A Commonplace – Deviations

As A Commonplace is a deviation in itself, crudely bending almost to breaking point the traditional manners concerning the presentation of poetry, so it comes as no surprise that independently minded readers might want to push the model a little further. Presented below are two deviations from the original text, by the writer-philosopher Will Buckingham. The first is his original ms and the second is a version prepared by Jonathan Davidson to show the arguments as footnotes. Other deviations, variations and conversations from, of or about A Commonplace are most welcome.

Borders’, by Jonathan Davidson, subdivided into twelve arguments, with twelve additional footnotes by Will Buckingham (Version 1.1, 11th August 2020)

One: They are bringing back the borders.

Footnote one: one: I am waiting in a minibus at Kulata, on the border between Bulgaria and Greece. On the other side of the border is Strymonas, where I will catch a train onward to Thessaloniki. Several years ago, afraid of strangers, they closed the rail border: now you take the train only so far. Then they put you on a minibus that takes you through the border-crossing to the station on the other side. Once you’ve crossed the border, you wait for an hour, maybe two, for your onward train. It is summer; and this year, I have made this journey several times—so many times that in the station at Strymonas, the stray dog now knows me: he comes to greet me, wagging his tail.

Two: So a night train whines to a dead halt  and in the blazing darkness of suspicion.
Footnote two: At the border, the guards interrogate anoyone non-white, anyone with the wrong passport. I look out of the minibus to the train tracks. They are bringing back the borders.

Three: uniformed men – just doing a job – thump  through doors and fill the corridors
Footnote three: I have always been terrified of uniforms. I do not own a tie. I prefer my shirts creased.

Four: with their orders and mistrust.
Footnote four: As they check our passports, I think about the stray dog in Strymonas station, how we are now friends. I think about the Cynic philosophers, how, dog-like, they were at home everywhere. I think about how they were the first cosmopolitans, citizens not of here or there, but of the entire cosmos. I try not to meet the eyes of the border guards.

Five: They are looking for the others, not you. 
Footnote five: the poet Athena Farrokhzad writes about trembling at the border. If you do not tremble, she says, there is no border, no crossing. I avoid the guards’ eyes; but I know that this is not a true border, the tremor I feel is not real fear. My passport is the right passport; and so I will pass over. The dog will be waiting for me, wagging his tail. I can get away with wearing my shirt crumpled. I can get away with not wearing a tie.

Six: But still, your eyes look to your shoes in need of spit and polish. 
Footnote six: An estate agent once told me ‘you can tell the calibre of a man by his shoes.’ And I looked down at my scuffed, old shoes. And I knew that I was judged.

Seven: You hope 
Footnote seven: You always hope.

Eight: they do not stop. 
Footnote eight: the trains stop, the travellers stop, the breath stops, the guards move through a stopped world, unstoppable.

Nine: They stop.
Footnote nine: there is no guarantee. Remember this: here, in the middle of the vast contingency of life, you never know when you will end up on the wrong side of the border that you once made.

Ten: You hear the hum of electricity.
Footnote ten: The tremor that goes through us in the face of a stranger. The thrumming pulse of hunger and need, the throb of fear. Over the other side, at Strymonas, is a dog who knows me. When he sees me, he will wag his tail.

Eleven: Voices demand papers. 
Footnote eleven: The dog at Strymonas needs no papers. He doesn’t care where you are from, how creased your shirt, how scuffed your shoes. He is indifferent to your passport, the documents you carry.

Twelve: And it begins.
Footnote twelve: The guards let us pass. The minibus continues over the border. At the station, the dog runs up, wagging his tail. I squat on my haunches and give him a fuss. I think of Diogenes the Cynic. How he ran round in broad daylight with a lighted lamp in his hand.

How when people asked him what he was doing, he said, ‘I’m looking for a human being.’

For a reading of this deviation click here.

Borders’, by Jonathan Davidson, with twelve additional footnotes by Will Buckingham (Version 1.2, 12th August 2020)

They are bringing back the borders.[1]
So a night train whines to a dead halt 
and in the blazing darkness of suspicion[2].
uniformed men – just doing a job –
thump  through doors and fill the corridors[3]
with their orders and mistrust[4].
They are looking for the others, not you.[5] 
But still, your eyes look to your shoes[6] in need of spit and polish. 
You hope[7] they do not stop[8]. They stop.[9]
You hear the hum of electricity[10].
Voices demand papers.[11] And it begins.[12]


[1] I am waiting in a minibus at Kulata, on the border between Bulgaria and Greece. On the other side of the border is Strymonas, where I will catch a train onward to Thessaloniki. Several years ago, afraid of strangers, they closed the rail border: now you take the train only so far. Then they put you on a minibus that takes you through the border-crossing to the station on the other side. Once you’ve crossed the border, you wait for an hour, maybe two, for your onward train. It is summer; and this year, I have made this journey several times—so many times that in the station at Strymonas, the stray dog now knows me: he comes to greet me, wagging his tail.

[2] At the border, the guards interrogate anoyone non-white, anyone with the wrong passport. I look out of the minibus to the train tracks. They are bringing back the borders.

[3] I have always been terrified of uniforms. I do not own a tie. I prefer my shirts creased.

[4] As they check our passports, I think about the stray dog in Strymonas station, how we are now friends. I think about the Cynic philosophers, how, dog-like, they were at home everywhere. I think about how they were the first cosmopolitans, citizens not of here or there, but of the entire cosmos. I try not to meet the eyes of the border guards.

[5] the poet Athena Farrokhzad writes about trembling at the border. If you do not tremble, she says, there is no border, no crossing. I avoid the guards’ eyes; but I know that this is not a true border, the tremor I feel is not real fear. My passport is the right passport; and so I will pass over. The dog will be waiting for me, wagging his tail. I can get away with wearing my shirt crumpled. I can get away with not wearing a tie.

[6] An estate agent once told me ‘you can tell the calibre of a man by his shoes.’ And I looked down at my scuffed, old shoes. And I knew that I was judged.

[7] You always hope.

[8] the trains stop, the travellers stop, the breath stops, the guards move through a stopped world, unstoppable.

[9] there is no guarantee. Remember this: here, in the middle of the vast contingency of life, you never know when you will end up on the wrong side of the border that you once made.

[10] The tremor that goes through us in the face of a stranger. The thrumming pulse of hunger and need, the throb of fear. Over the other side, at Strymonas, is a dog who knows me. When he sees me, he will wag his tail.

[11] The dog at Strymonas needs no papers. He doesn’t care where you are from, how creased your shirt, how scuffed your shoes. He is indifferent to your passport, the documents you carry.

[12] The guards let us pass. The minibus continues over the border. At the station, the dog runs up, wagging his tail. I squat on my haunches and give him a fuss. I think of Diogenes the Cynic. How he ran round in broad daylight with a lighted lamp in his hand. How when people asked him what he was doing, he said, ‘I’m looking for a human being.’

For a reading of this deviation click here.

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