Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: 33. By Kim Moore


I knew him when the summer was heavy with bees
and all the flying things were thrumming in the heat.

I walked with him once through How Tun woods
to find the path the foxes take, and yes I saw the marks

upon his arms, though I never heard him speak of pain.
I heard about the way he cut the steps into the slope

and strung lights from tree to tree to call the shadows in
and though I didn’t see him dig the firepit, and only sat

with him beside its flames, I carried its breath
inside my chest and afterwards nothing was the same.

Later when they came to gather in the lights and cover
everything with earth, I thought I saw him through the trees.

I never slept inside his tent but not because I was afraid.
He stayed until the long rains came. I did not know his name.

The act of numbering poems in the collection from which Kim Moore’s solemn and lyrical excursion into a forest’s shadows is taken, anonymises the objects of her scrutiny. For in All the Men I Never Married, the figures in the near distance are intimations of the sharpness of memory, of the narrator’s tangential relationship with the past and of the anger, regret, even relief, that memory may provoke.

Which is not to suggest that the mood evoked is deliberately abstracted - the poet’s experience of relationships is marked, directly, by the presence of abuse, control, aggression and complacent sexism. Moore’s witheringly honest account of her life is dignified by a sincerity that is even-handed: alongside the anger and the guilt, runs a powerful, and affecting seam of love that is sometimes counter-intuitive, experienced as it was, in troubling circumstances. Moore’s journey is never less than authentic.

’33.’ Is a beautifully rendered elegy to evanescence. Conceived in a prolonged and somnolent metrical arrangement that slows the pace of reflection, Moore’s couplets travel through a Lakeland landscape whose signs are Dantesque, as though set in a mythical underworld. Invested with the rich symbolism of a lodestar, the strung lights and firepit are guides through darkness illuminating the ‘heavy’, oppressive weight of a summer evening. If the terrain itself bears traces of the illusion, then so too does the figure who haunts the poem like a visitant. Intangible, palpable only as a representation of undeclared suffering, the ghost of a man who carries totemic ‘marks / upon his arms’ remains benign yet seductive, beyond reach, a figment defined by portent who vanishes at the season’s turn. Moore’s final lines are a masterpiece of eloquent brevity, a catching of flickering light against a night sky, a suggestion of unrequited connection.

’33.’ is taken from All the Men I Never Married, published by Seren (2021) and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.

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