The Capsule – Peter Sirr
When it came to it, nothing we wanted would fit.
We stood on the road and packed what we could,
the tickets and music and sealable wit,
whatever we had, whatever thought good.
What we should have offered we couldn’t transmit:
the flare of a season, the sunlit wood.
We sent you the tomb, but the body had fled,
we stood by the window and watched the light flit,
we reached out to take it but wrapped up instead
the pages and proofs, the buckle and kit.
When you open the capsule and examine what’s in it
consider what isn’t; for all that we had,
as we fiddled with clasps, as we stood on the road,
when it came to it, nothing we wanted would fit.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Peter Sirr. I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t read any of Peter’s work until I came across him at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival this year. I’m ashamed because this poem comes from Peter’s eighth collection with Gallery Press and I feel like I really should have read his work before now – he is a great poet, but if my recent trips to Ireland have taught me anything, it is that there are hundreds of fantastic Irish poets that I have not read. I’m hoping to remedy this in 2016!
This time of year always brings a flurry of end-of-year lists of various descriptions as people try to capture something of the essence of what has happened in the past 12 months. Inevitably though, they fall short and sometimes the important things or moments or experiences cannot be packaged up neatly enough to make it onto a list.
For me, this is what this poem is about – the slipperiness of things that matter to us can’t really be packaged into a time capsule and maybe they can’t go on a list either.
Putting a pair of running shoes in a time capsule wouldn’t tell anyone who opened it in a hundred years anything other than the size of my foot – it wouldn’t tell them what it feels like to run through so much rain that the rain doesn’t matter, or to run down the beach with Black Combe ahead and the sea creeping further and further away to the left. There isn’t anything you can put in a capsule to describe this – even a photo wouldn’t tell you what it feels like to be both inside the body and feeling every niggle in your muscles and outside it, to feel the division between the self and the body, as if you are riding on your own shoulder.
I love how the poem starts – that mysterious use of the word ‘we’. Who is the ‘we’ and why are they standing on the road? There is a menacing tone to this poem, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is – it isn’t just the tomb and the body which is missing, and the obvious biblical connotations of this, it is also something in the mode of address – that not only is the voice of the poem speaking for another person as well as itself, bu tit is addressed to a ‘you’ who is also mysterious. I wondered whether the ‘you’ was a child and the nameless ‘we’ are the parents speaking. There is also something unbearably sad because we also know the ‘we’ will not be there to witness the opening of the capsule.
All the way through the poem, we circle around the slipperiness of capturing the important things: ‘What we should have offered we couldn’t transmit:/the flare of a season, the sunlit wood’, Instead of reaching out to capture the light and put that in the capsule, ‘pages and proofs’ are put inside instead.
This poem is technically wonderful as well – held together at the end of the lines with two main rhyming sounds – fit, wit, transmit, flit, kit, it, fit again and then could, good, wood, fled, instead, had and road.
The poem is from Peter’s latest book ‘The Rooms’ published by The Gallery Press in 2014. I really enjoyed the whole collection and would definitely recommend the book.
Peter Sirr was born in Dublin in 1960 and still lives and works there as a freelance writer, teacher and translator. His 2009 collection The Thing Is was shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award and won the Michael Hartnett Award. His Selected Poems was published in 2004. Thanks to Peter for letting me use his poem this week for the blog.
I’m planning on doing my annual round up of the year post in the next couple of days but I’m going to sign off soon. I’m writing this post from my twin sister’s house in Egremont. She has been looking after my two dogs along with her three dogs over Christmas – she manages an animal charity and wasn’t able to leave the kennels this year so we left our dogs with her while we went down to Leicester to stay with my mum and dad.
It’s been a pretty chilled out Christmas this year at my parents. I went running with the husband twice and have a slightly sore knee so had two days off. The rest of the time I’ve been watching T.V, hanging out with my older sisters and my nieces and nephews who range in age and attitude from grumpy teenagers who are too cool to talk or be seen with us, to ‘let’s play the yes/no game for the next two hours without stopping’. It’s been nice to see my older sisters as well and just to have some time off doing anything more constructive than hanging out with people.
Thanks for reading this year – this will be the last Sunday Poem of 2015 – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed finding them.