nthposition online magazine

Gnome Liberation Society, Poets & Elvis and the feelings

by John Hartley Williams

[ poetry - august 04 ]

Gnome Liberation Society

We were the founder members.
We glimpsed his red-lipped smile beneath a wintry apple-tree,
rolled him in a carpet, took him to the forest,
and one week later, he was truly liberated - gone.

That's how it began.
On ledges high above the sea,
in caves behind the screen of waterfalls,
in fields, on crags, in trees, we left them.

A leprechaun diaspora
in stovepipe hats and daisy boots,
they dangled fishing poles, smoked ladybird cheroots,
shared tremendous jokes, carried buckets to a well.

They took to wilderness like me to you.
You were my accomplice. You with the outsize shoes,
the grin, the spotted pinafore. We freed them one by one.
A jovial army marched into the dark.

Our revolutionary nights grew warm.
A silver net of moonlight caught
the pair of us, coiling, gasping in its trawl.
A gnome with bifurcated beard stood sentinel.

When day resumed, your pale face,
surrounded by the glitter of your hair, was still,
your body rigid in a gesture of surrender.
For hours, I also did not move.

In the hollow of an oak, fixing
awkward chinstraps on your pixie hat,
I propped you up, and left you. I was thinking:
Whoever finds you, let him stand and wonder.

Now, I take the late shift. The sight
of colleagues hotly semaphoring news
reminds me of the postures struck by those
I see frozen in the homeward light of dawn:

One conducts a monologue.
One with ankles crossed, sitting on a bench, just stares.
One stands lonely, with a barrow, on the leaf-blown lawn.
One is trapped in conversation with a frog.

The fierce jig of one upon
a garden tub detains my eye - a snapped-off
fragment of my thoughts. To his paralysed abandonment
I doff my hat and carry on.

 

Poets

sit
on doorsteps,
not thinking
about the next line of a poem.

They go
to the seaside
just like other people.
You have to admire the way
they walk into the sea
when the red flag is up.

The surf is heavier
than Milton's
blank verse,
and the poets are out there
riding it.
If I were a lifeguard
I would certainly blow my whistle.
But there they are, the poets,
taming those foam horses
as if they were
breaking in
the metres of God.

*

Or something.

*

Later they walk
past shop windows.
Poets, the Italian suits
and the French wines
in this elegant resort
are almost certainly
worth more than your lives.
It's hardly a wonder
your language is down to a whisper.
There's so much
wry meekness
in your encroachments
on the silence:

"I have everything
I need
for my
requirements,
thank you."

What a statement!
What brevity!
What profundity!
No wonder people
simply can't hear you!

*

Poets don't say
what they mean.
They don't mean what they mean.
They don't say what they say.
They don't even mean
what they say they mean.
They don't even say
what they seem to be meaning to say.
Meaning is saying.
Saying is meaning.
Something like that, anyway.

This is unfortunate.
People are baffled.
Poets, how dearly
you would like to leap
like circus tigers
through the hoop of people's bafflement
and alight agilely
on the other side!

*

Have you addressed a poet recently?
I think not.
In fact, no one has spoken to the poet.
No one has seen the poet lately.
No one has read the last book.
Or if they have read it, they were puzzled by it.
It is good to be creative,
but what is it all about?
People play bridge, these days.
Or drive their cars at defenceless pedestrians.
Or go to the cinema.
Does one really need
to try and understand the poet
when the poet claims
no effort is needed, when the poet
maintains, in fact, that effortlessness
is the soul
of what the poet does?

*

One fears one is being hoodwinked.

*

In the cemetery
it is very cold.
There's an icy wind
powdering the graves
with snow.
Who do these footsteps belong to?
What is this mumbling?
Whose shadow is sneaking
spectrally through trees?
No, no! Absolutely wrong!
It's not a poet! It's a mourner!
The poet is safely at home,
sitting in front of a fire,
drinking a little mulled wine,
reading an excellent poem
by a dead rival.
Very soon
there's a little tapping at the window.
Tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap.
A slow smile walks across the face of the poet.
Who could that be?
What could that knocking signify?

The poet turns
the handle

and opens the door...

 

Elvis and the feelings

The day he died you looked as if
I was a precious copy of that song I used to
thunder in the shower - and you had dropped me.
You reassembled me with loving fingers.
We took the psychic shellac jigsaw
to a charity. 'Suggest a price,' they said. 'A name.'

'Feelings might be good,' I said, 'though people seem to
think they're dead, and Elvis never waxed a tune called that,
but feelings have intrinsic value, don't you think?'
'The poor don't need those', they said.
'Love made underneath the shower?' I ventured.
'The only shower the poor know is rain,' they said.

Don't Be Cruel seemed an apposite remark,
but the gap between them listening and an old-type
record spinning like a fallen bike-wheel
on a hill of memory, its users having wandered off
into a landscape, blowing horns - well, it seemed unbridgeable.
'Although you need some noise,' I said, 'to find your way around.'

I wasn't going to tell them Elvis had been seen in Hendon,
that you were driving on a hilltop road, smoking to the radio,
jiving to My Baby Left Me, finger-snapping where the road
had petered out to grass. I thought of Elvis in his suit of lights,
before he grew obese, jerking a reflexive leg to scare
the ducks up from an unexpected pool. I imagined

country. Sat there, stuck on red in Golders Green.
'One Night with Jeanne Moreau, then? Watch me
snick the dashboard shift on that long-snout Citroen,
change down to climb a wild mountain pass, to third,
then second, hold it till the juddering beginning
of the crooning sound she makes that means enough...'

They looked at you. I thought they'd be impressed,
but I was wrong. 'Fantomas..?' They shook their heads.
'Smultronstället?' I might as well have been a foreigner.
'That's Alright, Mama!' I shouted as I left.
They didn't blink. As for you, my brain won't you let go.
The car is climbing, Elvis in the grey hereafter's singing:

If It's Gonna Happen, It's Gonna Happen Here.
Crouched beside you in the seat, I'm watching, though
where this whiteness came from I don't know, or those flakes.
A voice like darkened thought. Heartbeat, snowflakes, heartbeat.
Now I'm driving, wondering where in hell you've got to.
There's a deer in the mirror. I take the bend and it's gone.