Tuesday Poem: The Biographer at Fontainebleau

I came, by accident, the same
day she had chosen to arrive
at Avon station
eighty years between us
warm in clear October air
and as I drove towards La Prieuré
the limes were
lighting the Avenue like torches

There, all is gentleness
where Gurdjieff’s tribe
struggled to wrench
old lives
out of their patterns
leaving behind all
that had once been precious.

Where Katherine practised
declining Russian verbs
Her voice
‘I am, we were, we must have been.....’
whispering from the void
left by her rotted lungs.

Letters to Jack
described their future
of visiting New Zealand, driving
from the sea.
When she was ready, she invited him
to watch her die.

For five years I’ve inhabited her life
Moved through the old rooms
of her houses,
touched the fabric of her clothes
her books, her letters
always travelling towards this point
to put the last words on the page
the last full stop.

The cemetery’s quiet,
but she hated noise.
And underground
her bare tubercular bones
stripped to the final truth
have found their last identity
beyond interpretation.

It was Katherine Mansfield's birthday last Thursday - 14th October - so I thought a Mansfield poem would be appropriate.  I wrote this a couple of years ago, after a visit to her grave at Avon, near Fontainebleau.  It was quite an emotional experience and I hadn't expected it to be.  Looking at her grave suddenly brought home the sadness of dying as a writer, barely 34, conscious of what you're capable of doing and knowing you aren't going to be able to do any of it.  KM was immensely courageous.  She was constantly on the move in search of health and didn't get as much support from her family and her husband as she needed.   Her body was moved twice after she died - her husband forgot to pay the cemetery bill and so she was re-buried in a communal plot.  When her family eventually discovered what had happened they bought a proper plot and had her re-interred.
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  1. Kathleen Mansfield Murry interesting presentation about the novelist and poet was New Zealand, who wrote under the pseudonym of Katherine Mansfield. Thanks!

  2. Lovely poem, Kathleen - tender & clever, and a kind of wrapping-up structure. I really like it - thanks.

  3. A moving poem, Kathleen. That terrible nature of that lost potential rings out in your wonderful biography. How close you've come to KM. How close you've brought us.

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone. I'm still tinkering with the line endings. It takes me years to finish a poem!


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