' I came here at times of crisis,
fumbling for the camping torch
which cast a simple disc of light
on the row of coded snibs,
the swags of cable gone stiff with age.
Been there done it a million times...
There are many joys to be had from the splendid isolation of rural life but the fickle nature of the electricity supply is not one of them...
Here's the power hub of our home. It has a brain of its own and will selectively and randomly decide when it needs a break.
Major faults can be down to something as interesting as a cow rubbing against a pole in a distant field, or a hefty bolt of lightning which seems to give the fuseboard a fright and it just needs a little rest. But mercifully these outages are few and far between, because without power we have no bore-hole pump, and with no pump we have no water.
No, this is just a flurry of trip switch moments for which we can find no rhyme nor reason beyond 'gremlins.' The electrician has been in and checked everything, tested everything, rummaged through the cables in the loft, isolated bits that might be a problem and turn out not to be (that plug on the right) and when we thought we had narrowed it down to the kitchen ring main being overloaded, and spread the load around other circuits 'twas to no avail. Now we just live with it, keeping torches everywhere and the steps at the ready underneath the fusebox, it will be fine for months and then the gremlins start dancing again.
Jean Sprackland describes this corner of any older home...
'...the maps of circuitry, walled up in this house:
eighty years of cutting, joining, routing and re-routing
which sparked the place to life, fired it with jazz and industry,
spun the meter wheel and ran this whole machine.'
But the more I read the more I saw the analogy in this sequence of poems that describe the pain of a marriage break-up and a divorce.
When one fuse blows the rest won't work, that sense of inter-connectedness and the single malfunction that can impede the whole, maybe the trip switch in any relationship.
'By thinning torchlight I contemplate
the sequence of decisions, each of them binary...'
Binary a word freighted with twos, and pairs, and couples.
In fact this is a final switching off of the electricity before leaving the house for the last time..
'and the black lever, whose heavy syllable
will override them all.'
It was a while before I divined the essence of that, but of course the syllable is 'Off.'
The poem before this one Taking Down the Scaffolding a seemingly straightforward account of de-constructing poles and couplers and pulleys, until the final line...
'................................What love you need
to dismantle the structure you're standing on!'
...and then I realise that poem after poem shines a light, often into places it might be easier not to look, searching out the obscure, the forgotten or the neglected, dusting it off and making it fit for perusal and then triggering a memory or a moment, one that connects however remotely with something else, a tiny spark ignites another, and I have loved it. Built in alongside is a sure and steady sense of catharsis, of release and freedom...or progress towards something new and better.
A few poems further on is Supra-Ventricular Tachycardia. The human electricity of the heart going off on a frolic of its own. If you have ever experienced it you will know of this...
'But my excitable cells don't wait for the messenger.
they jump at rumour and guesswork. So the trip
and thud, the voltage spike -
That line break forces pause and perfectly mirrors the scary gap in the pulse...
'and all I can do is stop and wait
and listen to the fibrillation,
my own system arcing and shorting.'
Goodness, the unseen power of reading a collection as a whole and in the designated order.
Our electric gremlins have been back recently, not surprising given our weather, and we are up and down to the fusebox like yo-yos and I think of this sequence of poems every time I climb the steps and switch the power back on. To my knowledge Sleeping Keys hasn't won any prizes yet, I wish it would, but maybe that's because judges don't have six months in which to allow a collection to do its work.
Time well-invested, prizes or not.