ON LOOKING: IN THE LOST AND FOUND
On this mouse-coloured street where
everyone is trying to look like each
other, they are looking to undress the
world with such a fine cosmological
eye, you might think they are trying
to see into the heart of a star itself.
Whole families out in their glads snapping
pictures of each other’s mums and dads,
and you and me. They have such a gaze
for all of it. That seeking dream: looking
for a black cat in a dark room. But if you’ve
come this far and end up in the lost and
found, you know that old story, where no
one becomes someone one day; you pray
for one thing and you get another. You know
that looking for a black cat in a dark room
where there is none – you find one anyway.
I bumped into Michael Harlow at the poetry conference and Litcrawl recently in Wellington. I first bumped into him in Christchurch in 1980! He is in fine fettle – just scored the Kathleen Grattan and the Lauris Edmond! So good to chew the fat again, and when I got home to Australia I returned to his book, The Tram Conductor's Blue Cap. After my first reading of it I had asked Michael if I might post a poem – but Michael is sometimes not so great at answering emails. I thought maybe he had changed his email address. People often do. But no, it was just one of those things. So, as I say, when I got back to Oz I pulled the book off the shelf and gave it another read. Because I had forgotten which poem I had asked for the first time, and supposed, as I read, my first pick would jump out at me. But do you know, it didn’t. The book had shifted on me. It was quite a perilous and slippery feeling, to think you have read something, and, as you read it again, to find out you have not. I was quite at a loss.
I don’t know where this poem is set, but it irresistibly reminds me of Lecce in Puglia, of going out in the evening into the full flood of the passegiata.
I very much like the astute line endings, the precision of the punctuation, the vernacular ‘glads’ (for glad rags, and also of course for so much else).
And I also like the winding helix of a line – ‘where no / one becomes someone one day;’.
I think the whole poem swings on that line. It is really using the curse/blessing blessing/curse of the archetypical fairy tale.
And I just adore the way the poem opens with a mouse-coloured street (a rough translation of a vernacular term I opined to myself) and looms up to the big finish with the black cat. (I had to go back and rejig my initial apprehension.) So what exactly was going on? Never mind, I loved it.