The poems and drawings reproduced here were sent by Penelope Fitzgerald to her daughter Fina in 1970-71 when she was an undergraduate at Oxford. The drawings were inspired by Fina’s ‘Klee/doodles’.
The Father and the Mother
Here are two individuals who
have reproduced their kind
and each of them possesses both
a body and a mind.
They sit upon two separate chairs
they sit between four walls
and it was a mistake to call
The Kitchen Drawer Poem
1. The nutcracker, the skewer, the knife,
are doomed to share this drawer for life.
2. You cannot pierce, the skewer says,
or cause the pain of in one place.
3. You cannot grind, you do not know,
says nutcracker, the pain of slow.
4. You don’t know what it is to slice,
to both of them the knife replies,
5. with pain so fine it is not pain
to part what cannot join again.
6. The skewer, nutcracker, and knife
are well adapted to their life.
7. They calculate efficiency
by what the others cannot be
8. and power by the pain they cause
and that is life in kitchen drawers.
a word of advice, since the problem so seldom occurs, on
the problem of not being quite a jug, and not quite a person:
you can pour out your confidences
only into a half-pint mug.
The Two Lovers Poem
Two lovers are thinking of
Honesty, but never love.
The most important thing, says he
Is that we feel completely free.
At home at work outside in bed
Let us be honest, dear, she said.
But his darling and her dear-ing
Stop her seeing and his hearing.
They speak of uncommittedness,
They do not know they cannot guess
That he and she can never part
Because they share the same heart.
And in this heart is something live,
Like white-hot honey from the hive,
But what it is they cannot see,
Because they call it honesty.
The White Square Letter Poem
1. From time to time no letters came
addressed correctly. He
saw there was one which never came
each morning punctually.
2. The curious sound a letter makes
not falling on the mat
not white not square he thinks he could
give some idea of that.
3. The white square look a letter has
not coming not again
is like a square white drop of blood
that runs back up the vein.
4. At 9 at 12 at 6 o’clock
on Saturdays at 3
his white square letter does not come
A Lover’s Humble Request
Look at me
O solid she
Pity my transparency.
Arrival of a Stray Cat in the Poet’s Lodgings
1. The cat’s whiskers are as wide
as the cat from side to side –
2. – which gives it sound anticipation
in an entrance situation
3. if the whiskers will pass through
a hole, the cat can get out too.
4. Milk, pour, gas-fire, burn,
Cat and poet have much to learn.
5. He will learn to use discretion,
Pussy shall learn affection.
6. The milk pours, the shilling drops,
Pussy sits and licks her chops.
7. But she has not acquired a soul
and he is still in a hole.
The Record Player Poem
I am your record-player, your idiot companion,
you glum I dumb you gay hey! hey! I go put Don Giovanni on
you break for lunch I break for lunch I stop
I Beet lunch hoven,
and what I say I say the same the same the same and often
your loony friend is always here why are you vexed I wonder
you shout for God’s sake speak! I say the world goes
round and round dear.
Letter from a Creditor to a Poet
If you do not settle the enclosed account by the 23rd
I shall take away your power to express yourself through the living word
your light, your gas, your air,
your bedroom nine foot square
your lust your tears your choice of good and evil
your Biro and your refill.
Self-Pity with Everything
Grease is undignified,
On the back of the newspaper
Someone is murdered.
She was a dry-cleaner,
He was a builder;
He must have noticed her
Just to have killed her.
Yes, to get rid of you,
Someone must bother –
Someone must care for you
One way or other.
This is self-pity in
One easy lesson;
And if you need it, it’s
Yours with my blessing.
The Later Middle Ages
Look at me, I am a sign
of the Middle Ages in decline.
You evolve legs like mine
by natural processes
through entering fortresses
up spiral staircases.
An Invitation from the Poet to Visit His Lodgings at 87a Underdone Road
if you saw this house you might not feel like coming in,
but on the contrary, walking rather faster
but come, come in, don’t worry about the letters in the
hall, they all belong to people who were here last year.
shut your eyes to what you see, your nose to the smell
that is not quite urine, or Readycook dinners, or plaster.
you can’t call this house a tragedy, it’s not quite up
call it a disaster.
Late Autumn; the Prophet at the Bus Stop
The lighted bus towards him rolls
But ’twill not stop, ’tis full of souls,
And through the streaming glass they cry
‘We in you out you wet we dry’
And therefore through the streaming glass
He wet he cold he looked and said
And instantly it came to pass
That all the passengers fell dead
And there were 56 free seats, and 5 standing
inside, for it was the rush hour.