Crossing the Days by James Scruton


As a collection, Crossing the Days contemplates the nature of time, its strange hold on our language and thought. In the title poem, a child learns “big hand / and little, … the slow semaphore of days.” Other poems feature speakers who consider their own childhood notions of time, from the “rubber band I could stretch across the universe” (“Infinity”) to the perplexing math of “Word Problem”: trains at different speeds, characters whose ages added up to a number “somehow divisible by the youngest.”

Some poems focus on occasions—a wedding or anniversary, an illness or accident—that mark significant changes in a life. No less important are subtle, private moments. The speaker in “Wish You Were Here” jots a long-distance love note while listening to “our song” before admitting “oaky, a favorite of mine / more than yours” and delivering a final half-plea, half-incantation against time and loss. Similarly, the couple in “The Palm Reader” must temper their skepticism with hope, their past together framed by though not determining their future.

Indeed, loss—or the threat of it—ticks incessantly through the collection, and not just in the love poems, of which there are several. The self-deprecating speakers of “The Eye Appointment” and “Red Flags” recognize their humor is mere cover for their respective fears. And yet humor abounds in Crossing the Days, the poems taking the long view of temporal concerns, no matter how dire, mindful perhaps of the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh’s contention that “tragedy is underdeveloped comedy.” So it is that “The Last” can imagine tributes paid to the final rather than the initial birth in any calendar year, or make light of the ominous in “Listening to My Heart,” its “rhythm sprung by worry,” its “uneasy silence half the time.”

The poems here treat time as an element, a dimension, a resource, an unaccountable force of nature. Whether detailing a distant memory or contemplating a recent headline, Crossing the Days chronicles our own interests, past and present.

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