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Your House ©

Jim Hogg
Renfrew, Scotland

I pass your old house sometimes, in the car,
or walking with friends, and I sneak a glance
at the front door where we stood some nights,
or up the driveway to where your father
caught us when things hung in the balance,
or up at the middle window. The light
bounces from the pane, strikes a deeper flame,
fades and stars crash, heavy with memory,
and that gorgeous wound is open again.
Sometimes it seems there's nothing else,
except what should have been, but for folly
and currents that focussed my blindness.
But not often. The currents of life flow on.
I know where we stand, and why we're there.
But the threads love spun, wound around us,
won't break. We grow accustomed to their bite
until age weakens, or clears secondary
matters from the roads to the core of us.
Where you still stand my love, overlooking all.
It's no weight on you, and never should be,
and doesn't hang heavy on my life now.
It's the truth of a crowded youth where
clarity never showed, never played a part
and where, for all the sins of history,
love alone would never be enough.

The sharp roughcast has been painted over.
The old fence has been replaced and the doors
and windows too. All that lingers here
is invincible promise, a standing wave
I won't renounce and won't be thrown from
It's not a fear of forgetting now.
It's heaven, and a hellish reminder
of the heights that promise reaches,
of the heights we're prone to fall from.
It's more than that of course. It's an answer,
to endless questions smashed all around us,
that pale beside what matters at last.

I cringe at the songs that take me back:
"If you could read my mind", "Home lovin' man",
Dozens that know no bounds of emotion
From Elvis to the Walker Brothers
Ripples through time that converge and seduce.
The wonder that loomed and glanced off us
was more than worth all that was lost to us
-was as much you, as the beauty of it.
This is no simple chasing down of a lost toy.
For a boy without god or inclination
nothing matters more than the greatest gift,
the highest of all that life threatens to take.
It boils down to worship of the holy,
the love and romance meant to capture youth,
to steer it to a simple destiny,
and falter whiles, the blueprint breaking down
against the blizzard of choices waiting
to bedazzle or snare the reckless young.

I wander round the endless corner
of that village on the brink of the world,
mind bridging the years as you hover,
as memory tells it now of that first walk,
on a dark winter's night in sixty seven:
speed talking, speed floating through the old quarter.
Did I confuse Latin and French you asked?
Someone passed us then, barely visible,
opposite the old garage, and was gone,
And you and I, engrossed, walked on and on...

Our old school looms like a primitive force,
bustling with pregnant screams of new children.
I walk through another age, a stranger
looking over valleys of flowing change
devoid of signs of us. I superimpose
An older world beyond the rusting gates
And see a satchel on your shoulder
mischief run wild on your smiling face
and for a lost moment get the urge
to raise my arm and wave fondly to you,
to see you wave back, from there or somewhere
no commitment or small talk required.
A wave across the distance would do.

Your garden fence is temptation to me.
To stop and lean, to look up for your eyes;
to look over cool clear winter nights again.
When all that echoed were two quiet voices
vibrant with every shade of smouldering;
A few yards away on warm summer nights,
we'd laugh and restlessly pace around.
Cool was king 'til your scarf was set alight
as it hung round my neck. Giving it back
was harder than I'll ever believe,
as we held it, still smoking, between us.

What if all of it was written after all
and all that broke down was fated to fail?
Were slants of starlight the shaping force
Writing the future into our eyes?

You kept my letters in a drawer up there,
behind the middle window, fermenting
until finally they flooded your heart.
Facing the wrong way at that moment
I missed the flush-through into the soft blue.
I missed the moment of the end of longing.
I held you and beheld it unseeing,
Just when nothing else truly mattered -
though the tumult and heat of the circling world
was in my eyes; expelled me from our lives.
My fingers through your gypsy hair, you said:
what's wrong with us and the moon fell.
A bullet of silence ripped through the dawn.
It was on my lips, but I couldn't speak.
With sunlight just over the rim of the Earth,
It slowed and began to turn the wrong way..
Eyes closed, my head was on your shoulder,
my heart against your breasts, beating in vain;
dying from fear of the strength of my love.
And so began the retreat from love,
I turned my collar to its beauty,
as we sheltered in the arms of others.
I kissed her furiously to thoughts of you.

Standing now outside Milligan's house,
I get lost in something I can't break down.
Uprooted from the village to the coast,
it was the wind through the trees that called me
as much as anything. The Lost Road,
the accursed wood wasps, the old swing tree
and steam driven trains on the railway beyond.
From anywhere anytime I can clearly see
The trees bend before the surging wind,
And hear its lonely sighing through the leaves
A whispering song that reminds me to call
A number I can't forget

I was inside your house years afterwards,
sat in the living-room; you were gone then
but the house was you; the air was you
I talked and looked around, acting normal.
Breathing you deeply, gulping failure down,
careening through time to your father's voice
echoing from his chair beside the fireplace.
He was gone too but that chair carried me,
feeling so strange to be there, but so far gone -
you might have walked through the door.
I could have pictured it and made it true.

The wind and rain of the next two winters
weathered our resolve, and almost saved us,
though words were rare, glances less, and distance barred
the ambush lying in wait within us.
And yet, through seas of resistance,
unbreakable threads dragged us together,
- warm words of hope littering the pages-
to test the auguries of yesterday.
But deluded by youth I wriggled free;
sure-footedly dancing myself into hell,
against my heart and against my will.
You'd crossed the bridge to honour the pledges
of a million years of preparation,
risked one last flight to Jerusalem,
to hear them denied in a pulse of ego
by a fool on the verge of paradise,
complacent in the comfort of your lips,
pretending he'd have to think about it.
It was time for you to leave; you were right.
Disbelief bit deep into my bones
and settled there for a lifetime.
A wiser kid would have stuck with the truth

Fixing all of that love on you I lost
the breadth of vision that would have seen
a way to reconcile the ills that forced
themselves between us when there was no need
And in loss I made you my nirvana
the core that drives, to which all dreams tend
leaving me as blinded by the past now
as I once was by the future.

On the table there's a photograph
of you and I when time was only a word
when the future was an endless sky.
Now starlings gather on the autumn wind
and raindrops trickle down the window pane
to the words of a song you mentioned once:
it went, "I want you here to have and hold
as the years go by and we grow old and grey"
and other piercing simplicities
on which the world might have turned, or not.
And now they've cut me off at the pass,
the patient soldiers of love and regret,
like a jihad awaiting a signal,
as I look and listen too many times
to make up for not listening then
for not hearing what your heart was saying.
One more stone in the balance of blame;
the last of the bricks kicked out of the wall
of my proudly constructed illusion:
I always knew what I was doing.
I should have seen it so much sooner,
but turned my eyes and ears against the truth
beaten out on bells and endless circles.
And once beyond the bridge of ritual
family would be everything for you
-wherever heart or memory pointed.
I knew it like your number or your eyes
or the blinking that rendered me helpless,
from the moment I turned my back and reached
for the comforts I would always need
to keep me on the wrong shore of the river
I could never quite give myself to then.
Of course it took the falling of defences,
deferred so stubbornly for so long,
to fully value the cruel beauty of
all that I fell for so completely,
and that would keep you so true to your course.
This proud and bittersweet vindication
won't ever stop me from wondering
but eased the path to reconciliation
with this bridgeless river running between us.

There was little space between our small desks.
When you jumped up to declare your scores
your belly would hit the lid of your desk.
You were slim and you moved so fast,
and faster still at table tennis
when the ball would disappear between us,
blurring from sight beneath locked eyes
minute after minute, blind to the world
that one day would bring our game to a close.

The gap through the old hedge closes slowly.
Not to bring us together at last,
but finish the work careless words began,
to cover the traces I've worked to revive.
But all of it gets worn down in the end
overgrown as the planet takes its toll
As you and I fall behind the waves,
now that our children are so much older
than the kids who left Dunragit Village Hall
together, after dancing to Cracklin Rosie.

There's a certain headstone by the short-cut
through the bushes to the old Sunday School.
An out of the way point-of-focus now,
befitting the passage of time and lives.
From black marble cool moonlight reflects
an image of a man in the sunshine
out in the fields where he worked content.
I often wonder if I'll see you there,
at length, before the final calling in,
on any kind of day, any kind of winter's night.

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