Archives for posts with tag: flowers

‘It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines;

we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.’

Keeping Quiet – Pablo Neruda[i]

I know you, Pandemic, I see what you’re doing out there. I know your ways, I think.

And I wonder if I stare it down, if I look it straight in the face, it will feel easier? I’ve personified the chaos, in a feeble attempt at agency and my thoughts remind me of dealing with the Grief Monster in sudden widowhood, how the creation of a creature seemed to give us some sense of control.

I have been quiet for a few weeks now, while this new monster rages. I’ve been biding my time, allowing my thoughts to simmer. I worried, (I’m good at that,) that maybe I had nothing to say, no way to express my thoughts of the unfolding trauma. But it seems I was wrong; I was just dazed into numbness by the events. Of course, I’m used to being dazed, I’m used to the lockdown in my head when critical mass is reached and I switch off.

And that’s the thing, it’s all so familiar, this devastation, this savagery and fear. I know this. Sudden loss, a widow and a single parent overnight, I’ve got form. I know isolation.

Yet maybe my mental meandering is just another tool in my kit of coping, it’s a big kit now, heavy, but it serves me well. So, I bring it back down to the personal, to the individual, to the story I know inside out. I look from my window to the quiet streets and feel the ripples of people disorientated, lost, grappling for something to rely on. But where does it leave me? My tiny world, the universe inside me, my loss and fears like the fronds of a fern, are mirrored now, mapped out and scaled up to the global suffering, like the stardust arms of our Milky Way, holding us tight as we cry. Swirls within swirls, tears merging, the individual and the whole, our private pains all part of each other’s. In our anguish and separation, we are never more together.

As I look out of my window, the birdsong seems louder against the quiet streets, the planet readjusting and my letterbox clatters, an unseen hand has touched my post, a stranger in shorts with his bag strapped around him, doing essential work, keeping things ticking. In the almost silence I feel the planet buzzing, the nurses, doctors, trained and strained, working to exhaustion, flooded with compassion but unprepared for this, the community carers, sustaining the elderly, my elderly, my parents supported by others. And the grieving, the unseen, rocking in pain and each digit in the daily statistics is someone’s universe imploding.

And when my newsfeed became too much, I found myself curling inwards, down and out.  My window of tolerance had been reached so I went far away. I took myself off and hid out in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen. I learned knife skills and in my slicing of scallions and on the perfect plates of his pomme purée, I calmed down. It was a safe place, away from the media and their terror machine, away from the soaring death count. And I rested for a while but then returned.

It’s true to say that ‘critical thinking without hope is cynicism and hope without critical thinking is naïveté.[ii] so I raised my head above the parapet and peered back out in search of balance. I’d realised my quixotic railing at the Government’s windmills wouldn’t help me, neither would wishing for utopian ideals when we come out on the other side.

So then came the search to normalise, now as back then, I scour and plunder, I seek out information on how we might get through this. In widowhood, my coffee table became piled high with teetering tomes of those who’d broken before me, self-care and guidance, spiritual comfort, woo-woo weirdness and scientific rigour of the facts. I’d consume and devour anything that gave me a grip or a foothold in my perilous new world. And now I feel a similar pattern. I’m gathering pandemics on my pc’s open tabs; I’m leaning into the past to see what lies ahead.  The trouble is, it’s just a guide, it’s a consideration of what went before. Like my stack of grief books, they could only hint, they didn’t map my journey, it was mine alone. They might have signposted features of the landscape but my terrain, like everyone’s, is unique, and this pandemic, while resembling the maths and graphs of those before, is still unknown. No amount of planning can prepare you for the event when it finally hits. Like pre-grieving ahead of the inevitable, it’s pragmatic, a dry run in its own way but when it’s real, then all bets are off. I see it now in the Government’s scurrying, scrabbling for resources not purchased in time, in how we turn to think-tanks for the answers, and though they might have prepped and planned, they’re still fallible. They fail.  So, flexibility from the model is essential, hindsight, as everyone accepts, is a glorious thing. But if all these decisions were mine, what would I have done?

So, I travel back to the plague, in the middle ages where quarantines began, where ships were anchored outside the coastal cities, waiting forty days before the sailors could set foot on land. In the 14th century trade and colonization already linked countries, passing wares and sickness around the globe.

And onward to 1918 where the Spanish flu found troops cramped and cooped, dreaming of home, the waves slopping and slapping up the sides, no chance for social distancing as they lay close, and the virus travelled around the globe in months but now with our much smaller world we can share our germs in hours.

But good must come from these dark days now, it will find a way, like the beautiful boulevards, designed and built after cholera, after the open sewers of Paris were purged and swept away.

Still, I have to rail in my Pollyanna[iii] tendency, but it’s as rife as Covid19 itself. It’s our expertise we need to pass around now with the R&D teams across the continents working on a vaccine to protect us all. It’s a chance to share our goals, an opportunity to act for the common good.

I look from my window and watch as the most beautiful of days begins, as a springtime  sun shines down on us, on those waking up crippled by grief under its rays, staff crushed by the sights in the hospitals, the tipping point of people doing their best against nature at its worst. But as the day promises to heat up, the sky turns to a mothering blue, a swaddling in gentle heat, as if to soothe, as if to hush us in our trembling.

Sometimes I think of springtime in Belsen, of blossom falling outside the camps, coating the ground like soft fallen kisses and, whether for a second, for a heartbeat or two, the sun would lift their eyes to the skies, would lift their spirits for a moment.

And we are linked, inextricably, we are one person, suffering, then as now, their pain, is our pain and through this ravaging, hope remains as prevalent as the virus, but its curve will never flatten out.  Awareness of our fragility is laced with resilience and a need to find meaning in our vulnerable lives. In ‘The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology’ Erich Fromm reminds us to ‘find a frame of reference…to escape the experience of utter helplessness, disorientation and up-rootedness.’ but that ‘only through full awareness of the danger to life can our potential be mobilized for action, capable of bringing about drastic changes in our way of organizing our society.’[iv]

And so, the day heats up and we remember when we were free to run, splashing into the surf, giggling in the arms of others, chattering in cafes, pub gardens filled with noise and clatter. And under this savagery, in this necessary pausing we see the minutia of our lives, the reality that we had everything all along. On our shuddering planet, through this global bereavement, it feels as though we took our previous world for-granted, not because it didn’t matter but because we never could conceive of it being torn away.

As people plan to pop out in the sun, to experience its rays in their gardens, in a small way, without a boot full of beach balls and towels, as our appreciation and gratitude for the tiny things grows alongside the death toll, I find it so familiar.

I know this place, this smallness, revelling in the human moments, recalling the heartfelt hug of a friend, the sun stroking the side of your face, a shared joke or being held as the pain raged up through you. It was always about the individual acts of connection, the unseen intricate web of us all. I feel it as I stand by my front door in the cool of Thursday evenings, as I clap and tears roll in the comfort of strangers, in the solidarity, on our socially distanced doorsteps of home.

Human spirit, above all other considerations is the way, to lift up, despite Covid19, and because of it. It’s that bond between the individual and the universal, the threads that bind us tight through the centuries. As humans we have immense capacity for lifting each other up, while we hide away, ‘self-islanding.’[v]

The dissonance between the joy of springtime sun and the realities of the bleakness in the wards seems to underline our fragility, our fleeting space against the force of nature. I remember walking home in sunshine in the first spring since my loss, and how I objected to its glare and the chiffon people all around me while I tried to drag my granite form back home. It seemed improbable that the sun could shine and now, on these blossoms filled days it seems to tease, to remind us of when we lived without the fear of now. But outside my window trees are turning sap green in hope, and every bud is a reminder that this will pass, and something else will come. Leaves will stretch out and each one seems to wave to me while I sit inside, saying wait a while, just stop, hold tight and hold on.

I remember speaking with my counsellor, in the early months, in the dense fog of sudden bereavement. I told her that that I could not move, I had ceased to have any forward motion and from the point of view of the outside world, I was stationary. I told her of the Taoist principle of Wu Wei,[vi] creating action through in-action and of the uncarved block, of something left to its natural state. She didn’t seem to comprehend my stillness and why I felt comfort in the stopping. She referred to herself as a Bereavement Visitor, and she perched on the edge of my silent sofa, in her coordinated colours and oversized wooden beads, peering into her small diary at the end of every session. When she asked ‘would you like to see me again?’ I always answered ‘yes,’ despite our occasional breaches and misses, where our world view had collided. But she insisted that I had been active and so I let it ride, I let it go. One of those moments, so frequent, when someone said or did something that jarred, words that screwed me up on the inside, but I learned to let them pass. I knew in my stillness, in my isolation from the churning world outside, that in my pausing I would regain, I would catch my breath against the tumult of emotions.

And I am reminded of Wu Wei now in our global stillness, while the virus rips though towns. This pausing, like trees in dormant winter, appearing to be static, waiting, biding their time until it’s safe to reveal themselves again. Like the split second of stillness between an in and an out breath, and the fact that silence ‘remains, inescapably, a form of speech and an element of dialogue.’[vii] This enforced opportunity for hush is dialectic, relational to our culture of incessant noise.

But we’re not too good at waiting right now, yet ‘waiting isn’t an in-between time’[viii] although it feels like it, in these instant-add to basket-on demand days. We like prompt resolution, immediate answers, on double speed YouTube vids because we don’t have time. But now time is all we do have, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for isolation to end, for permission to run free again but as Wordsworth states, sometimes solitude can be gracious.

‘When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world.’[ix] Like the structure of Hindu temples a progression of rooms reducing in size until the smallest with the statue, a communion, an essential stripping away of all distraction. And so, we come face to face with ourselves, highlighting our work-in -progress from which we try to hide. It is with hope like a glisk[x] that ‘we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth into the enchanted place.’[xi]

But it’s that sense of impotence against it all, now as then. So, it’s back to baby steps, the phrase used liberally by the widowed community, a mantra which we pass around between ourselves when reality becomes too much. That’s all we can do. So, we’re indoors and we have food and Wi-Fi and that’s enough. I’m powerless against the chaos and carnage in the hospitals, I can clap but I can’t fund the shattered staff.

There’s a sense of being at war with this microscopic enemy, unseen but ever-present behind our daily life. I think about my parents, children in WW2, air raid shelters in the back yard, sitting out with flash lights waiting for the all clear from the bombs. I imagine they must have grown accustomed to that on-amber feeling, as I have done. My familiar foes of hyper vigilance and anxiety are often lying in wait for me, skilled assailants in the art of ambush.

 And I think of my grandfather and the assailants in his world. He was a caster, a miner, in the unrelenting harshness of his days. As a young man in his teens he fought in WW1, but he never spoke about his time as a prisoner, the images from the Japanese camps were locked away inside him, while he raised a family, toiled the allotments, providing daily veg for his three girls. And I think of my grandfather with his voiceless memories, his calloused hands planting sweet-pea seeds, bringing beautiful blooms back to their two-up two-down terraced house. It’s these moments of value, of joy amongst the suffering that resonate and call out now.

Before the pandemic separated us all, a good friend gave me sweet-pea seeds. I was never much of a gardener but I will plant these out soon like my grandfather did, and remember the resilience in my genes, our careful contouring[xii] and our inherent pull to hope.  I will feel gratitude for these moments of stillness, this enforced retreat from the speed of our world, a chance to reconsider how I live.

But I can consider this from my sofa, and we have Netflix, we have food in our first world cell. And I think of others in Brazilian slums, huddled under cardboard and tin, families living on top of each other, with no gardens to watch the birds, no space, no sanitation, no antibacterial wash to clean their hands. Yet I’m reminded of our alikeness, that they’re just different versions of me and our son, people like us but clutching cups of water instead of scrolling on iPhones.

As Marcus Aurelius points out, ‘it has long been shown that we are born for community’[xiii] so evident now in the swathes of people signing up to be volunteers, reaching out to strangers, groups of helpers springing up like the trees coming into bud.

And there’s something calming in the understanding that we’re all the same. In this illusion of separateness, from slums to sidewalks, refugee camps to condos, my grandfather’s tiny terrace to our home, we are all linked.

I know this place, this waiting, this sense of homesickness while still at home. That familiar searching for a feeling of safety that you get when you close the front door. But you close the front door and the feelings are still there, that marrow deep yearning for it to be a different world. And as we creep into another week by ourselves I remember counting back then, in bereavement’s bleak beginning. I used to note the tiles in the splash back behind my oven. There are twelve of them. I used to count the days, then tiles turned to weeks and months, stood stirring something, noting how my metric had changed and the tiles which represented so many hours, then marked out many weeks. Now I’m still marking time, a prisoner in my mind, ticking up not down.

I hope we’re not still here in many weeks, I hope enough has changed but now, as then, a new normal will emerge. I’m so used to waiting, to just being, and the solidarity with the unseen, the philoxenia,[xiv]a balm to our wounds in the kindness of strangers. Hour at a time, minute by minute, stepping with care into our changed reality and whatever lies beyond.

The blossom waves to me from outside my window, so joyous, ‘all froth and flutter, like swathes of taffeta’[xv]around a bride. The birdsong bookends our days and they sing out, emphatic. I wonder what they’re saying? They’ve seen it all before, maybe they’re trying to tell us that we’ll be ok?

Despite our hiraeth[xvi]we gather strength, we come up with a new plan. We have hope. Always. And we thole on.[xvii]


[i] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[ii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/09/hope-cynicism/

Accessed 17/04/20

[iii] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pollyanna

A person who believes that good things are more likely to happen than bad things, even when this is very unlikely.

Accessed 19/04/2020

[iv] https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/03/22/erich-fromm-revolution-of-hope/

Accessed 17/04/20

[v] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “isolate” – to place apart, to stand detached from one’s surroundings.

From the Italian “isolare”, “to reduce to an island”; itself from Latin “insula”, “island”.

In Welsh, “self-isolation” is “hunan ynysu”, literally “self-islanding”.

04/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[vi] Hoff, B. The Tao of Pooh, 1989, (Mandarin Paperbacks, London, UK), p68

[vii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/06/the-aesthetic-of-silence-susan-sontag/

Accessed 17/04/20

[viii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/17/jason-farman-delayed-response/Accessed 17/04/20

‘Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to the fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans in the messages we send. Waiting shapes our social lives in many ways, and waiting is something that can benefit us. Waiting can be fruitful.’

[ix] Storr, A. Solitude 1997 (Harper Collins, London) p202

[x] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “glisk” -sunlight glimpsed through a break in the clouds, a fleeting glance at a glittering sight, a brief glow of warmth from fire that’s burned low, a sudden flash of hope in the heart.  (Scots) 06/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xi]   https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[xii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “contouring” – when traversing steep or unsure ground, picking a path that holds its height.

On the hill, as in life, a means of staying steady, of keeping level even when the going is rough, the world falling away to one side or the other. 05/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xiii] Aurelius, M. Meditations 2006, (Penguin Random House, London, UK) p41

[xiv] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “philoxenia” – lit. ‘friendship to/love of strangers’ (Greek Φίλοξενϊά). Kindness shown to people unknown; hands opened in care to those in need; tenderness offered across time & space. An ancient virtue for modern times. 08/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xv] https://www.janeylfoster.com/2020/04/17/white-cloud/

Accessed 17.4.2020

[xvi] https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/09/18/dreaming-in-welsh/

‘To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep incompleteness and to recognise it as familiar. Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti. There’s a homesickness on me for you.’

Accessed 19/04/2020

[xvii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) ‘Word of the Day: “thole”- as a noun, the ability to bear hardship. As a verb, to endure patiently, to slog through tough times; “to thole on” (Scots). 16/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

April 16th

It was bitter in Paris, the wind sliced across our faces like a knife but it was Easter, an adventure, of sorts and everything was giddy, new.  

I’d stared through the window watching the propeller on my first ever flight, as though I alone kept the plane in the air, as though sitting by my fiancé and opposite the air hostess, my only job was to control the wings. 

It was twenty-one years ago, our second holiday and it sparkled and danced like the lights across the Seine. 

Despite trawling around Tourist Information Centres on a heaving Easter weekend, we were ok. Despite our desperation for an upgrade from the dilapidated B&B and the hauling of our luggage down the rues and boulevards to the new one that we found, we were still fine. And ushered to a cramped room by a spherical hotelier who beamed and pointed to the spiral stairs to breakfast, we settled in. Carefree with croissants and we unpacked.

We ticked off attractions like you do when you’re invincible and the icy wind didn’t bother us. It took pieces out of us thoughas we crossed the square to Notre Dame and battered us as we stood with everyone else, waiting for the warmth of her arms.

And we shuffled and we inched. In the darkness and smell of ancient wood I lost myself. I remembered the floor in that sacred silence, the air that hummed and buzzed with rustling tourists, I remembered the thick smell of dust and sweat and little more. Wrapped up in Our Lady I was taken ill, I was helped to sit down somewhere away from the crowds and I saw feet, lots of them, the shoes of my fiancé and those of a strange woman whose name we never knew. 

And this morning while ash settles in the streets there, while people lift up their eyes to view the savage route of flames, I think of the lady who came to help usAnd she’s a memory of a warm patterned skirt, oranges, yellows and browns, swirls and circles like flames around her feet. She sat while I regained myself, called us a taxi and stayed with us until it came. I never saw her face but had a sense of her on my left, she wished us well for our marriage, blessed us with healthy children and was gone. 

And I think of our lady today, I wonder where she is in this moment, if she thinks of Notre Dame and the couple who she helped years ago. Does she remember the young women, who only saw the stone floor of the Cathedral but who is tied to it now, somehow. There in Paris, in the coldest of Easters, the ancient monument became a gatekeeper to their life.

The light falls over the place where the Spire had been, and deep inside there is the echo of a woman sitting. And she will be rebuilt and carry on. 

Post Script

April 17th

We married one year later and as I wake to thick fog, it engulfs my town, my road, my mind, like the smoke engulfed the Spire and I am tumbling down into the structure, cascading in the edifice, sparks and flames mix with blossom, with confetti. They float around me, glorious, transient, burning up in the atmosphere of the day, in the flickerings, the fleeting gasps of time.

Twenty springs have passed, twenty bursts of blossom and it is full now, resplendent, magnificent. It swishes around in my peripheral vision like swathes of ivory taffeta, like a girl. And it will age, fall and flutter to the ground, to become part of the soil that feeds the tree. Until next year and she will be back to bloom again.

Time itself, our companion on the journey, folded into Parisian rubble and the strength to rebuild, striving, resilient, fragrant with hope.

Always – in the memory of blossom. 

xxx

 

 

 

I watch a bird move and its serendipity, of sorts. I watch it fly through the trees I can’t reach and clouds I’d rather clamber on, but I cannot. I am still again.

And when I got up in the night, in the thick blackness of four o’clock, I heard a bird. In the night that almost dreamt of morning, I heard a bird. It chirruped through my open bathroom window in the black. I couldn’t listen. How removed it seemed from any sensibilities, how it almost ridiculed me, to be singing in the night. To find joy without the dawn but still it sang.

It sang from instinct, I imagine, from an inbuilt urge to fly. And wings that beat need food and food comes with the dawn. Daylight will come soon. It had certainty, it knew and I know too, although I couldn’t sing then. I had no wings at four in the morning, no sense of movement and little now.

Still the night has shifted since, gone elsewhere and here after the suns heat has bled fierce into the clouds, the day has settled. Soft grey bandages and streaks of silver sit in silent observation. A bird cuts through, driven, focussed and I go around again. Round and around and around again. Still and movement, still and movement, like the wheels pushed by pedals that pass my window now, like the heartbeat of the bird who craves the food. Relentless on, on, on then stopping, resting like the plants that sleep outside.

My garden is quiet, like me, tattered by winter and time. Leaves rest late in their stumbled piles where I had brushed them. They mulch down to such a haven, a treasure to rustle and poke about with eager beaks and I will watch.

Still garden. Silent tired and waiting. Some things pop up, new shoots, pale green with its energy dormant like mine and I can see them. Amongst the weeds and things push up, there are moments, flashes of the garden I used to know. Branches clamber round me, hold me steady as I sway and thorns pierce deep, bloodletting in winter, onto my soil, into my earth, like it has always been. I watch the cuts, they scratch across my arms, white in the cold, thin in the winds and lines draw red. And here’s my garden, concrete waiting, collecting moss and here’s my pond that will burble and thrive. 

But not now. Now it is February, now it holds me as I wait, tiptoeing through weeds and old growth, roots that twist back up through earth. This is my land now. I tend the old plants, prune them, hold and study them in my hand. How familiar they are, yet how startling. So brittle, yet strong in my gaze.

And my hands will feed them, tend to their growth spurts when they come and they will, and they do. Tangled weavings all around me, bracken and thickets of spikes, tendrils that pull onto my legs and I flump down. I find more thorns, they cut into me and I watch in the cold as bright blood forms small spheres on white skin. I pat the wound and smear out red, then clean it well. The air stings across the open flesh but I’m used to tending to the pain. I dab it dry, look after it and bandage it safe till next time.   

I sit in my garden now, cold stillness of winter, bulbs nestling in the darkness, full of verveI water the old things  I serve them well. Shoots bob up, green spears through the black hume, it won’t be long. And it is February, I’m still, I’m winter but spring will come again and I will grow. For others it’s only February but for me, I turn to stone.

xxx

 

April 13th

I do love a quiet cafe, and here near the river it seems to have been constructed just for me. I was here six months ago with friends and I sat and sipped while wearing my cap and gown and the whole town seemed to know I’d just graduated and it was a day when I was full and filled the streets.

Today I am smaller though, today I’m head down, writing and I consider whether to walk near the river on my way home.

I’m on the corner of my town, near the oldest part and it’s my history that floods this place now. If I come out and turn right I’ll pass the Bridal shop. Of course, progress had swept in and now there’s no smell of taffeta, no swishing or sighs but a Bath Store. Those rooms I stood in, pinned and poised, nipped in at the waist, when I still had one, are now full of taps and waterfall showers, bespoke mirrors reflecting back the streets I used to know.

I’ve been drawn here today and it feels right. I’ve been swamped by old objects in recent weeks, buried under the weight of things that have flown. My home smells of dust, not just mine but fluff-coated trinkets from my Auntie’s house, her eighty-four piece dinner set is hiding in my cloakroom until I can find it a good home. And it’s the dust of her life and her choices that bring me near to the river now.

This cafe will close up soon so I need to move and that’s the point, it all seems to be about movement or the lack of it, about the flow and the essential swell of time.

And now I’ve made it to the riverside, to its rush and Ollie, a whipped up cocker-poodle gambols and charges around its owner’s legs, it’s wet and tousled, beyond free. I can hear the traffic, the roads being pummelled by rush hour wheels but I am soothed by the nylon poncho wearers with terriers, by toddlers at the end of holidays with scooters out for one last blast of fresh air.

The river isn’t bothered by anyone, the river finds its way despite the people and their problems. It churns, its wisdom far greater than my own.

And how quiet it is here, how I see people escaping, push chairs and new prams, pink babies lulled by the lapping and a booted up mother, smart blue coat and take away coffee in hand, strides by and she’s out. Her baby’s wrapped up warm and I feel myself unravel, here at the edge of the town I belong in, here with my head full of Auntie’s house of hoardings and my own stuff.

The river is good. It flips up plumes of white and despite its greyness, despite its thick green twisting form, it seems content.

The toddler in bike helmet and stabilisers trundles back the other way, releasing an end of day fractious cry and smart office workers, tired of the meeting room, take in the late afternoon air.

It’s busier for a moment, more people sneaking into my world but I’m cosseted, brushed by the river in my stillness and I move with its form.

I walk along in pace with it as though on a ship, as though wandering along the promenade deck of my boat. I look for fish, I anticipate their colours but I see none. The microscopic life is beyond my vision but I know it’s there, chundering, plummeting and pummelling, carried by the force.

And now further upstream the traffic fades and the here by the bridge where cars are forgotten I can only hear ripples and I think of a game of Poo Sticks.

I can see beneath the surface here, the smooth pebbles underneath, some resting some turning with the waves.

Today it’s a cold April afternoon, but under the thick bandaged sky, this river feels like home. I watch the water, how it find its way around the plants with no resistance.

April 16th

Back at home I think about the river. I can’t see it from here, I can only see the builder’s van next door, hear the sounds of renovation and old cupboards coming out. In my Auntie’s cupboards we found many things. Her photos from the life before widowhood slowed her down, her precious tins of bit and bobs, of ration books saved from the 1940’s, of faded letters from my Uncle in the war.

And it was all there, a life frozen in amber, a collection of ephemera that stretched back to when my mother was a girl. We took the vases and figurines over to my parents. The car smelled of old things, dust – caked things and grime.

Above all else it smelled of memory and before we left, I rummaged through yet another bin bag and found the photos she’d taken on our Wedding day. They were saved in a haphazard order, in a half full album, another piece of the past found in a chipped wooden chest in the corner of her unused back room.

I keep wandering back to the river in my mind. But I didn’t think about it back then when I hurried to pick up my dress, when the staff folded it into the boot of the car and laid it with care, like the placing of a baby in a cot, soothing it with love and a reassuring hand. And the river flowed nearby but I didn’t think about it as I bought one last cream and red silk flower for the name-place cards. And back at home sometime later, while I glued the final rose in place, and while my Aunty, miles away, prepared her luggage for the trip, the river flowed.

And it flowed over the years between then and now and it was never still. It slowed, it swelled, it stagnated in places but it never stopped in its relentless nature, in the wisdom of its form.

April 17th

The sun’s come out now. It came out back then and I wonder if it came out on my Auntie’s wedding day. Looking through her stuff I came across a small plastic Woothworth’s bag and folded away inside I found her receipts from over seventy years ago. The paper, yellowed but her handwriting still visible. Dress, belt, hat, gloves and stockings all itemised and pounds, shillings and pence added up. Numbers in frozen pencil marks for all the finery, for her day. And I think of my own, of the dress that hangs in my parent’s wardrobe and of my boots, somewhere under my bed. I peer through the fragile papers, almost too delicate to touch. I wonder how she felt an hour before the vows, I wonder if my mother helped her to get ready and I remember my long distance friend, strapping me into my bodice and the photographer waiting downstairs.

My Aunty kept many things, in fact she never threw anything away and though I didn’t really know her very well, through the wall she built around herself, through the things she hung onto to keep her safe. But I connected with her, in the thin bag of memories, in the silver paper flowers she tucked away.

The sun’s so bright now, like it was back then when I stood with my parents under a sap full tree before my mother and my friend left for the church, ahead of us.

I found my wedding favour tucked in a drawer, chiffon wrapped silk roses and a raspberry ribbon. There would have been rows of them, lined up on the crisp white linen by now, waiting for the guests to arrive in the afternoon.

I wonder if I’ll have a relative who’ll find this piece of my life, fifty years from now? And I am fluid today, I am the river that I’m far away from, as I sit by my window in the sun. And I am there, rustling into the car by my father, with the scent of lilies and I’m my Aunty on a distant June day with her sisters in tow and the life to come, ahead of us all.

I’ve spend a lot of time recently opening old stuff, peering into corners and brushing dust. I feel dustful, I feel coated and caked like the patina of an antique and I am covered in age and her stories.

And as the younger me is whisked to the church, I take my mind to the river, to its force, where dust has no chance to settle, where it renews with no resistance, where it oozes with ease and grace.

And I think about a book I found in my Auntie’s back room, amongst the upturned chairs and tea sets, next to the box of Christmas bows and packs of unopened napkins. I found an old paperback.

There is wisdom in clearing, I have found, in releasing the things you no longer need. But under the weight of the hours some things will always remain. Silk flowers and fragile papers, floating around me like the flotsam on the river, linking us to the movement of time and a permanent reminder that we were there.

The paperback was titled Light in the Dust and I see dust particles dance in the light and I see photons of energy flow through the dark as the sun sparkles up from the river.

xxx

 

 

June 18th 2017

I prepared his lunchbox for the last of the school days, the penultimate exam, the final full day and I secured the sandwich in the tired out plastic box. And as I did, I recounted the changing faces of the vessels over the years. The turquoise Thomas box bought at a day out with a friend when the steam made our eyes run and we chuffed down the rails and after the Reception class came Spider-Man in primary coloured nylon as he learned how to write. Year 2 was Lazy Town, a soft cover which caught the crumbs before a Year 3 army camo box with a matching water bottle. Year 4 saw us chugging up the hill with Toy Story, with Buzz at his side, falling with style and it was this lunch bag which I stuffed with cold fish fingers when we rushed back to the relatives room, to sit and wait, to watch the walls close in around us in Year 5. And afterwards his Sponge-Bob garish lemon shape turned up, it grinned at us for the rest of the year when our muscles forgot how to smile and into the final Primary walks with a tin box ordered from Amazon, flown over from the USA with Star Trek on its side.

Then Secondary came without the merchandised logos, without the beaming smiles and we settled on the lime green nylon that supported him through the days, right up until this final year when the blue-black lunch bag was the way. I’ve just turned it inside out now, given it a symbolic good clean, old crumbs and straws tumble into our sink, the residue of things past and as it dries out I make one last sandwich and recall.

I remember dropping him in the Reception class and leaving him kneeling on the floor with things to piece together, a new track, a new map to construct and I walked away. I looked back, his hair was lighter then, his head bent down busy, engrossed as I left and I walked as the trees blurred in my path.
And now I iron the penultimate shirt, aware of the years and minutes. Feeling the hours that bought us to here.

June 19th 2017

Next door’s scaffolding should come down soon. It watches over me, grey struts at odds with the soft spikes of my bamboo, with spears that have grown over time. A bluebottle dithers, disoriented but stays outside and the garden is poised in the sunlight. It will be warm today, the soil where the roots and weeds used to be, heats up, beaks poke, legs crawl and I can see my garden to come, when the work has been finished. How like a meadow it will look with lupins with salvia and an area to walk, with places to sit and watch but for now it is waiting. We are in the lull. The old has been ripped away, bagged up and hauled onto their van but when they return, when the fence becomes solid, when the trellising goes up, then the grass seed will come, then the mulch and flower food. How dark the compost will be, rich with nutrients, particles to bind to roots, to wrap around them and hold as they grow.
And the shoots will come, sap bright, saturated with a need to pull to the sun and they will flower. There in our garden when the pond is complete, when the water flows without restriction and the stones bring balance, bring clarity.There in our garden colours will grow, earth will sustain and rain drench us all.

A magpie clattered down the roof of the summerhouse and perched on the edge. How strong the contrast in his feathers, how they pushed out, bold in black, in white, through my green and away. He paused before flight regaining himself, judging his next move. Like the old man I see on our lanes most days, with his cap and zimmer frame, out every day despite the weather, to make his journey to the shops and back again and he keeps going, keeps pulsing despite his obstacles.
And the old man on my summerhouse surveyed his land then flew, beat wings into the day with grace and power.

And I am waiting, it’s not long now. Our son head down again today.

June 21st 2017

The shadows stroke the trees, like a hand across a head, like a soothing touch against the day and pupils wander through the gates – the young ones with rucksacks almost too big for their small shoulders, the older ones, term weary weighted down by tests and work and then our son’s year – the veterans with end of school hair in their eyes, with rag-taggled uniforms  hanging on to the last. And they have the air of resignation after the build up, after the heft of expectation, they are almost there, almost done and now it’s a process to complete, a final hoop to jump through. And there goes our boy through the gates we used to know, for one more time, one last moment to follow their rules, in their system before the giddiness of the open door.

And as he sits at the desk, pen poised, waiting for the words ‘it’s 9:09, you may begin,’ I sit at my pc and pause. Outside in the park behind our house I hear the workmen’s radio and the distant throb of machines. The play-ground is being renovated and as the cement whirrs in the growing heat, they dig and prepare. There used to be bouncy tarmac out there, to soften the fall and in the places where I brushed stones from his knee, where I kissed hot skin better when I could, is a pile of silt now and the space where the climbing frame stood.

And in our home and garden as the curtain billows at the open door, I see flickers of our boy, of his countless faces, turning and changing, of his voice peeling out, giggling higher than it is now and he fills the space around me, he saturates our garden with all the children he used to be. There, as the light moves across my new bird feeder I see him running towards us shouting ‘charge!’ I see his pristine primary sweatshirt and, right now I see his broader shoulders as he marches off with all his mates.

its quiet, apart from the tweep of fledglings, apart from the flutter of wings and under the hum of machinery, I anticipate his end of school face at the door.

For our son – beyond proud.

xxx


In the quiet morning, when the day had not yet decided if it would be warm or if it would rain, I watched his legs. From the window I could see them as they walked the path to school, as they were coated in spring leaves, dappled on his black trousers and then the branches came and covered him and took him into the tree.

A moment later, higher up and further along the path, a flash of black in the gaps and then he turned right, to our subway, to the one I painted years ago when brush strokes, not words were my way. And it will echo to his feet now and then he turns left. I feel his journey though I cannot see it, the hill he has to climb and now the brush of traffic. The cars full of aftershave, the makeup tweaked in rear view mirrors and everyone has motion, needs, relentless nature turning and by the railings with his mates, with friends, he’ll start on the cut through road.

I know these roads but never walk them with him, only sometimes on the way to a fayre, but these are his streets, the dips in the pavement and the old school we used to know. And as he passes it now, we are there years back, younger, smaller with sparklers in our hands and friends who don’t live near now, whose hands have turned round clock faces like ours, who’s changes have carried them away in time and we all hang in the air, like a scent of jasmine or lavender, like the not quite forgotten lyrics of a song.

And at the junction near the main road the cars pick up steam, they knit and weave between each other, giving way or scowling and in the far off greens behind him, the rolling downs fade up through lilac and grey, under flat bottomed clouds, cropped just for him today and a sky we used to know.

And at the lights again in the push and shove of morning ready, for the almost starting day, he will be there, bag getting lighter as last lessons come and go, his lunchbox lid has spilt across the middle, a diagonal tear in red plastic and it hangs on. Each day the split grows more but it will make it, the lid he’s held for years is almost at its end, like his own phase. And it’s tucked away in his lunch bag, next to his exam pencil case which he will need today.

And through the gates now, I imagine, with the heartbeat slightly raised, there, passed the drama rooms he use to visit on Saturday mornings when we sat in the coffee shop downstairs.

The blossom is coming out on the tree outside my window, like every year, like years ago on the early walks to primary with hot hands and book bags and the spelling hill to the roundabout – and now.

Now even his blazer is getting small and I watch the leaves on the tree outside my window, so still today, so quiet as though it’s holding its breath, as though it’s wishing him well and in every leaf at a cellular level it buzzes, particles whirr like his neurones and in every atom I see the image of him growing and forging out through time.

Our son, preparing, and today every leaf and every insect wing, every photon of light knows his name.

xxx

 

14th

I’ve been tiding up today, in old corners in preparation for Monday. Our teen is approaching the end of school and planning a break from revision with a take over in the lounge, with his mates, with their games, with their testosterone. And I’ll be upstairs, away from the event, in my own event in my mind.

Amongst the dust and old receipts today, I found our life, scrumpled up in dog-eared magazines in the scrawl of our younger boy’s hand and the photos. Lost days caught in pixels, faces I used to know and they looked back at me. Deep sea diving, distorted thumbs up from a submerged world in our past and I went back. Back to the presents from friends, to the trips and the linear life that we knew and while I brushed remnants into the dustpan, our son woke himself up watching You tube.

He has subscribed to many channels now, some fascinating, some nonsense but it’s his world and on Monday while I’m away in my head, his world and the connections he has made will fill our room. I’ll welcome the loudness of teenage boys, the inescapable movement of time in contrast to the blossom in my thoughts. It’s nearly here.

The sunlight pours in through my blinds as I take a break from tidying. The edge of petals deepen red, the purples turn to pink and I stop.

There was such excitement eighteen years ago, nervous energy getting the final jobs done. Long distance guests arriving tomorrow and everything gearing up for the day. My friend would make the journey south, her toddlers at Grandma’s for the day. She would strap me into my dress and lace boots. Her toddlers are adults now and, like our son, full of verve and possibilities with virtual worlds at a touch.

We had no fb to post our wedding pictures on, no tweets about the highlights of the day. No instagramed tweaked shots, filtered to perfection just an aperture and the light flooding in, just a dark room and the chemicals bleeding us out of the paper, in our finest clothes, in our silk and taffeta, in our scarlet and cream. In crisp suits that smelled of corsages and we emerged, an image at the church door, an imprint on glossy paper in a tray. There was nothing instant in those days, just smiling and waiting and wondering.
And now the excitement builds again, our teen is planning food and games, a re-charging of batteries in a multiplayer universe where I don’t belong.
On Monday my home will be rich in the scent of lilies, now as back then, perfumed in petals from my roses, under the vibrant sound of youth.

On my stairs there will be a portal, an aperture where I’ll cross between the worlds, a necessary doorway between this present and our past and I’ll move through.

And while our boy winds down and whips up I’ll return to my own multiplayer universe where all the faces are frozen in time, where I pause and rewind and play again because I can, because it’s a game I love so much. Away from the hubbub downstairs, back in the spring sunshine with confetti in my hair.

16th

And now Sunday is around me as I finish favours and take place cards to the hotel in my mind. In every re-run I’m one rose short, so I rushed to haberdashery shop, bought a single silk flower and stuck it in position while relatives nattered, before I was driven home. I rustled the bagged dress up the stairs, felt the nerves surround me and watched the clock.

And back here in the now, the bunny ears have arrived for our son. He’s agreed to tell his mates the gaming is off and instead an egg hunt has been arranged! I’m so tempted to come back downstairs tomorrow and ask the hoards, using my best playgroup voice,

‘Would anyone like a jelly ?’

And we laugh, he knows I won’t, of course. I’ll be away amongst the daffodils with the Cathedral to my side and I will smile.

The afternoon is ticking, my lilies are opening up and in the pungent air of our teen prepared lounge I pause, I watch the blackbird bathe – tomorrow is approaching.

17th

Our son’s asleep and all around me in the opening of petals are the moments, fast forward and rewound, and paused and played again. The sepia pixels finding colour as I check the clock and watch myself in the corner of our little lounge, with women attending and flowers arriving and the air rich with perfume and nerves.

I need to put the sausage rolls on, in the present, our son needs to do his last minute checks and the home is still. All I can hear is the throbbing of the fridge and cars brushing away outside while in my mind the layers build, the fragments flutter round me and I am younger, I am preparing and I am there.

And the tarmac fell away to fields, distant crops and clouds, and closing in as the birds sang out, to the gate and the rush of last minute friends. Downstairs now, the food and drink are piled high, devices are charged as I swish up the path, past old stones and ancient trees to the welcome faces at wooden doors.

And our son waits for the cars full of mates while you wait in the hush as I walk in. Our son’s party starts soon. The lilies open wide their faces to the clouds. Heavy pollen drenched, like memory.

In hope, in certainty.

xxx

 

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February 27th

It feels like November today, any sniff of spring has been blown off course by these squally showers and as I watch the fields through the raindrops on these windows, I think of back then.

My boots still smell of the farm, the hay sodden around my low heels and I trudged. The grain made my eyes water as I followed through the mud to find the sheep. And here and there low murmurings, deep bleating and they huddled and bundled themselves up. The new lambs are still unsteady and they trample around their mother’s teats. Some shy away but most are interested in the presence of the strangers.

And I am such a stranger, I tiptoe through the sopping mud, it laps my boots, it cries out for wellies as I watch. The farmer says they’ve bought the sheep into the barn because the weather had turned bad. He apologised – as though he should have controlled the sun, as though lambs should only come out to the smell of fresh grass with the rays warming up their plastered down fur. They nuzzle, he points out the next one ready for labour and she stretches her neck out, she paces and pads the earth.

She has found her spot. Once they’ve chosen their place they will not move from it, he says and they nestle down. She sniffs at the new borns in the next pen, keen for her own and I watch.

The herd wander around with little plan, like my thoughts, like the mess of images in my head. They jostle for attention, compete for food as I think of my friend on her beach at the start of her journey and me and our son stepping out then, on ours. I remember writing words for the service while she spun in chaos far from home. And there we were, unknown to each other, on that day being birthed  from the safety of our respective worlds into a land we didn’t recognise, blinking on new straw.

There was something so brutal about the farmland today, so essential, the irresistible force to push on and out and I felt it in the bristle of the mother’s tongue, in the grasp of the farmer’s hand as he eased out more new life. There in front of me dazed and bewildered, finding its feet in this pulse of nature, as I think of my friend, as I think of my preparations back then.

Nature charging on regardless, relentless and driven.

 

February 28th

I’ve been watching the clouds again, how they’re pulled into a vortex to my right, the shadow trees were waving at me this morning as I passed by and now the rain is back. It’s dripping cold onto the farm pastures, the animals are inside and I arrange flowers back at home.

I bought alstroemerias, they look like tiny lilies and as I shuffle and tweak them in the vase, the rooks and the crows take flight, they cut up the air in such haphazard patterns. They look like they don’t know what they’re doing, absent minded winging on the winds but they’re guided by instinct, by nature and far away from them, in the warm, in our home  – so am I.

 

March 1st

There was a stillness down on the farm this morning. it wasn’t cold or warm, no biting wind or early rain, no spring sun, just a grey heavy cloud cover and a sense of the land waiting. The crows circled and landed, poked about and waddled in the mud, they’d found a puddle to drink from and gathered like old men at a wake, heads bowed, arms folded behind their backs and they nodded and paid their respects to the earth. They sipped and pecked around for food, then took off in a scattering, zig zaged black in my view and then the seagulls came in. They flew across in a broken badge, in a triangular twist with such purpose and I watched them pass by like my thoughts, like my feelings of back then.

I didn’t see the farmer today but his wife rushed out, their daughter was stuck in the mud, her truck revving up, going nowhere and she waved and laughed. I noticed her pony tail, hair scaped up for the day’s business and her practical clothes as she jumped from the cab, a round reinforced girl, fed from the land, unattached to the animals she raises and then eats. She didn’t mind being stuck, it happens and sooner or later you get out. She clambered back in the truck, plumped down on the the ripped leather seat and reversed out of the ditch.

Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards again.

xxx

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