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Night on Water

Seeing him was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning 
Coleridge on Edmund Kean’s acting.


‘Mum, are you famous?’
              with insouciant irony asks
my daughter, when one of her friends
says, ‘Is your mum famous?’
on the phone. That flirty incorruptible
compassionate eyebrow arches
at me and I answer, ‘No, just
an ageing hippie who’s had
a few books published,’ wishing that
either this or the fame thing were true,
momentarily, as she repeats my reply.
Later, she comforts as usual,
‘Don’t worry – you’ve got me,’ and I agree
‘Yes,’ as usual, feeling the old nervous
delight at that, think that if she has
as I once wrote, ‘eyed like night on water’,
there is also there the rapid glow
of fireworks on the harbour, remember
how once in a storm season when
the fences were blowing away, she
illuminated me from the bathroom window,
held onto its hinges to stop
it leaving as I gripped the fence sheets
together in the blinding, deafening rain.
Her torchlight and the lightning swung
wildly on my face and she called down,
sincerely and suddenly. Mum, you
look beautiful.’        I’ve thought
ever since, this the most powerful
thing that the concept of beauty can do:
glance into the heart of you, like her,
and keep you going.      I’ve thought the
concept of fame somewhat like that, sometimes:
without too much charm,
money or position, it seems to me
a vague modicum of fame, however
mysterious it may seem to others, gives
one enough currency to survive. But
there’s still no real security, except
            in some stunning
moment in practical tempestry when
one is seen as one would see, is read
like Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.

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