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

Sunday, 20 December 2015


The Drowning Man

Though I kept my rooms on
I'd given up all hope of an audience
when one day I was summoned.

It was like an interview in the womb
before being granted life.

He read what I'd brought without comment,
and then addressed me in the half-light:

"There is a drowning man in us all,"
he said,
"and like a man who never sleeps
he is driven mad by his own existence."

He said no more;
but then he'd said it all.

We never met again.
I did not expect we would.

And that's all I can remember,
except his eyes:
as if some prisoner inside him
was peering out through them at me.

I had only ever seen them in a mirror.

17 October 1986

This is the sixth of The Drowning Man Poems. Thirty years on I cannot think of a single change I might make to it. I have no idea where it came from but it’s one of those poems like ‘Common Denominator’ (#534) I can’t get over writing. I’m not an idiot. I know I have a facility with words. But every now and then I write a sentence or two and there’s this disconnect. I know I wrote them but I can’t imagine writing anything that good ever again nor can I figure out how I managed to write the words I’m looking at. Where did they come from? Was it the crazy guy I sometimes glimpse in the mirror who wrote them? Always a possibility.


PhilipH said...

Yes. Yes I like this one very much. I prefer it to #534 actually, though it matters not one jot nor tickle. Thanks.

Kass said...

While I like the allusion to children sobbing in #534, #600 is a quite perfectly complete expression of a struggle to understand mortality. Especially like " interview in the womb."

Jim Murdoch said...

Philip, I’m just pleased when anyone likes any of my poems.

And, Kass, I’m glad you liked it too. I’m not sure that I see mortality as the issue her but I suppose it all depends on what you mean by ‘mortality’. The young always assume that in time the things that don’t make sense to them will come into focus. The older I get the more I realise that’s not a given. Writing a poem, a story or a novel is not like fitting a new tap or even a whole bathroom suite. How many ways can there possibly be to install a toilet bowl? But every time I put pen to paper it’s like I’m starting off anew. There’s absolutely no guarantee because I’ve done it before I’ll be able to do it again. I know I’ll probably be able to but I don’t get cocky. No one really grows up. Our bodies crumble about us and that provides a patina of maturity but that’s all it is. We get better at faking it.

Kass said...

"No one really grows up. Our bodies crumble about us and that provides a patina of maturity but that’s all it is. We get better at faking it." - Patty Patina loves this!

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