The Memory Tree: Poems 2009-2015 is Sean Haldane’s first collection since the publication of his collected poems, Always Two (2009).  As in all his work, the poems of The Memory Tree display an impressive intellectual and aesthetic clarity, married to a refreshing candour about the joys and pains of love and desire. Haldane brings to his work an authoritative, confident voice but one capable of a reflective questioning, a playful sense of irony and an unashamed belief in the redemptive power of lyric poetry as he explores the theme and counter-theme of the past and present.

greenixLogoThe Memory Tree is published by Greenwich Exchange.

Read sample poems and listen to audio recordings (*) of Sean Haldane reading.

The Memory Tree

Ontario 2010

There’s something not quite right about that tree –
The Memory Tree – those names looking down at me, swinging eerily.
The man who burned to death in his own house,
And the woman he had run off with from his tiresome spouse,
Then she died, and that’s why he… or so it’s said.
They’re not around, mind you, no buried dead.
But you shoulda seen that arrow, it went awry,
Haywire, ricocheting from tree trunks, with a god-awful dead twang
From the string. I thought it’d bust but the bow was OK,
Or maybe it was the arrow nock but no bits flew. I let loose another
At that albino mountain goat, but it missed. And another.
It missed too. At least I found them. That first one,
I must have searched for it half an hour, in the poison ivy,
Snapping branches, tripping on lumber trash,
I almost hung myself on a branch. Then I gave up,
Left my arrow as an offering for those dead.
They mayn’t be there, but they sure were inside my head.

I tell you, they spooked me. It took another target
Before I got my aim back: the standing brown bear,
Three arrows like buttons down his chest,
But I doubt they laid those ghosts to rest.
You guys know what they’re called, those flowers
That sprung up in the clearing just before you get to the moose,
Like waving mauve carnations? ‘Bouncing Bet’.
I’d rather have a Memory Clearing than a Memory Tree,
The dangling wooden names each with a story.
But live flowers are for life, not death, I guess.

Aequorea Aequorea

I think of details: Aequorea Aequorea
Jellyfish, iridescent in San Juan Sound.
The vibrant green/pink shafts of the aurora
In Quebec when the snow on the ground
Squeaked underfoot. The scallop-shaped aura
Green/ pink around the rising Wurlitzer organ
At the Ritz in Belfast in the 1950s.

I don’t like arguments, theories:
‘Women are this. Are that.’ I think of the woman
I lived with on the mountains above the Piave.
I nuzzled my face in her brown wavy hair,
But we never pulsated like aequorea aequorea.
We sent out no light shafts, no radiant gloria.
With her, love was always terre a terre.

Privel da Crappa! *


One thing falls from another – like falling rocks:

The signs PRIVEL DA CRAPPA! caught in the headlights

As we careened down forest roads from the Stelvio

(DANGER OF ROCKS!)  We lay that night

Chastely back to back in a single bed.

We had first kissed the week before, as meteors fell

Over olive groves and cypresses – Notte di San Lorenzo.

Tonight is San Lorenzo. I’ve been reading a book

About Rumantsch: PRIVEL DA CRAPPA!

I’m using the pepper grinder I bought in Florence

That summer we came together without coming,

Not knowing all would come to nothing

And we would fall hurtling down the bends

Of time screaming without a sound.

What would we live?  – lust

Falling out of love. But when did we fall in?

Were we not just good friends?

Wasn’t that the trouble?

What were the fragments in the eventual rubble?

Lust, friendship, hope? It was hope

That drove us down that perilous slope.

No meteors now: the night sky is dull with haze

And we are living out our days

On separate continents. The peppercorns are ground,

Fall to dust.

The Slime-ball

After shaking hands with this slime-ball

(Being polite as usual),

Walking along Oxford Street

I bent and washed my hand in a dirty puddle.

Dealing with slime

Is difficult: it doesn’t quite

Wash off, but the puddle did the trick.

Otherwise I would have been sick.

The Race

On the last lap of my life,

Or the last but one – I don’t know,

I see your bright face

In the grey crowd,

And step out of the race.

At Gorta Dubha

Swallows like ogham on the electric wires,

Short strokes across the lines, head to tail.

I don’t know what message they bring

Except readiness to go, and coming back in Spring.

The ‘black meadows’ are green under Autumn sun,

Ringed by mountains, rocky summits in the air.

On the Internet a message reminds me of past desires.

And now the swallows are gone, the wires are bare,

Ogham is gone, it only named the dead.

The only messages are in my head.

In the Hands of Gobnait

Sna Lamha Gobnatan

In the hands of Gobnait,

Goddess of wild things,

My fate. At her holy well

(Now she is a saint)

A lime tree is hung with offerings

(Do ut des:

I give that you may give).

I ask for nothing,

I kneel on the stone,

With both hands I splash my face,

And I make no wish.

This poem is not pinned to the lime.

I don’t count on her grace.

The Usual Madness

The road a silver river to the full moon,

Mist blurs the distant edge of land and air.

Drawn in black ink the bare trees, hedges, fences:

Our way is clear.

‘The usual madness of wanting to know

The universe – to unite the truths of science and art’,

My friend says. ‘That’s you and me.’

The madness of fences and mist, of clear and blurred.

Voices like ghosts in our heads insist on being heard

As we stride along the silver river like gods

Towards the moon whose severe luminescent brow

Is suddenly smudged by a cloud.

‘Let us not’, I say (inside my head) to the moon,

‘Go mad and become over proud.

The truth is all I want to know,

Even if not until I’m buried under snow.’

The Way of All Flesh

She met me in her yellow dress

And underneath the navy blue of night –

Silk under linen, silk over skin,

She let me in,

Then afterwards, naked in bed,

She looked me in the eye and said:
‘I don’t want you to hurt me again.’

‘I won’t’, I swore.

But of course I did.

I didn’t know what I had

Until I had it no more.

All gone:

Her dress yellow as the sun,

Her dark blue underwear

And everything we were,

Each naïve wish –

Gone the way of all flesh.

‘Ah yes – to death’, the reader nods –

But no:

To other flesh as others let us in

To darker worlds than either knew

When she wore that yellow dress

And swayed like a flower

In the breeze of my love for her –

Still fresh.

Echo

If you are Echo, I am a wall

To which your voice can call

And be returned but slightly changed,

Not quite itself but rearranged

In newer harmonies. What you will hear

Is not what you might fear.