Monday, December 30, 2019

The haunting by Sylvia Plath: dreams, blood, fire


‘“Very bad dreams lately. One just after my period last week of losing my month-old baby: a transparent meaning. The baby formed just like a baby, only small as a hand, died in my stomach and fell forward: I looked down at my bare belly and saw the round bump of its head in my right side, bulging out like a burst appendix. It was delivered with little pain, dead. Then I saw two babies, a big nine-month one, and a little one-month one with a blind white-piggish face nuzzling against it; a transfer image, no doubt, from Rosalind’s cat and kittens a few days before: the little baby was a funny shape, like a kitten with white skin instead of fur. But my baby was dead. I think a baby would make me forget myself in a good way. Yet I must find myself”.

Besides dreaming about dead babies, Sylvia Plath also dreamed about men, with violent associations:

“Lousy dreams… The other night it was men in costume, bright cummerbunds, knickers and white blouses, having a penalty given them, and not carried out, and suddenly forty years later they were lined up, I saw them small in the distance, and a man with his back to me and a great sword in his hand went down the line hacking off their legs at the knees, whereupon the men fell down like ninepins with their leg stumps and lower legs scattered. I believe they were supposed to dig their own graves on their leg stumps. This is too much. The world is so big so big so big. I need to feel a meaning and productiveness in my life.”

Then there is this one, quite complicated, and about betrayal. Ted Hughes who left her for Assia Weevil, and she sometimes feared, potentially other women as well, and her father who she always felt a sense of betrayal over, for dying on her when she was only about ten:

“I dreamed the other night of running after Ted through a huge hospital, knowing he was with another woman, going into mad wards and looking for him everywhere: what makes you think it was Ted? It had his face but it was my father, my mother. I identify him with my father at certain times, and these times take on great importance: e.g., that one fight at the end of the school year when I found him not there on the special day...Isn’t this an image of what I feel my father did to me?...Images of his faithlessness with women echo my fear of my father’s relation with my mother and Lady Death.”

Sylvia Plath and her husband Ted Hughes found dreams fascinating and often recorded them, and placed great significance on them. For both of them, their experience of dreams were especially vivid. I don’t know why some people have more vivid dreams than others. Perhaps you need a great imagination to dream well. Or a restless nature. Virginia Woolf said ‘It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.’ Clearly Plath enjoyed interpreting her dreams.

The reason I speculate about this is because recently I had the most fantastic dream about Sylvia Plath. It is hardly surprising that I dreamt of her. I think about her often. She is a regular part of my wandering thoughts. I feel kinship of some kind with her, as a sort of affinity or obviously one-sided spiritual connection. It is a little embarrassing to admit this. Me, along with thousands of other impressionable people around the world. My feelings about her have existed for about 30 years or more, and sometimes it intensifies, especially when there is a new book, or new information about her. An example is the new collected letters of recent times, two thick volumes.
We are, effectively, a very short time apart. She died in ’63 and I was born in ’64. Yes, I am thinking about the possibility of reincarnation. Why not? We all have to fantasise about something. You may laugh, in fact I know you will. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t allow your incredulity to affect my enthusiasm for the idea. At any rate, I had this powerful dream about Sylvia Plath. It affected me to the core. It is the strangest dream I have ever had. I wish, more than anything, she could hover ghostily next to me, at my desk, breathing on me in her ghostly closeness, and marvel at what I am about to tell her. I know it would astound her. It would probably find itself into a new poem, possibly a part of her Ariel 2 collection, called ‘D’s bloodthirsty dream.’

‘It is night time, but light. All lit up by a bright, white moon. There is no yew tree in sight. I am in the front yard of old neighbours, Frances and Ralph. It is next door to where I once lived less than ten years ago. I have illustrious company. A few undefined friends, or maybe family, and Sylvia Plath, in her latter shorter-haired days. She is lingering in benign fashion at my elbow. The whole group is talking passively about the bottom of the fence and the fact that there are weeds growing up under it. The juxtaposition with what is about to happen is hilarious in a black, black way.
Suddenly there’s a change. I am transfixed on Plath. The rest of the world disappears. She is wearing an expansively malevolent grin. Her eyes are bright red as though they are on fire. Not bloodshot, but deeply troubling and alien. I knock her onto the ground in one punch. Something compels me to want to overtake her. Urgently. It is the look on her face. Have you seen The Exorcist? She is Regan-esque. Sylvia Plath is desperate to possess me. I am straddling her on all fours and banging her head onto the ground. Her mouth roars. Her skin is bright and her breath is sour. She wants to sit up with her red hair.

Somehow, I have a knife nearby. The situation is desperate. It is a long knife with a curved blade, perfect for gutting fish. I plunge the knife into Plath’s abdomen time and time again. The blood comes in thick waves. It is not Duncan’s ‘multitudinous seas’, nor is it thin and watery. It is like a thick crimson heavy soup. Naturally it disturbs the hell out of me. I am doing it out of necessity as I don’t wish to be possessed, but it doesn’t make it any easier.  I am not thinking of my literary hero, Sylvia Plath, rather this evil thing is more like evil Regan to me. She just happens to be Ms Plath, Ms Plath incarnate and at the same time inhuman and wanting desperately to possess me.’

Plath wrote about dreams a lot. She also wrote about blood a lot. I am thinking of the poem ‘Cut’ where she accidentally slices the top part of her thumb off and refers to the incident in this slightly macabre way:

‘What a thrill -
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.’

Well I am getting this ‘red plush’ myself here, the same blood it seems that she found when chopping an onion in 1962. But no ‘thrill’ for me. I don’t want to see it but I have no choice.

Plath famously referred to the writing of poetry as ‘the blood jet’ which cannot be stopped. She had miscarriages (and children) and heavy periods. Blood of course can symbolize life but it can also symbolize death. When she met Ted Hughes she reportedly bit his cheek so hard after he kissed her neck that blood ran down his face. This would mark the start of a new life-changing relationship. Then there is ‘Daddy’, her most famous poem:

‘If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you   
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.’

Well this is certainly getting closer to what I experienced the other night outside Frances and Ralph’s.

The next stage of this horror story which fills me with dread as I relate it as accurately as I can, is the fire. Somehow there was a box of Redheads at my disposal. Killing by knives wasn’t happening. It must be this supernatural thing. I distinctly remember that a knife was not enough to repel Dracula. So, in a frenzy, I started scratching match after match and applying them to Plath’s torso, in the same area where her deep and bloody gashes were. I don‘t remember having any access to petrol or anything flammable, but I remember her stomach lighting up and a rigorous fire scorching her, licking away, feeding upon her.

As in the case of blood, fire also interested Sylvia Plath. In ‘Burning the Letters’, she seems to be erasing the part of her life that is associated with her adulterer husband, Ted Hughes:

‘So, I poke at the carbon birds in my housedress.
They are more beautiful than my bodiless owl,
They console me--
Rising and flying, but blinded.
They would flutter off, black and glittering, they would be coal angels
Only they have nothing to say but anybody.
    I have seen to that.’

Fire can be devastating and it can be beautiful, or both at the same time. There is little doubt that it can annihilate. In ‘Fever 103’ Plath writes of ‘the tongues of hell’ and makes reference to ‘Hiroshima ash.’ In an interview she did with the BBC towards the end of her life, she remarked that:

‘… I cannot sympathise with these cries from the heart that are informed by nothing except a needle or a knife, or whatever it is. I believe that one should be able to control and manipulate experiences, even the most terrific, like madness, being tortured, this sort of experience, and one should be able to manipulate these experiences with an informed and an intelligent mind. I think that personal experience is very important, but certainly it shouldn't be a kind of shut-box and mirror looking, narcissistic experience. I believe it should be relevant, and relevant to the larger things, the bigger things such as Hiroshima and Dachau and so on.

These ‘bigger things’ thus include concentration camps, bombings, annihilations, killings, torture. From her own experience as a mental health patient in the 50’s, electroconvulsive therapy as described biographically in The Bell Jar:

'Doctor Gordon was unlocking the closet. He dragged out a table on wheels with a machine on it and rolled it behind the head of the bed. The nurse started swabbing my temples with a smelly grease. As she leaned over to reach the side of my head nearest the wall, her fat breast muffled my face like a cloud or a pillow. A vague, medicinal stench emanated from her flesh. "Don't worry," the nurse grinned down at me. "Their first time everybody's scared to death." I tried to smile, but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment. Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite. I shut my eyes. There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath. 

Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant. I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done. '

As horrific as this experience is, I can’t help feeling my attempted murder (or mercy killing) experience of Sylvia Plath was worse- that is, SP and the Devil combined. I can’t remember if her eyes were still of a scorching red, possessive appearance, but I do know that the fire didn’t work. I tried my best to scorch her after trying to disembowel her with the knife, and at first I thought I had won.

Our small group of whoever it was left Frances and Ralph’s driveway and began the short walk to my old front entrance next door at number 63. Something made me glance up and take in my company. Here I was, reasonably confident that I had dismantled and destroyed Plath moments earlier, only to see her walking with the rest of us. Straight out of an Edgar Allan Poe story, and it must be said, The Exorcist, there was tall blonde-haired Sylvia walking along the fence, looking across at me, a malevolent grin of triumph spread across her face, number 63 bound, ready to resume her possessive torturing in my own house.

I shivered involuntarily with terrified expectation, and began screaming, enough to awaken my wife and thus end the most gorgeously thrillingly fearful dream of my entire life.        

Saturday, December 7, 2019


I HAVE nearly finished Gerri Kimber’s ‘Katherine Mansfield -The Early Years’, and it is so snug and warm and calming and reassuring and lovely, it’s like an old lost friend. Except it is also luxuriating in its richness and wonderment, and I don’t really have an old friend like this.

 I have come to it after many books by and about Katherine Mansfield. The famous Antony Alpers’ biography, her notebooks and journals, Kathleen Jones’ biography, a favourite, and recently I acquired the Edinburgh University Press editions of her complete works, a great treasure. I was about 20 when I first read Mansfield. I nominated her short story collection ‘Bliss & Other Stories’ as a personal favourite when I was with a group of students in an English tutorial at university many years ago. I read all her short stories then. Those wondrous years of active imagination, fervent reading, abundant curiosity. She has stayed the course with me- along with D H Lawrence and Sylvia Plath- when many others, I have somehow, let go.

When I was in England she was a part of that great literary pilgrimage conducted over a period of more than two years. The ‘Elephant’ house with Murry in Hampstead Heath, her friend Koteliansky’s house at Acacia Road in St John’s Wood, in Fontainebleau in France stumbling luckily upon her gravestone- ‘the wife of Middleton Murry…’. Then many years later to Wellington itself, the childhood home in Thorndon, now a museum.

So I sit in my bedroom any spare moment of any day, thinking of KM constantly, wishing this book of her early years would never end. Somehow, despite the amount of time I have dedicated to her, I have forgotten a lot of these early years. Or at least some of it. It intrigues me from beginning to end. Nothing ordinary about her. Her very real passions and frustrations. Solitariness. Desires. Influences. Loves. Resentments. Ambition.

The book begins with her wealthy origins in Wellington and the various births in the family- the sisters and the much-loved younger brother who would be killed during the war. Not long after Vera was born came Chaddie, then KM in 1888, and Gwendoline who died as a baby followed very quickly by KM’s youngest sister, Jeanne. The family moved to nearby Karori, presumably for health reasons, to a house with a 14-acre garden called ‘Chesney Wold’ where the last sibling, KM’s favourite, Leslie was born. Karori became important to KM’s fiction. She wrote many stories as an adult based on her time there. I also saw that the school she went to- called, interestingly, Karori Normal School’ - is still functioning-

When she was 9 the family moved back to Thorndon (75 Tinakori Road), and the Beauchamp girls were enrolled in Wellington Girls’ High School, also still extant-  This is where her first short story was published, aged 9. This is where the book begins to show KM as emerging as different to her sisters and her peers- an outsider, aloof, moody, idiosyncratic. And poetic. But now, and through her teen years, there is also a sense of awkwardness as well- her plumpness, glasses (which mysteriously disappeared later), and bourgeoning interest in music. KM would become quite an accomplished cellist. 

At this time the wealthy Beauchamp’s took a number of domestic summer holidays and rented cottages at places like Day’s Bay. I re-read the longish ‘At The Bay’ recently as a memorial to her time spent on summer holidays.  Important friendships were formed at this time around the turn of the century, that would later develop into strong romantic and sexual relationships- the Trowell twins, Garnet and Tom, highly accomplished musicians, and Maata, a dark-skinned Maori princess that KM met at a wealthier, more prestigious school in Fitzherbert Terrace. She also knew somebody called Edith Bendall and wrote about laying her head on her naked breast at the holiday house at Day’s Bay. Her yearning also extended to one of the English cricketers on board a ship KM was on, returning from her first trip to England. She refers to him as Adonis in her journal.

KM has such a restlessness for love and desire like any teenager from any time, but also for culture, literature, music. Her writing is dominated by ‘decadent’ influences like her favourite, Oscar Wilde, whose aphorisms she adored. She soaked up time in London where she studied during her formative years at Queen’s College on Harley Street-

Here she met her lifetime friend and ‘slave’, Ida Baker, also known as LM, for KM an emotional support until the very end. What an incredibly rich and fulfilling time she had at Queen’s College. It enabled her to study music (her beloved cello), practise her craft of writing, meet fascinating intellectuals and like-minded people she struggled to meet in Wellington. Once back home again when her education ‘finished’ she got into a real funk, angry with her family, her father in particular who held the purse strings, and becoming notorious for her moods and dissatisfaction. NZ was, it seemed, a stale city with little to offer (Kimber shows that intellectually, it was in fact quite rich for its size), but for the restless KM, pining for England, it was stuffy and provincial in the worst possible way. It did not fit in with her bohemian ways, her grandiose, modern thinking, her dreams of decadence and separateness. KM was establishing, in her own mind, the idea of having a career in writing as a modernist author, and Wellington seemed to dampen her ambitions.

Eventually she realised a way of getting around her father and gaining his support. At about 18 or 19 she eventually went back to London to pursue a new life, but not until after a camping holiday around the north island where she learned some valuable lessons about living a more practical life and learning how to peel potatoes, amongst other things.

Oh, how much she would have savoured getting on a boat again, escaping the stifling Wellington, and getting away from her father, except for his much- needed money, which was 100 pounds a year. And oh, how I can relate, right now, to the idea of getting on that boat and going once again to England and the promise of great adventure- Northumberland, Shropshire, Lakes District, Cornwall, Kent, Yorkshire, Cotswolds, Herefordshire, Devon, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire…

She went back to England and eventually met John Middleton Murry and published short stories and created a deeply enriching life around her, inhabited by D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and many others. She never forgot New Zealand, though, which crept into her stories time and time again. There is something about memories of our youth, and how we can paint them somehow rosier in our minds. If there was some rosiness.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

The new Leunig controversy

I AM male, not female, and that might have something to do with the fact that I saw the baby and the phone before I saw the mother, in that recent cartoon by Leunig that somehow became controversial.

Put in simple terms, the mobile phone has become a scourge on society. Someday it will be recognised universally as such. At first, when I started seeing it everywhere, I looked on it with a sense of bemusement. ‘Is it really that interesting that it commands so much attention?’. Instead of buying one and wanting to find out, I decided I preferred to continue looking around me, reading a book, thinking. Sorting things out in my brain, but especially noticing things.
At some stage, it occurred to me that there are lots of things you can do with a phone. When I first saw everybody staring soullessly into the machine, I thought they were merely looking at Instagram posts or texting a friend or family member about the weather, or the food they recently ate, or about what happened last night. Looking over people’s shoulders (yes I do like to observe people and their behaviours), I have begun to realize there is a lot more to mobile phones than this. I have seen people playing games, using it as an application to find the whereabouts of some place, reading a book online, maybe even looking at The Age.

This has not, however, made me more interested in purchasing a phone or helped me see it as less dangerous or more benign. On the contrary, I can see how the myriad uses of it can trap people more and more into ignoring other people and their surroundings and act zombie-like for the duration of the day. Just walk in the city or catch a train or bus. They are there as extensions of nearly every persons’ hands. And we accept it as normal.

I welcome Leunig’s perspective. He often recognises awful aspects of society before others, or sometimes it is just putting into print what many of us already know. Yes, we are old-fashioned types. Perhaps types that would like to see mobile phones done away with. Or at least a mobile phone free day when every adult and child agrees to do something great for humanity and stores their phone away for 24 hours. I want to be able to catch a bus and have the experience I used to have. People reading or observing their surroundings, something that seems so lame but feels so fresh. And people crossing the road and walking along paths looking straight ahead, conversing in the car and in restaurants and in the schoolyard. And especially mothers and fathers pushing prams and conversing with their kids.

We have lost the battle. It feels permanent. When old people like me die out it won’t look odd to anyone. People will forget the integrating society. Just like we have all forgotten life before TV. It’s just that you have never carried a TV around with you, oblivious to all else, whilst you walk down the street. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Nightingale Film- The Black Wars


The film THE NIGHTINGALE has earned itself a reputation for unsettling its audience and provoking extreme reactions because of the brutality it depicts on the screen, including visceral stabbings, shootings, infanticide and multiple rapes. When I went yesterday at the Nova, the film was freeze framed fifteen minutes in, on a shot of a bewildered Clare, the Irish convict, grappling to come to terms with sexual assault and the dual murders of her baby son and her husband. This was because of a distraught woman several rows behind me who had something akin to an episode of panic or fear, who was escorted outside by friends and staff. Others took the opportunity to walk out at this moment. Then the film rolled on again with Clare wandering the jungle of early 19th century Tasmania, in search of an Aboriginal tracker to enable her to find her family’s killers and seek revenge.

I left the film feeling rewarded and challenged, and grateful for films like The Nightingale that take risks in order to tell important stories about our past in a truthful and unflinching way. I say our past because it is refreshing to see an important Australian story unfold rather than something that happened in Poland in WW2 or America in the 1950’s or South Africa during apartheid. I saw Mike Leigh’s Peterloo recently, and as much as I appreciated the craftmanship, I couldn’t help feeling that we are so often subjected to other people’s stories.  I read Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (NSW), now I’ve seen this film (Tasmania), and now I am hungry for a colonial story about Victoria.

The film shows Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1825 to be a completely lawless society where those in power (the British), think nothing of treating those ‘beneath them’ with utter contempt. Very low on the scale are the Irish women convicts, like Clare, who has earnt the right to become a free settler. She is married, with a baby, simply asking for her freedom three years after it is overdue. Firstly, she approaches her overseer (the principal antagonist in the film) asking for her rights, only to be struck across the face and raped. Then her husband sees the same British officer on their behalf, and we, the audience, hold our breath as he confronts his ‘boss’ assertively, demanding their release, and is forced to watch his wife get raped again, and is then shot dead for his troubles. Their screaming baby is suddenly put out of its misery. This is no place for baby, mother and pleading husband, Irish convicts.

Then we have the original settlers, all victims of the Black Wars, the Tasmanian aboriginals. The small British troupe led by murderous officer Hawkins, on their way to Launceston with their own black tracker, encounter aboriginals on their path.  One such helpless woman, alone in the bush with her small child, has the misfortune to fall across their path. One of Hawkins’ subordinates sums up the situation with a gleeful look in his eye. He pleads with Hawkins to be allowed to rape her, and Hawkins agrees to his demand, but only if he is prepared to go second. The terrified aboriginal woman screams in horror and lapses into her native tongue calling upon spirits to defend her and her child.

This is just one of many horrific crimes perpetrated against both the Irish and the blacks. Clare’s black tracker, Billy, finds it easier to accept his navigational task once he realises that Clare is Irish, and that they both have in common a deep contempt for the British. In what might be the most telling scene in the film, Clare and Billy come across a separate group of British officers marching away from Launceston, guns pointed at their black prisoners. Billy converses with them in his native tongue and discovers that his tribe, the Linetemairrener people, have all been massacred. This is an incredibly weighty moment for Billy. His self-control becomes extraordinary when he witnesses these black men being shot in front of him for speaking their native tongue, with one of them even getting his head cut off for as a trophy for one of the British officers. Billy walks on with Clare, shock, but at the same time, deep resignation, scrawled all over his face. Afterall, he has very little choice. It is not until later in the film that he breaks down, sobbing painfully for the massacre of his people. He is so acutely aware that it is his land, the land of his people, that is being desecrated unflinchingly with murder and abuse.

I never read any of this in the Australian history books at high school. There were brief mentions of aboriginal history. However, much of it was taken up with the various ways that New South Wales and other states were settled, seemingly painlessly and with precision. Larissa Behrendt, the well-known aboriginal academic from Sydney, has written a piece in The Guardian about Hannah Kent’s misguided approach to the whole colonial issue-

Behrendt admires the film, however, she does have some strong misgivings. She objects to the fact that ‘this is clearly Clare’s story: the film starts with Clare and ends on her gaze, privileging her point of view. It is from Clare’s perspective that the connections between her situation and that of Aboriginal people like Billy are explored.’ I understand her concerns. Some in the audience would leave the cinema with perhaps more of a feeling of the abuse and injustices metered out to Clare, the Irish convict, than for Billy, and I can see why this might be a problem. The fact that she thinks Billy’s story, and the story of the aboriginal people, are somehow subordinate to newcomers, like convicts, naturally grates with her. But I can imagine asking Hannah Kent about this. She would tell me that she was conscious of the black story all throughout. Otherwise we would not have scenes as described above. I for one was more conscious of Billy and his story than I was of Clare’s. it’s all about our individual perspectives. My heart bled for both, but I would say Billy and his people in particular. His life, and his people’s lives, seemed to be the most disregarded, trashed, insignificant to me. The attitude of the British officers to Clare and Billy both was appalling.

 A feminist reading of the film, and Behrendt’s perspective as a woman, would lend itself to becoming more conscious of Clare’s plight than anyone else’s. But now, thinking back to the film, and feeling quite changed by it, I am thinking of the way land can be ripped away, the way an old order can so swiftly be altered to become a new order. I feel more aware than ever of the atrocities of the past and the way they keep continuing on to the present and the future. That is why we all need reminders of whose land we live under. This is why we should not always be submerged with stories from other countries and other continents and become much more aware of our own stories in our own backyards.

The film informed me, as much as anything else, that there are periods of utter lawlessness in our history where people can somehow be allowed to become corrupt, cruel, unforgiving. The British officers behave this way partly because they are given the opportunity on a platter. In their minds there is no recourse for their actions. They brutalise the men, and they take the women, because the opportunity presents itself to them and they cannot resist the feeling of power this opportunity gives them. You watch the film and you think of the victims equally. Clare may be white but she did not choose to go to Van Diemen’s Land. As for Billy and the other black men like him, well, it is their home. Or rather, was their home.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas 2018, reflection

Christmas, 2018

ON this Christmas Eve, of 2018, in this spacious lounge room, in this moderately sized house, in this fairly large suburb and this fairly highly populated city of Melbourne, in this large country and continent called Australia, as part of an overall tiny little plot or particle of a much bigger world or planet, I sit here contemplating the year I have had and wishing, like Sylvia Plath, I could have more days of inspiration:

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, not seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.’

I look for inspiration in the joy that others give me- the words of Sylvia Plath in poems like ‘Contusion’ and ‘Medusa’, the comfort I feel from listening to ‘Astral Weeks’ and lately rediscovering the joy of Paul McCartney, trying to feel grateful for the prolonged time spent living in England and in my mind recalling the Yorkshire moors and the rugged coastlines of Cornwall and Northumberland, playing netball in the backyard with the family, gazing on my beautiful books through the glass of my treasured bookcase, feeling tired but nourished work-wise…

In terms of heightened feelings of joy or anticipation, or experiencing a sense of wonder, or being moved by the simplicity of a beautiful wave or the colours of a fallen leaf, or that sense of uncontrollable laughter or bliss and breathless awareness or serendipity, joie de vivre, even transfiguration, rebirth, enlightenment, effulgence, epiphany, transmutation… I will be patient and await another year.

Contacting my angel, contacting my angel
She's the one, she's the one, that satisfies
Contacting my angel she's the one that satisfies
She's the one that I adore
In a telepathic message for my baby
In a little village, through the fog
Here comes my baby, I can tell, I can tell
By the way she walks
Said I've been on a journey up the mountain side
And I drank the water from the stream
It was pure, pure water and I got completely healed
I met a presence on the mountain side
And he looked so radiant and he was the
Youth of eternal summers
Like a sweet bird of youth in my soul
In my soul, in my soul, in my soul, in my soul
In my soul, in my soul, in my soul

(Van Morrison)

Thursday, November 29, 2018


I RECEIVED the call at 10:00, I think it was. Night-time.
You were already gone a little time since then.
I waited in the hallway for my wife to gather a few things,
I was impatient to go. I already felt like something was missing. And
I felt this enormous rush or will to see you again.
The children were dumb or naïve
Upstairs. They had become Pa-less
And didn’t know it yet.
We decided not to tell them but left them a note.
If you awake, ring this number.
But they did not wake.

We climbed into the car and traversed the two or three suburbs to where you lay
And where you lived for the last couple of years of your life.
I am loath to call them sad years. I
Like to think that even in these times of
Immobilization and at times discomfort,
Of watery meals and forced socialisation,
Of your sideways view of the television and the hoped for
Social visits that came sporadically,
I like to think there was something in it for you even then.

We did not talk much in the car.
I felt my grief beginning to rise.
‘So it’s come to this then’,
I thought to myself. No, no reason for words, reminiscences
Or speculation.

I took an enormous breath before I slowly drifted in,
Like a ghost,
To the death room.
Mother was there as well as your eldest son, my brother, and my sister, your only daughter
It all felt so new. All new, all of
Us still slightly unaware of our emotions and our thoughts in this new experience
Suddenly transported in time.
The stillness in the room,
The grasping of trying to come to terms.
My first sight of my only dead body.
You looked strangely tranquil but enormously dead on your bed.
Flat on your back, your hands clasped together sitting on
 Your forever silent chest.
I wondered if you had been found like this,
Or were you rearranged, or toyed with somehow,
By the worker who found you there,
Suddenly not breathing.

I made some glib comment about souls circulating around rooms once they were dead.
We all looked at each other, all out of our depth,
Or me, at any rate.
I thought of mother and the long, sad burden, and my heart went out to her,
And my breathing changed,
Short sad gasps.

A couple of hours expired somehow with us all being
Unconscious of time. It was about midnight.
We all had to go- that is, the living, not the dead.
Two of us left, so just mother and I, sitting helplessly,
Strongly aware of this unexpected change,
The finality of it. I felt like I should go, but blurted out, aloud
‘How do I suddenly leave the room?’

I went over to you, father,
And placed my hands under the blanket.
An overwhelming urge to touch you, like I did,
The day before, touching the hands and arms of the living.
Except this final time,
The dead. I tried to unclasp your hands,
Fascinated by their new rigidness. The fingers already stiff,
The warmth and breath of life expired two hours ago.
I went out into the hallway with the others,
Right outside the door, and leant against the wall.
We all gave mother some time alone. Again,
The enormity of it all. How does one say goodbye
To the one you have been married to for over sixty years.
What do you remember? What is replayed at this time
Round and round your mind?

As we left I thought again of yesterday. The mouth of yours,
Opening and closing, trying to form words,
Without sound coming out. An me just smiling back like a fool,
Desperate for anything that might make you feel better.
And then telling the doctor just a half hour later
That we want morphine to kick in.
We want  to help accelerate our father’s death.
And the awful deep gasps in finding yourself using these words.

I remember, powerfully, the sight of a new born, the watery
Tumbling out onto the bed. And now this,
This newest sight which will also never leave me.