When a poem stays in the mind to quarry and flutter, to query and answer, it’s not always clear how that illumination works. Inherent in the sensation is a hidden craft; the work stretches out and takes its time while covering ground like a greyhound on the chase. In Anthony Lawrence‘s poem, ‘In the Shadows of Our Heads’, the heady seamless feeling from the smallest step to the flightiest of notions, gives us that strange unwieldy encounter with time and space often intrinsic to our experience of life. Bound to the language, the poem joins us to a story of a couple falling in love. Visceral and grounded, genuine and filigreed, complete and yet wide-open, this poem is emblematic of much of Lawrence’s work, its fusion to both the physical and metaphoric, true.
This work didn’t come out of nowhere. Lawrence has penned some wonderful work. Narrative in form, his poetry takes the reader into a world open-handedly, a world entwined with our surroundings. And, of course, there’s always the language here and here.
In the Shadows of Our Heads
I’d called the Humane Society to report the neglect
of a neighbour’s dogs. A woman assured me there
would be an investigation, took my details, then asked
if I needed more assistance. I mentioned the flightless
swans of Malta, and she said Imagine, ten thousand years,
then added They were the size of the pygmy elephants
that also roamed the island. To test her liability
to respond in a capering manner, I described the pattern
of my sleep and how, after drinking Akvavit, my cells
become part of the dust of the Horse Head Nebula.
Your astral projection is world class, she said. I could
see a swivel chair, the noise-cancelling headset, a light
blue blouse embroidered with a hook or claw symbol,
the windows of light on her shoes. Are your projections
always so peregrinatory? I’m curious, as I sense I’m far
too fond of the regional. Satisfied, I felt compelled to ask
if Spring, in the mountains, had ever crossed her radar
as a good season and reason for marriage, but chose
instead to invite her for a drink. I don’t date, but we
could drive, as long as you’re partial to Elgar’s
‘Nimrod’, anything by Wagner, and my minder, Karl,
who, depending on his mood, likes to follow at a clip
or respectful distance in his Beamer. I laughed. Alright,
she said, His name is Bob, he’s either a serial tail-gater,
or he moves like a tortoise in his Triumph Mayflower.
On Sunday morning, her music darkening the speakers,
we passed the wreckage of housing estates, then onto
a road lined with trees that cast flickering lines
of light and shade like a view through the arrow-slit
of a zoetrope. We opened the past and found things
worth sharing. As a child she’d been orphaned when,
escaping a forest fire, the family car had come adrift
in smoke and driven off a bridge. She had lost an eye
and her spine had been broken. The monocular vision
and limp had ended her ribbon-floor exercise routine.
When we met, she had approached like someone
leaning into wind. I told her I’d stolen meteor samples
from an observatory on a school excursion. This had led
to frequent stealing, and when I said kleptomania,
I lowered my voice and concluded the confession
with the words illness, serial, and the eight-point-turn
of psychopharmacological. When we stopped for lunch,
I sat across from her by a river whose patchwork surface
she described as snake skins sewn haphazardly together.
I saw the glass eye, and she said Ocular. Three perfect
syllables, then they ruined everything with Prosthesis.
Her hand hovered briefly over mine before moving on.
I said nothing and she took a long time to answer it.
We discussed rescue dogs and how certain bats would
make good pets if only their bites weren’t potentially
lethal, causing fever and delirium. At fifteen, she had
run away to live in a trilogy of Mervyn Peake novels.
I suggested we return via a pub where the Guinness
is collared velvet, the music live. As we stood, the flame
of a kingfisher fluttered on like a pilot light and went out
in the shadows of our heads.