August 28, 2018

totem



i have moved
without your moving me
i have seen 
what you have not
i remember
all that might have been
i know what you forgot




silences


what gifts do we bring to those whom we love?
what weapons do we bring to a battle?
every lover is an undiscovered
country, and all our maps are wrong, so wrong
we may as well use them for wrapping up
the pieces of ourselves that we cut off.
this quiet is not peace, nothing so pure
it is the absence of strife that echoes
after strife, the calm that comes after tears,
the measured decision to say nothing
yet again. silence is my gift to you.
once i could have given you other things
it did start that way, but now my sole gift
and perhaps my weapon, is this silence.
and you? your gift is anger, your weapons,
noise and flight from the field of our battle.
i do not know myself whether silence 
is gift or weapon, but i know it feels
like it is all that i have left to give.

August 17, 2018

tangled



if i untangle you from me,
will i then begin to see
will i find then finally
what is is that i should be,
something finer, fierce, and free?

book of hours

romantics think of past times as idyllic,
conjuring a dreamy scene
of wise old kings and clever queens,
a sweet belief in unicorns,
and knights who rode knee-deep in irises
by faery haunted streams and lakes,
taking favours from the golden girls
who dwelt among roses and lilies,
stitching hopes and singing softly
out of mellow stone windows
as the knights went by.

historians know that it was grittier than that.
men died face-down in bloodied mud,
and women and children wept in hiding
or were the spoil of conquerors,
roofs and ricks burning as they screamed.
babies drank in bigotry with their milk,
grew up to bully any weaker than themselves,
fighting over crumbs of cheese or counties,
according to their rank,
and burning harmless widows
when a cow went dry.

maybe it was both, and ancient folk
were more like us than we like to think,
bent double working sun-gilt fields of grain,
apprenticed out, or cloistered,
married off to strangers, collecting tithes,
riding out to hunt or fight,
grasping lands and gold.
good and bad ranged side by side,
heraldic chequers on a flag
that once upon a time was waved
in the same blue sky.








August 9, 2018

grand-memories



She could never make herself a cup of tea without hearing her grandmother's voice saying, "Stir your tea clockwise, Alida, so the sugar melts in better." Alida's grandmother's life seemed to be governed by a host of such illogical pronouncements. Why sugar would melt faster stirred clockwise than in any other fashion, no one ever explained. Pressed for an explanation, all the old woman said was that it helped the sugar go into the tea. And the herbs into the soup, etc. The only thing she would stir in the opposite direction was a basin of hand laundry, once the soap was worked through, because, she said, there you wanted to get the dirt out of the clothing. It was, like much about Grandmama, a bit of a mystery when she was a child.

But then Grandmama tended to be right about a lot of things. Her explanations---or rather, lack of explanations---for the why of her actions might be vague or unscientific, yet the actions themselves had good results. Her soup was better than anyone else's; better than her sister's, who used exactly the same recipes but didn't observe the stirring directions. The sugar, stirred "correctly", did seem to incorporate just a smidgen faster in the tea.  Alida, who slept in an old cherry-wood cradle at her Grandmother's insistence, did not get any of the infant illnesses that swept through their village every year. Rather infuriatingly to Alida, who had chafed at wearing hats all through her childhood winters, she was correct in insisting that wearing hats could keep a person warmer and thus healthier, although she had simply stated, as an article of belief, that wearing a hat would keep one from catching a cold. When Alida was older, preparing for university, she understood how perfectly rational and useful information could be passed down in garbled form as folklore. Ancient observations combined with a child-like hope of evoking desired outcomes through ritualised actions. It sat a bit uneasily in a modern world. She had always kept quiet about it in front of other children, feeling it marked her family as a bit provincial, unsophisticated, well---odd.

Some of Grandmama's behaviour was straight-up magical thinking, no question. Like the time when Alida was very sick with pneumonia, too sick to be taken to hospital, and Grandmama got her sister to bring over a small statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart, which they wrapped in white wool and hid somewhere in the church basement with his face to a wall, saying they would not turn him around until Alida got well. Gran and her sister were regular church-goers, like most of the older women in the town, but Alida was fairly certain that their heterodox style of personal belief would have dismayed the priest. The church had plenty of its own magical thinking, but Grandmama's went perhaps further than they cared to countenance. And she was pretty sure that the priest would have been undone if he knew about the swaddled-up Jesus statue charm hidden in his own church that week or so... As it was, he wondered what the woman did with all the holy water from the rusty old church dispenser she was always asking him for. Alida knew: much of it went into or onto her, when she was sick or injured. Her atheist parents, especially her father, thought the old woman's ways ridiculous at best; there had been a small scene once, where he shouted a bit about the unhygienic holy water being given to his daughter to drink. Gran was directed to boil it at least, prior to administering it to Alida, although it's doubtful she ever really did.

Spiritually speaking, Grandmama was more of a Virgin Mary devotee, although again, her take on theological aspects of Mary worship probably weren't quite what the church had in mind. Her Mother Mary wasn't very different from ancient Magna Maters. When Alida learned about various goddesses around the world, and especially when she studied Slavic folk beliefs, she realised how much they had in common with her Gran's personal Mary cult. In later years, her own spirituality took on a look and feel similar to her grandmother's, though without the church as intermediary, and very likely, even more similar to their distant ancestors. It seemed that really, it was only the names that changed over the centuries...

Why are things always most precious to us just before we lose them? Why do the leaves, which go through most of the year a pleasant but fairly monotonous green, suddenly flare into unbearable beauty just before they slip away in autumn? Why had it taken her so long to appreciate the unstinting care and the curiously antiquated customs her grandmother had fenced her childhood with, combatting illness and nightmares, bad grades and unpleasant classmates, sick-bed ennui and adolescent moodiness with the same calm sweetness and country cooking and unspoken tenderness? She had always loved her grandmother, despite going though a period of finding her faintly embarrassing, and a later (very brief) time of looking down on her lack of formal education. Alida had never thought her less than intelligent, though. She may never have seen her read anything for pleasure, but years of playing games both verbal and board-based showed her to be sharp enough, and her mind was stored with a great deal of practical knowledge. Alida's love for her grew increasingly poignant as her grandmother aged, and reached a frantic crescendo of impending loss when the old woman had a fall and went into surgery for a broken hip. She *knew*, as her grandmother had always just known (and her mother too, though she didn't speak of it), some things. She knew her grandmother would not leave the hospital and recover, and she was right. The room filled with the scent of her---cigarette smoke, Coty Parfum de Muguet, and violets---when the news came.

Alida recalled Grandmama's hands, crinkly with age and use, with the sapphire wedding ring their only and constant ornament, and thought how capable they had looked. Capable she undoubtedly was, in house or farmyard or nursery. And kindly, and soft; her rounded body was always comforting to Alida when she was small, and she could never wish her svelte or in any tiniest way different. It seemed inconceivable that she would never again see her grey eyes or hold her hands again. She did not inherit the sapphire ring, although her grandmother had wanted her to have it. She had very little that had belonged to her, just a few random things that no one else would have wanted: a small triptych of Mary flanked by angels which had stood always on her dressing table, a handkerchief or two, a large cooking pot, two measuring spoons, a wooden spoon carved of holly that her grandmother had insisted must always remain in the family for the safe-guarding of the house from lightning. What she did inherit was an untaught surety with herbs in cooking and in remedies, an array of superstitious lore that she consciously cherished, a way with cats and chickens and babies, and a sense for when the weather was changing. Perhaps she had in her very blood a recollection of how things had been in former times from this small round woman, her mother's mother, as much as she had other witcheries from her other side of the family, cloaked in their taller bones and blonder hair.




Zeroing In

This is very much a work-in-progress... But in case anyone wants to get started on alternatives to store-bought cleaners and cosmetic items...