At the Archive Reading Room
Step off the street into the silence,
climb the stairs, produce your card
and push into the past.
Directories and almanacs,
old books and manuscripts,
lie waiting in repose for invocation,
your mark upon a chit of paper.
Withered maps and photographs,
guidebooks from a distant time,
ephemera of one kind or another
are wheeled along on soundless trolleys,
quickened, photocopied, browsed, returned,
Here you will find
your faceless ancestors
buried in dusty books,
in boxes on marked shelves,
under the dead leaves
of never-read pamphlets
and dog-eared photographs.
Readers are advised to take care
when handling manuscripts,
pencils only can be used for taking notes.
Archive materials are fragile, often irreplaceable,
so you are requested not to write on them,
not to lean on them,
not to place any object on top of them.
Record-keeping is an art,
not an act of administration.
Keep conversation to a minimum,
turn off your mobile phone or silence it.
Sit quietly and wait until
the flat file of their disaster
opens out across your desk:
the sundered walls, the roof collapsed,
the salty tears of barefoot children
washing dirty faces.
Time is passing. Ineluctably the
wheels will turn, the walls will fall,
all things will keep, tears dry in time.
Life Is Elsewhere
Even the sound of a goods train
passing in the night,
rattling the rotten frame
of my childhood window;
even that spoke to me then
of a life I was missing.
Later, the dead eyes of a stranger
on the bus home from school,
unshaven and shabby in creased overcoat,
a worn paperback in his pocket;
he lived the life I both feared and desired.
Or the men who stood on the
doorsteps of pubs, or bookmakers,
cigarettes hidden in hands with stained fingers;
these were the ones I yearned to be counted among –
not the good, the polite and the young.
But I was bound by the kindness of others,
obliged to be who I was
out of duty and love;
I had to create out of nothing
false reasons to fight
where no fight was sought,
to reject all that was given for free
in a house where I knew only love.
I never thought that I would find him
cold and dead, stretched out in a stranger’s yard,
as if sleeping – but not sleeping – numb, hard
as the frozen ground, draped in a fine skim
of winter’s leavings. Only an old cat,
an insignificant death you might say –
Aristotle certainly saw it that way –
when compared to a human life lost; that
is what vexes some people, that feline
or canine can be treated like human,
cried over like lovers, valued like someone
you lived with and loved throughout their decline.
The divine in me with apt insouciance
digs a shallow grave and buries nuisance.
Poems © Copyright Brian Kirk 2017