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

Thursday, 24 November 2016


The Apeman Cometh

I remember his eyes,
his little sunken red eyes,
peering out of the cavern
of a grey simian skull.

They looked as if they were
staring from the depths
of my past.

Wondering what had become of me.

And not quite able to focus.

28 August 1989
Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008) has been described as “a prolific and popular British poet/dramatists known for works with a strong social conscience.” I mention him because the title of my poem is also the title of a collection by Mitchell from 1975. I don’t own a copy. I’ve never owned a copy. I may have handled a copy at some time—the cover looks familiar—but I couldn't have said with any certainty that I’d read the book or even any poem by Mitchell before I looked him up about an hour ago. I couldn’t find the title poem but I did find some others from the collection: ‘Ancestors’, ‘Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody’ and the very sweet ‘Beatrix is Three’. The first one does have a familiar ring to it but I couldn’t find any individual poem called ‘The Apeman Cometh’. The closest was this:
The Apeman's Hairy Body Song

Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
When the breezes tickle
The hairs of my body

Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
Next best thing
To having feathers
I say I don’t recall ever reading a poem by Mitchell which is true but I do remember hearing him read a poem (probably on the BBC), the rather wonderful ‘To Whom It May Concern’ which he periodically updated to take account of the changing times. (Nalaka Gunawardene’s blog post is worth checking out.)

When I sat down to write this in my head I’d taken the title from Eugene O'Neill’s play, The Iceman Cometh (which I’ve never seen), but who knows now?

The poem reminds me of ‘The Drowning Man’ (#600). I don’t suppose I’m the first writer who’s looked in the mirror and wondered who was looking back at him be it a madman or an apeman.


vito pasquale said...

After I'd read The Apeman Cometh I began to wonder if I'd composed anything similar. I'm leery of the mirror. . . I found that I'd only occasionally put one to use. A long time ago I'd written something called, "The Narcissist In The Mirror Factory," which was always just a title looking for a poem. Other than whoever is in that poem, does any writer look in a mirror and like what he or she sees? I suppose it's possible.

I loved "Ten Ways To Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow To Anybody" but then again, you probably knew I would.

I remember reading once that you can look in the mirror from your left eye to your right but you will never see your eyes move. I don't know if this is true.

The past and the present come together in this poem in a mournful way. You've not used the word "mirror" in a poem about looking in a mirror. I enjoy when you do that.

Jim Murdoch said...

I did mean to drop you a note, Vito, before I posted this because you’re quite right, as soon as I read ‘Ten Ways To Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow To Anybody’ I thought you could’ve written it. I like the idea of a title looking for a poem. I’m not sure I’ve ever worked that way though. Mostly my titles—and I do suspect this is the case with most people—come as necessary afterthoughts: I gotta call it something. To be honest I’ve never sat down and made a list of titles. I’ve meant to. Every time I come across a title like Californication I’d think: Christ, that’s so obvious. Why did I never come up with something like that? I even thought that when PiL released ‘This is Not a Love Song’. Why did the world have to wait until 1983 for someone to write a song with a great title like that? (That’s something else I watched when Carrie was away this time, an interview with a now sixty-year-old John Lydon—God he’s mellowed but at least he survived.)

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