unreliable narrators

Autumn. Jephson gardens. Leamington Spa

The photo above, taken late last week, shows autumn at its sunniest: all ginger and bright, the sort of day that tempts you to scuff through piles of rustling russet leaves, even if you’re wearing smart work shoes.

The tree in the next picture, with its red leaves flaming against the clear sky, reminded me of the burning bush.

red autumn leaves

And that reminded me that I have a poem – about a very different autumn mood – where my narrator gets her Biblical references mixed up.

Notes for a November poem

The trees are ragged with Autumn. The wind nags
and worries scabby leaves. I see the skyline fray;
black scraps tear off to become
a join-the-dots of rooks that threads
across unbroken grey. Virginia creeper
pours an oxblood waterfall
down the garage wall and yellow tears drift
under the willow. No still small voice
commands me from the prunus.
The pine trees fluff green fur and mist
purls over the estuary.

“No still small voice/ commands me from the prunus.” is presumably a reference to the story of burning bush (Exodus 3), when God speaks to Moses, telling him that He will deliver His people from the Egyptians.

But the “still small voice” that my narrator is listening for is an entirely different story: it’s from 1 Kings 19:11-13, when, after the great and strong wind, the earthquake and the fire, God speaks to Elijah.

When I originally wrote this piece, confusing the two stories was my mistake. Since then, though, I have re-read them and am clear which is which.

Even so, I think that it is still right for my narrator to continue in her mis-remembering. She’s listening for a quiet voice, not for the defiant declaration I remember from my childhood: “I am that I am.”

Which is a good time to refer back to the blog name: Don’t confuse the narrator. Just because the narrators of my poems and other writings say certain things or speak in a certain way, it doesn’t mean that is the way I think or speak.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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