Friday, December 18, 2009

Bedtime Story for my Son

Where did the voice come from? I hunted through the rooms
For that small boy, that high, that head-voice,
The clatter as his heels caught on the door,
A shadow just caught moving through the door
Something like a school-satchel.  My wife
Didn't seem afraid, even when it called for food.
She smiled and turned her book and said:
"I couldn't go and love the empty air."

We went to bed. Our dreams seemed full
Of boys in one or another guise, the paper-boy
Skidding along in grubby jeans, a music-lesson
She went out in the early afternoon to fetch a child from.
I pulled up from a pillow damp with heat
And saw her kissing hers, her legs were folded
Far away from mine.  A pillow! It seemed
She couldn't love the empty air.

Perhaps, we thought, a child had come to grief
In some room in the old house we kept,
And listened if the noises came from some special room,
And then we'd take the boards up and discover
A pile of dusty bones like charcoal twigs and give
The tiny-sounding ghost a proper resting-place
So that it need not wander in the empty air.

No blood-stained attic harboured the floating sounds,
We found they came in rooms that we'd warmed with our life.
We traced the voice and found where it mostly came
From just underneath both our skins, and not only
In the night-time either, but at the height of noon
And when we sat at meals alone.  Plainly, this is how we found
That love pines loudly to go out to where
It need not spend itself on fancy and the empty air.

-- Peter Redgrove


Emily J. said...


Melanie B said...

Wow. Haunting.

Pentimento said...

I have a little second-hand book of poetry edited by Elizabeth Goudge called A Book of Peace, which was recommended by a kind commenter down here:

I found it yesterday, and opened it up at random to that poem, which is, yes, beautiful, and yes, haunting. And sad. And unsettling.

As Goudge notes in her introduction: "There are extracts in this book that to the reader may seem out of place. But love is not all joy and peace, it can cause us the most intense suffering we know."

I love the sort of poetry that combines formal structure with everyday language, in which simple words and form just barely conceal depths of experience and emotion. That sort of plain-ish, formal poetry is a sort of art that imitates the plainness of life and the way that we must often keep our grief "just underneath . . . our skins" until we are able to name them.

Janet said...

Somehow, I completely missed the Scent of Water conversation. That poem really is Wow.


Pentimento said...

I even referenced you, Janet!

Yes - the poem made me stop breathing when I first read it.