I used to live in London close to a taxidermist shop called Get Stuffed, and I used to stop on my way home in front of the shop window and stare at the creatures there, and I became intrigued by their eyes especially, and how stuffed animals' eyes have that look that's both very dead and very alive; and I went into the shop once and asked the man behind the counter, 'who does your eyes?' and he looked at me and said: 'I have a little man in Wales', and that gave me this poem.
It can take days. The vision, you see, is vital,
without it, it’s nothing – a soft toy. Pass me
my eyes, pointing to an old biscuit tin.
It’s a kind of hunting all over again, with books
open, photos pinned, ready with needle
and glue. They caught the body years ago,
that was the easy part. But he speaks now
of a soul; what, for instance, did the creature see?
Moorland, scrub, veld, or sodden jungle,
desert, wood, the same indigo skies?
The man who fits the eyes has never left
his semi in Cardiff, but he’s a master of precision,
nothing’s too small, or extinct. Recently
though, a slip in concentration perhaps –
an upright grizzly in the Natural History
has the eyes of a man stranded in his front room,
the telly blizzarding, the fire gone dead;
a bison’s head looms out of a wall, dazed,
like a woman just woken, sleep crusting her eyes;
and a pair of monkeys stare out from a London window,
like lovers come to the end, at a loss
in front of what has been, what is to come,
deaf to the whirr and gong of the clock on the hour.
His eyes brim at night from all the detail.
There’s a tea-towel over the mirror and it takes him a while
to sleep. Everything’s always awake, he says.
from At Home in the Dark (Anvil, 2001), © Greta Stoddart 2001, used by permission of the author and the publishers