Yesterday I explored AQA’s Anthology poem Quickdraw from Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture collection. I did express my disappointment with that poem and perhaps its rather self conscious contrivance.The row didn’t convince as it is usurped by the manipulations of cowboy mythology.
This poem however is direct and bleak. You can feel the emotional chill, the spreading disease of antipathy and sterility. The words are the most sabotaged of all; diminished by dislike and discontent. Even the fridge joins in the conspiracy, supporting the hostility and inner loathing.
The irony of the verb ‘awoke’ gives powerful expression to the recognition of finality, it suggests that being awake to your life brings pain with the revelation. Recognition has a price, once admitted to full consciouness, there is no retreat, no grace.
But one day we woke to our disgrace; our house
a coldness of rooms, each nursing
a thickening cyst of dust and gloom.
We had not been home in our hearts for months.
And how our words changed. Dead flies in a web.
How they stiffened and blackened. Cherished italics
suddenly sour on our tongues, obscenities
spraying themselves on the wall in my head.
Woke to your clothes like a corpse on the floor,
the small deaths of lightbulbs pining all day
in my ears, their echoes audible tears;
nothing we would not do to make it worse
and worse. Into the night with the wrong language,
waving and pointing, the shadows of hands
huge in the bedroom. Dreamed of a naked crawl
from a dead place over the other; both of us. Woke.
Woke to an absence of grace; the still-life
of a meal, untouched, wine-bottle, empty, ashtray,
full. In our sullen kitchen, the fridge
hardened its cool heart, selfish as art, hummed.
To a bowl of apples rotten to the core. Lame shoes
empty in the hall where our voices asked
for a message after the tone, the telephone
pressing its ear to distant, invisible lips.
And our garden bowing its head, vulnerable flowers
unseen in the dusk as we shouted in silhouette.
Woke to the screaming alarm, the banging door,
the house-plants trembling in their brittle soil. Total
Disgrace. Up in the dark to stand at the window,
counting the years to arrive there, faithless,
unpenitent. Woke to the meaningless stars, you
and me both, lost. Inconsolable vowels from the next room.
Duffy explores the fall of grace experienced by a couple whose coupling has ceased to be. The sombre, autumnal tone communicates a deadening resignation to the signs of death everywhere in a domestic place which has long ceased to be a home. For some reason, I read this poem alongside A L Kennedy’s latest collection of short stories What Becomes, a juxtaposition which seemed fitting as both writers expertly catch out the snares embedded in the decaying ‘flesh’ of a lost relationship. I did wonder whilst reading Kennedy if any of her protagonists could trust any other voice except their isolated interior reflections heard by no one except their bemused readers.
Duffy too seems to discover her speaker here wandering in their head through the ‘rooms’ of a lost relationship, observing the left overs of a ‘feast’ gone rotten.How far away are we really from Miss Havisham’s room? Romantic yearning has become transmuted into the Gothic: vitality and fertility are gone. The atmosphere reminds me of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca- passion betrayed by the cruelty of repression.
I especially enjoyed the description of a relationship’s words becoming like ‘dead flies in a web’. Duffy captures the progressive petrification of a relationship through a choice of image which ironically highlights the banality to which a seemingly special, singular relationship can fall. Graceless and faithless indeed.
Truly a disgrace.
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