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, 2 June 2012

poetry, madness & gruntlement

   There are nights in the forest of words
   when I panic, every step into thicker darkness,
   the only way out to write myself into a clearing,
   which is silence.
   Anne Michaels

The Madwoman
Thank goodness I've my poetry group, Two Rivers, meeting at my home every first Saturday of the month, or the housework would get done even less often than it does already (TM is better at keeping the place clean and tidy than I, it has to be said. There again, I like to use the excuse that he built and owns the house and I simply add the decorative touches and a variety of music and artwork, not to mention Creative Clutter. Not sure he feels that is a good substitute for good solid housecleaning awareness though...)

It so happens that I got up and cleaned the most significant bits (ie the visible bits, I admit shamelessly) at 2.30am today. I didn't do this because I'd intended to, I emphasise, but because having tossed and turned for so long beforehand I thought I might as well get up and deal with some of the things that were stressing me out – like having more to do before the workshop in the morning than there would be time available for after getting up at 6am.

I'm now in a position to know that it gets light enough to go for a walk at 3am, now, with just under 3 weeks to go to the summer solstice here in Devon (and my next Ground of Being Dartmoor workshop). Owls were calling across the half-light. 

At 4.15 the dawn chorus of day birds started; one bird, two, three then suddenly an orchestra: having just gone back to bed, and due up again in less (fewer) than two hours to sort out the mess in my garden 'studio' where most of the day takes place, I didn't know whether to listen in joy or fury knowing that, being a very light sleeper, I wouldn't now drop off until I'd acclimatised to all that extra noise (call me spoiled but I've always lived in secluded places so the most noise disturbance would be birdsong; and back in the days when I was A Sleeper that wouldn't wake me up). 

I catch my miserliness immediately: how amazing, how fortunate, how blessed I am to be surrounded by songbirds when species by species they're heading fast towards extinction (though there is always the odd wavelet lapping back up beyond the tideline as some species increase their numbers by a small margin).

Sleep, good deep restful restorative sleep, has been a very rare commodity in my life the last six years, with one family crisis/trauma after another. I'm someone who needs eight hours a night; I'm lucky to catch five these days (nights); and even then it's not unbroken. I seem to find myself very easily saturated with stimuli of various sorts, and the slightest trigger has my brain running in those unending circles known to those of us who are insomniacs – or rather, as labelling oneself can create unconscious identification with the label, let's say 'someone who currently experiences at times a little sleeplessness'. Some people's response to exhaustion is to fall asleep at odd and inconvenient times; mine is to become ever more wired, on red alert permanently. I suppose my system is perpetually adrenalised.

I have to say it's not just my health and relaxed wellbeing that's affected, but I know I've also aged visibly the last few years. This is pure vanity, but none the easier for that. So when I catch sight of a a slightly-demented-looking self in the mirror as I clean the bathroom sink in the early hours (I have to admit this is slightly demented behaviour) it's hard to believe that yes this is me – white at the temples, eyes puffy, lines where none were, and bits that used to go in now going out. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. 

Not smuggling, but driving
After we'd gone through Customs last week TM said to me 'Did you see how long she stared at your passport photo?' and I know that the woman on the page who is surely not me, with the mad staring eyes and the (enforced by Man Taking Passport Photo) lack of smile, does look as if she should have an escort, perhaps armed or white-coated, to cross the border... 

Twice I have been escorted over borders, actually – in both cases in Vizcaya during the heights of the Basque troubles, and in both cases mistakenly; once, camping out as we were in a deserted farmhouse high in the Pyrenees they suspected us of gun-running, which we weren't; AND they nicked my beautiful hat with the Isadora Duncan scarf. 

The second time I blame it on my then-husband who looked like the typical revolutionary. That time they held us at New Year at the border for 24 hours despite our infant daughter, while they took apart our camper van and checked our Interpol records. Then there was the time my husband got himself banged up for being unknowingly set up in Afghanistan as he travelled overland in the days when you could... that's another story.

The Wildlife
Thank goodness, too, for the spotted woodpeckers at the birdfeeder. From May each year they bring the new youngster, who makes me smile as she (this year) shrieks each time she arrives on the feeder, which each time brings the magpies, sooner or later, to see her off. If she manages to stay long enough, there's a few minutes of comedy (for me) as she tries to work out how to get nuts from the empty top bit, time after time, until she remembers she has to climb foot after foot down to the full bit of the feeder. This morning, as so often, she does that thing I've mentioned before where at a particular point she just hangs there for minutes, motionless, eyes half-glazed, and just when I'm thinking she truly must have a peanut lodged inextricably in her gullet and is simply suffocating, and I'm wondering about the logistics of catching said bird and performing micro-Heimlich Manoeuvre she blinks, wakes up and carries on pecking.

Up the lane the little spotted foal is dozing in buttercups. Even in this rushed morning I can spare five minutes to admire him.

Saving one's life
And thank goodness for poetry. Adrienne Rich said that poetry is a means of saving one's life, and so it is – the reading of it, the writing of it, the sharing of it with others who get it. It's a way of feeding soul in a secular culture, and today it's a way, too, of escaping the mass hysteria that sweeps the nation on a Significant Day. OK if I weren't feeling so grumpy I'd probably appreciate that it's an excuse, really, for a party; and nothing against her personally, but the Queen's Jubilee leaves me as untouched as the Olympics.

So these 6 hours with people I love who love what I love doing too – reading and writing poetry – that's a way of saving my life too.

And now rain. And I feel a bit more gruntlement:

   Rain settling in like conversation between
   lifelong friends; rain, plants, stone, birds
   at ease with themselves and each other, at ease
   with how the world needs to be.

(from 'Rain Dharma', All the Missing Names of Love.)

And thank goodness for B
– who is making possible for me a bit of a sabbatical this summer, starting now. This for me is a chance to recover a bit, grieve my mum, and catch up on rest and my own writing. Yay.

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