Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kiss You When You Start The Day.

My history of traveling reads a bit like a history of temporarily empty bedrooms, bedrooms that were vacated by sharehouse residents then claimed by me through some often-tenuous relationship with the other housemates. In Glasgow, for example, I claimed Dougie's room when he was off at space camp, sitting at his desk overlooking the street, writing in my journal the stories that would eventually become my zine. There was something about being in a near-empty space, with only a bed, a desk and a chair, that brought out all the stories I'd forgotten or repressed.

When I stayed in Kit's room in Leeds, however, most of her stuff was still there. She'd just gone away with her family or something, and her room was only free for two or three weeks. I have vague memories of her being an English student or something, because her bookshelf was full of the usual suspects - a Norton Anthology, a Works of Shakespeare, a Pocket Oxford. But in between all of those thick, heavy-bound, thin-leafed works of enormity I picked out some blazing red poppies - the cover of Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters. It was the same edition my parents, on my subtle insistence, had presented to me on my birthday, a month before I'd flown out.

The edition of Birthday Letters in question.

Kit's House on Hessel Mount, Leeds, thanks to the glory of Google Street View.

When I started reading those poems again I knew what I was getting myself into, but it didn't help. The poems are restrained and desperate, burdened and impossible, like trying to communicate something vitally important, but having to do it underwater. A kid wandering aimlessly around a foreign country shouldn't subject themself to that kind of oppression, that kind of frustrated, useless helplessness. When I eventually left Leeds I also left Kit's copy of the book behind, but took with me these two lines, from 'Sam':

How did you hang on? You couldn't have done it.
Something in you not you did it for itself.

I no longer have that edition of Birthday Letters. I don't know what happened to it. Somewhere along the line I must've given it to some girl, or lost it in a trans-continental move, or left it on a train. In its place I have the newer edition, with the thick cardstock cover and the minimalist typeface, which I found in my own bookshelf earlier this evening. Perhaps an adult shouldn't subject themself either. I'm not sure. Mind you, I'm not sure of much these days. That's probably why I'm reaching for the book in the first place.

...I was dumbfounded afresh
By my ignorance of the simplest things.
- Fulbright Scholars

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