This w/end my poet friend Kathleen Kummer will be celebrating her 94th birthday. We first met 20 years ago on a writing week held near Cambridge. Kathleen lived and worked in The Netherlands after marrying a Dutchman.
To mark her special day, I’m posting a poem from her debut collection Living below sea level, published by Oversteps Books. The poem first appeared in the original 14 magazine, edited by Mike Loveday.
Whistling for Stalin
Circus performer summoned to the dacha, you arrived empty-handed, no sign of the treasure at the tip of your tongue. The signal was given, you pursed your lips, made them a channel, floated a tune on a cushion of air, like a bird in a cage, lusciously trilling. They sat around in their white, belted tunics, he and his henchmen, legs stretched out rigid, but ready to jack-knife to a Georgian folk song.
Did your whistling enliven the poker-face, make it genial? When he clicked his fingers, your tune slid back into its voice-box. How much did you know about Uncle Joe? When you whistle, you’re bound to sound carefree.
Yesterday I talked with friends about Cambridge. That brought back memories of a one-week workshop at Madingley Hall with the poet Lawrence Sail. Madingley Hall is a 16th Century building just a few miles from Cambridge. It is set in seven acres of splendid gardens and grounds, designed by the famous Capability Brown in the 18th Century.The weather was good the week I was there and we would all find a quiet corner outside and get writing.
One of the exercises was about personification. We mentally went through the alphabet and stopped at a letter that resonated with us. What kind of life does that letter have? What do they want and what is difficult for them?
The poem Trying was published in my debut Another life (Oversteps Books Ltd, 2016).
Trying not to be like one who has gone before. Allocated a slot at the back of the queue: a circle dancer with a club foot.
Striving to become the symbol of perfection. Dragging a tail, leaving tiny furrows on the rough terrain.
Trying then to hide in foreign places. Archaic words spoken with a twang: Qua, quorum, quota, quasi.