Lifesaving Poems: Tania Hershman’s ‘By Any Other Name’

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By Any Other Name

First, he called her
My Little Aubergine

           as if she was exotic
           as if he was French.

You’re no cauliflower,
he joked, and she

liked it, his pet
vegetable name. But soon

it became Eggplant
and somehow, over

years, shortened
to Eggy, which she

hated, her skin
wincing each time

he called to her.
Then, he went

on a business trip
to the Middle East,

and returned,
a new word

on his tongue.
Chatzil, he said

they roast it there, it’s smoky, burnt, oh god, it’s so good

           and she could hear

from the way
           he rolled it
                       in his throat

           and she could see

from the way
           he did not
                       look at her

that he was already gone.

Tania Hershman

I had been at a thing. A good thing, a hard-work thing, not in the negative sense, a thing involving listening and looking and rechecking of opinion, of fact. A thing where I had needed to be on point for a whole afternoon, me, a shy and introverted man expending every ounce of energy pretending I am not so that others could say their piece and be heard. I wore a jacket, and promptly took it off, asking everyone if that was OK, suddenly hearing my father’s voice in mine saying the same at family gatherings. I am not sure they saw the joke.The meeting over, smiles and handshakes in the anonymous, corporate car park, we darted to our cars. And I knew then I was shattered. Full to the brim with information, chatter, the layers of my mind creaking under it, the crush of it as Ted Hughes called it. Brilliant, I thought. When he wrote that the internet hadn’t even been invented. What would he have made of it, I wondered. So I breathed and re-set my satnav to get me out of where I was, and wound down my window, and noticed for the first time that it was scorching June day, sunlight bouncing off everything, and wasn’t I lucky to be alive.

But I was still shattered. I toyed with the idea of the radio, but found myself choosing silence. Just the wind through the window and the riotous Devon sunshine, cars using green lights and roundabouts in a purposeful swirl that was at once calm and urgent. And me in the middle of it, expended, shattered, not even knowing what day it was. The miles sped by till I reached the edges of the city. Coming-to suddenly, I realised I needed to refuel my hire car, at which point the traffic decided to come to a halt. Hours, minutes (mere seconds?) went by, my impatience drumming the steering wheel.

Without thinking I reached for the radio dial, and there it was, in the middle of a programme about words and food, this poem in love with its own sadness, about, of all things, an aubergine. Which I knew would not end well by perhaps the end of line 2. The poem proceeded to fulfil the expectations engendered by its calm delivery of the facts, in the past tense, one thing then another, its relish of the demotic (‘they roast it there, it’s smoky, burnt, oh god, it’s so good’), the inevitability of its conclusion not for one second diluting my pleasure. Intensifying it, in fact. I ran (ran!) into the house and listened to the programme online, to be sure. When people ask me what good is poetry, what is it for, what can it do, surely there are more important things, I say: no, there isn’t, it can do this.

With thanks to Tania Hershman.

9 comments

  1. Rebecca Adams

    Dear Anthony — thank you again (hoping my earlier comments made it through, but I am a doubter…) for the wonderful poem of the moment – today, the Eggplant poem. But your essays – so sensitive, honest, nuanced, and wise – are as important to me as the beautiful poems you send the world. Today, your description of your tiredness after your seminar, so reflected my own feelings after either a day of trying to listen carefully to patients; or ‘running’ a workshop; that I breathed a sigh that let in the oxygen of ‘not-being-so-different.’ Thank you! –

    The “LifeSaving Poems” project of yours is so generous – nourishment and illumination.
    More power to you pen!
    Best wishes,

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you so much for saying so Rebecca. I really appreciate your kindness in taking the time to say this. You can find my thanks to your previous kind comments under the post itself. Believe me, these really make a difference. With very best wishes and thanks Anthony

      Like

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