Tag Archives: The North

Music

Schimmel sideways

 

Looking in the Cloud for a picture of a frog I came across a photo of my piano: a white horse (Schimmel). My friend Marianne who left me the old caravan had a digital piano here. I took that across to the UK and started having lessons with John who came to the house.

The next year (2009) I even took the Grade 1 examination. Turned up at the venue to find bemused children staring at me. I passed, just short of a Distinction. As a reward, I got  a proper acoustic piano. Found this lovely Schimmel with a warm European sound.

Horror! One day I lifted the lid to see a moth appear from between two white keys. Yes, a proper infestation. Fortunately, the wonderfully eccentric tuner, also called John, managed to take the piano apart and deal with that. I continued with lessons. But I was too anxious to go for the Grade 2 or Grade 3. When I moved into the flat, so did the piano. On its side, still a mellow sound. I sold it a couple of years ago. It went to a good home …

The poem Music is from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing (2019).

 
Music

There was always music going on in our house,
live music, piano and song. The organ was
down the road, past the Catholics’ houses.
We were Protestant then, some of us, anyway.

There was always music in our house.
Bach on a black piano and Brahms
Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund.
My mother, the diva, practising before
her weekly lesson with the best alto
in Holland, who kept a pet monkey.
My father, with his piano hands,
shaking his vigorous black hair.

In our house there was always music.
More often than not it would be
minor chords, discordance, long
silence above the empty bar lines.

Exploring the Orinoco

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to introduce Alan Payne, the poet featured this month. We met during the 2012-13 Poetry Business Writing School.

Alan Payne

Alan was born in Trinidad and lives in Sheffield. His pamphlet Exploring the Orinoco was a winner in the 2009 – 10 Poetry Business competition. He has had poems published in Smiths Knoll, the North and Scintilla, and in various anthologies including The Sheffield Anthology: Poems from the City Imagined, and Cast: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets. He worked for many years as a teacher of young children.

His poems visit themes of loss, grief and migration. Alan writes with great economy, sometimes even sparseness. Poignancy is created by his selection of accurate and telling details. Alan always writes with empathy for the people in his poems. His poems taught me that it is fine to revisit the themes that continue to haunt us.

The poems Colombie and Exploring the Orinoco are from the 2009 pamphlet. Menu and Silence are published in The North, issue 60, August 2018.

Colombie

Sudden stars pulled us through
the Dragon’s Mouth.
Port of Spain extinguished.
Home and homeliness
already a legend.

Next day, briefly ashore
in Guadeloupe –
the patois a distorted version
of a beloved tongue,
its lilt curled in my ear.

Crossing the Atlantic –
a band’s orchestrated goodbyes
lost in the wind,
the thundery embrace
of the Northern Range
an echo in the swell,
my stuffed alligator
a talisman.

Fabled Plymouth.
And the journey north, by train,
to Apperley Bridge.
There, in that no-man’s-land,
I tasted pickled onions.
Assumed a stranger’s skin.
A worsted suit.

 
Exploring the Orinoco

With the Thames in their hearts,
and childhood fevers in common,
my father and his dead brother
explored the Orinoco.

The boat of my father’s faith
carried them upstream
to the port of Encaramada,
past the granite domes
of Punta Curiquima.

There, on a deserted island,
they camped for the night,
sitting on the scattered husks
of turtle shells,
reading in the moonlight,
and dining. A faint stink
of rotting crocodiles
corroded the air

During the night, a jaguar
added discord to the howling
of their dogs,
and cataracts answered
the rumbles overhead.

Once, a small black monkey,
like a widow in mourning,
returned the sweet, sceptical smile
of my father’s brother
as he glanced up
from his beloved Darwin.
With a pencil, he underlined
a few words; then disappeared
into the forest
of my father’s mind,
where their mother’s grief
(one boy saved, one boy lost)
left him bereft.

 
Menu

Stereotypical, I know, this woman
carrying an urn on her head, smiling,
as if it’s nothing to have walked
to the market in Tunapuna,
and this man who, good-naturedly,
holds out his cup, and this donkey,
waiting patiently by the man’s side,
still, with well-behaved ears.

My father framed it, hung it on the wall,
a reminder of S.S. Colombie,
au revoir, the French waiter
with one blue eye, one green eye,
Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe,
and then the chilly Atlantic.

 

Silence

There was always silence in our house,
the silence before grace,
the silence following the Lord’s Prayer,
the silence of my father’s work
that seeped out from behind
his polished study door,
the silence of my mother’s brother
who, we were told, died in the war,
but as I later discovered
blew his brains out
in a car-park in Hammersmith
on receiving his call-up papers.