue back, point out that it’s night really.

 

You liked Freud’s letter to Lou Salomé, about the dim forms

lost in the daily glitter: they could be glimpsed, perhaps,

in a beam of intense darkness.  Or by this light,

aslant and incorrect, which picks out unmarked facets

of the sheds at Pollards Nursery, and calls up ghosts like you.

 

 

Note.  Wilfred Bion (1897-1979) was a tank commander in the First World War who later became a prominent psychoanalyst.  His writings continue to be very influential within the psychoanalytic world.  He wrote a remarkable memoir, The Long Week-End 1897-1919: Part of a Life.

 

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NEW ENGLAND

Veils of rain dressed the seedheads of high summer grasses

with a load of water, pulling them over

 

into mats that wound a cloche, a twilit subway

a foot off the ground, in whose steaming fosses shieldbugs prospered.

 

Through the burnt colours of gone-over grassland

yellow sparked: the vetch swimming; the hawkweed’s hand.

 

Only where the fields broke was the grass propped upright in the wires

bracing rotten posts like teeth in the jaw of the intake:

 

these of timber; others of a pebbly concrete – army surplus,

back of a trailer – bucked at crazy angles,

 

saving this old vertical: cable halo, flag of twine, spinnaker

plastic bag, it was steadying the line

 

of new barbed wire that scrambled past its comic adjutant,

the buckled straining post. Wires ran in all directions

 

out of the daylight.  Hills over in Wales dispersed like cigarette smoke,

and the track of the uprights parted the kneeling meadow.

 

 

Acknowledgement: ELECTRICAL CELLARS first appeared in the Poynton Poetry Trail, Poynton, Cheshire, in 2017.

 

©Alan Horne 2021

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