Skip to main content

Norman Jope - Three Prose Poems

Norman Jope


A Silvery Scythe

Ankou manifests as we sit on a wall in Roscoff, overlooking the Wednesday market setting up and the morning drift of the harbour. He puts his silvery scythe down for a moment and, in a portentous accent, informs us that there will come a time when we will remember nothing of this… nothing of the granite buildings of this sleepy seaport or the brief sleep on the ferry broken by an insistent harp, nothing of our love for each other or of the thirty-three-year narrative that has brought us to this wall, framing the fact that we are sitting here exhausted at the beginning of a looked-forward-to day in Brittany.

Ankou, you must have seen us in the Arrivals Hall wresting coffees from the machine with old euros. Ankou, your presence is no surprise and – although the odds on your claiming us on this particular visit seem long – we’re only too aware that you’ve been following us from the terminal at Millbay, cowering in the corner of the lounge bar of the Armorique as the Patriots Chapter exchanged affectionate swear words and plotted their conquest of La France Profonde.

It’s too early in the morning to think of death, so we feign immortality and continue with our explorations. He needs us, we conclude, as much as we need him – he represents the threat of death, not death itself, so is a parasite upon the living, a Renfield-like parody that stands in for the essential unknowingness of death. His master lurks in shadows that we cast behind us, not deigning to be visible, as we rise from our places to explore the town.



Indecipherable Miles

The sea tells no stories… as opposed to those who sail on it. Allegedly, Joyce planned a follow-up to Finnegans Wake that would have described it (cross out the word ‘describe’ and substitute another not yet minted). What is seen, of course, is the outside of the sea – reflections of clouds on this bright yet windy day in late July and of the shadow cast by the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth. It expresses a locked door that nonetheless transcends the limits of our vision, as if we were toddlers peering up at it.

Naming a boat turns it into a place, and this one is called the Armorique. There are nine levels, and we have settled on the seventh for now. Two children sing along, annoyingly at times, to the tunes on their mobile. The Entertainments Manager sings ballads to a handful of spectators at the far end. Expensive bottles of spirits rattle decorously in the boutique, each one of them capable of colouring a world… or of making a life collapse upon itself.

Time acquires a hospital quality as interludes and episodes stack up… somehow, five hours pass and we’re in sight of land. I lead you to the open deck and point to the line of deeper shade in the distance to the north… then, to our left, I notice the precarious needle-point of the Eddystone Lighthouse, ten miles out from the Sound as daylight fades.

I imagine it as the only protrusion of land on a planet of water – too small to land on so we’d sail forever, fed by miracles and artichokes from the buffet. Growing old in benevolent boredom, we’d retire to our bunks to be awakened, arbitrarily, by the blast from a Breton harp… not knowing what day or year it was and with no other stories to call on than the stories we’d brought on board.

But soon, Rame Head and Wembury Point return us to the time of ashore… and the many stories greet us like wreckers as we yawn and pick up our bags.



Silent Blue

Sunshades darken dusk to an arrangement of blues and faint gold lights. I sit alone and sip Peroni, as if to do so were to orchestrate them. Far to my left, the lads at Lockyer’s Quay have been drowned in distance – thankfully, their instinctive swearing doesn’t reach this far.

I try to decipher the registration numbers of the fishing boats, but this minor game bores me in moments. I settle for the mandible aesthetic of the masts, gears and ropes confused against each other.

Early evening diners have departed from the Miller and Carter, formerly the China House. I am surrounded by a phalanx of transparent guests, with whom I re-populate the world. Two hikers briefly cross my path, taking a shot of the Barbican, and I marvel – comfortable in shirtsleeves – at how heavily dressed they are.

Then it’s half-past ten and I must drink up and depart – the bar staff are already clearing the tables. Silent as the blue of my shirt, I exit the building and stand for a moment, facing south to a place of departures.

Ahead, low down in the sky, a burst of light seems too large to be a planet – but, if not a supernova, then it must be Jupiter. It opposes an attenuated moon that sets above the Civic Centre and St. Andrews Church. It focuses and reflects my silence, focusing the world around me and the blues of this summer evening that are many shades deeper than black.

Blue is an exit route from being to silence. I imagine my heart, my lungs, my brain turned blue at the deep end of the spectrum. Elsewhere in the east, another day dawns but I can scarcely believe it possible.

 


Copyright © Norman Jope, 2020

Popular posts from this blog

Review - High and Lonesome: Three Books: Crozier, Prynne, James

Andrew Duncan High and Lonesome : Three Books: John James, Striking the Pavilion of Zero, J.H. Prynne, High Pink on Chrome ; Andrew Crozier, High Zero (Shearsman, 2021; edited Ian Brinton)  The reason why these three books from 1975-6 and 1978 are being republished together is straightforward. Crozier had named a work High Zero , and when I interviewed him in 2003 he conceded that it referred to High Pink and Striking the Pavilion of Zero , and that he had used lines from those two works as keys to develop the High Zero poems from. Publication together allows one to read across and recover a part of the composition process. High Zero was published in 1978, later than the two poems it is a response to. The founding moment is The English Intelligencer , in which all three of these poets took part. This was an attempt to recapitulate the development of Charles Olson, up to about 1950; he was seen as both the continuator of Pound and as having thought profoundly about geography. T

Essay - Whatever Happened to the Poetry Manifesto?

MARTIN STANNARD WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE POETRY MANIFESTO? Recently I tried writing an essay that had the working title 'Why the Meaning of a Poem is the Last Thing You Should Think About'. I felt like I had something to say. It began like this: I can't help but remember what my old angling tutor used to say: “Be careful when you open a can of worms." Of course, he didn’t say any such thing, and I never had an angling tutor, but writers, and perhaps especially poets, can say anything and get away with it, because . . . Actually, I'm not sure why. I'm not even sure if it's true. If it is, it shouldn’t be. And I'm not sure about that, either. I think it's probably best if we accept a certain degree of uncertainty and subjectivity and other words that suggest everything is open to argument and get on with this. Just because something is open to argument doesn't mean it's wrong. Later (about 3000 words later) I decided I was on to a loser.

Review - "Bright Angel Proof" by Nick Power

Charlie Baylis Bright Angel Proof, Nick Power (£10, erbacce press) In the spring of 2016 a writer from the small Northwestern town of Hoylake, Nick Power, took a trip flying around America on budget airlines, soaking in all its big ticket tourist attractions and gaudy glories. The trip, and Power’s poems about the trip, come together to form Bright Angel Proof , a collection which evokes beat generation myths of a mystical America, but behind the lines Power knows that the beat generation era is done and perhaps was never really there to begin with. Power is too late to join the ranks of Ginsburg, Kerouac et al but at least he suggests that he might have something to say, which is more than most contemporary poets. Power attracts attention as a kind of modern Burt Lancaster, an adventurer of compelling (North) West Coast vibes and easy going company who, like Lana Del Rey, has ‘feathers in his hair...c hurning out novels like Beat poetry on Amphetamines.’ Power’s companion on the