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

Monday, 18 June 2012

the hazardous journeys of the heart

After days, or maybe weeks, of storm and cold weather the sea at Teignmouth is blue, tranquil, with the horizon clearly delineated, indigo, sharp. I was brought up near the sea, and miss it more than I can articulate, so simply being here, on this curve of bay with its bookends of red sandstone stack, makes me unutterably happy.

Here there is still a small fishing fleet: despite the sea being fished out, and despite myself not eating animals, it gladdens me nonetheless to see the remnants of a small local natural-world enterprise, complete with the dangers of relying on the sea and her moods, still surviving; and after all, my ancestors were fishers and trawlermen, some of them, out of Cornwall.

A and I sit in sun, with a mug of coffee, with the scent of saltwater and seaweed blowing over us.

Walking back, picking our way over sand and painters – or maybe they're simply called mooring ropes* when they belong to slightly bigger boats – inhaling sea air, I come across a very beautiful small stone Buddha,  just back of the sea. I remind myself that I can choose to simply be here, with everything just as it is, right now, and be ok with it.


The hospital is small, quiet, friendly – and perched on the hill with far-reaching and uplifting views over said sea. While I wait I read Kathleen Jamie's essay on gannets, think myself back up in the Hebrides, see them diving with such ferocity of intent into the Sound of Mull.

The surgeon is gentle, and jokey. I say, as I lie on the theatre couch (if that's what you call it) trying not to feel sorry for myself, how lucky we are still to have a(n) NHS, and how fortunate I am that this is such a small affair, and so easily dealt with, in such a peaceful situation, given Syria, given Africa, given terrible wounds, war and violence, given probably a large proportion of the world.

Nonetheless, although I can feel no pain due to the local anaesthetic, the sound and sensation of my skin being cut away at my throat is odd, disturbing in a primal way. And the incision is bigger than I imagine it will be, and I'm told it might create 'pathological scarring', and there's no guarantee that it'll be entirely successful, or that I won't need to come back. Breathe, I think. Right here, right now, how it is. 'And', he says, 'no more sitting in the sun without sunscreen.'

I'm aware, too, of the irony of noticing and dealing with my mum's carcinoma last year, before she died; and being oblivious to my own, growing, strangely, at the same time.


Back home, we raise a glass to missing parts. Outside the female woodpecker flies in to the peanut feeder, this time with her daughter. (Usually she brings her son, or they come as a threesome.) I notice how she favours the son: fat and cocky and demanding as he is she succumbs to his bullying and feeds him; her slender smaller daughter she mostly chases away, even tonight when it's just the two of them. She feeds the daughter maybe one time in four of the daughter's requesting.

What is it, I wonder, that makes her favour the son? Is this an evolutionary quirk? Are there more females than males in the contemporary world? Are males a better bet for the lineage? Do woodpeckers have an Oedipus complex and whatever its reciprocal maternal complex is? Or is it simply that his bullying persistence drives her nuts (so to speak)?

And then I think about what it is that makes us favour one person over another (I'm not thinking of children here, though of course there is an argument that parents and children choose each other pre-birth; that it is not an accident, the fact of to whom we are born/whom we parent). Evolution/pheromones/biochemistry? A psychological fit? A rush of blood to the heart?
(Or simply to the more physical and procreative parts?) A sense of deep recognition, unquantifiable?

Something like a sense of twin rocks in the same stream, the same waters of consciousness washing our pasts and our futures?

And I think I'd better stop there; two glasses of fizz now to the wind, and I might pull this blog in the morning...


*This reminds me of a poem of mine. It has nothing to do with anything except boats, and the hazardous journeys of the heart. Nonetheless, here it is (and maybe 'rope' should really be called 'sheet'):


Riding the back of the Tamar
our keel cutting clean,
waves peeling away to the margins,
narrow channel, silver
among silvered mud,
hoisting the jib, rope snaking
past our feet, creak of breeze,
the deck tilting
between red and green lights,
Navy flotilla, open sea ahead.

Everywhere the world gives voice
unreservedly, over and over:
day crawling up the sky,
the lights of Saltash
multiplied and returned from water,
taste of light rain and saltspray,
that flock of squeaking titmice
shimmying in the pines
we left behind,
tea in this red plastic mug.

The sun, still rising.
What we need is faith,
a good wind,
a few kind words.

© Roselle Angwin


  1. Your health issue must have been very worrying for you - how difficult it must have been have had to deal with it while your mother was on her last earthly journey.
    I'm glad that it has been dealt with today especially somewhere which sounds like a caring environment. Like you, I give thanks for the safety net of our wonderful NHS.
    Healing thoughts to you, dear lady and hopefully healing days of peace and tranquility now for you. xx

  2. Thank you dear Roz. Oddly it wasn't a big deal until I was lying there conscious but numbed! - this kind is so low down the malignancy list.

    Much worse trying to explain to my mum (over and over) with late alzheimer's why her doc wanted her carcinoma seen to, when my mum had a lifelong fear of hospitals... and then to take her in for the prelims - hours of waiting, and where the young consultant then assumed my mum was deaf (she wasn't) and bellowed at her that she had 'cancer' (my mum's other biggest fear). THAT was truly awful.

    I'm lucky. And I'm lucky with friends. Thank you so much for your care and support. xx


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