I put off finishing the poem a good while ago. There was a bit of a muddle in the middle. It needed plenty of time, and I didn't have plenty. I never have plenty.
Today it occurred to me that it's been over a year — it might even be nearly two — since I last looked at it. But the last line keeps coming back to me. Gotta be telling me something.
It's the last poem in a long set. A long set that I want to make into a book. It's ten years since my last book of serious poems came out. You can put things off too long.
I can put things off too long.
So I go to the electronic folder to take a look. Oh. It's not where I thought it was.
Where is that folder? I know what it's called. 'Find' comes up with four copies of a 2003 folder. Not the one I'm looking for.
But I'm cool with this. I'll find it.
Systematically, I search the usual places. My hard drive; the USB sticks I take on holiday; the desktop of the laptop; the Cloud. It'll show up.
Except it doesn't. Bummer.
The end of the poem is taunting me. It goes like this (the line breaks may not be right):
So now tell me, she says,
what you've done with my pearls.
This might not sound riveting. But I tell you there was a tricky back-story before those lines. A tale that was the last tale to be told in the bigger story of Mr and Mrs Philpott, who began in a Rialto publication in 2003 and might be finally at the end. Except I've lost the end.
I might once have panicked. But not these days. I know how things get lost. I know how to find them. (I know there are too many poems in the world already.)
I go to my ring-bound paper files, where I print and file every poem. Well, nearly. It seems I didn't print this one. Or if I did, I didn't file it.
But I remember putting the poem into the large file I'd made of all the poems. The WHOLE SET, which amounted to a great many pages. And I printed that file. It's in a perspex wallet underneath the mountain of books and magazines on the table beside the stove.
And this turns out to be true.
Except when I printed that WHOLE SET, the last poem hadn't been added. I might have guessed, since the plastic wallet is dusty. But at least its physical existence proves I did create a file of more than 80 pages. Because here they are.
But I worked on several versions of the last (and longest) poem. I remember this absolutely clearly. It has to be somewhere.
Two hours later, I can confirm the Pearls poem is not somewhere. It is not even in the back-up drive of time-machine-saved files, most of which could be jettisoned with impunity. I must have been keeping it in the Cloud, in the same folder as the book file to which it was to be added. I must somehow have deleted the whole folder, no doubt thinking I had a copy on the backed-up hard drive. It happens.
Nobody else has seen that poem but me. It might as well never have existed. They call it The Cloud for a reason.
Idly, I riffle through the stack of metal trays on my desk, where I keep all sorts of odds and sods. Letters, poems, bills, cartoons, pictures. I also go through them regularly and throw old poems away. But not this one. This poem is there.
Nearly three A4 pages. It's THERE.
It's not the last saved version, because a whole lot of stuff is horribly wrong with it. I fixed some of the muddle, I know I did. I'm not even sure it's a good poem, now that I read it again. Maybe I should end with the one before. Maybe it was meant to get lost.
On the other hand, one of the reasons for getting poems published (if you're lucky enough to be able to) is to save them from oblivion, at least temporarily. Or to ensure that they get lost in the right way, i.e. by being forgettable for most readers.
So now I had better help that to happen, if I can. It's time.