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

Wednesday, 6 April 2016


The Beheld

(for B.)

She took several stones
from the mosaic
and gave them to me.

"But now they are meaningless,"
I said.

"No," she smiled,
"their meaning has changed.

"Why do you look through
and not at?"

And she drew a figure eight
and turned it on its side
and asked me if I could see

10 February 1989

I don’t remember the first time I met B. It was a long time ago. I’d have been a boy. Thirteen? Twelve? Who knows? If I was fourteen she’d have been seven and what fourteen-year-old boy notices a seven-year-old girl let alone falls in love with her? When I wrote this poem I was twenty-nine and B. was twenty-two. Now that’s a very different proposition. That is assuming I was in love with her. Even at the time I was pretty sure I wasn’t but what I was was obsessed by her. She was attractive without being stunning. When she was seven she was probably cute—hard not to be cute when you’re seven—but a cute twenty-two-year-old? No, she wasn’t cute but it was if cuteness had grown up and become… you know I really can’t think of a word that fits. I didn’t want to sleep with her. It wasn’t that kind of attraction. I suspect it was more of a reaction. F. was not a poet. She was an artist but not much of a reader. I’m not sure if I’d stopped showing her poems by this stage but it’s likely. She didn’t get them and I needed someone who’d get them, to get me. B. actually owned books of poems. I honestly think she was the first person I ever met who did and the second was probably Carrie. Before B. left for Ireland she gave me her copy of The Faber Book of Modern Verse. I gave her Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The infatuation lasted about a year—looking back I would’ve sworn it’d been far longer—during which time I wrote eighty-five poems. If I ever had a muse she was it.


Gwil W said...

Our fitness guru says make the infinity sign with your feet, or arms or whatever part of the body we are exercising. She never says make of eight. It's really interesting how some people look at the world differently.

Kass said...

I like the sophisticated innocence of "The Beheld," B. and thee.
I think you probably both grew up to be interesting people.

Jim Murdoch said...

That’s really the whole point here, Gwilym. There’s a lovely word to describe a figure eight which I use in the new book:

They come, some park their arses like me, others take a turn, the popular lemniscate circuit usually, once around the pond at this end, past the clock—“Now is the day of salvation, Now is the acceptable time” —and once around the pagoda at the other; once around infinity.

I also use the word “analemma” at one point: In astronomy, when the apparent position of the Sun in the sky is recorded (e.g. photographed) at a fixed location on the Earth's surface every day or every few days throughout the year, always at the same time of day, a long, slender, figure-eight pattern of points is produced.

Jim Murdoch said...

Well, Kass, what can I say? If you find me interesting I’m certainly not going to object. As for B.? No, not really. She sold out and married a classical musician years older than her—older than me even—and I really never understood her reasoning; it wasn’t as if she was unhappy at home and would’ve thrown herself at the first guy who asked. It was the closest thing to an arranged marriage I’ve even seen; I think she met him once before moving to live close to him so they could get to know each other better (a bedsit or something) but they were married in a matter of weeks. To the best of my knowledge she never dated anyone before this. I mean, who does that? The whole thing left a very unpleasant taste.

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