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.
The Memory Tree is published by Greenwich Exchange.
Read sample poems and listen to audio recordings (*) of Sean Haldane reading.
The Memory Tree
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.
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.
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.
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.