The Barbican Centre, 20 Years On

English: Barbican Arts Centre
English: Barbican Arts Centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

I went to London recently and walked through the Barbican Centre on a balmy evening. All of a sudden, I remembered the first time I had come here, when I was still new to England and to Western ways of being.

Was it November or February?

We were down from Cambridge for the day.

Nights fell early, that I do know.

A few lost flakes of snow found us embracing on terraces

as we meandered through endless walkways.

Twenty years and we still haven’t found the play or entrance to the theatre.

How we giggled as yet another dead end loomed,

never thinking that soon

we would face our own

blocked corridors, no-exit wounds.

London, Barbican Centre at night
London, Barbican Centre at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We practiced our dancing by the lakeside, exulting

in winter dearth of its fountains

no parallels no metaphors

to make our ballroom steps falter.

Twenty years and yet

your hand feels warm

wrapped around mine, safety illusory.

Today the fountains are trumpeting water and sound

to fill hearts with peace, minds with Zen chanting.

There are still summer cadences to this September lull.

My life? Oh, turned out fair to middling,

not as deeply blissful as I once glimpsed

through our entwined limbs on narrow college bed.

So why do I stop to ripple out, retreat,

why allow my heart to drum out aching beats?

Barbican Centre fountains
Barbican Centre fountains

You see, I was hoping

that you too might never have felt such joy since,

such lust-laden satiety.

But now I think it likely

you have, and more than once,

it’s just me

who lingers on borders of might have beens

slurping in nostalgia along with daily bread

destined to mourn not be mourned over

remember rather than be memorable.

When they open me after death

and find the wizened heart of walnut size,

they will see your name folded in tightly

source of all the dry rot

killing belief in mumbo-jumbo of twin souls.

Once, when I was twenty, I was not brave enough

to defy conventions

and go out to meet my turquoise-fired lover.

And I’ve been paying ever since.

[This is very much work in progress, only a rough initial draft of the poem. But the impression of the setting was so immediate, so vivid that it made me cry and I felt compelled to share, especially since we were asked to revisit something painful at dVerse Poets today. I’m off to read what others have written about, why don’t you join me?]

34 thoughts on “The Barbican Centre, 20 Years On”

  1. Love it! Do you know, after nearly 20 years in the UK (tomorrow, in fact, watch for my little self-indulgent post), it’s only very recently that I took a stroll through the Barbican, and I was absolutely enchanted. It was like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, some kind of Utopia. Crowded with windows and flats, yet serene in its emptiness. Concrete, yet organic (in places). Strangely fascinating. Great post and great poem, thanks!

    1. It’s a great place to get lost in; such a contrast between old and new, hard slabs and flowing water or plants. Look forward to reading your post about 20 years in the UK!

    1. Who’d have thought I would be triggering so many personal memories? Thank you for sharing. Somebody else told me on Twitter that her younger sister very nearly got born there during a theatre performance.

  2. Marina, that sense of not quite all you had envisioned, settling — so palpable. I love all the “parallels and metaphors” in this piece. So, so gorgeous.

  3. When they open me after death
    and find the wizened heart of walnut size,
    they will see your name folded in tightly
    source of all the dry rot

    It would be nice to have that new love feeling remain through the years, but love evolves like everything else.

    1. And of course we always think that the ‘one who got away’, the one that we never had time to get disenchanted with, would somehow have brought that perfection or bliss to our lives… when really it’s just us and how we choose to view things.

  4. I loved the feeling of nostalgia, as other people have already commented. It is so wonderful to be able to look back on young love as you have here. Your poem makes me yearn for it once again! Sigh.

  5. We all have some visions of our future but it doesn’t turn out to be the same very often. Beautiful writing. I loved the nostalgia in your words… and that bit- ‘remember rather than be memorable’.

    1. You are so sweet. It’s too direct in its present incarnation, it needs to tell the truth, but tell it slant, right? But I just wanted to capture this feeling while it was fresh and surprising (to me, after all these years).

  6. Sometimes a draft written ditectly from the heart is worth a 1000 poems rewritten and edited.. this is such a case… very good. I felt more regret and what could have been than nostalgia actually… but maybe I read it differently.

  7. I like the transition from seeing the Barbizon (I never found the door either??) and meandering through that part of London (how I love it, too so I pretended I was spying on a couple twenty years back (my first trip in ’92) as I got lost so many times and wound up walking the length of the Strand) to the new encounter, the possible rekindling of something lost, and then the realization that it had been a one way day dream. Very satisfactory. I enjoyed it a lot.

    1. It was in 1992/93 (if I could only figure out if it was November or February), and you describe it so well! Thank you for your comments – this is a very personal poem, so I felt a bit queasy about sharing it.

    1. Of course the rational mind tells you these regrets are pointless, but ah, the heart…! Thank you (and incidentally, I’ve noticed you’re quite the Audrey Hepburn fan as well. Do you know, I now live close to Tolochenaz, the house she spent the last years of her life?)

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