“These nights at home” is a series of seventeen poems interspersed with images by Keren Banning. The photographic images are abstract, lit, white textures on black with blurred, uncertain outlines. Since many of the poems are anchored in bereavement, the images are complementary. It starts with a prose poem, “Bindwood”,
“But as quickly as he stripped it away, the climber would return. Soon it had spread until it covered her lower body, so she could no longer walk. The man now spent all his days picking ivy from her, and soon the nights too. But, despite his efforts, it soon clothed the woman entirely. Only her face remained uncovered. He saw that the woman’s eyes were wet, but he couldn’t tell whether this was from sadness or through some strange joy. When he asked, she’d reply as if to a different question.
“The man continued to remove any fresh shoots from her face but he knew that his efforts were hopeless and that he could only fail her. He told her he was sorry, but she gazed at him as if from some far- away place and smiled. After a long silence, she spoke, telling him that in all their many years together, he had not, for the most part, let her down.”
The weed becomes a metaphor for a terminal illness choking the woman’s vitality. It also captures the sense of futility and hopeless her carer and partner feels for her and its impact on their relationship as the illness takes over. Both have deep, long-reaching roots and a reputation for choking or restricting growth of neighbouring plants but they are of different plant families.
“deep river “ looks at the after effects, the left-behind partner left to adapt a shared living space into a solo space and friends saying variants on it takes time,
“it takes two years
folded clothes still on the shelves
it takes four years
faint trace of you from the wool
there is a river that runs within –
vast, uncharted, rising”
It takes as long as it needs to take and there’s no right or wrong timing. It’s never completed either. Even when the clothes are removed, the memory of their being there lingers. The river metaphor is apt: it’s not just tears but the sense of those memories being overwhelming and uncontrollable. Another poem, “imprint”, reflects on removing a wedding ring,
the bedside lamp
it dawns again
A long-worn ring leaves a mark, even months after its removal. Like memories, mostly it’s unnoticeable but there are odd moments where it becomes noticeable. “Red” is more than the mark’s colour, it’s suggestive of love. The last word “halo” could be associated with ‘angel’, suggesting a lingering spirit.
A later poem, “Travelodge,” has the widower book into a hotel,
“I try out the shower, sprawl on the bed,
damp towel wrapped round me,
surf channels on the tiny screen
bolted to the wall and wonder
who I might call to tell I’m here:
a wanderer, sick of distraction,
can’t find my way home again.”
A damp towel isn’t for a shared bed and the sense of having no one to phone, or the person you want to phone not being available, is grief. Throughout “These nights at home” recurring images of a doors, shelves and empty rooms are reminders of bereavement. The collection is sensitively written and Keren Banning’s images reflect Alex Reed’s themes.