Merryn Williams is moved by the celebrations of lives of past and present friends in Pat Buik’s latest chapbook.

pat buikFamiliar Ghosts
Pat Buik
Chaos Press (Stable Cottage, Horns Hill, Hawkhurst, Kent TN18 4XG)
ISBN 978-0-947685-49-2
48 pp   no price quoted


Pat Buik’s slim booklet is a celebration of friendship, dedicated to ‘past and present friends’, and is written from the country of old age, when so many of the people you valued are not around. The first, and one of the best poems, ‘Bring out your dead’, sets the tone:

Who is clamouring to come out?
Grandfather, mother, child next door?
Who sits at the back of your throat?

Judy, who won’t be here for Christmas?
Is it the hooded child in the dream?
Jeremy? Fair-haired Nicholas?

The dead get heavier every year
carted around in ageing brains –
bring them out, tier by tier

give them memory’s resurrection
ask blessings for your pilgrimage
then blow them away like dandelion

so you can sing a living song
of light reflected on the sea
of here and now where you belong.

Yes, human life does sometimes seem as fragile as a dandelion clock, and the image of the dead getting heavier each year is superb. Pat’s memories go back to before the war when, it seems, she was an evacuee. People did that, disappeared in war, she remarks. ‘War story’ quietly points out that, for those who actually know something about violence, the television which their grandchildren watch, and which celebrates cultures of aggression is obscene. The child Nicholas reappears in ‘Photographs of the Obstacle Race’; terminally ill, he crawls under a rug with the other children and does not come out again.

I didn’t find it at all depressing. What is the use of being a poet, after all, if you cannot celebrate the lives that are gone? The Guardian series ‘Other Lives’ has the right idea; innumerable people who are not famous still make a real contribution and are achingly missed. Pat memorialises ancestors, a husband, a daughter-in-law, a friend who was another sharer of memories. ‘The day my sister was born’ shares one memory of a day that changed her life forever:

Was it a day of London fog, or did the sun
shine outside the high window? The day itself
didn’t merit recall, snug in bed with a cold,
only the fact, more amazing than stars or moon.

I love the ending – that strange day/before the shortest day in the northern hemisphere.

‘Warrior’ is about old age, when every day is a civil war to regain control of mobility and of once familiar words. The book ends with a slightly sinister poem, ‘Jigsaw’, which reminds us that, one day, the last piece will be fitted into all of our lives.

 .                                                                                                         Merryn Williams