Login   Sign Up 


The shape a lover has

by Paul Isthmus 

Posted: 24 June 2006
Word Count: 337

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

I forgive you for everything
you said, I forgive you
for being this way.
Our government is an old, dying tree
in our garden. We always thought
when our families were drunk
and we were far away
how good it would be to mingle histories
just because it is so sweet
to feel the night, and sway
into sleep, early, without the other
who would stay.

There is the revolution of the sun
coming - we realise again, at the call
of countless saviours - we read the papers,
we know it's here
and there are things to do. By day,
you are out, amid fields, amongst classes,
I am battling with figures and language, with returning
a single email. You told me the story
of precious time, the story your father was breathing
in the way he told it. I had come in from the night,
after time with a soft bird hidden in the night boughs.

I have not yet touched you. You remain as distant
as mist and cloud in the middle of the Yorkshire moors
when I am there, resting on limestone. You are closer
than coldness that reaches through
whatever fabrics they might manufacture,
in the old textile mills, in the old Yorkshire towns.
You form a layer surrounding me
without attributes, apart from the shape
issuing from your name, which seems to me eternal.
Your smile, hid beneath the window
all these years.

God forbid I should ever think I have discovered you,
as if I could think I discovered the warmth of the sun.
As if one smile were similar to another,
and one kiss the knot of golden dawn.
And let my pictures plummet down to easiness
for all the hard work knowing I have done
enough to ease your mind in pure blind simpleness
knowing as if knowing's just begun.

Let me end this with what is beyond us,
with one hand each holding
and the other, free to reach, reaching
to grasp the shape a lover has.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Amym at 09:55 on 25 June 2006  Report this post

Thanks Paul! This has brightened up a horrid Sunday morning at work. The rhythm is great and there's some amazing imagery - especially in the third stanza. Have read it few a couple of times but know it'll take a couple more to really get a handle on it - may be back with something more useful later (it's still early!)

NinaLara at 13:44 on 25 June 2006  Report this post
I'm have a pretty boring day too -attampting to crunch a load of data into something interesting (not possible!).

I have read this through a few times and think I am there with it - two people on the edge of something, but perhaps not. I think you build up this tension well - there is a depth of the relationship but also the sense that they keep missing each other.

I really like the unfolding story and the gentleness of the piece. Inspite of its conversational style it maintains a real intensity. The last stanza is lovely - summing up the yearing with all that reaching that still remains just out of grasp.


The confusing image for me was the government tree in the garden - it is a very interesting 'suggestion' but I can't see how it fits with the rest of the poem. Am I missing something?

paul53 [for I am he] at 18:33 on 25 June 2006  Report this post
Being extra busy of late, I came to WW Site early this morning and downloaded 5 pages of poems from 3 groups in order to try and catch up.
This piece stood head & shoulders above the rest.
This is everything a good poem ought to be: full of metaphor and vivid desription; drawing together various threads into tight synthesis; a clever and subtle use of rhyme to underpin the structure.
I hope you are pleased with this.
One word summary: maturity.

DJC at 20:25 on 25 June 2006  Report this post

This is great - I love the way you give us a snapshot here of a relationship, and the gentleness, as Nina mentions, is powerful. There's little to criticise, as it works superbly well as it is, but if I can offer anything, it might be to get rid of the first three lines and begin with the concrete image of the government, and maybe get rid of the 'old' bit as well, just to make it more punchy.

This bit:

God forbid I should ever think I have discovered you,

Is inspired, and gave me goosebumps. Good stuff.



Sorry, wanted to add what I thought the opening might be like, with editing:

The government is a dying tree
in our garden. We always thought
when our families were drunk
and we were far away
how good it would be to mingle histories

Nell at 07:30 on 26 June 2006  Report this post
Hi Paul.

Little to add to the above. I love the mingling of the magical and everyday life in this, the juxtaposition of perfectly straightforward imagery and metaphor, which conveys the quality of the relationship beautifully.

Some hesitation at the more abstract words: attributes, eternal, easiness, simpleness, and I wondered if you needed ...who would stay... in the first stanza, it feels like one rhyme too many.

A tender and lovely piece, with a timeless quality about it. Your voice remains confident, consistent and recognisable in each poem you post.


Paul Isthmus at 12:30 on 26 June 2006  Report this post
Thanks everyone for the amazingly positive feedback. I wrote this when I was drunk in about 20 minutes and am now thinking maybe I should take to the bottle.

The story: My family is quite large and the evening of writing this (at about 2 in the morning) was a wonderful and important night for me. My parent's old Edwardian house was the site of a huge family meal, a coming together of two sides of the family, a union going back further than the oldest person present. We ate in the dining room, which looks out across fields of long grass where horses graze in the summer. Looking around the room and the people (I was the youngest there) I had a sense of being out of my own time, of being part of a something with heritage that I knew and was part of, but rather than being cultural it was entirely personal - and all the things we discussed, the government and the NHS (we're quite a strong medical family), even though we discussed them with great passion, seemed to me to be floating upon what was real and present, which was the complex web of relationships that make us up, and the love that has bound us together. The presence of the government in the poem, I think is vital, even if you can't quite figure out its relevance - as a weaker presence almost, or something refound or rethought in the context of family.

Darren, I think starting with the personal idea of forgiveness (the presence of the children of failed relationships and new spouses at the meal was strong, and our overall accord stronger because of that) is important for me - and the idea of the government being a sort of family too, or part of things, it being old along with us and having as families do the complexities and difficulties of relationships, but it being in there too as a secondary presence, means that starting with that would upset the balance of the poem for me. Thanks for the suggestion though, did make me think why I wrote it - as have all the comments.

The relationship in this poem for me is the first principal behind both family and government, the human part, two people coming together, and how it connects with what is beyond them and how rich that is - so the shape of a lover is the whole world and its history - government, language, gardens, textiles - beyond the beyond, but all with one hand grasping another, and two hands reaching out into the world.

Nell, I sort of agree about the who would stay line being one rhyme too many, but I think it's an important line as it draws together two people in the context of something bigger. The abstract words criticism I sort of get - the penultimate stanza was mostly lyrical and I wasn't really thinking about it as I wrote, just letting the sound take me. I will ponder upon it. I don't think it's quite finished yet.

Thanks again everyone.


DJC at 13:43 on 26 June 2006  Report this post
Paul - the bottle works for some, but not for most! Dylan Thomas springs to mind...

Nell at 18:34 on 26 June 2006  Report this post
Paul, thanks for the background post above - I became quite emotional reading it, and the poem seems even more special now.


NinaLara at 12:58 on 27 June 2006  Report this post
Just a last world on the opening lines of the poem ... having read your story I can understand them fully now but wonder if an extra word or a change in word order could bring that story out into the poem completely?

Our government is an old, dying tree
in the garden.

Paul Isthmus at 13:15 on 27 June 2006  Report this post
I like that Nina - you're right. Change implemented - thank you!

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .