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

Sunday, 27 November 2016



I had worn the Great Man's mantle
for some time
before I thought to check the pockets,
and they were empty.

In fact, they had been torn out!

28 August 1989
Do mantles even have pockets? I never thought about that before but they’re basically cloaks and cloaks don’t generally have pockets. Either way I can use poetic license to excuse myself. We all love that get out of jail free card. 

This is actually a sequel although I can’t imagine anyone other than me picking up on it. In my previous poem, ‘The Apeman Cometh’ (#689), we see the poet looking in the mirror and not recognizing the creature gawping back at him (or, more correctly, not being recognized by the thing in the mirror). This harks back to ‘The Drowning Man’ (#600) where the young poet recognizes something in his hero’s eyes he’d only seen before in a mirror. Years have passed and so has the great man and now the young poet is wondering just how ‘great’ he actually is. 

How do you define greatness? Per the dictionary: “the quality of being great; eminence or distinction.” Eminence? “Fame or acknowledged superiority within a particular sphere.” Distinction? “Excellence that sets someone or something apart from others.” As a teenager I honestly believed I was destined for greatness. I didn’t just have a chip on my shoulder I had a whole fish supper! [Fish supper is a Scotticism for fish and chips.] I thought that everything I wrote was gold. I really did. Now, when pressed, I’ll admit to a certain facility with words. That I can’t deny; the evidence is overwhelming. But greatness? I actually wonder how many great men (and, of course, women) felt comfortable with that label. Very few I would imagine.


PhilipH said...

" ... a certain facility with words." Can't argue with that Jim. Wish I had your deftness in that field.

Jim Murdoch said...

I would suggest it is untenable, Philip, for anyone who can use the word 'deftness' correctly in a sentence to maintain they don't possess at least a certain facility with words. Most people would think you'd misspelled 'daftness'.

vito pasquale said...

This is an interesting coincidence. . . when I wrote The Half-Life of Linoleum the father character (a difficult, elderly man getting his affairs in order) tells his son to donate his clothes to charity but to cut the pockets out of the pants first. He tells the son that anyone who needs a pair of pants handed down from a stranger shouldn't have anything to put in the pockets. To say he is cruel is a bit of an understatement.

I just found the passage. . .

As we are driving back to Saint Kitts he says, “All of my clothes that are still in my upstairs closet should be donated tomorrow. Before you bring them to Goodwill in Muddesborough, I want you to cut all of the pockets out of the pants.”

“Can I ask why?”

“Because, no one who needs a free pair of pants, should have anything to put in the pockets.”

“Does that seem a little mean-spirited?”

“Letting ‘em walk around without pants on – now that would be mean spirited, Lawrence.”

At one point I even wrote a poem called "How The Great Man Worked." What is is unusual is that I have no idea what caused me to write it. Or who the great man is or was. . . It's so startlingly opaque.

Secondhand indeed.

I like it very much.

Jim Murdoch said...

Me being me, Vito, I’d want to argue my case with that old guy. The first thing I thought about was Beckett’s Molloy with his pocketfuls of sucking stones. What if the guy who finds himself in need of a second-hand pair of trousers happens as he’s walking in the door to find a penny lying there on the doorstep: where would he put it or should he donate it to the cause? Or what if the man, armed (or should that be ‘legged’?) with his new trousers walked out and was immediately handed a job because he looked so damn smart? Might he not need pockets then? Loved the name ‘Muddesborough’ by the way. We have a Middlesbrough here in the UK though we pronounce the ‘borough’ part differently, something like ‘burruh’. Carrie struggled for years to get her tongue round ‘Edinburgh’.

vito pasquale said...

There was plenty to argue about with the old guy. . . I wonder what it would be like to give another writer one side of a conversation (say the old guy's) and let him or her have at the character without ever having seen the original conversation. I'm sure that without the context of the original that the conversation would move in different and interesting directions.

All of your arguments with the old man are quite logical and he was a lawyer so he'd probably enjoy the parrying. . . he'd have to win of course. So, in addition to enjoying the back and forth, he'd have the pleasure of the victory as well. He wasn't based on anyone I ever knew.

I'm glad you liked Muddesborough. One of the joys of writing a novel was giving names to characters and places. I did tend towards the outlandish and reading some of the book later, the names were unnecessarily absurd. They interrupted the story-telling for no reason.

When we were in Scotland we stayed in Portree on Skye for a few days. After dinner we'd sit with some of the other people at the B and B and tell the stories of where we'd each been that day. There was a couple from Greenock there. They were quite friendly and would correct our pronunciation (nicely) of every place name we'd visited that day. Carrie is to be admired for getting the 'burruh' right in Edinburgh. It's a talent.

I know I've gotten fairly far-afield from your poem. . . which I like quite a bit. I assume that the Great Man had torn his own pockets out. . to what end, I wonder. Your writing is gold.

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