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

Friday, 6 June 2014

'against the ice' (poem)

Against the Ice
Contra el agua, diás de fuego  (Octavio Paz)

There are mornings when you wonder
how anything ever turns out right -

when we’re all refugees trudging scorched soil
without hope; without anything;

yet in the face of all odds
snowdrops still break iceblack soil

swollen plums blush in the August sun
despite pollution, genetics and sprays

and there are insects who still know
what pollen to merge with which.

Then there are evenings when out of the stillness
a huge wind rises to stride through the leaves

and sets fat drops of rain glistening
like fairy-lights amongst the mulberries;

And times when the voice of a blackbird
breaks you open

and you go out into everything, your heart
on fire like a sunflower in a landscape

that ripples with song, with something
that cannot be suppressed.

© Roselle Angwin (first published in Looking For Icarus, bluechrome 2005)


  1. Roselle – your very true and lovely poem with its stunning second half (last 5 couplets as I see it) speaks directly to me. I feel I know what it means; the way that second half captures, with breath-taking imagery, the glorious, exhilarating nowness of moments like that. '. . . wind rises to stride through the leaves.' And yes, ' . . . the voice of a blackbird breaks you open.' And '. . . a landscape that ripples with song that cannot be suppressed.' That last is like listening to to music that grabs you and shakes you apart, but holds you together and takes you beyond to some mysteriously enlightening place.

    But for me it also raises the ever-present dilemma of balance: walking that uncomfortable tightrope between rejoicing and appalling suffering and thinking – how can I rejoice in now when now is so dreadful for others? And yet I must, because not to would be sacrilege; not to would deny its power of goodness. Somehow, I have to find a way to contain them both without one inflicting damage on the other.
    I'm having difficulty saying what I really mean. But now I come to think of it, the image of the blackbird has helped. I'm always struck by the melancholy winter song of a solitary blackbird singing at dusk and how it reminds me of my father, old, frail and alone, missing my mother. By dusk, he was always less sad, broken in by the day and our company, enjoying reminiscing with a wistful smile. Suffering and rejoicing rolled into one. A state of balance at the end of a day.
    Thanks so much, Roselle.
    With love, Miriam x

  2. Miriam, thank you for such a lovely, and generous, response to that poem. Many years ago, last century, I was in southwest France leading two very intensive weeks of poetry. The day before I left I'd broken my collarbone and several ribs. Because I'm an idiot who didn't know how to look after herself in those days, because I so needed the money, and mostly because of my ongoing love affair with southwest France I went anyway, but was kept awake by the extraordinary pain. The most wonderful bonus was a flood of poems, night after night, some of my strongest, of which this was one (many of them appeared in my first collection, currently out of print but due to be republished soonish).

    I'm completely with you on that dilemma - the nub of all human inner conflict, perhaps - and if our task here is, as I see it, to reconcile the opposites, inner and outer, then exactly that IS our task - holding the two truths of joy and suffering without being torn apart by them: walking the Middle Way, indeed. Western cukture says EITHER this OR that. Buddhism says: 'this, AND this'...

    And i think our heart will be, and needs to be, broken open over and over again, so that the world can enter and work its alchemy on us...?

    I find what you say about your father very moving. Thank you. And love - Rxx (PS mentoring threads being picked up this coming week.)


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