Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tuesday Poem - 'Standing Orders' by Jennifer Compton

Standing Orders

They issued me with my identity
drilled me in the finer points of usage
shipped me in then — nothing.

The radio transmitter — silent
in the attic
these fifty years.

Awaiting orders
I vanish into a life very like
my life.

I catch the 92 or 94 from the corner
ready to counter Top-hole morning!
with — Whizz-bang!

But my contact hasn't
made contact

Tonight, listening to the News at eleven o'clock
I hear a noise I can't place.
A valve about to blow?

like a clock about to strike.
But we don't have a striking clock.

I go up to the attic
switch the gizmo on to green alert.

Sent here for no reason
to do

I will be away for a bit up in Sydney and Newcastle and I am struggling to get 
to the end of something before I go, so quickly and lazily I pop up an old poem 
of mine. 
I am starting to consider a Selected. If not now, then when?  
So I am mostly reading old stuff when I go out to poetry readings, just to check 
how it stands up.
Someone did say to me - 'Don't be unkind to young Jennifer'. Which is something 
to keep in mind.
This poem I am in two minds about. I got it from a BBC TV play about two
Russian sleeper spies settled in England. They married, got jobs, waited, and 
waited for orders, their radio sets stowed up in their attics.
Met once a week during the season in the stands at the football match.
'Anything?' - out of the corner of a mouth. 'No, nothing.'
And then they would enjoy the football match.
But one day they got a message when they went up to the attic to check their sets.
I am in two minds about the poem. I don't think it has enough life of its own without
the explication.
And also, who now knows what 'standing orders' are? Or 'gizmo'. Or how radio
valves would need to be replaced. It's all a bit musty I think.


  1. I really like this poem Jennifer - and for me it didn't need any explanation. Until you talked about the source I thought it had a metaphysical dimension!! Not just about the spy who was never asked to spy, but a kind of 'waiting for Godot' sort of thing. :-)

  2. Just read the poem and was tickled to see that Kathleen had written what I was thinking. One thing extra though,the language doesn't always flow smoothly for me, when I think it out loud. Thanks for sharing. It's intriguing.