Sitting With Friends
Today I am friends with the sunshine and the long, long time.
I am friends with the whistling of the man next door
and his uninvited music, which I’ve become accustomed to.
I am also enjoying a fleeting relationship with the shadow
of the jasmine on the carpet.
I am live-in companion to this dark wooden furniture.
Its heaviness and sadness comforts me.
And I’m on pretty good terms with this bamboo back-scratcher.
Alan Ginsberg put a back-scratcher in a poem once,
and now I’ve done it too.
But the little cross-legged Buddha on the mantelpiece
is my most steadfast friend.
He says he’s read the letter in the envelope I tucked behind his back.
He says he understands.
I am a friend to fortune any day,
a friend to anything that shines out there beyond the corner of my eye,
and friend to what may come out of the blue.
I am friend to all my dead.
I am friend to the late afternoon light
and have dedicated myself to the company of quiet sighs.
I am friend to these faded curtains with their mildew-speckled hems.
And I’ll be friends I promise you, quite soon, with a pan of
small potatoes in the kitchen. They’re waiting for me now,
salty, cool and white, in patient water.
An earlier version of this poem was published on the Snakeskin Poetry website edited by George Simmers.
“Sitting with Friends” is basically a list poem, and very simple, but I’m fond of it. I distinctly remember writing it. I was alone in the house on a quiet, sunny morning and decided to write a poem, although I had nothing in particular I needed to say. I wrote it quickly as a string of sentences, each beginning, I am friends with…
Pascal famously said that all humanity’s problems stem from an inability to sit quietly in a room alone. I’m not sure that all humanity’s problems are caused that way; being alone in a room can be mental hell at times. But solitude can feel fine at other times, and this is what the poem seems to be about. ‘Right now, things are pretty good,’ the poem says to me. ‘Your unspectacular life is deeply okay.’
It’s a corny thing to say perhaps, but the poem wrote itself. It’s nice when a poem does that. Take the opening line: Today I am friends with the sunshine and the long, long time. I don’t know where that came from, but I like it. Similarly, I’m pleased with the last line: salty, cool and white, in patient water. It seems right somehow,
It’s an odd, slightly surreal poem. There’s the bit about Alan Ginsberg putting a backscratcher in a poem. I’m sure he wrote that somewhere, although now when I try and track down the reference, I can’t find it. As for the letter tucked behind the Buddha’s back, I have no idea what that means! I don’t like obscure poetry, but a little bit of mystery can be good: hopefully readers can bring their own meaning to that line, or just leave it hovering, unresolved.
I hear echoes of poets I admire when I read the words again. There’s something of Derek Mahon’s poem, ‘Everything is Going to Be Alright‘ going on in there. And there’s probably more than a nod to Billy Collins. His poem ‘Aimless Love‘ is about falling in love, first with a wren, then with people and objects he encounters throughout an ordinary day. They are both beautiful poems and I’m sure their influence was there in the background. The final image of white potatoes in a pan, may owe something to Seamus Heaney’s sonnet sequence, ‘Clearances‘, dedicated to his mother:
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
What has been done in poetry will always be done again, re-worked in different ways. Poetry is a fellowship, and we all draw on the poets we love.
The image of a handful of small potatoes, carefully peeled, and waiting in cold, salty water, is one I associate with the elderly and possibly with the widowed. I think there may be an acknowledgement that I might be permanently alone one day and that it’s something I may have to come to terms with.
Clichés are usually a no-no in poetry but there are a couple of them at least in my poem (‘out of the blue’, ‘out of the corner of my eye’). But I think they’re okay here—the poem isn’t trying to be especially ‘poetic’. I usually use quite a lot of rhyme and alliteration, and lean heavily towards iambic pentameter, but there’s almost none of that here.
The underlying ‘feel’ of the poems is quite Buddhist. It’s about self-acceptance and a willingness to be with things as they are, which is pretty much what a spiritual path is all about it seems to me. On the day I wrote the poem, things were easy, and I was happy being ‘quietly in a room, alone.’ I’d like to think life will always be that way, but of course it’s unlikely. As Derek Mahon says, in his far superior poem:
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
Annie Fisher worked as a primary school teacher and, later, as an English adviser. Now semi-retired, she leads occasional poetry workshops in schools. She writes poetry for both adults and children. A combination of the playful and the poignant often bubbles under the surface of her writing. Annie is a member of Taunton’s Fire River Poets and has had two pamphlets published by Happenstance Press: Infinite In All Perfections (2016) and The Deal (2020).
An interview about The Deal can be found here: http://www.fireriverpoets.org.uk/frp-interviews/annie-fisher/