Golden June

I don’t want it to end. This burgeoning June.

There are poppies. Everywhere. In gardens and on wild, untended street corners.

Rose bushes bend double under the weight of their flowers. Swallows dip and soar.

Dogs bark. Mowers hum. Peas blossom.

Long evenings of play end in baths to clean strawberry stained fingers and soil caked feet

Then we collapse onto a sun warmed bed and watch the blind flap gently, flooding the room with dusky, golden light 


 

We return home tomorrow after three weeks of being nomads. It doesn't really look like home and we don't have a proper bathroom or kitchen but I can bake bread again and we can sleep in our own bed. As I get older its the small things, seemingly ordinary things, that bring me the most joy. 

 'If you want a golden rule that will fit ... the true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life" William Morris

 

A Trade/Something Understood

I've written some more poems. That seems to be the direction my creativity is taking of late, thoughts emerging in words, fragments of enlightenment, observations, confusions rather than clear linear pictures or narratives.

I go with the flow. 

I think it’s because poetry is the best medium for expressing almost inexpressible - Marie Howe describes this really brilliantly.

“Well, poetry holds…what can’t be said. It can’t be paraphrased. It can’t be translated. The great poetry I love holds the mystery of on being alive. It holds a kind of basket of words that feels inevitable. There’s great, great, great prose, you know, gorgeous prose. You and I could probably quote some right now. Poetry has a kind of trancelike quality still. It has the quality of a spell still, you know.”

A Trade

The universe demanded a price for my children

But I did not know until it was too late.

The coffin passed

and you tossed and churned in my belly,

new life and new death, separated by flesh and wood.

 

Two brothers for two babies

A straight swap but not a fair trade,

our joy for their sadness

our family for theirs.

 

I promise lives full of adventure

to match the ones they lived

journeys across oceans,

days spent catching fish.

Is that enough thanks for this huge sacrifice? 

Two siblings for two siblings,

two deaths for two lives.

 

Something Understood

 

It is early Spring in the Norfolk lane.

Daffodils adorn the verge in dense, luxurious puffs of yellow.

We have paused while our sandy haired boy

bends to observe a pebble or bug,

flicking the dust with a stick.

The ‘daffodil trumpets’ catch his eye

and he reaches out a fleshy finger

poking it deep into the centre of every flower

each gesture a reverential ritual,

accompanied by its own fanfare.

 

I meet your eye, 

“People ask why we’re here.

I think this might be why.

Just to be here. This.”

You nod and smile. 

The breeze rustles the poplars.

Here I am. I am ready.

Leonard Cohen’s final album ‘You want it Darker’ is brilliant. 

It was recorded in his living room because he was too unwell to go anywhere. It seems that, like David Bowie, he saved the best for last, turning the experience of dying into his greatest creative effort.

Then there’s his voice…deeper than ever, summoning sound from the depths of his soul, rasping truths into your ear in a way that makes you feel he’s speaking directly to you.

And although as the title suggests, it is pretty dark, it’s also defiant in a palpably vital way. Leonard is not succumbing, he’s actively welcoming death, “so you want it darker? We kill the flame.”

But the thing about this masterpiece that has fascinated me and provoked some serious thought, are the chorus lyrics in the title track. The meaning of the words, "I'm ready my Lord" are clear enough and caught my attention immediately, I was like ok so he's making his peace with God here but I also noticed Cohen sings some words in another language before that, I didn't understand them, they just seemed important somehow so I looked them up.

It’s actually one word spoken twice, the Hebrew word ‘Hineni’ which translates literally as ‘Here I am’. It is what Moses says to God when he asks him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. It is what Abraham says to God when God asks him to sacrifice his only son. It denotes a state of absolute readiness to give oneself, it is an offer of absolute availability. 

 “You want it darker’ is Cohen giving himself to God, expressing his absolute readiness for the end of his life. Hineni. Here I am. I’m ready my Lord.

I found this idea utterly beautiful and deeply moving, this expression of a faith so certain, so great that you can hand yourself over to it absolutely. I felt jealous of it in a way, it's such a passionate, selfless, enormous expression of love, it would be an amazing thing to experience and to possess but I don't believe in God so...

Around the same time  I caught Krista Tippett’s On Being Interview with Pádraig Ó Tuama. It’s a rich, compassionate conversation, brimming with wisdom, so much so I’ve listened four times and I’m still not done with it -  it’s a perspective altering piece of audio.

During the conversation they briefly touch on Ó Tuama's favourite poem ‘Lost’ by David Wagoner. They only quoted a couple of lines but they were beautiful, powerful lines, so once again I found myself digging about on the internet, searching for more. Here's what I found:

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

It’s a poem about belonging, about finding your place in the world. Its message is overwhelmingly comforting and reassuring; none of us are truly lost, even when we feel we are because “wherever you are is called Here.’

But in order to be found you have to surrender to that place, the place called Here, the present moment. You must ‘stand still’ ‘listen’ ‘let it find you.” It struck me that this is a form of Hineni, it’s a way of saying “Here I am, I am ready” but instead of making yourself available to God, you’re making yourself open and available to your location in time and space, to circumstance, to the Universe , to whatever life throws at you.

This ritual, the act that the poem is suggesting, is every bit as beautiful and spiritually nourishing as the religious form of Hineni. It still brings you into a state of perfect openness and availability, it’s just that it doesn’t require that you put faith in anyone other than yourself and the moment in which you exist.  

Like Cohen's expression of readiness to hand himself to God, it's actively passive. You have to bring yourself into a state readiness, "Here I am, I am ready" but once you've done that, the rest is out of your hands -  the forest, the place called here, knows where you are, it hears you and it will find you. 

This morning, as I travelled into work, pondering how I might put all of this into words, I put on another episode of On Being, this time a conversation with Richard Rohr. Towards the end of the interview he said something that seemed to me to get to the very heart of this train of thought, “I think the truly human is always experienced in vulnerability…vulnerability transforms you.”

It seems to me to be intrinsically connected to Hineni which, when you think about it, is an ultimate state of vulnerability. A state where the egotistical, desirous-self is put aside in favour of something softer and more yielding, that allows you to be moulded and shaped for the better by the people, experiences and locations you encounter.

Viewed in this way vulnerability isn't weakness, it's a combination of fragility "Here I am" and strength "I am ready" a state where transformation is guaranteed, where we can experience great love, deep relief and a better understanding of what it is to be human and the best thing about it is that you don't have to believe in God to be transformed by it. 

 

The Mirror Ghost

i.
Dense fog grounds planes and creeps into my periphery
blurring edges,
stealing vitality.
I blink away hope
Slowly
Adjusting my eyes to the four o'clock gloom where,
I am insubstantial
a mirror ghost.

I examine my sometimes pink flesh through thin, wet paper

Flesh. Not blood.
But still my heart skips
Expecting its red plush

ii.
"Go to the water"
The water, where twin lines of bladderwrack
meet on the horizon
and the cadence of the tide
matches the breath of sleep

iii.
Here's the smell of blood still
A Rorschach test of crimson and white
It is the shape of broken dreams.

I haunt a red bus
and cross the river,
whispering a private mantra
until I can lift my head
in a smile that permits light-heartedness.

Further downstream
Jacob's ladders illuminate a shimmering pool

On any other day I might take it as a sign.

 

I have good news. I am pregnant and we have reached the milestone of 13 weeks. These three months have been long, sickly and anxiety ridden, I think it will continue to be that way.  I can't quite shake the feeling that something might go wrong. I'm ok with that though, it's to be expected after all that has happened AND there are positives, like the urge to create and the poetry that virtually writes itself. 

NOTES:

Line 12: Cut by Sylvia Plath, Line 8
Line 18: V. Macbeth. Scene i