I am becoming a connoisseur of walking sticks
Comparing my own stout stump with the slender ferrule,
The harsh metal wand, or the pair of hospital crutches.
Not lameness or amputation, thank God, simply old age
And a condition known as “degenerative spine” –
Something between a moral menace and a washed-out weakling.
In the vicinity of the crank-house the maimed swing by
As I make my own slow way between sets of traffic lights,
Grinning a greeting grimly in complicitous courtesy.
My first was something much lighter, with a silver band,
But I had to leave that behind as my back shrank.
Sometimes I journey uphill muttering to myself
That bit of Christina Rossetti in a stertorous way.
There are worse ways of being a connoisseur
Than quoting Christina Rossetti, and comparing walking sticks.
I enjoy this poem for its lack of overt poetry-ness. Instead, Thwaite stealthily opens up the universe of a poem by giving us a guide: the walking-stick certainly stands as both image and metaphor. Also the crank-house stands at an uncertain place as an uncertain kind of place. I’ve known quite a few crank-houses; I even live in one.
I love the way Thwaite uses the phrase “journey uphill” as a segue into Christina Rossetti and her poem, “Uphill”. Using a walking-stick, expounding upon Christina Rossetti brings us to the neighborhood of mortality.
When my friend was dying I would bring her lap-top to her bed and we would search for a good steady stable decorative walking-stick. She (and I) too became connoisseurs of walking sticks. Her walking stick would be wooden and stout, with Celtic Victoriana engraved throughout. The handle would be brass and long and depict an animal–an animal with a smooth and long proboscis. An elephant or a nickel-plated horse or a chrome-coated jaguar. Perhaps a duck or a dog. A crook-handled stick would not offer enough support. And mount-badges!
“Grinning a greeting grimly in complicitous courtesy” I would find another page of walking sticks to covet. Thwaite’s superb poem brings me straight back to the time when it seemed possible to appease the menace of cancer by ordering a bespoke walking-stick from abroad. From Cornwall, specifically.