from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

the heart's dark lonely nebula (poem)

The little egret who in previous winters has roosted at night in the big oak down by the brook has been absent this winter – until Saturday, when he/she appeared solo; and then on Monday s/he brought a friend. Egrets have been colonising Devon's estuaries for maybe 15 or 20 years now, but they still look exotic and foreign, and inland even more so, their snowy-white standing out against our rather drab winter shades.

For ten years I lived on the little Bere peninsula, the confluence of the Tavy and the Tamar near where Devon and England both give way across the water to the ancient Duchy of Cornwall – Kernow, to those of us who come from there. I loved that world: its micro-ecosystem, its proximity to the moor, but the ever-changing water (it's tidal there) offering a flux I like. There's a small causeway running alongside the river, with a reedy hinterland graced with an occasional lightning flash of kingfisher. Once or twice a grass snake would emerge under the road-bridge to have a little swim in the salty water. Always there are egrets, strutting and peering, and heron too.

The northwest coasts of Devon and Cornwall are utterly different from the southeast coasts. North is wild, dramatic, uplifting. The southeast coasts are a landscape of tidal creeks, saltmudflats and little backwaters, wooded and mysterious. I'm a northwest person, but I've come to love these tidal creeks (and they are too reminiscent for me of holidays spent on my cousins' farm as a child, riding out alongside creeky water, down on the east Cornish coast).

Yesterday I took my bereaved dad down to the peninsula in the bright clear cold of a February afternoon. It's full moon (in Leo), and at its height the spring tide at the full and new moons washes over the causeway: a little subversive reminder to us all that there are things we still can't control, like the moon's tug. I like this, too. My dad and I took the tiny path between trees perched over the rising tide; the last light of the day echoing off the chrome-yellow lichen of the rocks to gild the water lapping at the rushes (where yes a little egret was stooping for water creatures). It occurs to me that the lichen on rocks near the sea is often unusually brightly coloured – a deep yolk-yellow. I wonder if this is specific to salt water air? There's a permanent colony of Canada geese here (to my fury one or two of the locals used to shoot them, but badly, so that occasionally they would be left maimed rather than killed); a flotilla of 60-odd was floating out in the channel. The daffodils are out (this used to be known as the 'fruit and flower basket of the West' – the climate is mild, so early cropping is normal, and the little branch railway would take flowers up to Covent Garden, and the woods are full of a variety of types of escapee daffodils). Already bluebells are spiking well here, and the snowdrops flush all the corners white.

One of the treats about visiting my dad and my old haunts is the drive back across the moor in the dimpsy, the tors softly charcoaled, sky luminous and yesterday that fat moon in the east; the pony herds, little Galloway cattle and the black-faced Scotch sheep who do well on these sparse uplands; ravens, buzzards, snipe and as I near home an owl.

These landscapes stir something in me, and many of my poems push above the surface of the saltmud or the moor in my imagination.

My next collection, All the Missing Names of Love (mostly poems from 2004-9), is due out in early April, and here's one from near Bere Ferrers; inspired partly by Robert MacFarlane's profoundly beautiful book of the poem's title (they're mostly not bleak, though this one is I suppose, a bit; a certain despair in relation to really knowing another person; written at the end of a relationship): 

Reading The Wild Places 

And look how it all in the end
falls back into silence:
these walls, the battles ceded or ‘won’
(as if we don’t all lose);
the fertile fetch between us
quiet as the deserts
between stars.
I read yesterday how many tons
of photons strike us in the course of one day –
how we’re more ‘gap
than join’.

Later, on the causeway
glimpsing the kingfisher stitch light
back across the mudflats,
I remembered that a Manx shearwater
in its life flies as far as the moon
and back; but us –
                        oh yes
I may kiss your mouth today,
molecule to dancing molecule;
and still
what’s most real within me
might remain unlaunched;
may never make the leap between
my heart’s dark lonely nebula
and yours.

© Roselle Angwin


  1. That's very lovely.
    We have egrets here. They fly in groups. their wings catching the morning and evening sun, as they commute to the herds of cows that they sit on and groom during the day. The locals call them 'colegas' - because they stay together with the cows.
    You write about your countryside with love and clarity. It gives a lot of pleasure. I do wonder, though, why you throw in the odd downer, in this instance, the shooting of Canada geese. Is it necessary to mention this? Does it help us to our higher purpose? This may sound like a critisism.. It's not. I just wanted to say this.
    I love your writing.

  2. Thanks Veronica as always. And I like 'colegas'! I think your ones are maybe bigger than ours?

    And thank you for raising what you do. Well, you see, for me our higher purpose doesn't involve avoiding the dark. I don't feel it's helpful to dwell on it, but nor do I think it's helpful to shy away from it. We are creatures of light and shade, and I think our purpose is to acknowledge, integrate and THEN transcend our darker aspects rather than push them away or deny their existence altogether (if we do that they come back to bite us hard). The countryside, like people, does not just contain butterflies and bluebells, and to be authentic I want also to notice/record what does go on, even painful stuff, even if to protest at it, rather than pretend it doesn't happen.

    I do recognise what you're saying. For instance I find it hard to listen to the daily news, preferring to live in a land (make-believe land) where no one fights anyone and no one starves or is homeless or abused. But I don't live in that land, and I suppose I feel that awareness of these things is a step towards changing them... And these are things I struggle with, and therefore also write about.

    You remember on the novel course: who writes, or wants to read, entirely bland novels about contented people?? We go to others' writings too perhaps to find ways of facing our own dark shadows, and know we're not alone in this struggle for wholeness, and to learn how to love, what's worthwhile, what's worth committing to, what we need to change, etc etc... don't we? Rx

    1. Oh yes, you say it so well. And I love your honesty and facing the dark as well as the light.
      It's a tangle being human.
      Love your next blog, on the train. cocktail stick rushes.... brill!

  3. Thank you, V, for being the affirmative positive person you always are :-)



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