Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 10 May 2015


Old Walt

Old Walt used to watch the cleaning woman –

Through the spy hole.

Breasts hung as she scrubbed.

In the monochrome passage.

One day...
             ...and the neighbours
                 talked about it for weeks...

29 May 1979

This is not a very good poem but it is of some importance. It leaves things up to the reader. Completely. What did Walt do? Kill her? Rape her? Expose himself? Drop dead in front of her? It could be anything. Years later I expressed myself far better in my poem ‘Reader Please Supply Meaning’, the title poem of my latest collection. You can read it in this old post.

We never had a cleaning woman. I don’t think we had one. Or maybe we did. I know in the next flat we lived in the neighbours used to pass a bobbin back and forth. When it dropped though your letterbox you knew it was your turn to clean the stairs, the landing and the bin shed. But I don’t remember doing that in the first flat we were in so maybe we did have someone come in. That was the first place I lived in with a spy hole. Quite taken by it I was. So maybe I did watch a cleaning woman one day. Maybe that’s where the idea came from.

We have a spy hole in this flat and occasionally—as recently as yesterday in fact—I’ll hear some kerfuffle in the hall and go and take a look. Not sure what I expect to see. Not sure what I’d do if I did see anything. But I still go and take a look. Might be an idea for a poem there. You never know.



Glenn Ingersoll said...

By my third reading I realized the "beasts" that "hung" were maybe not dead animals but breasts.

It's definitely less surreal without the beasts.

Jonathan Chant said...

I like the poem. My grandparents had one of those spy-holes in their flat door. I remember being intrigued by it then and can pretty much still see it now. Yes, I think there's a poem, or maybe even a short story somewhere in there.

Jim Murdoch said...

I can’t imagine there’s a writer out there Jonathan who’s not a little bit voyeuristic. There’s a scene in Don DeLillo’s novel The Body Artist where the protagonist sits in front of a computer watching a video feed:

She spent hours at the computer screen looking at a live-streaming video feed from the edge of a two-lane road in a city in Finland. It was the middle of the night in Kotka, in Finland, and she watched the screen. It was interesting to her because it was happening now, as she sat here, and because it happened twenty-four hours a day, facelessly, cars entering .and leaving Kotka, or just the empty road in the dead times. The dead times were best.


She set aside time every day for the webcam at Kotka. She didn’t know the meaning of this feed but took it as an act of floating poetry.

I get this totally. I was never really one for meditation but this is really a kind of anti-meditation. You sit there in a permanent state of anticipation. Something might happen. I guess that describes what it’s like to be a poet. It’s a waiting game.

Jonathan Chant said...

Yes, well put. Now I'm reminded of that film, I think it's Rear Window.

Can't help thinking that there's a connection here with Facebook and all the rest of it.

Jim Murdoch said...

Absolutely, Jonathan. But I think with Facebook etc it’s more of a what-am-I-missing mentality. Nothing goes off quicker than the present. We always want the next new thing as soon as it’s available (and sooner if possible). Why? There are so many great things that are in the past but whose time has not passed, not by a long chalk. New does not always equal good. New is easy. Anyone can produce something new. Making something that lasts, well…

Jim Murdoch said...

Christ, Glenn, how did I miss that? Maybe that was why this never found a publisher.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Jim, I don't know that a book exists that doesn't contain a typo or two, no matter how well proofread. Some can really change a meaning, tho.

Ken Armstrong said...

Was it 'beasts'? Was it? There's something at work here, young Murdoch, face it. :)

There's lot of great stuff in this post. I like the poem, it's like a challenge for a story and the peep hole photo is fantastic. Any bloody thing could happen out there. I'd never leave it.

Jim Murdoch said...

I does feel a bit like a writing prompt, Ken. If you’ve got an idea go for it. I don’t mind playing fodder for once. I’ve always liked writing prompts. I don’t respond to many but there was one site a few years ago where I did make the effort and a couple of decent pieces resulted. I have a writing prompt in my new novel: “Imagine Gregor Samsa woke up one day and had been transformed into something other than a giant beetle.”

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