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Viva Caledonia: Poetry by Tom Pow
Pasticcio of 'Requiem for a misspent youth'
and 'World inside'
Peter de Moncey-Conegliano
'Vanitas'  2007 Calum Colvin
'Vanitas' by Calum Colvin


female admissions

NOTE: In 2000 I began to work for Glasgow University at the Crichton Campus in Dumfries in South West Scotland - the site of one of the great nineteenth century asylums. This was the period of great expansion in ‘the trade in lunacy’. The Crichton’s – like similar establishments of the time - was an anthropological regime, hungry for knowledge. Patients were relentlessly observed and copious notes taken. This series of poems is based on individual patient case notes. The patients were all women admitted in 1839. Through the ‘objective’ prose of the medical staff, I began to detect the muffled voices and actions of resistance.



each duty commands its own song
this gives it roots in the instant

while I polish while I sew
I give growth to what I do


you can hide under the eaves of song

in the same way
the heart of a spring crocus
beats secretly in its green sheath


laughter too lends a generous shade
it will be received unquestioned     rootless as the wind


I am indifferent to objects     unless
I can act upon them     in stealing
a pair of scissors     in concealing
a silver brooch     I find something
of what I am
                      a thin ravaged edge
it is this
which I do not wish to return


it is not important that you
find me     I dance

from one end of the room to the other
I circle myself
till exhaustion claims me


I recast radiance
like a may tree in bloom



because you dig the garden
it doesn’t mean
you don’t think the sky will fall in

it’s only a position like any other

your foot on the fork
its tines smoothing through the earth


look at the dark horizon
or wait for the horizon to darken


who are my enemies

they have been as an army
will wash over the land

and leave some still digging

the fields red with blood
the turnips good


I have found a little shade
beyond here the world burns

you are best to keep silent
no one likes to hear bad news


there is nowhere to move on to
from here     no     I will not pretend
anymore     nor let you



home has lost our touch
and so is lost to us

these annual visits
do nothing

but prove the distance travelled
is too great


the dressing table     the cooking spoon
the light slanting through the window

we are not where they are     nor do we
see ourselves in them


the world too has lost our touch
so we are the least deceived
the most free to act     where we

see flames we will say so
where the world drowns we will not avoid it


our own bodies leave us


from secret hidey-holes we watch
them hopelessly embracing
their own exile



I watch

while the world punishes itself     it gives up
birds to fall from its sky     blossoms

to be torn from its trees     love
that it may be humiliated


the seas rage but they give up
                                    their dead all the same
forests eat light to live on in darkness


a tide will dash the limbs
from a crab and still the crab live on

waiting for a gull to find it


I lose no more

than the world loses daily     the tide
is drawing from it and I am left

a crab spitting on the foreshore


understand this     my only hope
was to become stone



how many steps in any direction
are to be trusted     the answer is three


beyond these three

there is an infinite number
of dangers which could befall you

nor beyond three steps
can you trust to your own innocence


for both these reasons you take
three steps with a constant mourning

as if you were a tree
with a wind weaving through its branches


it is well to know the world
over which you have command

a core where you can stand and say
what happens here is all I know


stamp out all other dreams


I will let into my world
three things     air     light

and the trapped sparrow
matron took a brush to



you make a bargain with the world
you say     I am not worthy of being on the earth

the world says     work

sew polish clean     read widely but wisely


you make a confession to your husband
you say     there are times when I wish you dead

he says     work

sew polish clean     read widely but wisely


in each activity you bless this house
but not yourself in it     the river

waits if only you could escape


a stranger saves you     you sit
on the riverbank to gather your breath

small birds dance on the sandbank
and watch the sea tide coming in


you want only one thing

that the world would efface you



to remain yourself     deny yourself


the world recognises a fire
by its flames     rather

think of yourself as a calm sea
that cannot be mapped     no one

will wish it harm     few will care
what happens under its surface


the trick is not to care yourself     to live
truly in the negative spaces

she does not even     she neither seeks nor -
she never calls upon


the world moves with you
in this denial of light     as night falls

allow yourself the murmur
of a prayer     it is your duty to silence

that ensures you will be heard


over the frosted bulbs of the earth

ruins         brevity         dust



lost soul there is a world
to be part of     all it takes is time


the accretions you have taken
to be your life did not reach

their ripeness in a day     how can you
hope to shed them in so short a time


if you embrace your exile
you will surprise yourself at what

can be so quickly lost     flesh
anger     memory     the storehouses

that flamed your life     you have bartered
their contents for this tranquillity


destitute of volition     free as a sea plant
you float with the disinterested tide


hold back only a small
mournful cry for the night and determine
that by your shit at least
they will know you



speak for me in a small voice
something indistinct that you might hear

on a forest walk but deep
in the darkness off the track     don’t


speak with understanding     if you do
you’ve misunderstood what I am


look at the moon through the branches

there is almost music as the clouds
cover it     then let it go


that is not the moon I’m looking at


neither are you
the one to speak for me     not even daring

to raise your voice in the darkness


I could tell you things     oh
the things I could tell you     but again

you would sift them through the grid
of your understanding and then

you would not be speaking for me


which is all I ask
this clouded evening     that somewhere

in the silence     there is someone
who speaks     with indifference

in a small voice
for me

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last update: June 25, 2007