A book-length elegy that is both grief-fugue and exploration of family psychodrama, this poetry compilation explores the poet’s feelings of loss associated with his brother’s mysterious death. A narrative exploration of masculinity and brotherhood, it recalls the events of the past and invokes sorrow and anger. From uncertainty, trauma, and silence comes a creative work filled with the power and gravity owed to the dead.
|Publisher:||Carcanet Press, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Tim Liardet is a poetry professor at Bath Spa University and the author of the poetry collections Competing with the Piano Tuner, which was longlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, and To the God of Rain.
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The Storm House
By Tim Liardet
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2011 Tim Liardet
All rights reserved.
Like Slant Rain
Trouble is with inventing a language, brother,
when the only other person in the world who speaks it dies
you're left speaking to no one. This mouthful of words,
of fat verbs and vowels and cases and morphemes
that stammer from the lexicon under the tongue
is desperate to be used and anxious to be heard
and competes against itself for the room to speak –
It crowds out my mouth with the need to keep alive
every O in our intonation before it ends up
on the dump with the clicks of Hittite and Kulinic;
our words seem stranded and strangely marooned
now there's no one to read the other side of them.
No one to read them the wrong way round and still
have them make sense, say they are the wrong way round.
No one to say the old humanist's slanting hand
would not have wanted a mirror if he was the other side
but it's more necessary now, and I read in it:
lately, I confess, I've tried scrawling to myself in the glass
but, like any mirror-writing, it's slant rain. And like slant rain
it goes on falling and tearing, falling and tearing.
Like slant rain it quickens suddenly and slows down
and is heedless of its own expenditure.
Like slant rain it goes on falling and tearing, falling and tearing
and the glass does not know what it sees.
Through what might be
or some grainier,
of the auditory
a ruched pinhead
I imagined I might
to hear your voice –
it would be faint
as it does now
to another age,
prolonged by the whelm
the static of water:
kicks in to say
I had something
to say, I had
to say, I say
to the tape-hiss.
The sshsshssh, the chambery smell of the dark
were borne from room to room by the Chapel official
in sniffs, her sideways glances, even in the look
with which she turned out of the candle's blue-ringed circle
with over-earnest tact: the crucifix above your toes
offered proportion to sacrifice – its striped dazzling image
waylaying the retina among the shadows
when I confronted your final, fuck-it-all visage:
you might have sat up, brother, but couldn't slip
the shackle of muscles which almost secured
a smile, thumbed and moulded to reshape
the malleable substance – your grim composure.
And for the more, there was only less;
and for your brow a freezing, terrible kiss.
The Constables Call
Pity the police officers whose task it is to tell
the truth of the mysterious dying. They are pale
and gamine, they speak in unison like twins and might
be either men or women. One writes in invisible ink.
Mystery prospers, they say, when the eyes and the mouth
rest. The deceased's toenails had not been cut for months,
so long, they seem to grow longer now his body shrinks.
They're living evidence, say the officers, shoots of nail;
they arc in slow motion like the couch grass gripping
a plough that's blunted and abandoned. Is this a human foot
or some unusual specimen sprouting brambles,
sprouting sickles, until they hook right round
and scratch at their own footsole? This is what the truth
does, they say, it tickles itself to laughter at
our attempts to uncover it. His toenails force back
their cuticles like buds and might've hooked him bodily
back into the world just long enough to tell us
what happened in those final hours. The toenails are like the case,
they say, dark and horny, growing beyond our reach:
they grow and they grow, they flourish like clues
and curl back into accusation. Was he murdered at a height,
who could not stoop to tend them for himself?
So far below, wild and tapering, the toenails might
be protesting against the body's extreme inertness,
say the officers, they might be forming parabolas
of suggestion and still-growing questions or trying
to tell us the culprit's identity, like Nosferatu's
fingernails scratching a name on the air.
I play back at night the CD wiped by your death
because I want to gather in the snatches of schtumm
going round in my head all day, without making a sound:
I play it, I labour on the edge of remembering
the cellist miming the fugue – her bow sawing schtumm.
I play it again when the alternative's only
a silence plunging deeper through its calibrations.
Every time the disk spins, without sound, I feel
the fugue is enacted phrase by phrase, on mute
despite the laser's reading of everything there,
on mute so the noise of it is wholly turned down
though the signal's burnt deep, but registers nothing.
The disk plays and is schtumm – it plays and plays
or cannot quite stop itself from being played
and it when it spins from sound-pulse to sound-pulse
is exercised as it must be, trying perhaps to be rid
of the requirement ever to be played again –
I strain to read the label which spells out
in a childlike hand: Schtumm for Cello. And because
for all the life of me I cannot quite identify
the notes I feel in my fingertips, but cannot hear, I whisper:
play it again, play it again, play it again.
The Gorse Fires
I very gently drew out your brother's tongue
and placed it back again, said the coroner,
but began to feel it might have done it by itself.
Through the stethoscope, through the sternum,
he said, I could hear all the way to the sea bottom.
The eye with a torch shone into it – uninhabited.
What did he die of? That's the question I'm very glad
you've asked, he said. Ah, bodies – so many! Each one
more wiped, more stony-faced than the last,
pulled out in the drawer with a label tied to its toe.
Your brother might've died from drowning,
stroke, septicaemia, a shot from a range of half a mile
or, to put it another way, he said, the common cold.
The liver's bloated gland sifting its silts of salt
like moraines, like pond scum. Or spots on a tonsil.
The puckered arc of rips, he said, ousting the flesh
of his back like a crescent of bitemarks
that might have been a hoeing of six-inch nails
but, you must understand, they're merely braille.
Some bodies, he said, catch hold of the lies of the dead
and must be slid, unkissed, back into the drawer
while the outer world bursts with lively evidence.
The gorse fires blaze across the moor and kissing is
in season. But look at his mouth when a square of mirror's
held over it – nothing. It reminds me of a sign saying privé
at the gates of consciousness where no one had
trespassed for many years. Look to the living, he said. They should
be kissed and kiss often and live to be a hundred.
Versions of a Miserabilist
One thought, from over the river: the mosquitoes
lost the smell of blood in me half way across.
Old Eden verity – I am no more to blame for my death
than I was for the sleazy rendezvous of my birth.
God alters selfish men – now that they have no face,
he has them regard the face, he teaches them how
they should have lived in a universe whose every centre is
a little pot of self-regard, a little like yours.
* * *
This is the end of money, though we have black fingers;
this the seedy afterlife of things. Everything poised,
as if the next step were already on stand-by:
like a star in the cavity the pilot light keeps
the steady job of incremental burning.
The meter wheel spins round and round towards
the astronomical bill that will never be paid.
These are your concerns. The fridge, my symbol,
persists in its puddle and on-off fugue. Just when
you think it is finally dead, it rambles to life.
The Jigging Season
Craneflies hold up
a level sky
of stagnant water
on a hair:
lifeless limbs –
a fit of limbs
for the enormity
See how nothing
in their cells
has yet worked out
what glass is,
how they thrash
cortège of legs
against the glass
as if it were
the last obstacle
and the next world.
As if glass
were a griddle
of six thousand
making them jig;
and from here
they could already
smell the first frost.
The Law of Primogeniture
Whatever the planets were doing that second
they stopped, then resumed. The night
of the drop – the night of the touchdown
among the people he had chosen.
Jupiter and the full moon conjunct
opposing Mars. The void preparing
to match his likeness against the world's.
Vertigo for the very longest descent
of all, and motion sickness, jet-lag
and homesickness drawn down into one
mix towards the imminent focus of
a yell. The great scarlet hollyhock opened
and opened until it could open no more,
until the pressure ripped it at the rim
and my brother came into the world head first
on a deluge of his own making,
swinging limp bloody fists as if he was inconsolable –
Mother, son, swim forever in that blood.
* * *
Later by six hours, though, crouched thoughtfully
over the day's eighteenth stooping fag-ash
which is held up by a sort of freakish gravity,
my father is burning and poking the afterbirth
that crackles in the boiler like fat:
through the scorched glass he watches it burn yellow.
Though he shakes out the thought almost before
it skids beneath his thinning hair, he imagines
the afterbirth might be the sack
from which Rasputin emerged undrowned,
stones tied to his ankles and wrists.
So close, he squints into the flames' hysteria:
and he thinks his way back through
fags eleven, ten and nine, to where
he is running alongside the midwife's bicycle;
and he thinks his way further back
into the moment of conception, and imagines it
a single burning point of light;
he thinks his way back to the night he met her,
so overcooked with gesture – on the tilted floor –
so faux with shallow flirtation;
and he thinks his way much further back
through ten, through a dozen years
with giant stumbling, backward strides –
he stumbles back, muttering I must, I must
find a way back in time, in time –
out of the way you frowsty armchair –
you lamp, you flying – fucking – heirloom.
He stumbles backwards, like a man
doing backstroke with a chair in each hand,
a stool kicked out of the way by his right foot,
a pot kicked out of the way by his left.
He stumbles backwards, and just in time
(... against the timer's whirring) swings
one baggy trouser-leg over the other
and reassembles in the chair, from pieces, as the flash –
catching the lush valley of his parting
and good looks exploding in light –
goes off: Me, he whispers, Me.
On Pett Level Beach
Whether they look to east or west or straight ahead
with half-shut eyes, however stiffly caught,
they fall into place around her. She wears her white-rimmed shades, a two-piece,
but he's in trunks and overcoat and leans away and towards her,
smoking, with wild hair, under a laden post-war sky
which is streaked with light and goes on for miles.
One son in shorts with straps and bare shoulders, waiting
for the wind-mics to amplify her next command;
the younger son with spade, dragging seaweed around his ankles
into the foreground, about to walk out of the picture.
When Mother took the first son for her own, Father took the other
as if by doing so they enlarged the print of their terms:
as if, by doing so, he might chuck a single
futile weight against the tipping point.
All this in monochrome – vanishing from the plate;
all this to show you a family – so –
which huddles there, beside deckchairs which blow themselves pregnant;
as the sea smashes against the breakwater
and the breakwater smashes against the sea.
She climbed with the weeping boy
into the sleeves and legs of his clothes. He crouched
and acquiesced, and what he thought was his hand
reaching to pat the soft part of his abdomen
was in fact hers – her foot was in his shoe – so it was hard
to fathom if those scarlet toenails belonged to him
or her, and which body musk seeped out
from which armpit, which thought originated first
in his head or her encompassing head behind,
so little the lapse, the spaces, between them.
When he dressed himself, it was her hands that reached
around to each bone button, her fingers which clipped
the absurd butterfly to his collar. When she climbed out
and left a chilly shape where she had been
he felt his spine was corrugated and exposed,
every follicle of him, every single blond hair
always listening for her approach,
listening in all directions, from every hair.
When she climbed back, he could no longer feel
the coarse stitching in the seams of his shirt
nor any sensation in his feet at all
and no sensation in his hands or in his lips.
Where her warm belly brushed against his sacrum
he smelt of her cologne, and it was only
when he tried to shift his shoulders sideways
and fidget his body into a space
that her long arms folded across him from behind
and drew him back towards her, at which stage
they seemed to wrestle together in a canal sack,
one trying to keep the other where he was
by pulling the collar tighter against his neck,
one trying to escape from his shirt.
Into the arms of death, she says, into the arms
of another woman – who speaks the sort of patois
which alone could bind him to a pelt of bones,
whose pomp is laughable, her favours anyone's,
whose glad rags tend towards the sluttish
and whose half-moon grin, whose long enfolding fingers
combined one night to snatch away her eldest son.
Though her own legs by now can hardly carry her
to the otherwise bare outcrop of her eightieth year
she knows she has to match the slapper in her rags
and wants to buy new clothes, new fancy shoes
into which she might squeeze her water-swollen feet;
new rouge, new jewellery – flame orange silks;
new ear-rings – a crush of gleams however ersatz,
her mascara a sort of drenched French blue.
Voilà! She has begun an affair with the mirrors
by concentrating on that tiny square of face
that she dreams could still be made beautiful,
framed with hackles of hair, a sort of pout, a sort
of staging of mouth which forgets the fallow patch
of hair which even two mirrors, one held in air
and hand, one in front, cannot quite conspire to reflect –
as she applies a line of lipstick to her mouth,
leans in closer, plumps up the hackles. Ready.
The Ghost Train
Craneflies! she says. They fizz in and out of her face
and brush her forehead – the feelers. They're crackle-clumsy,
crashing, they trail their paralysed legs across the black hole
of her mouth, in sleep. They thump and sizzle inside
the mind's lampshade, she says – fortress mother –
they advance in a moon-halo of mints and halitosis.
Her hair so wild, so white, she goes among the gulpers
of a ward of daylight, frightening them with her tone.
Old! Old! she says. Everything old! Old as insects.
See how they fuss, she says, and won't be swatted away,
fizz, come too close. Or else, at other times, she says,
they're just a cotton bud fidgeting loudly in her ear;
some twitching thing fished itchily up her nostril;
some irritant in her tear duct, some frenetic thought
or jig of frenetic thoughts prancing over her;
the undercarriage of the nurse's flannel flying over –
this ceaseless intrusive business in her face.
Otherness! It bangs and struggles blindly against the glass
of a solitude that liked itself. It stumbles and blunders
and lurches all around her, it hums and shivers
as if it smells something it likes, it's in her bedclothes,
her smalls. Lord, bring us the extremity of the first
frost, she says. But look how easily legs thin as fuse wire
come away in her old, grief-stricken fingers.
Excerpted from The Storm House by Tim Liardet. Copyright © 2011 Tim Liardet. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Like Slant Rain,
The Constables Call,
The Gorse Fires,
Versions of a Miserabilist,
The Jigging Season,
The Law of Primogeniture,
On Pett Level Beach,
The Ghost Train,
Fantasia on the Snarl,
'I thought it was a fucking earthquake,',
Bucko in Love,
Exit, Pursued by a Wolf,
The Waterlily Garden,
Self-portrait as Flypaper,
Self-portrait with Patio Flames,
Deleted Scene (The Frog),
The Brothers Grimm,
A Portrait of my Grandfather in Drag,
Deleted Scene (The Jug),
The Dark Age,
'... Lay Thee Down',
The Storm House,
About the Author,
Also by Tim Liardet,