Sugar in Banana Sandwiches
‘Still something of the child in you’
she says. I find that hard to swallow
and blithely offer this half-deceit.
It’s less the sweetness of the thing
I like, it’s more the melting crunch
it makes of every mouthful, hidden
in the pliable cool mass of flesh.
And I thought I was out on my own.
The unfamiliar boy who cycles past,
his chain clanking against the guard,
dissolves in the rain and we three children
lie warm in our beds, folded securely −
gutters threatening with blown rain,
while a rusty sign rhythmically creaks
its years-old safe now safe now sound.
Sometimes nothing of my own seems new.
I push a steering wheel with a careful
right hand like holding a pen − like Dad.
Where my brother sleeps, his body’s angles
are the measure of mine. When I let go
with a nervous laugh, I hear the voice
of my mother’s father clearing plates . . .
So little’s lost. Even in the heat of love
when I’m most myself, I wonder what it is
I echo here in the flex of this muscle?
The press of my hand? Or who, before me,
has known the way my back has bent?
Or drawn these mouthfuls of air I breathe
to fill out these thirty years of flesh?
Martyn Crucefix from Beneath Tremendous Rain (Enitharmon, 1990)
‘Stuff with tomatoes, celery, garlic cloves,/ bake smothered in cheese. A bottle of wine./ Make a celebration. Make love. Sleep well.’ These were the first words of Martyn Crucefix’s I remember reading, quoted at the end of a loving Poetry Review piece in the early 90s. I thought: this is a man I can do business with. Weeks and weeks later (remember, no Amazon in those days) the bookshop rang to tell me my order of Beneath Tremendous Rain had arrived.
I turned to the marrow-poem: ‘From the heart, tiny green candles come/ bearing mute, in-turned, lemon flames.’ Isn’t that brilliant? Surprise and gorgeousness in every syllable. I was in love.
If you do not know the book, you are in for a treat. Every poem in it is a gem, properly crafted and deeply felt. In particular I loved his poems about the natural world (‘Blackcurrant Wine’, ‘Apples’, ‘Drowned Shelley’ and ‘Marrow’) and art (‘To the Painter, 1603′,’Water Music’,’ George and the Dragon’). Most impressive of all is how he uses what Don Paterson calls ‘the pretext of subject matter’ to talk about what is really on his mind, ‘coercive dreams’ (‘Water Music’) in philosophical dialogue with ‘celebratory hunger’ (‘In Memory of Jeremy Round’) throughout.
‘Sugar in Banana Sandwiches’ is a great example of this. It fulfils my basic requirements of a poem, to take me somewhere and end far from where it began, preferably enacting the ideas ideas it engages with as it goes. The poem’s phrasing embody what athletes call muscle memory, arriving at its thinking for me, perfectly fusing idea and action in ‘melting crunch’, ‘pliable cool mass of flesh’ and those ‘gutters threatening with blown rain’. ‘I push a steering wheel with a careful/ right hand like holding a pen − like Dad’ is exquisite, the unfamiliar verb of ‘push’ blossoming into that extraordinary analogy of driving and writing. Rhythmically it is perfect, too, ‘like holding a pen − like Dad’ ensures the image does not out-stay its welcome, linking it to the particular and to memory, neither of which can be argued with.
Poem after poem in Beneath Tremendous Rain achieves this effortless-looking blending of feeling and thought. If you don’t know it, you are in for a treat.