Monday, January 30, 2012

`Always, the Past is Heard'

One notices the changes first – the new white window casings, the branch missing from the post oak, the spinning pinwheel stuck in the ground by the sidewalk. Only then does the scene’s familiarity sooth, a little, the shock of change. Without knowing I remembered them, I recognized the bend in the roof, the brown shingles and black fence. The past returns with a pang we have no right to regret. It’s like longevity: We want to live forever but don’t want to grow old. We want to revisit the past but avoid the ache of its pastness.

Our former neighbors invited me to lunch. They live across the street from the house we bought in 2004 after leaving New York and moving to Houston. Our sons were almost four and not yet two. Now they’re eleven and nearly nine. It’s the first house they remember, the template against which they will measure every subsequent house. All their memories are happy, as best I can judge. Our cat adopted us here. Michael learned to ride a bicycle on this street. This blog started here almost six years ago. I planted lemon and key lime saplings in the backyard. On Easter morning seven years ago another post oak leaned against the side of the house, and a crew worked until after dark taking it down.
The couple who bought the house from us almost four years ago still lives there, and they’ve had a child of their own, triggering in me a shameful flash of resentment, as though they were vandals or thieves. Then I remember the old lady from whom we bought the house. Her husband had recently died and she was moving to be closer to her son and his family. She and her late husband had bought the house new in 1955, and she lived there for almost half a century. Her flowers, chosen so at least one species in the yard was blooming every day of the year, are still blooming.
Clive Wilmer conducted a series of interviews with fellow poets for BBC Radio 3 from 1989 to 1992, and the transcripts were published as Poets Talking (Carcanet, 1994). In his talk with C.H. Sisson, Wilmer notes one of Sisson’s poems ends with the line “Only the past is true.” He asks, “Could we begin by looking at your poetry in the light of that discovery?” and Sisson answers:
“Well, the future is imaginary, the present is happening and that only leaves the past to be true; and it leaves the past as, in a sense, all of a piece. Once a thing is done, it belongs to the past.”
In one of Sisson’s great late poems, “In the Silence,” he writes:
“In every spoken word,
Always, the past is heard.”

1 comment:

zmkc said...

My mother's sisters went back to their childhood home and were horrified by many of the changes they found. My mother's motto - 'never go back' - proved right, in their case at least. The past is always true, provided you don't alter it by visiting it from the present, perhaps.