Figures I have looked up to as old men when I was in my thirties and forties are gone now. Poets and tradition bearers, musicians... People close to me have gone, too, several before their time. This is the state of getting older. It's part of the preparation, I suppose.
Time sits, I sometimes think, like a moving column of vapour, about any given place. The things that happened there, what was thought or felt, all spirals like some kind of blind spring. The past is immanent, if only imperfectly reachable. I have lived in places where I could sense what the land felt in its waters. Sometimes, it's almost an ecstatic practice. Occasionally, it is excruciating. But I digress.
This poem is echoes of times, places and people who have passed. Some well remembered, others only sensed. They now merge and don't merge, spiraling in those columns of vapourous memory above their places. Even the well-remembered past can only live partially in our memories. So much of it belongs to place.
My elders are becoming my ancestors now.
It doesn't happen all at once, or on the day they die.
They first must be purified like silver in the fire
A process which is not painful, but necessary.
Slowly they move from the tumbled houses,
Determinedly they step from the photograph pages
To build anew that which was lost,
That which was gained, but could not be held.
Dreamily they drift from their country upbringings
And their suburban upbringings among the roses.
Drift toward halls of learning and drinking establishments,
Smoke filled back rooms of pubs where poets rant.
They drift toward the beaches to collect the seaweed
And toward the moors to cut the peats.
They crack shells and hunt deer
And journey by horseback or coracle.
They sing in folk clubs and work in banks,
Emigrate to Canada or move down south.
They drink too much and rest too little
And then they are gone.
And there's me, always late to the party,
The last to hear today's news.
Nosing around in the past I miss the big event,
But unearth some old treasure.
When I look up, I find my elders have all left.
I shake my head in wonder. Was it always thus?
One day you look around, they've left you the house.
You walk the corridors, you try the beds.
Aeons and aeons pass, I am becoming the elder,
I am becoming the child.
I drift toward my elders, I follow the stream of their poesy,
A strong stream, through the hills of memory.