They came yesterday
and unwittingly I let them in
after all, what had I to fear from friends?
It must have been while I was sleeping
they made those deep deliberate cuts
into my past.
They were looking for malignant truths.
You can't live with them.
They have to come into the open.
I didn't even know what they'd done
till they showed me the ugly truth,
limp in a dish like a still-born.
"You've got to be cruel to be kind,"
They said lots of things.
But the wound never healed
and the truth ... it lay and rotted
like Adam's apple.
2 November 1986
Out of the last 635 poems 82 include some reference to truth. It’s a word I’ve come to hate. And yet I can’t let go of it. I used it almost as many times in the new book—which is finished now and off to its first beta reader—but I don’t hold it up to be more than what it is. At one point I say, “[F]ew people tell outright lies but even fewer tell outright truths.” It’s a good point. And later on:
Writers are all liars. We’ve established this. It goes with the territory and it’s that brand of truth that should set one free, the realisation that it’s all a lie, a concoction, occasionally inspired but usually merely kludged together from whatever’s to hand. Truths are boring and stubborn; mostly trivial they wear one of two masks, plain or ugly (Keats was a romantic fool); they do not prevaricate; they tell it as it is. They may be docile but they’re not pliable. Lies can dress up as anything they please and it is their unpredictability, their daring, their sheer élan that keeps us coming back for more.
Writing’s not about telling the truth; it is about believability.
Facts I don’t have a problem with. But even there so many things have been presented to us as factual and yet over time as our knowledge has grown we realise that even facts can’t be relied on: lightning can strike in the same place more than once, the sun does not revolve around the earth, polar bears are not all left-handed and you can apparently get pregnant standing up.
The ‘they’ in the poem comprise one of those shadowy groups that meet under cover of night. They call themselves by different names, ‘commission’, ‘cartel’, ‘consortium’, ‘council’, ‘cabinet’, ‘committee’, ‘circle’, ‘centre’, ‘cabal’—they’re fond of the letter ‘c’—but their power comes from keeping their true powerlessness a closely guarded secret. Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power” and what ‘they’ know is people. They know how ignorant they are. They know how afraid they are. And they exploit it.