on nomenclature

father knew his place
it was near the north gate
of the auxiliary winter capital
in the quarter of the middling sort

I climbed it for both of us
the mountain of graduated merit
to the thud of plummeting bodies
I examined away my youth
in the hall of indelible nightmares
to the accompaniment of terminal sobbing
then it was farewell happy father

my first posting was an assistantship
in the region of windswept borders
where I gave good calligraphy
in the third war of pointless encroachment

later in the capital
I enjoyed prestigious posts
keeper of the library of unlearned lessons
and later the first curator
of the burnt library museum
yes interesting times

when I was installed on
the committee of unthinkable thoughts
under the prince with the bees in his bonnet
a new title seemed to beckon me
till all that free-form thinking
triggered the great autumn purge
resulting in five uncomfortable days
in the chamber of extruded truth
before a ceremony-free award
of the brown fan of early retirement
second class

where I live now
the locals will direct you to
the famous mountain hut
of the retired administrator
but I’m always careful to point out
it’s really just my dwelling
that I’ve haven’t got round
to calling anything fancy
and my garden is not defined
by willows or chrysanthemums
or that big mountain it clings to

what I’ve learned I think is
how everything under language
slips and slides and bites
and how in the end
language makes its excuses
and leaves for the beach
where every wave is new and gone

and I sit late
night rises from the valley
and one by one the lights come on
like memories and stay
wavering like memories

and later one by one go out
like names

by Alasdair Paterson

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Copyright © Alasdair Paterson, 2010. ‘on nomenclature’ is taken from the volume On the Governing of Empires by Alasdair Paterson, published by Shearsman Books, 2010. It is reprinted here by permission of Shearsman Books.

Notes courtesy of Shearsman Books:

Alasdair Paterson was born in Edinburgh and now lives in Exeter. He won an Eric Gregory Award for his poetry in 1976; On the Governing of Empires is his first collection for more than 20 years. The intervening time was spent directing the work of academic libraries in Britain and Ireland, and travelling to Samarkand, Salonika, Stamboul, Siberia, Swaziland, San Francisco, Sidmouth and many other places not beginning with an S. You can read more selections from his latest volume here and here, and keep up with him via his blog, ‘return of the crane’, here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

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