Week 469: Anniversaries, by Douglas Dunn

This week another poem from Douglas Dunn’s 1985 volume ‘Elegies’, written in memory of his first wife who died young. It is a collection that I find intensely moving, and also very skilful: I love the lilting movement of poems like this.

Note on the last verse: the beautifully precise word ‘longanimous’ means ‘patient with a suggestion of long-suffering’ – I believe Dunn was a goodish club-level runner in his younger days, so I take it the image here is one of his wife coming along even in the rain to cheer him on.

Roukenglen, Kelvingrove and Inchinnan are names associated with the Glasgow area of Renfrewshire.

Anniversaries

Day by nomadic day
Our anniversaries go by,
Dates anchored in an inner sky,
To utmost ground, interior clay.

It was September blue
When I walked with you first, my love,
In Roukenglen and Kelvingrove,
Inchinnan’s beech-wood avenue.

That day will still exist
Long after I have joined you where
Rings radiate the dusty air
And bangles bind each powdered wrist.

Here comes that day again.
What shall I do? Instruct me, dear,
Longanimous encourager,
Sweet soul in the athletic rain
And wife now to the weather.

Douglas Dunn

Week 129: Where do they go?, by Douglas Dunn

 

I imagine we have all had the experience of being mysteriously drawn to a face, perhaps only glimpsed in passing, as if it held something important to us, yet having no time to work out what that it is and being left only with a vague regret for what might have been. This poem by Douglas Dunn captures that experience with a wistful exactitude.

Where do they go?

Where do they go, the faces, the people seen
In glances and longed for, who smile back
Wondering where the next kiss is coming from?

They are seen suddenly, from the top decks of buses,
On railway platforms at the tea machine,
When the sleep of travelling makes us look for them.

A whiff of perfume, an eye, a hat, a shoe,
Bring back vague memories of names,
Thingummy, that bloke, what’s-her-name.

What great thing have I lost, that faces in a crowd
Should make me look at them for one I know,
What are faces that they must be looked for?

But there’s one face, seen only once,
A fragment of a crowd. I know enough of her,
That face makes me dissatisfied with myself.

Those we secretly love, who never know of us,
What happens to them? Only this is known,
They will never meet us suddenly in pleasant rooms.

Douglas Dunn

Week 39: The Kaleidoscope, by Douglas Dunn

The Kaleidoscope

To climb these stairs again, bearing a tray,
Might be to find you pillowed with your books,
Your inventories listing gowns and frocks
As if preparing for a holiday.
Or, turning from the landing, I might find
My presence watched through your kaleidoscope,
A symmetry of husbands, each redesigned
In lovely forms of foresight, prayer and hope.
I climb these stairs a dozen times a day
And, by the open door, wait, looking in
At where you died. My hands become a tray
Offering me, my flesh, my soul, my skin.
Grief wrongs us so. I stand, and wait, and cry
For the absurd forgiveness, not knowing why.

Douglas Dunn

This is one of a series of elegiac poems that Douglas Dunn wrote after the loss of his wife, in a delicate and moving exploration of a complex grief.