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

Saturday, 6 December 2014

a descent

This is not directly relevant, but it is a bit, to me, at the moment. And it's about a descent into the dark time. Every year has them; every life has them. Sometimes they coincide.

How it is.

So much of our suffering, says Jungian and cantadora Clarissa Pinkola Estes, comes about because we cleave to the 'life' aspect of the life/death/life cycle and push away the 'death' part. Buddhism says something similar.

So in the spirit of 'and this too', here is a small part of a story-within-a-story; it comes from my most recent novel, The Burning Ground.



There’s a gap in the story after Mark. It’s hard to talk about a descent, that wordless inviolable time when you can’t imagine ever feeling anything again. My memory only throws up a sense of endless twilight  – half-shapes, minimal motions; getting dressed, eating an occasional meal, speaking when spoken to. I suppose I must have worked; must have got through that summer and winter and the next summer somehow. Maybe it was longer. I don’t know.
          But even in Hades there are seeds in the fruit, and though the tasting of them seals a contract you can never again escape, so the swallowing of them yields something of nourishment, in time.
          Anyone who’s been bereaved will know that the returning feelings are both blessing and curse. I hadn’t really expected the rage, though I know it’s normal. It’s just that then, as before and as now, so many years later, I expected that when I thought of Mark I would feel only love. (I had expected, of course, love to be heavily tempered with desolation.)
          It took me a while to move beyond the rage. It wasn’t just at him, for leaving me behind so abruptly, but also of course at life, at fate, at transience; the arbitrary unfairness, untrustworthiness of everything.
          And after the rage, grief; a wild blind grief of which I could speak to no-one, not even my mother.
          But now as I write this I find myself smiling at the thought of Mark. Yes, I’m over him; have been for many years, and when I think about him, as I do from time to time still, it’s only with pleasure that he was in my life at all. Ah, time, knitting all these fractures, repairing the torn tissue.

I remember every moment, though, about the day in late September of the year after Mark’s death, Michaelmas to the Christians and the equinox to others, when Mark’s parents and I walked up to the top of Glastonbury Tor.
          We did it the old way, taking the ancient spiral path. We hadn’t really discussed this; it just seemed the right way to do it. Looking back I’m a little surprised: Mark’s family is Christian, and fairly conventional. I suppose what we were doing was a pilgrimage; and when you live near the Tor the Old Ways are part of the emotional and psychic landscape just as they are of the geographical one.
          It took us some time, and it was dusk when we arrived.
          We’d chosen a weekday, and the end of the day, hoping there wouldn’t be other people around.
          It had been stormy all day, gale force winds from the west slapping our backs on the exposed side of the Tor. I was conscious of my waterproof flapping and rustling; it seemed inappropriate to be making such irrelevant noises, such modern noises. My hair was blown over my face, whipping my eyes and lips. I was grateful for the storm; I wanted more, I wanted the elements present as they weren’t at the cremation; I wanted the diversion of physical discomfort. Mark’s mum Lena was panting slightly, and I could hear a low moan, a tiny low moan like a sigh, escaping from her open lips.
          Don had the little cardboard box containing the canister with him. He’d clutched it to his chest all the way up the hill, with both hands. When we got to the top there was a minute when we just looked at each other, not knowing what to say or do now.
          Don put his hand on my shoulder. ‘All right lass?’
          I nodded.
          Don put an arm around Lena and drew her to him. They just stood there, head to head, very human, very mortal. You feel small on the top of the Tor, small and vulnerable. I was aware of the privacy of their grief; not sure whether I should be there at all. And I couldn’t bear the silence suddenly; nor the look of anguish on Lena’s face. I moved away, stumbling a little on the ruts around the old chapel.
          To the west the clouds were breaking up and a lurid orange-red was bleeding around their edges. I suddenly noticed that the wind had dropped, as it often does at dusk; the silence seemed to roar until I couldn’t think. The physical details of everything seemed to press themselves in on me: the smell of wet earth, the stone of the chapel under my fingers, a pebble beneath the sole of my boot, the wetness of my cuffs and at my neck. I could taste salt at the corners of my mouth – I hadn’t realised until now that I was crying. I wondered whether I’d been weeping all the way up the Tor.
          The gentle Somerset landscape, the quilting of fields and hedges and ditches stretched out below seemed alien, somehow, and very far away. 

© Roselle Angwin 2013


  1. As you know, this is very close to my heart, Roselle, especially now – preparing to write (TWR) and all the grief that threatens to overwhelm it and me. The extract is wonderful – I remember it well from reading the Burning Ground some time – last year. What is particularly true for me is the numbness, the detachment from oneself and the claustrophobic pressing-in of physical details around. In my experience, these vivid details become, with time, a comforting, if smartingly painful, memorial of the time, the loss, the person lost.
    I found the above, reading it for a second time, all the more poignant, particularly that last sentence, which transported me to similar places and brought tears very close.
    One reason why it all works so perfectly is the feeling that it comes so genuinely from the heart.
    Thanks as ever – it's stirred me into writing the current chapters more convincingly, if possible.
    I'm grateful to you for sharing all this at such a difficult time.
    With love, Miriam x

    PS And now to work!

  2. Miriam, thank you - I'm glad to hear that it feels authentic. It's hard to see that myself, naturally I guess.

    Am glad that writing is happening for you. I haven't of course forgotten TWR - I know you understand it might take me a little while. And it's true to say I AM looking forward to it - to picking up the story again.

    With love

  3. Of course I understand about TWR. You have to take as long as it takes, I know. It'll be lovely when it comes (despite my usual worries about it) but until then I've plenty to do – and so have you.

    Do look after yourself, Roselle.
    M x


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