Tuesday 6 January 2015

New poem: Footnote

He noticed that a name appeared several times in footnotes.

The name had, it said, provided some information. In another

place, the name had, it said, been present. In yet another, the

name had, it said, offered an amusing opinion. The name was

never in full, always with initials; the surname spelled slightly

differently - sometimes with an ‘l’ sometimes not. He tried to

find out more: he googled, he sent emails to people who

would have been or could have been mutual acquaintances;

he wrote to places where the name might have been educated. It

wasalways nothing. Polite apologies but no information available.

He began to doubt if the person existed. What if the name had at

first been invented as a witness in order to bulk up a a tenuous

proposition or serve as evidence to a story that wasn’t entirely

true? What if, there had followed, since then, a process of

quotation of quotation but authors had failed to mention the

middleman? Or was there a knowing joke passing between people

whereby, the name could serve as an available backup of the

truth of any old event or conversation: the name was there, the name

had seen it, the name could vouch for it? He made contact with

authors who had cited the name and received evasive replies:

papers were now in archive and he didn’t have time now

to pull them out; or, yes, there had been an intermediary but it

seemed at the time pedantic to mention it; the exact citation had

been taken from a radio programme which hadn’t been

preserved, and so on and so on. One said that she had met

the name as part of her original research. He arranged a meeting

in a cafe in Paddington. She didn’t turn up. He tried again. She

was in the midst of moving. He tried again. Her mother was dying.

He tried again. She had re-married and her husband preferred

her not to have contact with previous liaisons. Around this time,

he noticed in one book that a quote he had seen attributed to the

name was attributed to someone else. He wrote to the author. The

author said that it was indeed something he said and he had never

heard of the name. In fact, it was something he was quite proud of

having said and suspected thatthe name was someone who had

wished he had said it himself. Now the name seemed to be taking

on a motive: envy. He was bitter. Yes, that was it, he must have felt

excluded. And had found a way in by adopting the clever sayings of

others. No, surely he was the opposite: he acknowledged that deep

down he was the little guy but to be a footnote was in some ways a

big thing. Two footnotes was bigger. Three footnotes - massive.

Somewhere in a one-room flat, the name was sitting surrounded with

books and articles in which he was a footnote.