For the past month, I’ve been living back in my boyhood home, the place I left forty years ago. My mother’s been poorly and needs full-time care, so this is where I plan to be for a while, with my wife joining me in a few weeks’ time.
It’s a curious thing coming back, after being so long away, with just the occasional brief visit. In my mind there’s a snapshot of the town as it was in the 1950s and 60s. I’ve been talking to people who have lived here all their lives, gradually absorbing all the changes, and I’m beginning to feel like a photo album. I mention a shop name, or a person long gone, and watch them smile as they say ‘Yes, I’d completely forgotten …’ Funny how a name conjures up a face, or a memory, or an experience. Music does it too, I guess.
It’s prompted this prose-poem – Gatekeepers – and I think there’ll be more in the series. It’s nostalgic and reflective … but there’s a deeper layer of meaning intended too. (To set you off in the right direction, think about who else we often refer to as gatekeepers, we writers.)
When I write poetry, I want it to be read aloud. I love the sounds of words, onomatopoeia, deliberate ambiguity, the rhythm and flow of lines. I’ve just discovered a site called AudioBoo – and I think it’ll allow me to record and share an audio version of Gatekeepers. I’ll let you know how I get on and where to find it, via my Facebook page (Alain Miles – don’t forget to Like the page to sign up).
The river, we called it, but now I’m grown and travelled
maybe we exaggerated: wide enough
for paddles not for oars, green and languid
summer-shaded drifter, hobo, friend
of swans, dragonflies, rats, the big old pike
and fearless urchin-adventurers, Rich and me.
Over the garden fence, tackle and bait,
nets and knowledge – fathers’ hand-me-downs
to the bank where we balanced floats, maggotted hooks,
assessed the current, searched for hidden depth
and weed and silent darting shadows, cast
in the role of real serious fisher men.
Not all we caught was treasure: a shoe, a root,
the opposite bank, sometimes ourselves; but then
a quiver, tension, repetitive bob, and the line
jerked away upstream, our wit and strength
tested by the silver-scaled, rose-tipped
beauty, the largest landed in our small history.
Boys will be men, and nature will be tamed –
The gatekeepers move in, divert the flow:
The threat of flooding needs to be contained;
Your child can’t drown now that the water’s low.
The pike’s long gone, and where we caught the rudd
A supermarket trolley’s stuck in mud.