Rousseau’s Moustache, LesleyMay Miller
Red Squirrel Press, 2021 £6.00
Trusting the poem
One particular poem — ‘Framed Memory’ — has stayed with me vividly after reading this collection and I keep thinking about why that is.
In the poem, a man has a miniature painting of someone he loves ‘pinned to the back of his jacket lapel’ and
Each time he touches its gold frame
he sees a south-facing garden,
ripe strawberries, blackcurrants
and raspberries. Someone
is placing a cream jug and two bowls
on a table under a walnut tree.
That’s it. The man’s identity and the identity of his ‘hidden love’ aren’t revealed and there’s no way to identify the specific ‘south-facing garden’ that contains ‘a walnut tree’.
The only time frame is that (being a memory) the south-facing garden exists somewhere in the past, and the ‘placing a cream jug and two bowls / on a table’ perhaps occurs in late summer — that’s presuming the currants and berries have been picked in the garden where they’re about to be eaten. Yes, the image is a painted one and not an electronic one kept on a mobile phone, but that may reveal more about the proclivities of the man than about the time setting.
By revealing so little, including whether it’s a woman or a man whose image is captured in ‘This single eye / a miniature painting’, the poem honours the relationship. It doesn’t judge or preach; it just shows a man remembering and not wanting to forget.
The love is what’s important, not whether the person died, the relationship was adulterous or ended acrimoniously. The love is laid out in the poem like the things — the abundance of late summer — being put on the table.
It would have been easy for the poem to scream all the details, to reveal all like a tabloid newspaper. How much harder, but kinder and more dignified, to respect the privacy of the man and his ‘hidden-love’.
This poem honours and accepts the right for anyone to have and cherish a hidden love — for a person, an animal, a place. This is a true confidant of a poem. A poem I am inclined to trust.