For Mimi Khalvati
Why go? Partly because we had no reason
To, though, granted, Hastings's on the Channel-
Which meant salt air and, that day, winter sun.
A zigzag wing from station down to shingle
To take in the cold light and arrowy
Jeers shrilled by veering scavengers overhead,
Who flirted, razzed, then flapped and rowed away,
Our tentative footsteps fumbling pebbles, dead
Shellfish, kelp, plastic bits. A backtrack trek
To lunch should keep mild melancholy at
Bay, even if the loose-ends, fifties-flick
Ambience was was we'd come for. Or part of what.
Later, our huff-puff climb uphill for the ruins'
Majestic overviews, in guidebook blather.
One silver path across the waves to France,
And the long, incoming roar of faith from farther
East. (Or west: fanaticism's viral.
Numbing to think about the human cost.)
Sunset. Time to unwind a dawdling spiral
Down to the mall - where it dawns on us we're lost.
Suppose we ask this sporty adolescent.
"The station? Oh, no problem. Bang a right
Up there, then left, and on along the Crescent
About two minutes, and Bob's your uncle, mate."
You smiled, interpreted - but then you would,
Having yourself once been an "alien."
(The conditional of ironic likelihood
Is hackneyed. Stop me if I use it again.)
Transit to London as night falls. First star.
Abrupt flashes of interrupting light
Light up your eyes, your lips, your shimmering hair.
Friend. Nothing more. And Bob's your uncle, mate.
A rambling internal monologue of a date that isn't a "date," is probably the best way to describe this Alfred Corn poem. There's an air of defeat about the whole thing, starting with the season, location, and finally the narrator himself. A trip to the shore in winter can be lovely, but it's not exactly what one associates with romance. Secondly, the trip described is to the ruins of Hastings castle, where the Normans won a decisive victory against the Anglo-Saxon rulers of the area. Lastly, the narrator himself describes everything with a twinge of pathos, of things faded.
His descriptions are beautiful, but they never highlight the generative nature of anything. When he describes shellfish, it's in fragments, detritus, "fumbling pebbles, dead shellfish, kelp, plastic bits." He is a man who has defeated himself, from his descriptions. Clearly not from the UK himself, as evidenced by the phrase, "Bob's your uncle" (often said at the end of simple instructions) sticking in his head, the narrator is displaced as he follows his female companion, who once was alien herself, but not has presumably assimilated into the idioms of every day life in a foreign place. The last stanza of the poem is when he reveals his total admiration of her, but only to himself. Her lips, eyes, and shimmering hair lit by the "interrupting light" reveal that to him, she is "Friend. Nothing more." It's impossible not to feel his sense of defeat there. Whether there was once something there or not, we can never really know. As an internal monologue of frustrated love, I think this poem does a great job creating that atmosphere through its setting and tiny details.