‘It matters only in
so far as we want to be telling
Each other alive about each other
Alive. I want to be able to speak
And sing and make my soul occur
In front of the best and be respected
For that and even be understood
By the ones I like who are dead.
I would like to speak in front
Of myself with all my ears alive
And find out what it is I want.’
From What is the Language using us for?
Yesterday I found a title for a poem that is still resolving itself but I knew as being a salute to my most loved poet W.S.Graham. The Poem ‘At Sea’ has been resolving for months. I know it’s a poem that I like and that is important, although it appears slight, but I couldn’t work together the middle of it and the reference to night fishing is not clear enough probably for making the immediate link to W.S.G unless you are very familiar with him, nor does it carry the metaphor of search for words and language that it is really about. I was sitting in the car going to Meeting at Le Moulin when the title came to me – ‘At Sea with W.S.Graham. For those catching the internal reference to night fishing it confirms their connection; it just might inspire others to look at W.S.G’s work and find the amazing twenty page poem that is an evocation of life as a fisherman, and a metaphor of the poet at work in the deep and dark, the coming of light, the mingling of day and night.
‘Within all the dead of
All my life I hear
My name spoken out
On the break of the surf.
I, in Time’s grace,
The grace of change,
Am cast into memory.
What a restless grace
To trace stillness on.’
From Part 7, Night Fishing.
This morning I read the whole of ‘What is the Language using us for?’ And ‘Night Fishing’. I feel as if my head has been scraped clean, I can smell the sea and salt is on my lips, the swell of it carries me. I will try and finish At Sea today and send it off for a Quaker Newsletter publication. Yesterday we had a small Quaker meeting (4 of us) at Le Moulin. The silence was very profound and unbroken. Light unfurled through the window, haloed the objects in the room, entered the head with its revealing beam. I half remember a verse about standing in the light of God’s grace. I must try and find the reference for it. Grace is restless and also a revelation in the silence.
I did once go night fishing and I always have the sounds and image of it in my head when I read this poem; but it was a very different experience. It was full moon; the harbour water was black and viscous. It swung the moonlight in an oily movement as the heavy wooden boat eased across the water. The boat was creaking and moving under us. I went to trail my fingers in the warm water but the fisherman caught my hand and told me it was polluted, I should not touch it.
We sailed between huge tankers and moored fishing boats out towards the moon and open water. It was still hot and sweaty although nearly midnight. The mangroves edged the water, dark openings shot with occasional slicks of light. Above us a large linen sail billowed now and then, but they switched a sputtering motor on to move us towards a space beyond the boats. We stopped and the fishermen removed some of the decking – planks an inch thick, grey and ridged along their edge. In a clay hollow they lit a twig fire; the smoke mingled with the smell of the water. There was a big basket of crabs which they had caught earlier in the fishing grounds. Greasy fingers, the taste of crab, the smell of the fire, nobody talking much, the boat rocking us into silence. It is a very strong memory. Later I walked back along the promenade to my friend’s house. We stopped at a cart selling falludah and added that rich, sweet milky taste to the Karachi night.
Sea and silence, the fishing for words and the waiting on the light. I am revising my poems now – four folders full. It is time to send these new-born babes as Ezra Pound described his poems, out into the cold day. It is interesting revising with a finality in mind. I have plastic pockets containing all the drafts of the poem and then work on a final draft on the computer using the most recent form of the poem as a base. I am only on the fifth poem of the first folder so a long way to go yet. At least I am back to my blog again – inspired by Caroline Carver who has just started blogging. Thanks Caroline!
At Sea with W.S.Graham
On sultry days
sea lays its grey arms
against the rocks, cradling them
in a slow heave.
Rough days it roisters;
we are all at sea,
rain on the windows salty
goldfish swimming in the bay.
Night fishing; the sound of water
draining through the pebbled beach,
seagulls surge up behind the boat
fingering the swell.
Stormy petrel; slices the wave.
At sea there is no calm without a tremor.