Sorry for the delay posting on the site … I’ve been running around at the beginning of the new year getting back into the swing of our small and beautiful youth clinic. I am so lucky to work there with those magnificent young people.
I’m also helping out this year teaching science at my daughter’s school … so that has concentrated the mind!
In all that busyness I smiled not long ago when an enterprising young student sent an email to the clinic asking me about a poem of mine she was studying for a school assignment. It was a great diversion in all that medicine to think that a love poem I wrote many years ago had come back to me.
As I was trying to answer her I realised just what a good question it was she had asked. So I thought I would share the poem on the site and her question … as well as the answer I attempted. I’ve changed the names around of course.
I didn’t hear back from her … so either the email is lost in space … or I answered the question wrong! I hope it’s the second one of course. I reckon I deserve an achieved at best.
To the girl who stood beside me at
the checkout counter of Whitcoulls
bookstore in Hamilton on Tuesday.
For ten seconds I fell
in love with you.
The first second we met.
You were buying recipes.
The second second we turned,
taking pieces of each other out of our eyes.
The third second we held each other gently.
Your skin was a small kitten playing with a curtain.
The fourth second we kissed.
Front gates clicked against our fence.
In the fifth second we married.
Your dress was made of Nikau palm.
The sixth second we built a house beside a lake.
It was never tidy and the grass was up to our knees.
The seventh second we argued:
about toothpaste and poetry
and who would put out the rubbish.
The eighth second we grew fat and happy
and laid on the ground after eating.
Your stomach wriggled with a round child.
In the ninth second we were old in the same garden
of the same house by the same lake in the same love.
The tenth second we said goodbye.
Your hand slipped away from mine but
seemed to me like something I could feel.
We passed again beside each other without turning
as though we had somehow only met at the checkout
counter of Whitcoulls bookstore in Hamilton
on a faintly blue September Tuesday.
Dear Mr Colquhoun,
I am currently writing an English essay about 'the complexity of love' and am using one of your poems, To The Girl Who Stood Beside Me At The Checkout Counter Of Whitcoulls Bookstore In Hamilton On Tuesday, in my essay.
However, I have realized that my interpretation of the poem is different to that of my teacher and we can not decide on which interpretation is correct.
My interpretation is that poem is a description of a life with someone. That each second truly happened and that the two people loved each other. I believe that at the end of the poem, Glen describes that the love ended in some way and that after the love ended (whether it was a divorce or break-up) it was "as though we had somehow only met at the checkout counter of Whitcoulls bookstore in Hamilton on a faintly blue September Tuesday." I interpret the poem to be a description of how love can be long and beautiful and strong, but also that it can end, and be as if it were never really there.
My teacher's interpretation is that the poem is about infatuation and that love can be fleeting. She understands it to really be these ten seconds a man met/saw a girl in Whitcoulls. And that it was him imagining this life with her.
I was wondering if you could read both mine and my teacher's interpretation and let me know which is correct.
Haha! How dedicated of you to track me down. And I reckon you should get great marks just for doing that!
And your question is a really good one.
I’m kind of not sure how to answer it really … but in a way I'd say that both your teacher and you are right … poems can be like that sometimes ...
I wrote the poem about a real incident that took place when I was a younger man.
I stood behind a young woman in a checkout line at Whitcoulls … and I just found myself really liking her … you know, one of those wow! love at first sight things.
It was such a nice feeling … but I was hopelessly shy and never said anything to her … she bought a book of recipes and I bought the paper and we went our separate ways … she wouldn’t have even noticed me …
I went home and the feeling of falling in love stayed with me and so I wrote about that feeling and how time seems to stop when we tumble into each other …
A few years previously my marriage had ended … I really loved my wife but things hadn’t worked out … but I knew what it was like to love over time and how things grew with the challenges you met together …
So when I wrote my poem to the young woman I was writing about both those experiences I think … taking my memories of a real relationship and imagining them in a new one …
It is a poem about falling in love and being in love I think … and how people cling to each other
I think now as an old bald man that it is also a poem about memory and how it is able to hold and create worlds …
And about how the past and the present are not so different and can both be imagined … don’t ask me how that happens!
I don’t know what happened to that young woman … I wonder sometimes if she knows there is a love poem out there that keeps floating around and is written to her …
I hope that all makes sense?
Take care, and imagine, be kind and I hope you live a great big awesome life out there.