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#Afterhours Poem 3: 2001 | 11-Nov-15


Below is the 18th poem of the #Afterhours project in which I rewrite my childhood through British poetry, by writing poems after/in response to poems published between 1984 and 2002, from when I was born to when I turned 18.

In my penultimate year in Dublin, in 2001, a close friend of mine called Steven took his own life. It profoundly changed the way I thought about everything. And it was this event I wanted to explore in this poem. Click here to read the blog where I initially discussed this life-changing event and went about finding the right poem to rewrite.  

The poem I eventually selected was Pascale Petit's 'My Father's Lungs', from The Zoo Father (Seren Books, 2001). You can read this original poem below, followed by my own response.

My Father's Lungs - Pascale Petit

All day I have been shrinking
and my father has been turning transparent.
There were moments where I held his soul
in a little tuft of eagle down,
while his dressing-gown and pyjamas
glowed like clothes of light.
We've drunk two bottles of champagne.
I've begun to see the entire
fauna of a forest in him.
It's like looking at a glass frog - 
I can see through his clear blue skin
into his heart. But I'n no longer interested
in whether he loves me or not,
or if he really thought of me
every day of his years away.
I'm looking at those luminous trees
growing in his rib cage,
to replace his choked lungs.
I'm piercing his body membrane,
I'm so small now, it's like the skin of a sky
I can fly through, into his chest.
His breath is amplified all around me.
His lungs are white, shining
like X-rays in this twilight.
They branch in all directions
in a left and right garden,
separated by a stream.
His breath is separating into four winds - 
the white, black, red and blue
that make coloured sounds, and sometimes
an octave of pure silver
as I watch an upper branch
burst into a swirl of starlight.
The grass is red, and wafts my feet
towards my next task:
I'm gathering lungmoss for my pillow,
making a bed in his body.

Steven's Lungs 2001 - Inua Ellams
After Pascale Petit

All day I have been shaking
and Steven has been growing cold. 
There were moments before when he held my gaze
in fits of soaring laughter
while houses, whole ghost towns of lonely
glowed heavy in him.
We've walked past his coffin twice.
I've begun to see the entire
network of a hollow city in his chest.
It's like looking at a scorched brooch -
I can see through his dark suit
into his heart. But I'm no longer interested 
in where he learnt to loop a noose
or how, I want to ask why he called
everyone but me to say goodbye.
I'm looking at the radio transmitters
growing in his rib cage
to replace his still lungs.
I'm piercing his body membrane.
I'm so small now, its like the skin of a sky
I can fall through, into his chest.
His breath is the quiet that echoes back.
His lungs are dust-grey and glinting 
like metallic trees in the twilight.
They branch in all directions,
in two constructs of twisted iron
separated by a thin path.
His innermost thoughts litter the road -
the green, blue and brown scraps of wire
that aren't connected, but sometimes
an old pulse will ghost through
as I watch; a handful will
burst into a thin scratch of consonants.
The ground amplifies, and draws my hands
towards my next task:
I am gathering them into an answer,
making an altar, resurrecting his voice.

The project has come to a close now but please do still get in touch and let us and Inua know your thoughts - you can email or tweet us @wetblackbough @InuaEllams

The closing event for #Afterhours is on Thursday 26th November at 8pm at the Poetry Library. Tickets are free, but you should email to reserve your place. I'll be reading some of the blogs and a handful of the original poems alongside my versions. I'll also be accompanied by a the multi-instrumentalist, TJ Owusu. Please come spend an evening with me after work, #Afterhours. More details here

Read more about the #Afterhours project here

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