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

Sunday, 10 January 2016



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.
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.


Gwil W said...

Truth? Does it even exist?

Kass said...

This poem has just the right kind of humor - friends who cut under the guise of being kind - and the abruptness at the end with "...rotted like Adam's apple." - apples being the symbol of desire and destruction in Greek Mythology (along with many other references to good and evil).

I get such vivid images as I read this poem: "the truth" being delivered as the stillborn baby, the cut of a C-section which the "friends" choose not to close, a rotten, rotten baby left on the table for all to see and smell.

Very good, strong poem. My kind of poem.

Jim Murdoch said...

So said Pilate, Gwilliam, or words to that effect. I am willing to concede that truths exist. Small ‘t’ and plural. I’m not so sure about Truth, capital ‘T’, singular. As far as truths go I prefer to look for facts. Two plus two equals four. It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m in Scotland. You only have my word for the last two and I could be mistake—I could be living in a simulation of the world as it was in 2016—but the odds of that are unlikely. Whether I’m literally in Scotland or in a virtual Scotland what remains true—sneaky wee word crept in there—is my lack of interest in trying to determine any grand truth. I’m sure they exist but they’re impossible to express in simple terms. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side, yes, but why did it want to get to the other side? Every answer we come up with comes with its own set of questions. Once we realise this and resign ourselves to living with it and working round it life becomes an awful lot easier. It did for me. What I hated about religion, certainly the one I was brought up in, was the fulcrumic role TRUTH took; everything rested on its shoulders. One of the things that was impressed on me was the need to tell the truth. Mostly that’s not hard. Did you cross the road? Either you did or you didn’t. Why is always the problem. A lot of the time I found that I didn’t know why I’d done x, y or z. There had to be one—nothing happens for no reason (at least that’s what I thought)—but the older I got the more I started to see that wasn’t always the case. The problem lay with the word ‘reason’. Few things are as thought through as we think they are and so to be truthful became harder and harder. I do try and be as accurate as I can still but mostly avoid sweeping statements like: Lying is wrong or Stealing it bad. Nothing is that simple.

Jim Murdoch said...

I would never say that anyone’s reading of one of my poems in wrong, Kass, but what I can share with you is that I find NOTHING funny in this poem whatsoever. For me it is a bitter and a very serious poem. We’ve all done things we regret and wouldn’t want people to know about and we certainly wouldn’t want to be defined by these… let’s just call them “mistakes” for now. In 1993 two ten-year-old boys abducted, tortured and murdered a two-year-old boy called James Bulger. When released the boys were given new identities in an attempt to allow them a chance at reintegration into society. Should the “truth” about what they did be revealed? It’s a contentious point and I’ve picked an extreme example but I’m not the same person now as I was when I broke a whole host of commandments. I’ve not murderer anyone but I have stolen and lied and fornicated and it makes me sad that for the last couple of years of my mother’s life she knew me as Jimmy the Fornicator. That is what I was reduced to. All my goodly qualities somehow didn’t register. You might find this story of interest. I heard a version of it when I was a kid and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Kass said...

Jim, perhaps humor is the wrong word. The use of "Adam's Apple" is a twist. It kind of jerks you to another place. "... unwittingly I let them in after all, what had I to fear from friends?" - also a little twisty (and possibly sarcastic) for me. "Truths" is dark like Film Noir with its cynicism. Yes, cynicism is a better word.

Jimmy the Fornicator is a heavy label to carry. I did enjoy The Black Dot story. I think there is a neurological reason we focus on negativity more than positive thoughts and events. It's addictive and produces and imprint on the brain that is difficult to steer away from.

Ping services