Living is easy with eyes closed – references

The exhibition at the Old Fire Station in Carlisle came down on Monday 30 September. People’s responses were encouraging, so I am planning to look for other venues where it might be shown. Suggestions welcome.

Absent Gardener

Here is some of the associated reading matter, with minor additions.

Titles of mirror boxes:

‘Hope’s Eggs’ or
‘Pandora was here’

‘Flotilla’ or
‘Alice’s Tears’

‘Silos’ or
‘Ivory Towers’

‘The Absent Gardener’ or
‘The Legacy’

‘Rat Race’ or
‘The Delusion of Infinity’

‘Museum’ or
‘The Obsolescence of Posterity’


Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me

‘Strawberry Fields’, John Lennon

But also:

She needed to contemplate with eyes closed the full richness of what she had lost, what she had given away, and to anticipate the new regime.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

‘Pandora’s box’

According to Hesiod, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus, the king of the gods, took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. Pandora opened a jar left in his care, containing sickness, death and many other unspecified evils which were then released into the world. Though she hastened to close the container, only one thing was left behind – usually translated as Hope, though it could also have the pessimistic meaning of ‘deceptive expectation’.


‘Alice’s tears’

‘I wish I hadn’t cried so much!’ said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. ‘I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.’

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

‘Flotilla/ivory towers’ – belatedly I noticed the links to childhood memories of the Moomins (and even more belatedly to the Hattifatteners in their little boats):

Comet in Moominland p. 141
The moomins travelling on stilts across a dried up seabed to warn Moominvalley that the comet is coming.

Comet in Moominland p. 150


Comet in Moominland, Tove Jansson

Museum (sand)

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

‘Ozymandias’, PB Shelley

Hope’s egg

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

Emily Dickinson

A lament of privilege

The world is out of kilter.

Where now the compliant maids who,
gently and with grace,
tended our many needs,
wisely, and knowing what they owed
their fathers and their lords,
in gratitude for that paternal protection
from greedy hands and mouths that would
their virtue or their happiness remove?
Where now the dutiful wives
and daughters,
obedient, demure and kind?

They are gone.

And in their place are witches, harridans,
who refuse and demand,
and speak a constant tale of ‘no’, or
‘we will stand alone’, ‘we need you not’,
‘we are your equals, not your servants.’
Ingrates all!

The world is out of kilter.

Where now the honest labourers,
who worked our fields and nurtured our rich estates,
who knew their place
and gladly served our wiser will,
who ploughed and sowed and reaped the lands
our fathers gained,
discovered and enclosed by them,
and duly passed from son to son,
improved and cleared, to yield
such bounty?

They are gone.

And in their place, sullen and slavish,
loiter the scroungers
and delinquent youths,
who think themselves owed
some treasure of past generations.
They do not see the justice of our righteous claim
to grow our hard-held wealth
untaxed, unconstrained,
a fair inheritance of our fathers’ gracious state.
Villains all!

The world is out of kilter.

Where now the vast and brimming garden of the Earth,
endlessly opening its virgin vistas to our industry?
Where now the wide dominions
laid out for our conquering,
the wild beasts apt for our domestication,
the oceans, forests, steppes,
pristine and ever generous?
Where the boundless empires we claimed and plundered?

They are gone.

And the infinite world is turned tight upon itself,
a small, hard kernel, an involuted globe,
where evermore we walk old paths again
and trace our own innumerable footprints on the sullied ground –
the bleaching seas and treeless wastes
a common tragedy.

The world is out of kilter.


Misanthropy – blank verse

They are building fences,

where there were trees,

enclosing absence,

brash and ‘functional’, unnecessarily high,

with none of the beauty that might follow function,

just a barrier to the eye,

to keep in dogs whose highbred bodies cannot jump.

‘This is ours,’ they say,

this pile of turned earth, this parking space,

‘and we do not care how much our boundaries invade your space or shut down our view.

This is ours.’

With a closing, a turning of the back upon the world beyond the pale,

these wooden walls turn neighbours into ‘us’ and ‘them’.




Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts

(With thanks to The Dancing Professor for a reminder and a trigger.)

September pastoral

Warm September morning

The geese are back, noisy and disorganised

on their daily commute.

A haze lifts from fields glistening with a heavy dew,

and eastward, above a band of bright cloud,

the felltops float.

The hedge is red with haws

and, bright against a pyramid of tight black silage bales,

a robin pauses in its insect hunt,

poses, ready for its close-up.

Swallows and martins still climb the air,

swerve and stutter,

pin-sharp against the clear sky,

training for the marathon to come,

but the swifts are already gone.


Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts

Migration/Personal Identity – an Empiricist Poem (1988/2014)

Filling another suitcase and checking the weather over there…
Anticipations of a new beginning.
Who will ‘I’ be
there, re-located –

The mossy self seeps into its surroundings,
or they infiltrate.
How many transplants can it sustain?
How thin can its thread be stretched?

The risk of making the wrong place ‘here’
loosens roots.

Balanced precariously at a point of displacement
vanishingly small

But with the ramifications of passing time,
milestones like anchors, accumulate in memory.
A liquid, floating self emulsifies, nacreous,
coiled around the gritty concretions
of however many ‘here’s and ‘now’s.

© Fliss Watts 2014

Commuter train

(This short poem was written on a train in 2012. It might be seen as a companion to the story ‘Flight’, just added to my Short fiction pages.)


The carriage is full of private worlds,

waking and sleeping.

Filling the hot close air,

overlapping, not touching.

And out there more crowding, private spaces –

in houses, cars, streets… –

are separated from these sardine-packed empires

by only a narrow strip of unthought [reality] –

shrubby, twiggy, grassy embankment.


As the daylight ebbs and windows turn to mirrors

even that space is colonised by reflections of these reflecting faces.

Until the train escapes into open fields

and a streak of orange light between land and sky

cuts through the embanked mirror people –

a welcome sign of undreamt worlds,

free from mindedness.


Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts