‘The Mystery’: a poem by Paul Farley

Photo credit: Urszula Soltys


‘Poetry And – The Red Egg’, a free talk and poetry reading with two award-winning writers, poet Paul Farley and scientist Tim Birkhead, takes place on Tuesday 28 November at King’s Chapel on the Strand, 7-8.30pm. Curated by Ruth Padel, Paul and Tim will share their passion for birds, birds’ eggs and the mystery of human engagement with them. Please register for this free event, with free wine, here.

Below is a previously unpublished poem by Paul.


    The Mystery


There’s a funfair in the small bones of my ears.
It’s pitched up in the deep olfactory bulb,
in the crosshairs of my eyes. It lights the marrow
of my leg bones, with a hoop for every year
it turned this park into a diamond district,
each slow excited stride from ride to shy
beyond the goldfish that would grow a bib
of mould in time, beyond the smell of straw
and caramel and two-stroke generators.
Even the big wheel still turns inside me,
though the thing itself is long since sold for scrap,
and every bulb blown to an iron-grey dust.
You must still hang there in the moving night,
unaware this blank machinery
is doing such dark work, until a slight
catch in the throat and shiver passing through
which we call déjà vu. A thought like that
can swing one of two ways: either you feel
yourself the very centre of all things—
the girls laughing, the cinder toffee, the bulbs
like hot rivets holding the dusk around you—
or you can feel the cold all of a sudden,
a mouse inside a town hall clock’s movement
frozen before the iron strike of the hour,
and all at once the fluke, the joke, of being alive
lies open and exposed, a sheet-steel sky
shutting the furnace door on Wavertree,
the spoke that holds him pointing towards nothing,
an axle groan rising above the music.
And so he hangs there in the moving night,
knowing the big wheel has to set him down,
a stop/start through each five degrees of arc;
that the man who took his money will take his hand
like any boatman would; but he stays aboard
a while longer, for one more go around,
and leaves me standing in an empty park.


Paul Farley

About Paul Farley

Paul Farley was born in Liverpool in 1965 and studied at the Chelsea School of Art. He has published four poetry books with Picador: 'The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You' (1998), 'The Ice Age' (2002), 'Tramp in Flames' (2007), and 'The Dark Film' (2012). In 2009 he received the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. His book, 'Edgelands' (Jonathan Cape, 2011), a non-fiction journey into England's overlooked wilderness (co-authored with Michael Symmons Roberts), received the Royal Society of Literature's Jerwood Award. Paul is Professor of Poetry at Lancaster University.