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

Wednesday, 21 June 2017



(for J.)

Excuse me, I don't know this place;
we're not where we were.
I'm sure we've moved on.
Mind if I join you?

Guess I must've dozed off.

Where're you headed friend?
No; don't tell me.
Just let me sit awhile:
we don't have to talk much.

Could sure use the company.

All journeys end
or so they say –
I read a poem once –
but I'm not convinced.

Suppose we'll know if we get there.

20 June 1994

The idea for this one came from reading a poem although I don’t remember reading much poetry around this time. The only books I can recall definitely finishing were Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality, John le Carré’s first two novels. I also reread Catcher in the Rye and wasn’t nearly as impressed the second time round. In my head the poem was by a Canadian. Why that stuck I’ve no idea. So I thought I’d try and track it down. 

Cohen was the obvious first choice but I can’t find anything. Margaret Atwood wrote, “He'll find out somehow, because journeys end in lovers meeting,” but that’s from The Blind Assassin, so not a poem. Just a quick scan of the rest of the list was enough to make me think I was on a hiding to nothing. So I expanded my search parameters. 

It’s a popular phrase “all journeys end” and it wasn’t hard to come up with a few contenders:
As in interims all journeys end
in three steps
with a mirrored door, beyond it a closet
and a closet wall. 
So wrote the poet Jim Harrison in his poem ‘In Interims: Outlyer’ but I don’t think he’s the poet being referenced here.
A trellis rose-like souls can climb and grow –
And a pledge that one day all journeys end
As mind has now I stand in sun, and know
That was Nicholas Hagger in his poem ‘Among Laughton's Sacred Houses’ but it’s not that one either. Nor is it “Long ago, didn’t we read how all journeys end?” from Richard Hugo’s ‘Bay of Resolve’.
                The hillside wind

turbines were bleached oars
sunk to mark all journeys’ end. 
In his fist was a bolus of twine. 
That excerpt is from ‘Nausicaa’ by Tim MacGabhann but it doesn’t feel right.
All journeys end upon her lips and hair;
All roads lead to her eyes; all joys and pain
Up to her breast; all paths to where she sleeps;
Just why, he doesn't know and doesn't care. 
From ‘The Future – If We Win’ by Edwin Curran. It doesn’t ring any bells. It’s not from ‘Dream Poem – at fifty’ by Peter Boyle either.

The poem it turns out I’m referencing is by Rod McKuen and if you’d asked me this morning if I’d read anything by him I would’ve sworn blind I hadn’t. I would’ve been wrong. It’s called ‘Passengers for J. S. A.’ in which he writes: 
Passengers we are
traveling these same tracks
carried along by this same ribbon
                     of boardwalk.
All journeys end
or so we are told they should.  
The destination looms,
is nearly in our sights.
Can you see it, feel it? 
And for the record McKuen was born in a Salvation Army hostel in Oakland, California in 1933. Christ knows why I was so convinced the poet was from Canada.


Ken Armstrong said...

Funny, I thought Rod McKuen was Canadian too and he's been in my peripheral vision (quite clearly) since the seventies. I have a certain regard for him and his work, which is often regarded as 'schmaltzy' (hell, it is schmaltzy) still, for me, contains some heart and feeling. (See 'A Cat Called Sloopy'). He also wrote some good songs. 'Jean, Jean, the roses are red...'.

Jim Murdoch said...

The thing about schmaltz (and the same goes for kitsch, Ken) is that it sits on a razor’s edge. Sometimes you can get away with it but mostly you can’t. Music helps without a doubt and I do think of McKuen more as a songwriter than a poet—that was how I first encountered him—but I’m more puzzled by the fact I was reading one of his books in the first place. I am as you know a bit of a literary snob and yet I’ve a clear memory of picking up and reading one of Pam Ayres’s books so maybe no one was looking at the time. (I have no problems, however, being associated with John Cooper Clarke.) It’s the Canada thing I can’t quite get over because I was ab-so-lutely convinced the poet in my poem was Canadian; there was no doubt in my mind.

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