I have been down with a cold that is not sure precisely in what form it wishes to manifest and is capricious. Should it settle in the head for a while? Yes, but then maybe no, it fancies the throat and chest, then gets bored goes back up for a bit, can’t settle and decides finally to home in on the larynx. It’s very odd when you open your mouth and nothing comes out – as though someone had turned the volume down to zero. Calling from the bedroom of Mount Everest to the kitchen of the valleys below for a peppermint tea produced not so much as a squeak, and in any case the Other Half is also down with it and had his head in a bowl of eucalyptus steam.
At a poetry conference yesterday my voice had recovered sufficiently to read a couple of poems and it was perhaps fitting that they should have been read in a voice that was broken and cracking because they were grief poems. Reading in public gives an opportunity to really “hear” one’s work. I don’t feel, as some do, that a poem only really comes alive when it is spoken; some poems work best within the intimate one-to-one connection of reader and page. But some poems do reveal themselves most substantially on being read aloud, so I usually welcome the opportunity. It was also the way for me to mark a kind of closure, or the beginning of such.
A few years ago I lost two fathers. I think it was Lady Bracknell who remarked that to lose one parent was unfortunate but losing two suggested carelessness. Call me careless then, especially as both were precious beyond reckoning. The first, my stepfather, was lost because he cut himself off, without warning, from everyone he knew, at the insistence of a much younger woman who had a form of paranoia and upon whom he had come to depend. The story is complicated, my grief also. He had only, in fact, been my stepfather for about five years, but so essential, so necessary was the bond between us (to me at any rate), that I continued to refer to him as stepfather and he to me as stepdaughter, and I compromised the already difficult relationship that existed between me and my mother.
The second, my natural father, was lost because, as I’ve written before, he died in hospital after a stroke. But I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
The poems that came after my father’s death poured out like song, the only one I really wanted to sing, something pure after the broken language that followed the iron curtain cut-off from my stepfather. I thought the “singing would never be done” – but realised, three years after his death, that I had probably written the last one; that there may be more poems, but this particular song had ended; I had, as they say, “moved on.” It took the fragments of Sappho to lend me a form in which to swansong the ending of a relationship to the other father, still living but dead to any that love him. I didn’t set out to do this. I don’t do poetry as therapy (if it happens to be so, it’s secondary). But when I’d written it I saw that it was good and it was the end. And yesterday I read the poem, it was received and something in and beyond it is completed