She dances to my
buffoonery. Her ringlets
giggle in my dreams.
Columbine – she knows
that we will always outdo
the sad white-faced fool.
I liked very much this idea about love and its different foolish faces, its concealment and expression. I think the message of his poem says something subliminal about human nature.
In real life, John Harry Burns found himself in the hospital after a mental collapse. He was one of three survivors who lived through the bombardment of Arras. He lost 200 men. Captain Rivers, suggested he should go out to Arras after the war and find the remains of his missing men. This is precisely what he did – with the aid of the Canadian War Graves Commission who helped him locate many of his lost friends. His daughter said that this gave him a deep sense of peace but he would suffer with appalling nightmares for the rest of his life. She said that as a child, she saw nothing strange in seeing her father hiding under his bed in abject terror of his dreams. Such was the way he had been affected by his experiences during the Great War.
My poem-cycle is set during the treatment phase of Mr Burns who is trying to piece together his disturbing nightmares. Poem 1 – The Bone Collector, describes these traumatic dreams, hinting at the suppressed psychological content in them - experiences of the Western Front are repressed in the lurid images of the dream that form a text representing his unconscious mind. These images form a symbolic dialogue that is split between the different levels of his psyche, this dialogue is really a monologue of unsolvable anguish and loss. In his dream, Mr Burns is trying to put together a man's disfigured face. The therapy is a way for him to deal with his obsessions and heal from his psychological wounds. I’ll quote the final quatrain and couplet:
… Obviously, there are many
variations, the pieces in a man’s face
go in a certain order, it’s tricky
to put them back together once they’ve been
broken. The human body is a jigsaw puzzle:
without a face – my dream is unsolvable.
… I must dig up
the relics of my nightmares, for each
man is a bone in the body of Christ
and all have played a part in his murder.
… pockets burst
the dust of tattered memories
dancing in the reddening sun…
the stasis of remembrance
is all that remains
in eyes holding distant places,
and the last gasp of air.
It darts randomly as if trying to flee a captor
but I will have it
for it is beautiful
and needs to be restrained.
Look for a way out,
Search for a way in,
with our hearts