For the other Artists (for Vahni)
By: Giles Goodland
You probably won’t remember this but the barista showed us his tattoo, an intricately calligraphed couplet about how compared to a star how small we are, all of us who walk and see, and I’m thinking yes, we’re translation-machines, processing that which is outside us into scrolls of not-quite text and also we’re forgetting-machines, passing thoughts into oblivion, as if that’s what we’re for. Witness and forget. But a sentence long-drawn from thought’s well is to the tongue touch: among those who spend lives realizing, it burns inside. It’s not enough to see the half-lit thought without squeezing from the poor light the image of a line. Write it as if we all had one angle and the fleece clouds blew from my brain to yours and then the sand would listen to our particulars and peel the rocks to show where, chambered in the fossil record, blood flows. In the circle of light from the lightshade a glass stands. A speck floats: a scale from the wing of the moth that ascended to heaven by means of the bulb. Follow its trail, work it through until morning’s standing wave tricks us back into daylight. The artists are getting old, we must ask them to paint more, extend, drill their eyes: and we are all artists. A hired hand turns, an arm rests, the doctors’ shadows surround us. The brush is in the jar, the canvas is wet.
Giles Goodland was born in Taunton, was educated at the universities of Wales and California, took a D. Phil at Oxford, has published a several books of poetry including A Spy in the House of Years (Leviathan, 2001) Capital (Salt, 2006) and Dumb Messengers (Salt, 2012) and The Masses (Shearsman, 2018). He works in Oxford as a lexicographer, teaches evening classes on poetry for Oxford University's department of continuing education, and lives in West London. “The background of this poem was going over some journals from 8 years ago. At that time I have a colleague at my work called Vahni (she is now a well known poet but no need to mention her surname). We were having a coffee in some cavernous factory conversion now serving artisan coffee. The barman showed us his tattoo, as described in the poem, and I remember thinking from this about what it means not just to think, but to feel impelled to record our thoughts and perceptions, as artists do. And how arrogant to assume that only artists feel this need. I was talking with V mainly about work, where she was having some problems, and it was clear to me that she was really a poet, and found it difficult to live in the mundane world of work. And here was I, if not her manager, closely involved with her work, and feeling as if I was one of the 'other' people, perhaps better at articulating immediately necessary and practical observations, but linked by the obsession or compulsion to push experience into language. The rest of the poem must have come that night, in a period of sleeplessness.”