Kathleen Jones’s Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21

 
 
 
 
Born and brought up on a hill farm in the north of England, Kathleen Jones read law and then English Literature at university before specialising in early women writers – work that culminated in A Glorious Fame (Bloomsbury), the life of the 17th century Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. She spent several years in Africa and the Middle East – where she worked in English broadcasting – before returning to England. Her published work includes radio journalism, articles for magazines and newspapers, short fiction and eleven books – a mixture of biography, general non-fiction and two poetry collections.
 
Her biographies include: A Passionate Sisterhood (Virago) – an account of the lives of the women who lived with the ‘lake poets’, which was reviewed in the TLS as ‘a fascinating, marvellous, utterly absorbing book … the stuff your English teacher never told you’; Learning not to be First – Christina Rossetti (OUP) which was Doris Lessing’s ‘book of the year’, and a biography of Catherine Cookson (Time Warner), which the Literary Review described as ‘a compelling account’ of Cookson’s life and work. The reviewer added that ‘Kathleen Jones is a skilled and subtle biographer’. Her latest biography Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller was published by Penguin in 2010 and Edinburgh University Press as a paperback in December 2011. Her latest collection of poetry, Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, winner of the Straid Collection award, was published by Templar Poetry in November 2011. She is a member of the New Zealand online poetry group The Tuesday Poets.
 
Kathleen’s home is in Cumbria, but as her partner is a sculptor working in Italy she spends a lot of time flying between the two on budget airlines. She has taught creative writing in a number of universities and is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
 
 
 

 
 
“In these poems Kathleen Jones shows us departures and attachments, journeys and encounters; some come from an attachment to place, the mountains and lakes of Cumbria, others from the longing to be rooted in one place, and feelings that tussle with a passion for travel, new experiences and a fascination with the lives of people met. And there are also different kinds of departures, more personal; the breakdown of relationships, the deaths of close relatives.
 
In Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 the departure gate has a magical threshold, the past on one side and the future on the other.”
 
 
 
*
   
   
   
“All the poems in this hard-hitting but also beautiful book are good. Her language is spare, the words being quiet servants of the images”
 
– Anna Adams
 
 
 
“Darker poems … penetrating in their exploration of domestic tensions and responsibilities”
 
PQR
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Facing Elsinore
 
Tycho de Brahe (Astronomer) 1546 – 1601
 
 
Once he lived in Hamlet country,
Sorcerer’s Island between
Helsingborg and Elsinore.
And though the King has pulled down
his observatory,
Tycho observed everything.
 
I have written it down
as he told me.
 
Since then we have travelled like a circus;
myself the clown
and he, not the least
of the animals,
following the new star
that burned for two days and nights
over Denmark,
 
fixed
in his calculations—
 
unlike the Elk
who drank his beer
fell down the tower stairs
and died,
whose extravagant antlers
he remembered – every curve.
Or the bodies of women
and the poems he inked
on his own press
whose variable measures
he abandoned
 
for the exact constellations
of stars.
 
 
 
2
 
 
Such certainty is blasphemous.
But I have watched how he
translates the whirling heavens
to spheres of wood and brass,
rotates them at the turn of a crank,
notching their numbers on the oak
beams of his quadrant,
resting the optic glass
against his silver nose—
fashioned to a bridge
the distance of a bullet
that ended friendship—
 
something he could not calculate.
 
While he framed horoscopes for Queens,
flattered the Landgrave’s wife
with astral fictions
and quarrelled with Kepler,
his friend the Bear was stealing
his model of the universe.
Leaving him only
a new star, half a comet
and the mathematics of age.
 
His last eclipse less predictable than the first.
 
Tycho de Brahe,
who told a king’s son once
to piss off – forfeiting his pleasure
and thirty thousand shillings—
is dying of politeness.
He stayed too long at court
neglecting to relieve himself
until his body had forgotten how.
 
 
 
3
 
 
His brain, drowning in alcohol and piss,
facing a certainty beyond the measure
of his astrolabe,
remembers only Latin now:
ne frusta vixisse videar
“Let not my life be wasted”,
pleading as if he knew
his rival, Kepler, waits outside
for an Imperial messenger,
using his instruments and
writing a letter
to Galileo.
 
I am only the dwarf Jepp,
but I have written it all down
as he told me.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Glasnost
 
 
I try to pretend it isn’t happening.
Posing in front of Lenin’s tomb
for happy snaps, the fake smile
hides a mistake as big as Siberia.
 
Later, at the Stalin Dock
we sit on deck and drink Champanskoe
watching the sun set in the Volga
with no language to communicate
that isn’t compromised. The politics of love
suddenly incorrect between us.
 
And two more weeks in cramped quarters
watching the pine and birch repeat
mile after mile towards the Arctic Circle’s
clear, perpetual daylight.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Tempting Fate
 
For Annie Sutherland
 
 
She kept a broom behind the door
to sweep away unwanted guests
and sprinkled spilt salt over
her left shoulder for the Devil,
 
avoided the green coat
bought before her husband died,
touched wood and counted magpies—
one for sorrow, two for joy.
 
White heather on the mantlepiece,
May blossom always outside
red and white flowers never
in the same vase or someone died
before the moon waned.
 
Two teaspoons on a saucer,
tripping upstairs meant
something borrowed, something blue—
but never marry in black
or wish yourself back.
 
The year the clock stopped
and she put her own foot first
through the door on New Year’s Eve
she knew would bring the black-haired man
with owls’ feathers in his pockets
to steal her soul.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Appleby Horse Fair
 
 
They wake me early, cantering
along the river-bank below my window;
testy stallions and barrel-bellied mares
with soft mouths and feathered shins,
bare-backed by Irish gypsies
over for the Fair.
 
Later I watch the pure-bred
horses harnessed in sulkies
jouncing across the grass,
arching their necks and lifting
their polished hooves like gods
from old mythologies.
 
In my house their ancestors gallop
under the floor. Five horses heads;
ivory shells of thin bone, blank sockets rearing
up at me out of another time.
Shaman’s stallions, carrying souls to heaven.
Five white horses: one
 
to protect each corner of the house, one more
to bring fertility, sacrificed at the fall
of the year. Their shoes are above the door.
Their manes and tails pack the space
between my floor boards—
curl in the plastered wall.
 
Outside I watch them turn and trot,
hock deep in foaming water,
“broken to harness” under the whip—
flesh and sinew sold on a hand-clap.
At night I hear their mythic hooves
beating on wood; their snorting breath.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
An Emphasis of Want
 
For Christina Rossetti
 
 
There were no birthdays
in that narrow house
whose silence, curtained windows
and the senile mutterings of three old women
muffled the words
that crawled painfully from her pen.
 
Not surprising that she wrote of absence.
Two lovers and a sister dead,
Elizabeth Siddal’s suicide,
Lucy Madox Brown’s consumption,
Dante Gabriel thrust violently out of life
by laudanum and whisky—
and not one Pre-Raphaelite
at the funeral.
 
Not much like the beginning—
the dreaming virgin painted by her brother,
Hunt’s radiant Christ,
Madox Brown and Swinburne at the door,
Millais and Morris and Burne Jones
bringing embroidered silks and tapestries.
 
Too shy to meet the Brownings
and the Poet Laureate
she stayed at home
creating goblins in the notebook
Ruskin disapproved of—
. . . . so full of quaintness and offence . . .
no publisher would take them‘.
 
Italian sensuality corseted in black,
a tongue tied by formality,
concealed her passionate poetry,
erotic fruit, burned letters,
the home for prostitutes in Highgate.
 
Till, broken by the stress of flesh and faith,
the worship of a sacrificial God
who wanted everything,
she lay, eaten by cancer, terrified
she had not sacrified enough—
had kept back just one metaphor
too many, screamed
to watch hell’s creatures
obscenely cavorting on her bed
and no one there but the maid
to stand between her
and the death she waited for.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
‘To the Gods the Shades’
 
Inscription on a 1st century Roman tombstone in Hexham.
 
 
The wolf and wild boar wintered here
where Flavinus’ impetuous latin blood
felt the unkindness of snow
 
and the granite hardness of the Wall
whose builders he defended against
the brutal insurgence of Pict and Celt.
 
Days of cracked leather, blistered hands,
the horses’ breath rising like bath-house steam,
a northern mist obscuring the sun’s retina;
 
remembering the soft, olive-perfumed
flesh of southern lovers in the rough,
hessian coupling of Celtic women—
 
the wire-boned, woad-stained, spoils of war,
who worshipped alien Gods and stank
of semen and ambiguous politics.
 
Flavinus, Standard-Bearer to the Troop—
speared by the carved barbarian
trampled under his horse — killed
 
by the cold driven in on the east wind
scouring the Tyne gap through this bleak
border town where everything closes at five—
 
his final dread — to leave his bones
to winter north in the sour peat, covered
by the same grey stone he died for.
 
 
 
 
from Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 (Templar Poetry, 2011).
 
Order Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 here.
 
Visit Kathleen’s website.
 
Visit Kathleen’s blog.
 
 
 
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