LIFE, believe, is not a dream So dark as sages say; Oft a little morning rain Foretells a pleasant day. Sometimes there are clouds of gloom, But these are transient all; If the shower will make the roses bloom, O why lament its fall ?
Rapidly, merrily, Life’s sunny hours flit by, Gratefully, cheerily, Enjoy them as they fly !
What though Death at times steps in And calls our Best away ? What though sorrow seems to win, O’er hope, a heavy sway ? Yet hope again elastic springs, Unconquered, though she fell; Still buoyant are her golden wings, Still strong to bear us well. Manfully, fearlessly, The day of trial bear, For gloriously, victoriously, Can courage quell despair !
I Have Been a Stranger in a Strange Land (Rita Dove)
Life’s spell is so exquisite, everything conspires to break it. Emily Dickinson
It wasn’t bliss. What was bliss but the ordinary life? She’d spend hours in patter, moving through whole days touching, sniffing, tasting . . . exquisite housekeeping in a charmed world. And yet there was always
more of the same, all that happiness, the aimless Being There. So she wandered for a while, bush to arbor, lingered to look through a pond’s restive mirror. He was off cataloging the universe, probably, pretending he could organize what was clearly someone else’s chaos.
That’s when she found the tree, the dark, crabbed branches bearing up such speechless bounty, she knew without being told this was forbidden. It wasn’t a question of ownership— who could lay claim to such maddening perfection?
And there was no voice in her head, no whispered intelligence lurking in the leaves—just an ache that grew until she knew she’d already lost everything except desire, the red heft of it warming her outstretched palm.
“Four Quartets” Part II: East Coker (by T.S. Eliot)
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated Of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment And not the lifetime of one man only But of old stones that cannot be deciphered. There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight (The evening with the photograph album). Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter. Old men ought to be explorers Here or there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion Through the dark cold and the empty desolation, The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
My mother in law passed away, suddenly but peacefully yesterday morning. Her death has left us all raw and slightly stunned.
She was a beautiful woman and is already greatly missed.
Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.
Breaking all my rules here, which is always a liberating thing to do, and writing about poetry on a Saturday…
The Cheltenham Festival of Literature is still on and today I attended a poetry event: Anthony Anaxagorou… absolutely brilliant.
There is a really good article about his latest collection ‘After the Formalities’ here.
He read beautifully from it, his experience in the ‘spoken word’ world clear from his ‘performance’, and yet he was intimate and fragile and strong and real, genuine, honest.
This is the long poem that gives the collection its title… Stick with it, it’s worth it:
AFTER THE FORMALITIES, Anthony Anaxagorou
In 1481 the word ‘race’ first appears in Jacques de Brézé’s poem ‘The Hunt’. De Brézé uses the word to distinguish between different groups of dogs.
In that hard year grandparents arrived on a boat with a war behind them and a set of dog leads. Bullet holes in the sofa. Burst pillows. Split rabbits. Passports bound in fresh newspapers. Bomber planes. A dissenting priest. A moneybag sucking worry. On the boat grandmother anticipated England’s winters with the others. Black snow on gold streets. Grandfather grieved two dogs he’d left. Pedigrees. Bluebottles decaying at the base of their bowls. The dogs of England were different. The water though. Fine to drink.
In 1606 French diplomat Jean Nicot added the word ‘race’ to the dictionary drawing distinctions between different groups of people. Nicotine is named after him.
In London grandparents lived with only a radio. A lamp favouring the wall’s best side. Curtains drawn round. Byzantine icons placed on paraffin heaters. Arguing through whispers. Not wanting to expose tongues. Stories circulating. What neighbours do if they catch you saying “I’m afraid” in a language that sounds like charred furniture being dragged across a copper floor. Grandfather. Always. Blew smoke out the lip of his window. So too did his neighbour. Colourless plumes merging amorphous. The way it’s impossible to discern the brand of cigarette a single pile of ash derives from.
In his 1684 essay ‘A New Division of the Earth’ French physician François Bernier became the first popular classifier to put all humans into races using phenotypic characteristics.
Mother’s skin is the colour of vacations. Her hair bare-foot black. An island’s only runway. Reports of racist attacks. Father turns up the volume. Turns us down. Chews his pork. Stings the taste with beer. Tells mother to pass the pepper. There is never a please. He asks if she remembers the attack. The hospital. His nose. A Coca-Cola bottle picked from his skull. Yes. She mutters. The chase. Dirty bitch. How we’ll make you White. Aphrodite hard. Dirty dog trembling with the street light. Please God. Not tonight. The kids.
In 1775 J.F. Blumenbach claimed in his seminal essay ‘On the Natural Variety of Mankind’ that it was environment, not separate creations, which caused the variety in humans.
In the bathroom mirror I spat blood from my mouth. Quaver breath and suburban. My brother desperate to piss. Pulled the door open. Asking. What happened? I tried to fight and lost? Why? Because the island we come from is smaller than this. Their names are shorter. Pronounceable so they exist. Even after their noses break they still don’t hook like ours. Their sun is only half peeled. He lifted his top to show me two bruises. To remind me of something. How history found its own way of surviving. A dark wash mixed with the whites spinning round and around.
In the bathroom mirror my brother spat blood from his mouth. Souvla breath and home. Me. Desperate to piss. Pulling the door open. Asking. What happened? He tried to fight and lost? Why? Because the island we come from is larger than this. Here. We chew up too much of their language. Leave behind an alphabet of bones. We will never exist in their love songs. How many bruises does it take to make a single body? I left him. Surviving history. A dark wash mixed with the whites spinning round and around.
In 1859 British naturalist Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
If the house phone rings after midnight someone you know is dying. Breathing in ten black moons under a siren or belfry. From the wound in my uncle’s back leaked the first atlas. Blood escaping him like a phantom vaulting over the spiked gates of heaven. The knife. Half steel half drunk. The motive. Skin or prayer. We went to visit. In the window’s condensation his daughter wrote Daddy Don’t Die. On the water of her breath. That evening my father came home. One hand trumpet. The other wreath. All his fists the law.
In 1911 eugenicist Charles Davenport wrote in his seminal book, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, “Two imbecile parents, whether related or not, have only imbecile offspring”.
She had the same colour hair as Jesus. Most boys smile after. When we were done I moved a blonde streak from my arm wondering how much of my body was still mine. I smelt of rain atop an old umbrella. My fingers a burnt factory. She asked if I was her first and when I said yes she smiled. Pulling the covers up whispering not to get too comfortable. How her father would be back. The bed now a continent. The duvet locking me to its borders. On the shelf a gollywog above her family portrait. Poised like a saint.
The 1943 famine of Bengal killed 4 million people. Churchill ordered food to be sent directly to British soldiers in Europe. On hearing the number of Bengalis who’d perished he asked, “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”
Outside the KFC racists have always looked so sure to me. Like weathermen. Like fact. Driving his skull into mine like a belief. I saw how even evil can feel warm and smell good when close enough. A crowbar. Wedged against my throat. Slowly the lights began to wave. Chips by my feet. Black iron warming my skin so silently I could hear how suffering learns to soothe the jaws of antiquity. These men. Irrational as any God. And me. Emptying inside the promise of my oxygen tank.
“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population.” – Enoch Powell, 1968.
After the formalities of course I said London and of course he asked again. When I said Cyprus he leaned into his chair recalling a family holiday. The weather sublime. The people accommodating. Particularly towards the English. How it was a shame about the Turkish thing. And your parents. When did they enter here? In the late ’50s I replied. So before the Immigrants Act? Yes I said. Before. Well good for them. He said. Putting the lid on his pen. Closing his pad. Asking me to talk a bit more about my previous roles.
In 2001 philosopher Robert Bernasconi wrote “The construct of race was a way for white people to define those who they regarded as other.”
In those days I was required to fill out forms with multiple boxes. Some I left blank. My father would notice my omission. Filling in the white option with his black biro. I crossed it out. Telling him I’m going with ‘other’. My mother wearing the same sad skin as before said we are not White. The look he gave her was. Snatching the form from me. The same X dominating so much White. Let me tell you. Nobody in their right mind need make themselves such an obvious target. He affirmed.
My grandmother will die. Somewhere in her skeleton. White sheeted. Iodoform thick. Her mouth all beetle. My family will gather round her body. All fig. My mother will look for coins. Despite there being nothing for money to save. Another lady. Dying the same. Will goad our kind. Through thick tubes she’ll scorn. Her voice. A bluebottle’s hot wings. You’re all dogs. Foreigners. And dirty. Outnumber us even in dying. The nurse will apologise for the whole of history. Drawing the curtain. Mud is always the last thing to be thrown. A prayer reaching for the pride of an olive. Like a hint. To hold.
Did you know that ‘Abbey Road’, the Beatles’ final album was released today? I didn’t, someone just told me so I’m sharing. Growing up in Italy yes I knew who The Beatles were, of course, but I wasn’t really a major fan – unlike my mother who was mad about them – to the point that a musically snobby boyfriend (he was seriously into hard core Jazz) bought me the blue album (the red one? can’t remember) for my 18th birthday in an attempt to lure me away from Bruce. (See a few posts back). Fat chance. Of course it didn’t work, my love was real.
BUT, now, after living in England for many many years, and being force fed their music at every opportunity by Mr M, I have come to realise their greatness and importance (blah blah blah…) and I quite enjoy their music.
Sooo, in honour to their final album, as I was saying, I give you this little gem which I had never heard before today (and I thought I’d heard them all before, so there you go…), from the b-side of the album… sung here by Paul McCartney..
They lyrics come from a poem by the seventeenth-century playwright and poet Thomas Dekker from his play ‘Patient Grizzel’ (1603), set to a Lennon & McCartney’s new melody.
Here’s the poem:
Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby:
Rock them, rock them, lullaby
Care is heavy, therefore sleep you;
You are care, and care must keep you.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby:
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.
So there, have yourself a nice weekend, ours will be silly busy and I’m tired already… but hey, onward and upwards, right?
Yesterday we had a special service at Gloucester Cathedral for this year School Leavers. Aside from the fact that I can’t quite reconcile with the fact my first born has finished school… it was a wonderful service. Beautiful words, beautiful hymns… and I cried… managed to hold back the ugly crying… but I felt a huge/gratitude/respect love for him and his school/teachers/friends. These kids are the future… and let me tell you, the future doesn’t look too bad at all.
Anyway, the Dean said a lovely thing in his speech. He mentioned how the Cathedral (the school is attached to it) is now part of them, and always will be. And they are part of the Cathedral in the wider sense and he hopes they can be like its ‘living stones’ in the world; knowing where they belong to, but moving on and taking its strength with them.
I love the image and it reminded me of this Mary Oliver poem:
Watering the Stone by Mary Oliver
Every summer I gather a few stones from the beach and keep them in a glass bowl. Now and again I cover them with water, and they drink. There’s no question about this; I put tinfoil over the bowl, tightly, yet the water disappears. This doesn’t mean we ever have a conversation, or that they have the kind of feelings we do, yet it might mean something. Whatever the stones are, they don’t lie in the water and do nothing.
Some of my friends refuse to believe it happens, even though they’ve seen it. But a few others—I’ve seen them walking down the beach holding a few stones, and they look at them rather more closely now. Once in a while, I swear, I’ve even heard one or two of them saying “Hello.” Which, I think, does no harm to anyone or anything, does it?