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At the crossroads

by James Graham 

Posted: 20 January 2008
Word Count: 172
Summary: First new poem for four months. It developed, in an odd sort of way, from stopping someone to ask directions in Paris last summer.

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At the crossroads

Excuse me, but I seem to have got lost. It's not
my house I'm looking for, where I planted fourteen
trees, and where I keep my books. It's home

I want to find. It may be on the map, or in
the calendar, or not. It's not that I've forgotten
its name, or times, or author, I just haven't

learned them yet. It isn't anywhere I've been, it isn't
in the beech-woods neighbouring that warm house
of toys and nightmares. I stayed a little time

in the Cree country of Ontario, and an hour or two
in the theatre at Epidauros, and the Great Mosque
at Cordoba, but I came away. I've looked in vain

through the little luminous window in the corner,
where the hucksters put their noses to the glass
and shout at me. I'm sorry, how can I expect

you to direct me? I must be either mad,
or the last speaker of this language. Sorry
to have troubled you. I'll know it when I'm there.

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Comments by other Members

Zettel at 19:03 on 20 January 2008  Report this post

I like the way all the language is simple and direct and then when you try to capture an underlying thread it seems elusive. Evokes for me an unusual and interesting idea that if by 'home' we mean a place where we feel safe and can simply 'be', this is usually a concept that looks back often though not only, to childhood which are often the definitive days of feeling safe and 'at home'.

Unless I've missed your point altogether you seem to be raising the thought of looking forward to a place where you might feel that peace, that rest. Instead of recovering such a place from your past, still on a restless journey towards it. And

I'll know it when I'm there.

is evocative. There is something much morepositive and hopeful about that way of looking at things as the other concept often seems wistful and regretful. This has a much more upbeat feel.

Always dangerous tobe the first to comment.

It is immensely readable and the structure helps that with the tongue and the mind 'tumbling' from one verse to the other by the open-ended end of lines.

Enjoyed this a lot



joanie at 19:23 on 20 January 2008  Report this post
Hello James. Goodness, this has really affected me! I love the precise descriptions and details, which paint such vivid pictures. Surely these must be from your experience?!

It seems that opening and closing lines are very important to me at the moment, and your
Excuse me, but I seem to have got lost.
I'll know it when I'm there.
really hit home!

Evocative, tantalising, thought-provoking, gorgeous......... I keep re-reading.


James Graham at 19:58 on 21 January 2008  Report this post
Thanks, Zettel and Joanie. Z, your comment that it looks forward not back is interesting. I wasn’t really conscious of that while writing - I think it’s more or less instinctive with me to look forward (even at my age!). But looking at it again, I see that all through the poem I was turning away from the past, from my childhood home (the ‘warm house of toys and nightmares’) and from the places listed, all of which lead us into the past - but ‘I came away’ not just literally but emotionally, away from the strangeness of them.

I think what I mean by ‘home’ is an inner world essentially. Places, moments in history, personal experience, beliefs, and quotes from Shakespeare and Blake can be its furniture, but where it’s located is in the head. In order to get there (if one ever does) one must go ‘forward’, that is, grow older.

Joanie, most of the detail is personal experience. Northern Ontario was maybe the place that came closest to being the agreeable ‘home’ this lost soul was seeking - but I was there in summer! Lots of people do live there all the time and have snowmobiles, snow blowers and seaplanes. I was quite in love with the place, but…I ‘came away’. The one place mentioned where I haven’t actually been is the Greek theatre at Epidauros. Must go there, to make the poem true!


DeepBlueGypsy at 02:47 on 22 January 2008  Report this post
This was so beautiful, I love the way to did the word placement, I've read a few poems like this and I really admire the abililty to not only make it sound so good, but also make it look good too! Bien. I can so very well relate to traveling and getting very lost.
through the little luminous window in the corner,
where the hucksters put their noses to the glass
and shout at me
I love the visual of this! I know I'll be back to read it again soon! Divi

V`yonne at 21:49 on 23 January 2008  Report this post
I love the sence of always moving on trying to find that elusive place and time where the language you speak is your own and you feel spiritually at home - not in Cree country or anyone elses time. And
I'm sorry, how can I expect

you to direct me?

We tend to do that...

I really do like this and I think I'll keep coming back to it.


James Graham at 21:11 on 27 January 2008  Report this post
Thanks, Divi and Oonah. The last place to look for one’s home would be through the little illuminated ‘window’ in the corner of the room. In its early days TV was described as a window on the world, and I suppose it still is sometimes, so the poem’s lost ‘traveller’ might perhaps have thought it worthwhile looking there. BBC4 on a good day, maybe! A good documentary about India, perhaps, with no hucksters gate-crashing every ten minutes.

And ‘How can I expect you/ to direct me?’ does seem to have more tham one level of meaning. How can we expect anyone to show us the way to our spiritual ‘home’? We have to find it all by ourselves. If that’s what the poem says, it’s rather negative. There are people along the way who point us in the right direction, left at the second traffic lights as it were. People we have known personally, and people alive or dead who have made an impact on us - from Socrates to Bob Dylan (see poem by Zettel). A problem with this poem is, who is ‘You’? Who is being asked in vain for help? Someone who can only say, ‘Sorry, I’m a stranger here myself’? The spiritual traveller might be luckier than that. If the lost traveller met Immanuel Kant at the crossroads, and asked if he could give a clue as to where to go next, Kant could say, ‘Only ever act in such a way that the principle of your action could become a universal law’. Which might take a minute or two to sink in - but (for me, anyway) would be a true direction - a philosophical ‘straight on and you can’t miss it’.


V`yonne at 22:45 on 27 January 2008  Report this post
For me anyway, asking Kant - anyone would make no difference.
a philosophical ‘straight on and you can’t miss it’.
is not necessarily the right direction. You end up as Moonie in a mass wedding or as a suicide victim in some cult.
BBC4 on a good day, maybe!
What do the physicists really know? Frank Close is one of my crossroads people and he's pretty skeptical. There are people we trust but do they know the direction or does the direction just suit our views, our vanity?

James Graham at 19:30 on 29 January 2008  Report this post
Oonah, ...a philosophical ‘straight on and you can’t miss it’ is not necessarily the right direction? True - but it might be for some. At the risk of doing the 'asking directions' idea to death, there are things in Kant, Wittgenstein etc that might at least put us on the right road so we could go along for a few miles and ask again!


V`yonne at 20:26 on 29 January 2008  Report this post
Kant I might concede. Wittgenstein got lost up his own verbosity a bit I seem to recall. You have to use language to describe the world but language is itself too impresice to do so, so that you have to reduce it to logic and end up saying nothing at all... Russell thought he was either a genius or spouting rubbish. Then you get Breton and the surealists using language to effect the antithesis of meaning in order to get to the absurd, Genet getting carted off stage to the asylum etc.

I think there is some truth in everything around us but THE TRUTH...I'm not sure that exists.

Enough of this philosphising. I'm off to study the phenominolgy of a cup of tea. :)



Of course that was Artaud that got trussed up in a straight jacket...

Elsie at 22:28 on 29 January 2008  Report this post
There's something gorgeously inside out about this - the idea that you haven't lost it through forgetfulness or misadventure, but not yet found it - but you'll know it when you do. It makes me think of the elusiveness of those kind of dreams when you wake thinking you've discovered something profound, but it slips away from you. And Ontario - I lived there for a while as a kid - in 1967.

Tina at 21:15 on 06 February 2008  Report this post

I know I am late to this and I havent properly read all of the above but this feels like a LINGERING poem - your thoughts / writings refelcting on places where memories lie like a mist - or are actively moving like a mist - I have been wrestling with writing about the events of the Jan 08 and the idea that we pass through these times but that the time lingers/ slows and stays with us beyond the linear. Does that make sense to you? Not managed to get very far with it yet - will post maybe but quite 'personal' writing - soemthing you have managed to walk the line of here and find a balance. It has a wonderfully backwards/ forwards feeling like you are teetering on a see saw of times past and future - of the moment and the moment lost. I particualrly like the last few lines - very enjoyable thanks.

James Graham at 19:19 on 07 February 2008  Report this post
Yes Tina, I think I know what you mean. I do recall in the past having a sense that things that were happening in ‘normal’ time seemed unreal - the mail that arrives one morning and that we have to deal with, or something we have to do next Tuesday. This is when we have just been through an intense time, something upsetting and disorienting. It reaches a stage when it seems ‘over’ and yet ‘not over’ at the same time. I’m sure this is a real perception.

When I re-read this poem having put it aside for a while, it does seem in an odd way to have no bearings, no location in time or place. I’m slightly disturbed by it myself! It wasn’t written in any kind of turmoil - far from it. The idea came to me simply after asking someone for directions in Paris, and it developed into a piece that tried to touch on different meanings of being ‘lost’ and ‘asking the way’. Maybe it has managed to rise above its humble beginnings. Your response seems to suggest that it has.

Thanks too to Oonah and Elsie. The poem is 'backwards-forwards', 'inside out', surreal, absurd? Good...it wasn't a waste of time then.


Tina at 10:08 on 09 February 2008  Report this post

Interesting what you say - maybe it is that I have been through a very disorienting time and that is how I am reading your writing - it is my ownership of your work?? Maybe?


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