Sunday, April 29, 2012

If not, August*

There is nothing to discuss because, basically: the interesting things are not up for discussion, the things that might be up for discussion are not interesting and the rain it raineth every day, which we apparently need and you surely don't want to listen to me talking about the weather, so the rain is not up for discussion.  When I am writing, it is either going well or badly and if well then one doesn't want to jinx it saying so (this does happen, believe me), and if going badly one doesn't want to lend weight to the fact.  So the Writing is not up for discussion.  My aches and pains really should be up for discussion but not, dear reader, with you.

But this: I ordered a book from Amazon recently - a book of poems by an author I came across years ago in the first of Neil Astley's marvellous anthologies, Staying Alive.  I kept going back to the poem, really a whole sequence, and promising myself that I would get something of hers.  So finally I did, even though her collection is no longer in print.  But on Amazon everything is possible, especially if you are prepared to fork out £17.99 for a battered ex-libris copy.  It was spoiled with unsightly stickers, one revealing that it had been bought in one of those sales that libraries sometimes have when they want to sell off old stock, and the spine was all stiff with sticky tape.  The Amazon dealer kept asking me for feedback so finally I emailed expressing my disappointment in its condition.  Didn't expect much of a response, but they have given me a bit of a refund.  And I have scraped away and got all the crap off the book and am still pleased to have it.  The book is Lost August by Esta Spalding, and the sequence is there and is, I think, the best thing in it - though I perhaps need to spend more time with the rest.

Here it is.


Skin-tight with longing, like dangerous girls,
the tomatoes reel, drunk
from the vine.
The corn, its secret ears
studded like microphones, transmit August
across the field: paranoid crickets, the noise of snakes
between stalks, peeling themselves from
I am burdened as the sky,
clouds, upset buckets pour
their varnish onto earth.
Last year you asked if I was
faint because of the blood. The tomatoes
bristled in their improbable skins,
This is one way to say it.
The girl gone, you left.
& this another.
Last year in August I hung
my head between my knees, looked up
flirting with atmosphere
but you were here
& the sky had no gravity.
Now love falls from me,
walls from a besieged city.

When I move the mountains shrug off
skin, horizon shudders, I wear the moon
a cowbell.
My symptom:
the earth’s
constant rotation.
On the surface the sea argues.
The tide pulls water like a cloth
from the table, beached boats, dishes
left standing. Without apology
nature abandons us.
Returns, promiscuous, & slides between
sheets, unspooling the length
of our bodies.
Black wild rabbits beside the lighthouse
at Letite. They disappear before
I am certain I’ve seen them.
Have they learned this from you?
I read the journal of the boy who starved
to death on the other side of a river
under trees grown so old he would not feed them
to a signal fire. His last entry:
August 12 Beautiful Blueberries!
Everything I say about desire or
hunger is only lip service
in the face of it.
Still there are days I know
your mouth gave that last taste of blue.
When you said you were
I pictured a tree;
spring, the green nippled buds
not the fall
when we are banished
from the garden.
Another woman fell
in love with the sea,
land kissed by salt, the skin
at the neck a tidal zone, she rowed
against the escaping tide
fighting to stay afloat.
To find the sea she had to turn her back to it,
The sea is a wound
& in loving it
she learned to love what goes missing.
Once the raspberries grew
into our room, swollen as the
brains of insects, I dreamt a
wedding. We could not find our
way up the twisted ramp, out from under
ground, my hair earth-damp.
I woke. A raspberry bush clung to us
sticky as the toes of frogs.
A warning: you carried betrayal
like a mantis
folded to your chest - legs, wings, tongue
would open, knife
the leaves above us.
If I could step into
your skin, my fingers
into your fingers putting on
gloves, my legs, your legs,
a snake zipping
up. If I could look
out of your tired eyeholes
brain of my brain,
I might know
why we failed.
(Once we thought the same
thoughts, felt the same things.)
A heavy cloak, I wear
you, an old black wing
I can’t shrug off.
O heart of my heart,
come home. O flesh,
come to me before
the worm, before earth
ate the girl,
before you left without
You said, there are women
I know whose presence
changes the quality of air.
I am not one of those. The leaves
lift & sigh, the river
keeps saying the unsayable things.
I hesitate to prod the corn from the coals
though I have soaked it in Arctic water.
I stop the knife near the tomato
skin, all summer coiled there.
You are not coming back.
One step closer
to the fire.
September will fall
with twilight’s metal,
loose change
from a pocket. Quicker than
an oar can fight water,
I will look up from my feet
catch the leaves red-handed
embracing smoke.
Around me, lost things gather
from an instant
in earth-dark air.

Esta Spalding

* if not, winter - one of Sappho's fragments and the title of Anne Carson's translation.

Friday, April 20, 2012


This morning being fine and full of birdsong, I stumbled out into the forest (because I can, being on the edge of it). I didn't get lost, but I did stray from the path, and I did wander further than I meant to. I always do this - go on until I suddenly know that I have gone too far, walking back will be difficult, the days that follow also. But the birds did lead me on, so many of them in full voice, particularly the small ones, those you don't often see nowadays, unless you live near a forest or a protected place. My neighbour has made a study of bird language. There are many, as you might imagine. The song of a linnet is nothing like the low, persistent call of a dove. Chaffinch tweets melodiously and the Blue Tit is more conversational. Each year they come and nest in the bird box that Son made when he was at school. One feels privileged.

I think this may be all I can say for now. More of a tweet than a post :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

License to Jump Queues

Oh for goodness sake, where have I been! Drawing out Lent, I should think not, as though privation were good for the soul, for this soul I mean (because no it isn't) or as though I am Greta Garbo, gawdssake, with a big loud megaphone blaring that I Vant To Be Alooooone! When actually, I don't, not really. I like the community of disparate souls that gather around the flames of blogfire and it wasn't my intention to banish myself forever to wander in the dark forest toute seule. At least not yet. At least I don't think so. And I say this with whatever shreds of strength are left to me by this wretched chronic Condition of mine, which I will neither go on about at great length nor seek in any way to deny, and this is quite a trick to pull off, so give me a few gold stars for this. I am not sure that I have been earning gold stars for much else. I have written some poems and taken them to workshops, I have given attention to workshopping other people's poems also and this continues to feel meaningful to me - in other words, like real work. And I am honing a skill that I have yet to find a title for, but let us call it Giving Myself License - GML for short. As things stand, this basically means that I park in places that strictly speaking I shouldn't, but I hope to find creative ways of extending this and will welcome all suggestions.

Went to see my GP the other day. Come back - what do expect me to blog about on my first post, post-Lent, and I can file it quite reasonably under the label Life and Stuff. Ahem. GP has been away from the practice for a while as he became the father of twins. A photograph showed from behind a box of index cards and I saw the crowns of two smooth baby heads. He looked tired but did not mind that I had come with a list of ten or so things. He is by no means the brightest button in the box but he is unfailingly courteous and does what he can with the limited resources allowed by the NHS. There needs to be dialogue between him and the specialist I see from time to time, and in order for this to happen I have to be on the case or things get stuck. So yes, much time is given over to health matters. I don't mind. I am still hopeful that if some of the issues underlying my symptoms can be addressed then a measure of wellness may be given back to me and will never believe that it was part of Anyone's masterplan that I should come into the world and be so ill for so long. When things go wrong, when something vital is lacking or malfunctioning you try and put it right and you go on trying while there is hope and while you can. That is all.

Meanwhile, you carry on and develop strategies. One of mine is to give myself license to break minor rules. Call it covert bad behaviour of the mostly uncriminal kind. If there is a queue anywhere I will, if possible, try to jump it. I park my car beside petrol pumps at Tesco Express when I just need some shopping but no petrol. I park in the bays at the back of the doctor's surgery, which are only supposed to be used by staff, when there are no spaces at the front. I do these things to save my strength and because there are times when walking up an incline can make me much worse, and standing in queues will always do that (if interested, see Orthostatic Intolerance). So yes, the other day I parked at the back of the surgery. Plenty of space there, no-one spotted me, no harm done. And you see that photograph at the top? That was taken by Mr. Signs on a lovely day in Brighton when we were having a walk and fancied a cone of Mr. Marrocco's ice cream (length of queue is testimony to how good it is). We went to the back of the queue, as one does. Then I asked Mr. S to wait while I went to investigate. Are you going to try and jump the queue? he asked. He knows me, doesn't really approve but is also realistic. Make mine a raspberry sorbet, he said. I hovered around the glass counter looking as though I was studying the various different flavours on offer. There was a kerfuffle of people choosing things and a bevy of scoop-wielding shop assistants. One of them spotted me and asked what I wanted. I walked out with two cones - simples. On our walk back we spotted the same person that had stood in front, still waiting and reckoned I must have saved us about half an hour.

Am I a bad person? This is rhetorical and not really up for discussion, at least not in my hearing. And, like I said, suggestions welcome.