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The Taut String

November 23, 2009

by Joe Hyam

Put your ear to the hollow stone and see if you can hear,
In the corners of the town or in the dark and lonely house,
In the country of your head, where unstoppable rivers flow,
The childrens’ prayer that you trust no more, but can’t forget,
In the nursery of the rhymes that break upon your sleep.

For you may fear the hidden voice that only the dead can hear
And the shapes that change and chatter in the cave of sleep,
The words repeated, counted off like beads, lest you forget,
Where in the country in your head, tides of reason ebb and flow
And flood the foundations and secret places of the house.

Words winged with messages so cruel you struggle to forget,
That multiply with tiny feet and gnaw the timbers of the house,
That destroy, with spells and curses, the precious cave of sleep,
That cackle in your ears all night to make sure that you hear
The cries of people drowning in the headlong rivers’ flow.

Cup your ear, though, to the stone, in case you should forget
Kind words that open and close, like magic, the doors of your house,
And promise treasures and relief, bring calmness to the rivers’ flow,
Its provenance and destiny in the estuaries of sleep
Where whispered words come and go, sometimes, too soft to hear.

“Ring a ling” the voices go with spells and riddles through the house,
What they mean you do not know, but still they flow as rivers flow,
Down in the dark, where it is cold and, therefore, you must forget,
The whispers and promises of love; or you will never sleep,
The whispers which you cannot trust, and dare no longer hear,

But dread, for they wander free like burglars in the house.
Whatever are they looking for? What do they want while you sleep?
They move the furniture and dance to music which you cannot hear.
Stand tiptoe and pirouette and hope that you’ll forget
How fast, how cold, how unstoppable is the rivers’ flow.

Again and again, in the same order, the same words, you hear,
In the stone, in the taut string, in the timbers of the house,
Carousing in your head where the tides of reason ebb and flow.

Download the podcast

Joe Hyam lives in Tunbridge Wells, UK. He was a journalist, but now spends more time writing poetry and growing vegetables. Every day at Now’s the Time he posts “three fine or strange things, which, day by day, give me pleasure, and which I hope will amuse and give pleasure to others.”

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  1. November 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    With the internal rhymes and the sort of nightmarish theme, this poem kept making me think of Poe.

    • November 24, 2009 at 6:56 pm

      Yes, I thought that, too! And to this American’s ear, Hyam’s accent and intonation made a perfect fit.

  2. December 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I find the podcasts on qarrtsiluni very illuminating – and this one is no exception, for me a familiar voice saying something entirely new.
    The trance-like quality is upheld by the sense of words which haunt and guide our lives. De la Mare, Poe, Henry Treece and Edwin Muir. I think there are links or echoes from these poets in this poem.
    Withut the pod casts we would understand the poets selected less and fail to enjoy them to their full extent.

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