Poem: “Referring in some way”

your body, mine – the field
of reference in no way a meadow

to lie down in, body-
to-body in the light of fresh
discoveries. Your field

is far-afield, neither enfolding
nor overlapping my unkempt corner,
my dream of you for now.

This is one of the Half Cocks, a series of fifty-word poems I wrote over a period of several years. The capitalised phrases at the beginnings of the poems are usually “seed phrases” of some kind, taken from elsewhere and then expanded on. I don’t remember where this one comes from, and it’s generic enough to have come from almost anywhere. So the reference is floating, unresolvable, perhaps irrecoverably lost.

A number of the Half Cocks are about dreams, and in particular about dreams of connection, intimacy (less often sexual than you might think) and reconciliation, and the feeling of waking from such dreams into a world in which the desired and (dream)-experienced proximity is lacking and seems permanently unavailable. Here the lack is explored as a lack of reference, a failure of the name or image of a person to maintain a stable connection with that person’s reality; in the first place because they are simply not there to be brought into correspondence with the token that represents them.

The gap between token and referent is reflected in the gap between “field” as metaphor – as in “field of reference” – and “field” as literal “meadow”, a place where one might lie down in pastoral comfort and closeness. (Although the latter is still arguably an image. I’ve never really enjoyed picnics. There are usually wasps). While linguistic reference permits many different “ways” for things to be connected, including words and bodies, the field of reference is “in no way” such a meadow: there is in unsurmountable barrier between the permissiveness of fantasy and the reality of human contact. It is only on the far side of that barrier that the “light” illuminating the scene can become “the light / of fresh discoveries”; that visionary dream-seeing can give way to genuine experiential novelty, rather than remaining transfixed by its own static images of fulfilment.

There is a sense of interment, and of separation as having been separately interred. The cue-words here are “far-afield” and “corner”, which in the context will recall Rupert Brooke’s “corner of a foreign field / That is forever England”. A different Half Cock poem has “clammed in sleep’s bathysphere you seek / conciliation amid disarray”: the dreamer is submerged, buried, “clammed in” or pent-up, incapable of action. The “field” is now where the bodies are buried, each in its own “unkempt” or untended corner, lacking even a shared place to “lie down” in. This is a kind of hysterical projection of the everyday feeling that the people one misses are living in a separate universe (Half Cocks has an epigraph from Geoffrey Hill’s “The Songbook of Sebastian Arrurruz” – “You are outside, lost somewhere”) and that there is no common “field of reference” that can bring these separate universes together. Even in death the disjunction must seemingly remain unresolved.

The final line is a re-ordered quotation from Auden’s, “Night covers up the rigid land”, which closes with the couplet “for now my dreams of you cannot / refer to you at all”. Auden’s lines imply finality, a dismissal: since the speaker can no longer “control the moments of your sleep, / nor hear the name you cry”, the addressee may as well “hurry to the fated spot / of your deliberate fall”. By contrast, “my dream of you for now” suggests that the speaker is tided-over by dreams, awaiting an encounter that the dream is felt to prefigure. It seems that the poem’s own internal critique of this expectation is not sufficient to force its abandonment.