Recently I heard Sue Rose reading, and had a sense of recognition and that I shared some of her preoccupations. I love the way poetry gives you access to most interesting parts of people’s minds. For me, reading poetry is a way of feeling less alone in the world.
One particular poem Sue read was called Guided Tour. I gave it particular attention, because it resonated with a poem of my own, An Adumbration of the Light Age in that it looked back at the present from a point in the distant future. Sue said her poem “arose out of a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum, marvelling at how much of the furniture and other household paraphernalia had survived such a disaster. Made me wonder what human beings (or other beings!) might think on excavating the remains of my house at some long-distant point in the future after some cataclysm.”
I find Sue’s poem exquisite. I love the inherent pathos of the poem’s idea, and the way that it transforms things like wires and pipework into ‘solidified rivers’ deftly allowing us to infer some catastrophe has occurred. Or marvelling at the ivory of a keyboard because it may have absorbed something of the people who lived there.
I also love the idea of playing with absence. The lives that are implied by the poem are for us to imagine. Are they just like our own? The poem is asking us to imagine the world without us, still existing, still being observed. Just as we as individuals will all one day be absent from the continuing world.
I love this poem.
Sue’s new book ‘From The Cost of Keys, published by Cinnamon Press, 2014’ and can be bought here.
Guided Tour by Sue Rose
This was probably the kitchen. Metal
was found here—solidified rivers of it, winding
round stone, brick and granite, a battery
of utensils, machines, heated to dissolution;
and these long lines glistening in the wall
and floor were, no doubt, pipes for water.
We found tiles too, earth colours and pigments
still bright in their reds and blues. Notice
the notches here, on the door jamb, carved
into the wood, rising in height at intervals,
whether for measurement or ritual, we can’t be sure.
This we call the music room: that slump of wood
in the corner was a primitive instrument, no power
or synths, just wood, ivory and wire, the percussion
of human fingers. If you want to know more,
there are image screens in the site museum.
Most of the keys were lost in the fire storms
or crushed, but a few ivories survive; this material,
now extinct, absorbs sweat and oil, so it’s strange
to think that traces of the inhabitants might have fused
with the keys as they yellowed in the falling heat.
On the left, you can see the remains
of what was the living room, known as the lounge
or front room in some sections of society.
The buckled struts against the wall
are from contraptions we now know were used
for relaxation or sleeping. Note the hearth—
it seems they made fires, although quite advanced.
The site museum has one tile patterned with flowers,
and, interestingly, still intact, pressed beneath
collapsed firebricks, pages of charred paper,
a fibrous material they used for storing information,
odd words still legible—love, bike, harpsichord.
This poem reminds me of images from Pripyat, a town abandoned after the Chernobyl meltdown. Here is one of those.