This is the end (thank goodness) of a short series of four poems in which it is possible I may even have been more mentally infirm than when I was at university. It is 2004-2005, a period when professional, academic and personal life were all proving difficult.
I had embarked on another sonnet cycle and made it this time to three hundred, yet I was disappointed with the result; I was struggling through the scriptwriting course but felt strangely empty with its content and unable as a result to produce any decent writing in its endeavour; I hated my day job to support my writing; and I had met my wife in 2003 but through this patch we were oddly distant if not often apart. All comes good soon though and in 2007 we get engaged before I celebrate our wedding day in 2008 with I Was Lost.
I'm fed up with listening to dead people too who are becoming bind unto my soul, droning on about the 'simple maths equation' and my being 'the fabled poet prophesyed in scripture' - there is none such reference, and there is no such equation, making these phantoms mere projections of a delusion of persecution still evident in my psyche. I think I know that even as I write, mentioning that they've been mocking me since I started writing poetry in 1998.
There is one real figure here though, the very first tutor I had at university who in turn mocked some questions I had been posing in an essay of mine on Sidney's Astrophil & Stella; it wasn't his fault, he didn't know how vulnerable I was away from home for the first time, growing ill, having always had a supportive English teacher behind my efforts at school, it was just the jump, the academic leap when in our first tutorial this chap said he expected us to finish Spenser's The Faerie Queene over the next few days. Now that is one long piece of literature, with language archaic such that it's therefore hard going for a first year, first term, first assignment undergraduate...
Anyway, in amongst a strange piece of rhyming verse and more self-pity about my condition I do have it out with him, and I have to say that I have always borne him in mind when I deal with pupils in my own current day job although inevitably I will have caused the same consternation (hatred even?) in some students with whom I have engaged in arguments, shouting, discipline etc. If you read this, know I apologise profusely, and notice the televisual nod to William Ottoway's Utopia plus the fact that like you I was young once, stupid, foolish and drank too much beer! This is Madness Revisited...
I sat on the settee, staring at the fare on television.
Once more person shouted at person,
Person hit person, person killed person.
‘Is this a true reflection of life?’ I asked myself,
Whereupon the thought, circling my mind, left the confines of my head,
Not through the front door, my mouth,
Nor from the double balcony, my nose,
Nor even at the side gates, they my ears,
But out the back, through my cortex, down the jack and into the matrix,
Still within, though,
Where met it was by all those dead folk, all their voices,
And that second heard detail which my illness forced upon me.
‘Much of life is so,’ said someone, where I could not judge, ‘alas, more than you think. Twas always nature of your place, and ever shall it prove.’
‘Unless,’ a second spoke, somewhere to my left I thought, ‘you reach precision whereby simple maths equation rights the troubled earth.’
‘But it is you,’ a third declared, ‘and you alone, the fabled poet prophesyed in scripture, who shall make that answer.’
‘What?’ I said looking about, for their speech came from the mists and vapour suddenly wrapped around me,
‘I am no calculus. I could not solve quadratics nor your basic trigonometry in school. How may I wrestle with relatives and quantums, mechanics and string?’
‘Many’s the puzzle solved by thought alone,’ they said at once, their voices melting into one another, echoing through my mind,
‘Thought is more powerful than any bomb, gun, knife or knuckle, it shreds like paper thrown the machine,
Tears like emotion at break of relationship, rends like walls flattened by tsunamis,
And solves like professors of Sudoku.’
They laughed at that, maniacally, so much so I thought I heard them retch.
‘Damn you,’ I shouted into the fug, ‘dare you mock me when I have made the effort for your cause these past seven years?
Why, why put life eternal to my pen and say I may answer, when it is clear from your derision that I shall not?
Why, you fiends of Hell, you oafs, ogres, men of yore and yesterday's determinant, why?’
Met they not my plea rejoinder.
Deigned they not.
Until the mist began to spin, swirl, tuck into itself as though jet engine or some other motor turned increasing circle
And a figure walked forward, though even as it moved, so blatant to my remembrance, guessed I not its identity.
But I studied.
The beard, Elizabethan,
The earring, hanging its left,
The jet black hair, wavy,
I tried to recollect as it marched to me.
Fright took charge.
‘Who are you?’ I demanded, emboldened by the fact it lived my matrix head, wrongly so assuming it mightn’t steal my soul, ‘what have you to do with me?’
It smiled. ‘You do not recognise me then?
‘Of course. You fall intent upon attacking me at every turn.’
Do I, I thought to myself, I always considered my attack on things over people?
‘Are you by any chance the bard?’ I asked.
‘No,’ it grinned, ‘he has driven clear. Ever shall it be your fate to splutter through the exhaust fumes of his genius.’
I bridled. ‘If you have come to mock, take your place the queue. I shall jump the whole line of you. Now, what part do you play?’
‘Would you know?’
‘Yes,’ I shouted, ‘why else would I ask?’
‘For you pose many questions, poet, yet you answer very few.’
And then I knew.
That tone reproach took me back to days I knew not myself nor the scope of other people's deception.
‘Braided shore,’ I said, instantly sinking in stature, ‘what would you have me do?’
‘Have you do,’ he scoffed, ‘I would have you pull yourself together, fume at my input, and move this race to greater good.
Don't you know the Lord this world puts man with man to learn?
What else those strange, half-remembered titbits heard or read that store themselves, then reach front consciousness upon the moment that we think around their subject?
All’s connected, all’s connected,
Other inwardly directed,
There’s your answer,
On the prancer,
Set yourself that vocal steed.’
‘I don't understand,’ I said, ‘I am man-depressive, I may not rise my bed the morning.
Gloom sits upon my chest like some great lollard greasing its face with burger and chips whilst I struggle to breathe, let move.
When I do finally push him off tis close to noon, and I lose half the day.
Tried I have to be a normal folk who shrug misfortune from them, but I may not.
I fail work, both professionally and academic,
Left to stare the wall in vain attempt look forward to matter that as child I would have thrilled and lost sleep over.
How may I have the answer?
‘Fool,’ quoth he, lighting a cigarette, ‘still you study in abstract suffocated manner you claim to have quenched time over.
As moral outrage has no existence but for something there to disapprove,
So you strive harder to o'erturn the lethargy and cynicism buried in your head.
See you the link?’
‘I think so,’ I said.
‘But see you the link?’
I studied him, and thought to days of ninety four when so I began to loathe myself.
What did he mean?
Why did I fall?
At what point?
And then I smiled.
I sought the answer for he had denied my quiz back then.
Why else would such innocuous reaction to my queries prey upon me for a decade?
We work hardest to attain that denied us in our youth.
No one told me why I was born.
The Church taught me I must live decent,
But its history, practice, people, aura,
Left me contemplating life hereafter over life herein.
If I must quit my mortal frame at time of death to so continue other plane,
I wanted to know where I would go, why, when and how.
Youth gave me not the answer,
So here in early adulthood I strove to understand.
‘You may go,’ I said to Braided Shore, ‘but before you do, note this lesson.
A teacher holds fragile minds his hands. Tis outright abuse to crush them with such careless grip.’
But he didn't apologise.
Merely laughed, extinguished his fag on my arm,
And trotted off to lecture on whatever other Renaissance flotsam he might try to assimilate through his dress.
The mists cleared,
I saw myself on a high hill,
The bright day dawned,
And I rose from bed happily, with hope and energy won o'er despair's lassitude.
I must be dead, I supposed, for there seemed at present but no escape from the shackles and prison of an illness wrought my frame incapable of movement.
I looked ahead.
A small television sat on the ground.
I pressed the remote that lay on the ground nearby.
Person argued with person,
Person shouted, hit and killed person,
And so I understood what I had known within me all along.
The equation must be found, and soon, for peace to ensue.
I turned the screen off, walked back to bed, and noticed something on the side table.
A bottle, drained, tablets strewn, my head suddenly hurting.
And then I remembered the night,
So mis-recalled with half-flung patterns of talk, chat, and dance,
So filled with poor behaviour,
So regretted with embarrassment,
So inebriated with spirits that I'd forgotten to take my medication.
I got back into bed and slept again...