The sea again, again the sea in my blood –
days stack up, a riptide brings them down, love goes to silt.
The sea again, running red under a setting sun.
The sea, where the dead cradle the living.
A salt wind sings this monody:
As the world remakes itself be reborn and reborn,
as the sea breaks what it builds: sandbars, outcrop, cliffs,
as it pours across abandoned quays in darkness.
Torn clouds, an airborne tide-race: the whole sky on the move;
wave heaps on wave; the nightwind tears at the sea: it leaves a scar.
I have a faceful of eyes. My body is fur and feather. My heart
beats and again and again in its basket of bone.
On ‘Salt Monody’
In ‘Salt Monody’, images of threat and damage alternate with images of regeneration, an oppositional tension that allows ambiguity: this could be an interpersonal poem or a political poem or, perhaps, be a layered account where the two coincide, or where the one is illustrative of the other, or where the one provokes thoughts of the other.
It might be thought that poets of Kielar’s generation are not as taken up with political issues as those who lived through occupation and repression – are not required to be – but memories are long, powerful and transmissive; poems can’t be unread just as history can’t be undone; images are a contagion.
The images in Kielar’s poem are freighted with harm, though the poem offers – or, at least, nominates – remedy. It seems to me that, in the dynamic between the two, harm is the stronger agent and that the poem ends, not with a reversal where notions of damage are matched to notions of reconciliation, but with defiance in the face of something both resurgent and implacable.
For me, the political undertow in the poem is dominant because unignorable: not least at a time when England has become an officially racist country, when people from other nations are being demonised and openly attacked both verbally and physically, when here and elsewhere in Europe – and, now, not least in Poland – petty nationalism is a storm-surge, a means to power, a dark shadow-presence of swastika and ghetto and death-camp.
I want to respond to this poem with some lines not from my forthcoming collection, Salt, though it was Kieler’s title that first drew me to her poem, but with three fragments – three quatrains, in fact – from a further collection to be published in 2019:
Quirks of history, the births of evil men, a sudden rise
in willing blindness among the best of us, some loss
of shadow. We live with it day by day; the one surprise
how vainglorious our response, how raw, how crass.
Because they are burned in effigy: the good and wise
Because the despicable can turn on what they most despise
because the lingua franca translates as lies and lies
and lies again the blameless go always in disguise.
Prayers are raised against havoc and harm.
Tyranny goes by another name.
Word is sent from the sightless to the dumb
The storm-horse gallops through the fire-storm.