A final voice from a classroom of the past. Fifteen or sixteen years old, fifty-three years ago, lost like all the others, but as with a number of them, present to me in my own unseen movement between the rungs of time. In two poems Karen Briggs moves – for no more than a moment yet it stays – from child to adult; and for a moment too as I write I see what I have taken from a lifetime of teaching. Change has taken me on board. I have been refreshed.
In a word-work of art a change in perception is always on the cards. Hidden till the end or near it, at the same time concealed and revealed, in some way finally it takes over; and an aesthetic sense is harmonised and a mystery lingers. The economy of a poem takes us perhaps as close as we may come to what change can mean in the human dimension. Here two pieces individually and (fortuitously) together show us, in a simple but touching way, what art can get up to.
She was just a person at school. I was surprised when a report came round about her: all her teachers had to comment and virtually everyone saw no more than a silly creature. I had been aware of a quiet person with a certain sureness; and may have seen no more than that but for what she wrote.
THE FOUR-STROKE CYCLE
Why does this feeling suddenly sink into my soul?
Why am I sad?
I sit and look at the ceiling.
‘Today we’ll go over the four-stroke engine.’
The voice drones on.
Suddenly I think, People are dying in Viet Nam.’
Why do I think of these things?
I must concentrate: Intake, compression . . .
Soon the yellow rose will bloom.
What’s wrong with me?
I feel unhappy, I can’t talk to anyone;
That’s it! I want to communicate!
To be free! I don’t care about the four-stroke engine!
I just want someone to say,
‘What do you think?’ and mean it.
‘Intake, compression, ignition, exhaust.’
I am listening now, trying to learn;
But somewhere inside me I can’t help thinking,
‘Intake, depression, rejection, death.’
I have loved as no man has loved.
I have felt as no man has felt;
I have life and I give life.
I am life.
I was born and I have borne.
I will die and I am death.
I hold within me the thin
gold-thread that is life.
I can make or break.
I am thistledown as it glides
across the wind,
I am the devil rolling potatoes
down a hill.
I have given and I must give
All that is in me:
Such is my lot.
I was created,
I have created.
I am hated and I am loved.
I am needed.
I am woman.