Mike Barlow’s “Some Kind of Ghost” focuses on those seemingly small moments that nonetheless create lasting impressions and memories. In the casual, long titled poem, “There’s that scene in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest where McMurphy first realises the deaf and dumb Chief Bromden can hear and speak”
“and Jack Nicholson carries the moment – only a moment in the movie, a moment in which he doesn’t move while everything changes
and I’m away then to my own shifts and shivers, moments I’ve been stilled while the pulse jumps or the gut drops its stone. A missed beat’s invisible in quiet conversations where the something or nothing someone says carries a tectonic nudge
and you’re left with the kitsch painting on a café wall or a white Mercedes with a parking scrape along its side, irrelevant images fixed in mind by the logic of the soul, markers for a moment you suddenly fell out of love, or heard your own name in the third person”
The poem ends on the image, “moments run into one another explaining to yourself who you really are”
The moments that trigger memories of significance events accumulate into a life’s narration and explanation. Moments that others dismiss or overlook because they’ve not realised the import of that throw-a-way comment or gesture which has the listener or observer sent back to a point in time where something trivial has become life-changing. The exploration of these moments is not confined to the poet’s life. “Six Shouts for the Missing” includes,
Ella who finally left home at sixteen with nothing
but a pocketful of change and the rag doll of her childhood.
May she find the latchkey in her purse one day
and courage enough to use it.
A shout, a keepsafe shout
Les, fitter who didn’t fit chucked the factory job, his mates,
the lies and moved away where he could be
Lesley, shaven legs, coiffed hair, skirt and blouse,
the bare truth of lipstick and mascara
A shout for her. A shout for her.
Readers never find out why Ella left home with loose change and a childhood toy, but the narrator hopes she’ll find her way back. This hope assumes that there was love in the home she left, but happy children tend not to run away. It’s difficult to disagree with the narrator who wants Ella to keep safe, but I have concerns about urging a teenager to go back to a place that might not have been a home. The misfit Lesley is on safer ground, leaving a life to become the person she really is.
In “Plums”, the end comes after an uncle calls for his son who died fighting in Korea and dismisses the nephew who does respond to his call,
So I slow down, tip-toe the long hall to the scullery.
And there’s Aunt Dora washing plums. I knock
on the old plank door and hold my breath.
She’d always ignore me when she knew
I was making things up but this time she turns,
hands me a bowl of glistening Victorias to stone.
Aunt Dora is an ally here, offering the nephew not only something to occupy him, but a sense of solidarity. She knows he’s been rejected by the uncle and perhaps is carrying the burden of never being able to live up to the lost son.
Sylvia Plath once describe poetry as “moment’s monuments” and here Mike Barlow has created a series of monuments to moments that carry a significant weight. The poems’ colloquial tones and vocabulary belie their import.
Emma Lee in High Windows
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