Childhood by Richard Outram

Encore Literary Magazine is extremely proud to have permission from the executors of the estate of the late Richard Outram to present work by one of Canada’s great poets. Poems by Outram will be periodically featured here, thus helping to keep alive the singular voice of, in the words of Alberto Manguel, “one of the finest poets in the English language.”

First we gazed upon
Both sides of a gold disk.
It was quickly spinning.
We were the very light
That so became us.
And when it came to rest
We fainted dead away.

Later a solid silver ball
Was given to each of us.
It enthralled us completely.
Now the object was to move
to the true centre of it.
But always, as the centre came
Within our grasp, we found
Ourselves on the other side.
Then we were inconsolable.

And there was the game with words.
We were set to find the true name
Of an object flashed before us.
But when one of us said ‘LION’
He was horribly mauled.
And when one of us said ‘GOD’
He was taken away from us.

Next, a most elaborate game
With a curiously cut stone:
Each of the manifold of facets
Reflected our own eye magnified.
We had to number these facets,
But somehow, not one of us ever came
To the same conclusion twice.

Then we were presented with
a grotesque doll; a puppet
With a mouth that opened and shut
And no genitals whatsoever.
It moved on hidden strings
And some of us had to learn
To make it walk or gesture,
But never to dance.

At last we found ourselves
Upon an actual stage; with costumes,
Properties, intricate make-up
And above all, cunning lighting.
A famous mummer rehearsed us
In the basic roles and simple effects.
But everyone wished to be the Villain
And no one ever cared to play the Hero.

However, on opening night,
When the house, an animal sea
Heaving and shifting somewhere
Beyond the blinding footlights,
Roared with terrible laughter
At our first improvisation,
We realized at once the nature
Of our vocation.