‘If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon up its riches…And even if you were in a prison whose walls allowed none of the sounds of the world to reach your senses – would you not still have always your childhood…’
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Ennui wraps around Belfast like a shroud. In its seemingly perpetual winter, in the coldness that never seems to end, poetry is the last thing on your mind. Though Heaney and Carson seemed to do just fine, you are not familiar with this cold. You are an imposter. You are not used to finding warmth beneath beer garden heat lamps, not used to these icy paved streets, not used to losing every leaf by December. You belong beneath the equator, where the sun finds you, sets the trees ablaze and turns the leaves translucent, like a flashlight against the web of the thumb. You belong in the warm embrace of a blue sky, across the ocean, amidst cratered, winding roads, flooded paddy fields, moss-flanked dykes, and coconut trees.
This is the lie you tell yourself.
You already know this is not about Belfast. The truth is, you have carried winters inside you before you knew the feeling of snow. Belfast, if anything, is more familiar to you than your own hometown. You’ve seen ‘abroad’ in the movies, you’ve heard people sing about it, you’ve read Joyce halfway through, you’ve been here in your dreams. Because when you were young you learned a tongue that was not yours and grew to love it. You even managed to find all the right words sometimes. You’ve been searching for that feeling all your life. Soon you left home for that land in your dreams, in search of poetry and now, it has left you. You wake up in a room that might make poetry difficult. There’s the rub!
So, you go out and find love. You try your best to break your heart (everyone knows heartbreak makes for the best poetry), and it works. You sharpen your nocturnal ears to the conversations that slip off drunk tongues and stutter and catch against the wind; these morsels of stories. But the facts arrive distorted, the jokes punchlines missing. You do not know why you grasp at the wedding plans, the gossip, the food reviews, the worship, and news of the war but only the part where there never was a war. You lose track of your steps and return home starved.
You grew up so much these past few years, but you can’t help waking up next to yourself. You moved across the world, you smoked like you were the fire, you drank the night away, like they said in the songs. And yet, every morning, there you are!
This is where you turn inward. Dive into memory. Recall the myths that your grandmother told. Think of your childhood home, which is a poem that has been lying in wait. Old cassette tapes, the sewing machine and the rotary telephone, all parts of a whole. Irony was mixed in with the cement and laid over the stone. You painted these walls as a child. The old photograph of your grandfather; his glasses, barely holding on, like a metaphor, like a memory. And your mother, still waiting, for a call from Belfast.
But you already know this is not about Belfast, or any place for that matter. It’s about blaming the world for having to grow up. It’s about shouting at the words to mean something. But the words will hold their silence. You must breathe meaning into them. And this is best done when you are alone and contemplating that aloneness, when the compass of your solitude reminds you where the past lies – and also shows you the way forward. You know this course already. You are familiar with the world, as it is with you. Eventually you will realize: no matter how much you grow, or how far you travel, you will always wake up next to yourself.
And when you do, know that you will wake up in a room that might make poetry.
Akshay is from Kerala, India. He holds an MA in Poetry from the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast. His work appears in The Honest Ulsterman, The Blackbird Anthology, Press Pause Press, The Apiary and other vague, nondescript places. Instagram: @apparentlyakshay