The Museum of Truth, Nicholas Murray
The Melos Press, 2018 £6.00
The God Question
Getting God in or out of poems is a tricky business these days. Some of these poems are playful, but they pose big questions. The space where a deity might be, or might have been, is a haunting idea that recurs several times.
In a pamphlet titled The Museum of Truth, this seems only fitting, though the museum in that title poem turns out to be ‘a bleak and shuttered barn’ with no God inside it.
There is a devil in the opening poem though. In ‘An Appointment With The Devil’, this preternatural being is utterly human, and male: a jobbing carpenter, a plumber, a ‘boiler-man’. But this is from the point of view of a woman, and one can’t help recalling that the author is called Nicholas, and therefore possibly ‘Nick’, and himself a teasing threat to ‘the world of the unyielding’.
‘The Lampedusa Cross’ is beautiful and sad. In brief and plangent couplets, it commemorates a real artefact (to be found in the British Museum) made as a memorial for over 300 refugees and migrants who lost their lives when their boat was wrecked in 2013. An ‘island carpenter’ makes fragments of the wrecked vessel into
[ ... ] a slender cross
its arms outstretched
to offer comfort
to the wave-washed
driven to the shore
carrying their grief
like a question put
again and again
to the snapping wind.
That ‘snapping wind’ is not auspicious, but the question remains, and the paradoxical idea of ‘comfort’.
The same inquiring tone underpins ‘God’ on the facing page which begins ‘I cannot think now when our dialogue ended, / when we decided to call it a day [ ... ]’ The poem might easily have been titled ‘The reluctant agnostic’, but that wouldn’t capture its geniality, its gracious humour. It reaches no conclusion — which is the point. It seems to me a fine poem, personal and true, and resounding in an age of doubt and secular wavering. Let it speak for itself. Here is the final stanza. It ends, fittingly, with an ellipsis:
I cannot say if that is it, if the party is truly over,
if I must really pack for good and take the prints from the wall,
burn redundant letters, scribble out a forwarding address,
or whether ...