The Friday Poem on 21/04/23
We chose ‘Dead Letters (xi)’ by Carole Coates to be our Friday Poem this week because we love the way Coates revisits her childhood experience of making papier mâché, and transforms it into a labour of love, so “slime and dulled water” becomes something “light as leaves”. It’s an engaging and conversational poem which gently draws a picture of the writer’s relationship with the addressee, J, hinting at togetherness, intimacy, and loss. But it also leaves the door open for more; what is she going to do with those papier mâché balls?
Dead Letters (xi)
Did we ever talk about papier mâché? No?
Not in fifty years? Not in all our conversations?
Maybe not. But I did mention Mr Cuthbert surely,
once Lance-Corporal, teaching forty eight-year-olds
after the one year conversion made him “Mister”
in charge of chalk and kids and nature table
and yards of torn newsprint and water buckets.
His papier mâché slithered on the floor,
slime and dulled water. How he must have pined
for war’s simplicities.
Think of him and all the rest, teachers, dinner ladies,
Mr Steelwell (caretaker), the priests, the nuns, milkmen,
Mrs Garland trudging every day to early morning mass,
all of them, parents too and aunts … they’ve disappeared,
are now inaudible as dreams. The grown-ups –
that fabulous frieze under which we played
our small Homeric lives – removed from the scene.
I’ve wandered off the point, though, which is papier mâché.
A paint-stained bucket (the red one) in the kitchen
full of wet torn paper.
Mucky stuff. You wouldn’t like it, love. But tearing,
soaking, squeezing, kneading, pressing – is more
than therapeutic. I’m eight again and shaping
the pulpy mixture, slapping, rounding it in balls
to dry like cakes in the sun. Dried, they are light
as leaves and words are sometimes visible –
your words. Pattern is one and emphasis another,
words from your papers, notes for books written
and published long since, now become
P.S. You must be wondering what I’m going to do with them.