Here is the seventh poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:
ST. VALENTINE’S DAY DEMOLITION
the moth-eaten mattress
thrown through a broken window
tearing and bending and blossoming momentarily
an explosion of feathers in the dust-charged air
gesturing obscurely on the brink of eternity
before giving up its domestic associations
of writhing lovers and incontinent pensioners
living and dying or just having a reasonable time
all this thrown off like money or inhibition
then plunging and forgetting on the seven storeys down
a biographic nosedive into oblivion
the scrap-heap of mundane normality beckons
with newspaper wallpaper ordinariness
of bricks and sticks and stones or bones
an ex-mattress becomes a twisted skeleton
of wires and springs and shocks absorbed
repository for spent energies of lovers and corpses
flat battery of ardour.
It’s very hard to judge your own work, but I’d say that of these early poems this is the first that can hold its own with anything I’ve done since. Nonetheless, it was rejected by every literary magazine in Scotland over a period of twenty years. In all that time, I never lost faith in it once, although I certainly lost faith in those literary magazines. Finally, and quite unexpectedly, Ambit Magazine published it last year along with a couple of other more recent poems and a wonderful drawing by the great Mike Foreman that he did especially to accompany ‘St Valentine’s Day Demolition’.
I remember distinctly what inspired this poem. I was standing looking at the demolition of all the external and internal walls of a warehouse project I was working on, to convert it into new flats, built around the existing reinforced concrete skeleton structure which we would retain. It was St.Valentine’s Day, and I was suffering from one of my many crushes on a girl who did not (apparently) feel the same way about me. Then one of the workmen hurled a mattress out from the seventh floor, towards the waiting skip below, and me and my architectural colleagues watched said mattress fall pretty much as I describe it in the poem. I felt deflated at the time, drained by unrequited yearning and all the other rubbish that drives far too many young men to contemplate suicide in their early twenties. It should be the best time in everybody’s life, but for me at least, it was the very worst. I was missing KD, and contemplating all the dull days to come without her presence in my life, whatever the terms. But although the poem was based on personal things, its success (if it is successful for you, dear reader, only your opinion matters) lies I think in how it addresses the universal, from start to finish. We all love, we all die, we all struggle in the tortuous balance between boredom and terror, hope and despair, the twin poles of the human condition. Let us all fall together, but be beautiful on the way down!