Monday, 23 November 2020

Stand up, out of the blue

Eight or nine days ago, one of my lovely nieces messaged me out of that place of mystery we intelligently call 'the blue'.

"I hope you are doing well!" she wrote, adding, "I had been possessed by a memory of you recently."

Naturally, I replied to her questions, but I was not going to let niceties get in the way of the real (true-blue) stuff. 

"I would love to know what memory it is that possessed you," I said.

She then sent me a voiceclip with two stories. The first was one I'd as good as forgotten. I thank her for granting me permission to share it on my blog.

She was in Grade 6 - that would have made her roughly 11 years old at the time. She went to a party, safe and supervised and so on. A boy approached her, spoke disrespectfully - "rudely, very rude". He was "disgusting", and also flashed her.

She hit and kicked him, kicked him.

Back home, she told her parents, everything. 

Her father was upset - with: everything. The boy, her, just everything. Her mother was worried about her impulsiveness, the risk she'd taken by her spontaneous, violent self-defence. It was an unresolved issue in the home, and in her self.

A week later, I visited with my family. We were told the story. Apparently - I remember it, now that she's re-told it all - among all the adults present, I got up and went to her in the playroom, where she was watching tv or playing a video game, and I gave her a thumbs-up.

"You did good," I told her, "you gave that boy exactly what he deserved."

I remember feeling that it was important to let her know I trusted and approved of her body's spontaneous response to the disrespect, which had injured her spirit and person.

She said that I was the only person, until that point, completely to support what she had done. Coming from her aunt, it was clear: "It was okay for me to stand up for myself as a girl."

Photo by Sam Schooler on Unsplash

The second memory is gentler. It belongs in a separate blog, which will arrive in time, out of the blue.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Vitally important

My longest-standing friend
Her husband
My beloved

It crashed hard into the window pane, soft down feathers flew. We rose, alarmed, to see it on the tiles, breathing heavily. Its head, slightly up, laid itself down after a while.
"Not looking good," my friend said.
"But look at that heart," I pointed out.
She agreed: we both saw it pumping relentlessly, lifting the small, green torso up and down, up and down.
None of us dared go near the concussed creature, for fear of shocking him or her the more.
Time went by. Neither did the head lift nor did the heart stop beating.

Under my breath - what a vitally important place that is! - under my breath I asked whether there be guardian angels for birds as small as this, but I did not wait for an answer as I summonsed a guardian angel for this miniscule bloblet of warmth in the universe.
I pulled myself on my knees a little towards him and spoke softly and he blinked.
That gave me hope. "Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul."
No, I did not think of Emily Dickinson's poem while I was oaring myself towards the tiny being, willing it to know I meant no harm. Dickinson's poem is in my marrow and needs no conscious articulation.

I stroked it once, expecting it to take fright.
It seemed to relax. My friend's husband encouraged me to take it in my hands.
"Just don't let it fly into the house," warned my friend: the bird faced the open door into the house.
The two men stationed themselves in the door to discourage any thought of flight into the house.
I edged in from behind and lifted the bird. Its claws immediately gripped my fingers. A good sign. I stroked and spoke. It blinked, looked, turned its head. Perkily, actually.
My friend stepped outside and the bird pooped.
"That's a positive sign!" we chorused.

"He looks like he'll stay there forever," my friend's husband said.
Yes, the little soul was comfortable, albeit his eyes remained surprised at the shape his heaven seemed to be taking: full of great, featherless entities making strange sounds.

At length, I got up, rested my hands on the balcony railing near a tree and suddenly he fluttered away. Landed on a steep branch, hung on admirably.
I shook the poop off my fingers, it splashed on the tiles.
We went inside.

I was aware how we had left him to himself and to the guardian angel of his life's flame.
When we went out again, he wasn't there.
He'd asked for nothing.
In extremity, he'd given us all his trust.
"Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune without the words, / And never stops at all."
Under your breath, in your marrow, in your hands - vitally important places!

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Nothing too heavy

It's the tension between heavy and light.

Tomorrow night, I'm zooming as feature poet for Off The Wall poetry.

Hugh Hodge, who ran the Off The Wall poetry gig in Cape Town for many years, was the first person I remember to point me out publicly to myself, as poet. It was the Cape Town Book Fair 2006. He passed by me, accompanied, as it happened, by Liesl Jobson, whom I'd also never met. He pointed his finger -

"You're a poet," he said, "come and read."

It was a few seconds in my life. A moment like that weighs, because it's so beautifully light: in passing, people who don't know each other, a gesture, a voice. A shape for the future.

My first readings I was so nervous that my body trembled to the extent that I feared people would see my dress shivering off my wobbling bum. I did not know it was possible to read while shivering so. But it is possible. It happened - even while it may be unexplained that my voice did not falter at all.

I've gone through intense soul torment, be-thinking the reading tomorrow ... that is to say: I've more than a thousand poems to choose from. Where, how to begin, how to nose the spoor that will find just the right track?

I've decided I'll read the poem about my nose, the sense of smell. And the one about the ear, which prefigures it. I'll read them chronologically, as they came to me in a simple, wide-eyed living of life.

How will it go down? How many people will tune in? The hopeful poet from Ecuador, who contacted me at the Frankfurt Book Fair - will she make it? Will she read?

I am happy. The tick of the kitchen clock steps me on to tomorrow. Beside me, at the table, Jacaranda root tortoises are being painted by my beloved, his concentrated breathing is audible on my right; the high whizz of his laptop hums on my left. It's domestic chaos: contained within an overall picture of peace - notwithstanding the so-called news across the Atlantic, which so many are busy with right now.

I've selected from 40 years of continuous work. Nothing too heavy. I'd like to leave my listeners feeling hopeful about being alive on our precious little planet.

List of titles for tomorrow night

The Snake's Song was published in New Contrast

Lines of our Days and The Loving Body were published in New Coin


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

The fragrant ground and I

If you want to live happily ever after - and whatever place or realm (on or off earth) you finally (or not so finally) end up in, presumably you do want that - it is a good idea to stop at times, turn around and take in the view presented by your life thus far.

I bet you it's an amazing landscape, which you may be glad not to have to traipse through again, but which you're justifiably really proud of having got through. I mean: look at those cliffs of conflict between yourself and others; curious wetlands, alternating with high-lying plateaux, of love, relationships and friendships; deserts and forests you survived of classes, courses, exams, jobs, all kinds of duties; rapids of ill-health; oceans of grief; lakes and waterfalls of indolence and fun; fruiting orchards of joy ...

If you keep looking, you'll be bragging before long about all your adventures and tests of endurance and how often you definitely had enough, but, somehow, here you still are. So claim your title: top topographer, flagbearer, first explorer! Which you are: since none of us have ANY competition when it comes to our own life paths. We're once-offs, forever.

Each month I create a new cover for my Facebook Page, Give Your Writing The Edge, whereby I aim to project a concern or feel for the weeks ahead. Often, I allow my choice to be intuitive, but this month, both the picture as well as the poetry were a leap into the unknown as never before. I chose two poems, separated by more than 35 years (which is currently 63% of my life) - poems, which speak mysteries to one another.

I authored it, and can recite it on the spot, but I have never understood the first poem, Dog. However, a dear old friend, who has always favoured it, reminded me of it recently. Not only did that inspire the second poem, but also a new curiosity: what on earth (on earth indeed) was the language doing with me? 

I aproach the poem like any reader, tip-toeing carefully towards possible meanings. 

The houndedness of the faceless, fallen rose connects it, of course, to the dog - who doesn't even dig, so opposed is it: it "nibbles (nibbles!) own spaces in the ground" where nothing is wanted. The scene is tragic, a picture of perfect disempowerment, an apparently necessary secreting away of natural is-ness. The treasured symbol of love is nothing but an old bone.

The second poem launches on that connection between the rose and the bone and it turns out that not only has the flower survived, but it has multiplied subterraneously over three and a half decades. 

"in the ground" becomes, in Dog 2, 'under the skin', deep inside the tissues: the identification of rose and bone has built a structure, which not only has an I, but an unopposed, fearless, fragrant (!) inner body that can speak and declare its old ("after all these years") aliveness.

Whence comes this sudden up out of the adult marrow?

Certainly the identification between the "ground" (where roses and bones are buried) and the "I" (where years and sorrow have been buried) is a powerful place to begin. And end.

Photo: Detail from a picture I took of my potted peace rose.