07 December 2010

Ups that are down, downs that are ups

I sometimes cut pictures out of magazines of smiling faces – the ones that make me want to smile back. The litoverlap in the middle of this post is not cheerful. The first component is impressive in terms of literary form, but as to content both components are more than sobering. So as a fortifying frame for this litoverlap, I’ve picked a couple of other written things, passages from blog posts, that make me smile – mostly for their figurative language and aptness.

On 1 September 2010, Jane Brocket commented:

Yesterday morning, with a feeling of mild sadness, I threw away the amazing frilly-knicker, head-turning gladioli that have been centre-stage in the kitchen for a week – they had created their own space and the table looks so empty now.

I know just what she means in the conclusion of that sentence. And the pleasure in the language is to be had in the image of flowers personified, flashing their brightly coloured knickers like cancan girls would toss their petticoats and turn heads whenever they appeared, like Brocket’s flowers, centre-stage. They’re neat and precise, this sentence and its sentiment, ending where they begin: with absence, which recalls presence.

Here’s the litoverlap:

In Anne Michaels’ novel Fugitive Pieces (1996, New York: Vintage), the first narrator points out a ‘harrowing contradiction’ in the anti-Semites’ attempts at dehumanising the Jews during the reign of the Third Reich:

'When citizens, soldiers, and SS performed their unspeakable acts, the photos show their faces were not grimaced with horror, or even with ordinary sadism, but rather were contorted with laughter. ... This is the most ironic loophole in Nazi reasoning. If the Nazis required that humiliation precede extermination, then they admitted exactly what they worked so hard to avoid admitting: the humanity of the victim. To humiliate is to accept that your victim feels and thinks, that he not only feels pain, but knows that he’s being degraded.' (p 166)

François Gantheret points out the same thing in his novel Lost Bodies (2006, London: Vintage, transl by Euan Cameron). The book is about a man who was one of several political prisoners confined for years in a well in a desert prison camp. Some of the soldiers guarding these prisoners were ‘attracted by the easy opportunities for bullying’ – the man had often ‘seen them laughing’ as they abused the prisoners in various ways (p 18). But

'such acts were not approved of by the others: not so much out of any humanitarian concern, but because they violated the required indifference. To humiliate a man was to acknowledge that he was still a human being, and in their confusion the soldiers sensed that they could not feel at ease in a place like this if they treated those who survived beneath the ground as humans.' (p 18)

On 28 May 2010, Paul Edmunds described a flight home to Cape Town:

I knew the ’plane was headed home when I caught sight of a Sunday Times headline in the galley. It could have been from 2 months ago: threat of strike action during the World Cup. After a mad dash through OR Thambo and a little hitch at customs, we boarded our connecting flight to Cape Town to find in front of us Archbishop Emeritus Tutu and behind us Badhi Chaabaaan, reminding us of the tightrope we walk, tautly strung and twitching side to side from hope to cynicism.

It’s striking, the tightrope metaphor; it’s also one that fulfils the requirements, as pointed out by Michaels in her article ‘Cleopatra’s Love’ (1994, Poetry Canada 14(2)), of metaphor’s quiddity – each component must work in its own context so that the metaphor as a whole works authentically (p 14). Tutu represents hope, Chaaban symbolises cynicism. Impromptu TV news interviews of the South African man and woman in the street often show just such a veering between optimism and pessimism, characterised by just such an attendant tension. And Edmunds experiences the metaphor personally because it reminds him of South African attitudes that he may have forgotten or put to one side during his time in New York.

06 September 2010

The next one

Through the forest

How small are these steps
with which we inch forward;
and they are taken
over precarious ground
so that our eyes are
almost always lowered,
intent on our path,
and we tend to miss
what goes on around us.

Yet it’s progress that we make –
it must be,
because some time later
we look up and we see
that we are no longer where we were;
and the people
who were with us then
are not the ones
who are with us now.

(First published in New Contrast 150, Winter 2010)

10 August 2010


The CT Book Fair turned out to be a mixed bag of offerings, more lucky packet than treasure chest.

The downside

The CTICC hall was overheated, under-ventilated and glaringly lit, which made for soporific spectating; the acoustics were pretty bad and there was nowhere to sit unless you were attending one of the author appearances or book launches. The smaller meeting rooms upstairs were better in those respects, though the number of seats was limited and the door continually opening and closing, and people shuffling in and out, at the back of the room should have been better controlled.

The upside

Wole Soyinka was relaxed and friendly. He has a wonderfully deep, rich voice, and a good sense of humour. A sample of his views: A subtle communication can take place between the reader and the book. After a long or hard day’s work, after a day of soccer and vuvuzela*-blowing or -avoiding, you can turn to a book for solace or escapism, amusement or enrichment; the book doesn’t answer back but your reading process is two-way rather than singular, a silent interaction. He would hate the aesthetic of ‘the book’ (its scent, its weight, the texture of the pages, the design of the cover and the text) to be lost; books are from the Neanderthal world and we must defend them and fight to keep them in existence. He writes because he’s a closet masochist. Slightly more seriously, he feels the written word has the power to open doors and minds; we would be far the poorer without books.

* Not a soccer fan, he was unfazed at failing to pronounce the word correctly

Along with Sindiwe Magona and Elinor Sisulu, Antjie Krog took part in a conversation with Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke about African Love Stories. Ayebia Clarke worked for Heinemann Africa before branching out and forming her own publishing company, and achieving one of her goals: publishing this book of short stories by African women. Magona and Krog contributed stories to the volume, while Sisulu has written a biography of her parents-in-law, Albertina and Walter Sisulu. These women chatted about love affairs and relationships that existed behind the scenes in the southern African political arena in general, and those of their own families in particular. The final question from someone in the audience: ‘How do you have the courage to write about such intimate things?’ To which Krog replied with the suggestion that the more intimate and unique writers seem to be, the less they are being so. Because as soon as they are being unique and intimate they fail to reach their audience. ‘If you’re going to naval-gaze,’ she said, ‘your description of your naval must have similarities with other women’s navals. As soon as your naval becomes obviously only yours, your voice becomes yours alone and reaches no one’ (paraphrased). It’s an interesting idea. Poorly executed, such a story could simply be neutral and superficial; I guess the trick or the skill would be in infusing the story with universally resonant elements while making it appear particularised and extra-ordinary.

Jodi Picoult was clearly well seasoned in public speaking and appearing, and refreshingly down to earth. She brought one of her sons with her. The two of them blitzed the entire hall for a few moments with their wolf-call harmony, something they learned in England while she was researching wolf calls for one of her novels. Her average day sounds full – up at 5:30, taking a three-mile walk with a friend, getting the kids off to school, at her pc by 7:30 answering all her own fan mail, writing from 8:30 to around 3, being mom for the rest of the day; and her average year sounds thoroughly scheduled, with its set months for research and writing, editing and proof checking, and squeezing in book tours. She says she’s blissfully happy, and she looks it; I would baulk at knowing exactly what the coming year held, never mind the next and the next one. But each to her own.

Also, another litoverlap:* Recently I came across Petina Gappah’s blog, and walking into the hall the first book I saw on display at the Wordsworth stand was An Elegy for Easterly.

* Litoverlap n. The unintentional, serendipitous and/or noteworthy occurrence of thought, word or deed in more than one place and time; usually, but not always, in the same field. Not to be confused with coincidence. It’s the word I’m using until I find a better one, though I quite like this one, with ‘lit’ indicating literary and implying a sense of illumination both in the overlapping elements (they’re briefly spotlighted) and in one’s discovery or experience of the overlap itself.

Finally, personal highlights of the trip, among others: seeing friends, some unseen for absolute ages, and Noordhoek.

Before us, great waves bounced on the blanket of beach.
Briny air soaked us up, filled our lungs to bursting.
Behind us, the shimmering hill handled the vast whip of the wind.

28 July 2010


(Logo taken from www.capetownbookfair.co.za)

The Cape Town Book Fair has been running for five years. I’d heard mixed reports about it; this year I’ll be seeing it for myself. For a literary conference the programme is shamefully poorly presented – it’s full of typos!

Some world-renowned authors will be there. Wole Soyinka talks about his memoir. Antjie Krog participates in a discussion of Nana Becky Ayebia Clarke’s African Love Stories. And I’m not a huge fan of Jodi Picoult’s novels, but I was impressed by a radio interview with her a while ago. She sounded cheerful and engaging, and she was funny and unusually articulate, so her views on ‘issue-driven fiction’ may well be worth hearing. There’s also a workshop on right-brain creative writing that could be interesting (or kooky? Or both?).

But hopefully fun, the whole thing.

30 June 2010

Small, but striking

These two overlaps have the flavour of coincidence, but I prefer to think that when it comes to literature there’s more, and sometimes much more, to it than that.

The first happened a couple of years ago. A character in a novel that I was reading named a specific day of a particular month (sometime in August), and it was the very day and month I was reading it.

The second happened today, once I had decided what to read next. In my pile of unread books two caught my attention: Chris Bohjalian’s The Double Bind and Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down. I picked the Bind. And what do I find as its epigraph but a quote from the Hornby.

23 May 2010

Another one

The gift orbits us
For H, then and now

I searched the crevices of the chair,
putting my fingers where my eyes were reluctant to go,
and sat back on my heels
with two bent bookmarks
and an old pen with a tiny rose in its lid.

I’m telling you, I told you,
that chair has a throat and a stomach. If ever
I have it recovered, I will ask the upholsterers
to search for your rectangle of glittering stones.

And I will return it –
in two or twenty years’ time.
I know the worth of that now;
I look forward to it.

As well as to the next time I drive to you,
all of three minutes away;
one road linking our homes.
A dip and a slight climb
that takes me through sun shot off glass,
shadows loosed by walls;
often the single great plane of night.
Hard to imagine traversing such solidity,
effortless in practice.

It seems that much of my life,
this life I remember
after the one I inhabited as a child,
is being spent with you with me
or in my thoughts.

When your voice was remote
there was your handwriting;
the two so similar, fast flowing.
But now you’re here,
and though you say it may change any day,
we’ve slowed into deeper water:
it feels permanent.

(First published in New Contrast 149, Autumn 2010)

21 May 2010

Dipping into 2010

Molly Wizenberg A Homemade Life
Breyten Breytenbach Notes from the Middle World

13 May 2010

Read 2010

Barbara Kingsolver Animal Dreams (28/12/10) (again)
Agatha Christie The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (26/12/10) (again)
Alexander McCall Smith Corduroy Mansions (13/12/10)
Yann Martel Beatrice and Virgil (11/12/10)
Molly Gloss The Hearts of Horses (9/12/10)
AS Byatt Angels and Insects: The Conjugial Angel (6/12/10)
Roberston Davies The Salterton Trilogy: A Mixture of Frailties (2/12/10)
Helen Simonson Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (30/11/10)
Robertson Davies The Salterton Trilogy: Leaven of Malice (24/11/10)
Robertson Davies The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-tost (21/11/10)
Audrey Niffenegger Her Fearful Symmetry (20/11/10)
AS Byatt Angels and Insects: Morpho Eugenia (18/11/10)
Zakes Mda She Plays with the Darkness (16/11/10) (left off)
Barbara Trapido Frankie & Stankie (14/11/10) (left off)
Henning Mankell Chronicler of the Winds (10/11/10)
Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael's Penance (6/11/10) (again)
Anne Michaels The Winter Vault (28/10/10) (again)
Tim Winton Dirt Music (23/10/10)
Alice Hoffman The River King (19/10/10)
Finuala Dowling Flyleaf (16/10/10)
Yann Martel Life of Pi (10/10/10) (again)
Agatha Christie A Caribbean Mystery (9/10/10) (again)
Henry James The Aspern Papers (1/10/10)
Nick Hornby A Long Way Down (27/9/10) (unfinished)
Molly Wizenberg A Homemade Life (22/9/10) (shifted to 'Dipping into')
Agatha Christie Sad Cypress (20/9/10) (again)
Agatha Christie Nemesis (18/9/10) (again)
Robertson Davies The Deptford Trilogy: World of Wonders (15/9/10)
Robertson Davies The Deptford Trilogy: The Manticore (8/9/10)
Robertson Davies The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business (1/9/10)
Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (26/8/10)
Andrea Barrett Secret Harmonies (21/8/10)
Per Petterson Out Stealing Horses (transl A Born) (18/8/10)
Petina Gappah An Elegy for Easterly (1/8/10) (left off)
Meg Rosoff The Bride's Farewell (29/7/10) (recommended by Heather)
Primo Levi The Truce (24/7/10)
Primo Levi If This Is a Man (20/7/10)
Antony Sher Primo Time (15/7/10)
Zakes Mda Black Diamond (8/7/10)
Chris Bohjalian The Double Bind (30/6/10)
Nancy Mitford Pigeon Pie (21/6/10)
Martin Cruz Smith Gorky Park (13/6/10) (resumed)
François Gantheret Lost Bodies (transl E Cameron) (12/6/10)
Martin Cruz Smith Gorky Park (8/6/10) (interrupted)
Ben Elton Meltdown (4/6/10)
Lynne Reid Banks Two is Lonely (31/5/10)
Lynne Reid Banks The Backward Shadow (24/5/10)
Colette Julie de Carneilhan (18/5/10) (again)
Marilynne Robinson Housekeeping (11/5/10)
Christopher Nicholson The Elephant Keeper (7/5/10) (stopped halfway through)
Malcolm Gladwell Outliers (3/5/10)
Barbara Kingsolver The Lacuna (22/4/10)

Rumer Godden An Episode of Sparrows (18/4/10)
Tim Winton Shallows (14/4/10)
Stef Penney The Tenderness of Wolves (8/4/10) (again)
Bruce Robinson The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman (4/4/10)
Adam Foulds The Truth about These Strange Times (30/3/10)
Tracy Chevalier Girl with a Pearl Earring (24/3/10) (again)
Sebastian Faulks Engleby (20/3/10)
Cormac McCarthy Cities of the Plain (15/3/10)
Michael Moorcock The War Lord of the Air (13/3/10)
Fiona Snyckers Trinity Rising (7/3/10)
Bram Stoker Dracula (27/2/10)
Ellis Peters The Holy Thief (23/2/10) (again)
Ellis Peters Monk's-Hood (19/2/10) (again)
Reif Larsen The Selected Works of TS Spivet (16/2/10) (couldn't get into it, try again another time)
Rumer Godden The Dark Horse (14/2/10)
Thomas Keneally The Widow and Her Hero (10/2/10)
Stieg Larsson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (7/2/10)
Mervyn Peake Letters from a Lost Uncle (3/2/10)
Kim Edwards The Memory Keeper's Daughter (31/1/10)
Tim Winton Cloudstreet (23/1/10)
WG Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp Unrecounted (10/1/10)
AS Byatt The Children's Book (6/1/10)
Belinda Starling The Journal of Dora Damage (2/1/10)

Read 2009

Alexander McCall Smith Heavenly Date and Other Flirtations (28/12/09)
Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot's Christmas (24/12/09) (again)
Esther Woolfson Corvus: A Life with Birds (1/12/09) (didn't finish it)
Marlene van Niekerk Agaat (transl M Heyns) (1/12/09)
Barbara Pym Excellent Women (29/11/09)
Neil Gaiman Coraline (25/11/09)
Claire Messud The Emperor’s Children (19/11/09)

22 April 2010


(This photo by Rico Schacherl. It and the others are from Nieu Bethesda, the Karoo, in which thoughts such as the ones in this post have ample space to breathe)

‘I break open stars and find nothing, and again nothing,
and then a word in a foreign tongue.’

George Steiner quotes these lines by Elisabeth Borcher in Language and Silence (1974, New York: Atheneum, p 51). Anne Michaels quotes the same lines as an epigraph to her poem ‘What the Light Teaches’ (Poems 2001, New York: Alfred A Knopf, p 117).

I’m intrigued by this kind of literary overlap. It’s not a coincidence; Steiner and Michaels are both speaking of language as traumatised by events like the Holocaust in the Second World War. ‘Because their language had served at Belsen, because words can be found for all those things and men were not struck dumb for using them,’ Steiner points out, ‘a number of German writers ... despaired of their instrument’ (p 51). (He acknowledges also that ‘the failure of the word in the face of the inhuman is by no means limited to German’ (p 51).) Michaels, too, refers to language – German, Polish, Russian – that has been stripped of its more humane meanings (her implication: by the Nazis), just the alphabet remaining the same, the victim’s language revealing only ‘the one who named him’ (p 124).

Behind these texts lies Theodor Adorno’s well-known injunction (which he later qualified) about the barbarism of the notion of poetry after an ‘event’ such as Auschwitz. Whether or not he would agree with the statement, Steiner does not suggest that writers stop writing; rather he wonders, in 1966, whether they are writing too much – people speak far too much and far too easily, he feels, ‘making common what is private’ and creating of their culture ‘a wind-tunnel of gossip’ (p 53). In his view, ‘silence is an alternative’ to this situation (p 54). Michaels, among many other poets and writers, chooses not to remain silent, and refuses to accede to the pressure that squeezes and twists language out of its ethical shape. For her, language can take a vitally recuperative form. Her conclusion in ‘What the Light Teaches’ is that language is ‘a country; home; family’; ‘for those who can’t read their way in the streets, / or in the gestures and faces of strangers, / language is the house to run to / ... when you have no other place’ (pp 128–9).

The overlap is also not a case of appropriation. Michaels’s research is meticulous; although she doesn’t list Steiner among her sources in the acknowledgements page of Poems (nor in the acknowledgements page of Fugitive Pieces, which deals slightly differently with the same theme), she may well have come across his reference to Borcher. But that’s not the point; Steiner and Michaels’s uses of Borcher’s poetry are independent and legitimate – I’m simply identifying their congruence as an interesting phenomenon in literature.

Here’s another overlap:

The concept of the ‘aha moment’ as used by Oprah is well known to her fans (not so surprisingly, there’s even been a court case over it). AS Byatt knows about it too: in an ‘aha experience’, she suggests, a ‘structure felt to be defective or inchoate suddenly appears formed and harmonious’ (Still Life 1985, New York: Simon & Schuster, p 260).

In Oprahdom, these moments are memorable, connect-the-dots moments when everything suddenly clicks into place.* For Byatt the moment occurs when a human being feels a relaxation, a ‘release’, of tension caused by desire (p 260). If someone is hungry, they will have an aha experience not through the final goal itself, not nourishment, say, but rather in the act of eating (p 260).

While Oprah and Byatt are not speaking of quite the same thing, in both cases it brings satisfaction.

* Among all the definitions of this concept on the internet, it's difficult to find the original

26 February 2010

Here's to a voice

‘your letter is delightful, larger and lighter
than thoughts of a flower when the dream
is the earth of the garden,
I fled to your letter, to read
that the small orange tree is a mass of white blossoms
opening with the sun,
as your letter opens
there is an unfolding of sky, of word from the outside’

(Extract taken from ‘Your Letter Is Delightful’, Breyten Breytenbach 1984, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, Emmarentia, Jhb: Taurus, p 348. Photograph, by Philip de Vos, scanned from the back cover of my copy of Dog Heart)

In Standard Five, our class teacher – the woman who led us through each day – was also our Afrikaans teacher. She was the closest thing to a witch I’ve ever encountered, in looks and in manner. She scared us to death. For many years, I disliked that language intensely. It sounded so harsh, and though I didn't articulate the thought at the time, looking back the main things it seemed to express were disdain and cynicism, weariness and impatience. But then sometime in the late 90s I chanced upon a TV documentary on Breyten Breytenbach, in which he slides from English into Afrikaans and back again (as he also does here), and suddenly Afrikaans sounded wonderful – warm and courteous, at once mysterious and graspable. Since then, two friends have confirmed the impression.

Without Breytenbach (also without my two friends and one or two of the other Afrikaans-speaking people I’ve chatted with), I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the humour or the whimsy or the colloquial flavour of phrases like ’n helse fout and ’n engel uit die blou hemel (funnily enough both uttered by chefs in two issues of Taste), the latter of which Breytenbach seems to have had in mind too, for when ‘the showers abate and heavens suddenly expose a silk-blue underlayer’, the narrator of Dog Heart sees ‘angels walking hither and thither up there’ (Breyten Breytenbach 1998, Dog Heart, Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, p 105).

And without him, we would have the pleasure neither of thought-provoking ideas like 'When a language dies, the dead die twice', nor of poems such as the above-quoted one. There are many things to appreciate in that poem in print, but perhaps it achieves its full impact when spoken, as Breytenbach does here.

He’ll be launching his new book of essays, Notes from the Middle World, at Boekehuis, Auckland Park next week, 4 March, at 6:00. There’s also an interview with him about this book here.

05 February 2010

The writer

(Illustration by Rico Schacherl 4 Feb 2010)

Jean-Baptiste is being painted, in miniature. The image is to be reproduced on the back cover of each copy of his latest crime novel, The Bloodiest Rose. As he poses, pretending to be hard at work, he contemplates his successful career with something close to despair. He is living a bit of a lie. While the artist hums, and squints at him, he softly sinks into a cherished reverie, in which he stands at the centre of an admiring circle, the acclaimed and unabashed romance novelist who does not hide behind a nom de plume.

Detective Inspector Duchamp, JeanBap’s protagonist, is a loner, given to blunt, cryptic statements and the occasional moral stance. Men envy his insistent smoking and drinking, his lack of remorse and his silent suffering of chronic wind. Women, with no foundation, love him too. Each one believes that were he a real person – by the ultimate twist of fate, should he turn out to be real – she will be the one to break down his defences.

They have no basis for this conviction, that is, other than sixth sense, which if it came to it would turn out to be accurate. There is indeed a heart – warm and strongly beating – beneath both Duchamp and JeanBap’s impassive exterior.

As a child, secretly encouraged by the women in his family, JeanBap wrote little stories of love and tragedy, short-lived joy and untimely death.
‘Like Romeo and Juliet,’ his mother would sniff, putting down his latest offering.
‘Sadder!’ his aunt pronounced.
Or ‘Like that Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ his mother would chortle.
‘Funnier!’ his aunt proclaimed, dropping her knitting.
JeanBap would lower his head modestly and suck his pencil.

His father, involved not at all, exerted a powerful influence nevertheless. Should he have discovered his son’s favourite subject matter, there would have been hell to pay. Scorn would have dripped. JeanBap knew this without ever being told, and as he grew into the role of creator of the Duchamp cases – texts even his father admitted to enjoying on the rare occasion he had time to read – he, his mother and his aunt kept quiet as quiet can be. For his childhood yearning developed too, and over the years he has written copiously of the affairs of the lovely Dominique, former Duchesse de Deauville, under the pseudonym Jeanne Bécu. Which brings us to this day, and JeanBap’s despondence.

A fundamentally honest man, he is made tense by guilt. He wriggles in his seat, and yawns a great anxious yawn. The artist has to ask him to settle down.
‘Just relax,’ he tells the author. ‘Be yourself.’
Myself? JeanBap ponders. Do I know who that is?
But yes, he answers himself. It’s easy. You’ve always known.
So, he decides, one day, soon, I will stand up among my gathered devotees and say, I am Jeanne Bécu. I am the creator of your beloved romance series, les affaires de coeur de Domi.

It’s a decision he makes now for perhaps the fifth time in as many years, but it feels brand new.

06 January 2010

What's out there so far

(Design reproduced from the original by Jesse Breytenbach, with her kind permission)

The eye of the mind, the eye of the heart

In moments of ecstatic illumination,
brief and rare, but memorable,
it can be pitch dark and it wouldn't matter.
Seeing becomes perceiving
and evidence becomes understanding.
You don't need your eyes for that;
you could walk blindfold through an unfamiliar room
stacked with crystal glasses and not break a thing.

Moments like those,
when they do occur,
seem so illuminating that they make you think you see
everything else just as clearly, for a while.
But they're deceptive
as the afterimage of a flash lighting up your retinas;
and before you know it,
you're once again clumsy even in broad daylight
and spilling secrets as if you were drunk.

(First published in Carapace 62, March 2007; and then in A Look Away Issue 7, Quarter 4, 2007)

After as is before

When you go,
silence will fall with the rain
so soft and heavy it's
evident only when a drop
strikes a leaf,
strokes each place in me that is yours,
landing on gestures that
have people pinpointing parallels that
we know for what they are;
such is the power of assumption.

When you go,
I will lose and find and lose again,
I will find and lose and find again
in a process I've learned
can be endured,
can be the reward of endurance.
One way, I am here because of you.
And I'll remain, in a way because of you.
We know each other for who we are;
such is the power of belief.

When you go,
you will have known, perhaps best,
that there'll be at once so much
and nothing more to be said.
And in the ceremony of tears I will
stand and feel your falling
with the silence,
with the rain;
and be forever traced,
borne and bereft.

(First published in New Contrast 142, June 2008)

The weak spot

There is a place for him in her heart.
A weak spot
like a sprained wrist that
years later
gives way under an impromptu handstand.

(First published in New Contrast 143, September 2008)

Rest for the third eye

I want the sleep I used to have
when the fall was shorter
and the rise longer;
supreme sense of comfort in each -
a taste craved by the mind.

Tongue stilled,
silence gained.

A shift
to which gravity is beside the point
and thus is neither plummet nor ascension
but something in between -
a kind of suspension.

Movement enacted by thought in the vast velvet sea.
A kind of meditation, humbly meant.

Yet I continue to lie awake.

(First published in New Contrast 147, Spring 2009)

At table we met

At worst, and rarely,
you reached down into my throat
and pulled me inside out,
spreading every visceral element on the table before you,
pointing and identifying,
presuming the past, pronouncing the future.

At best, and much more often,
you opened the curtains,
your hands warm as the sun,
your gaze fixed on me.
From you, I received the gift of successive awakenings to joy,
invaluable breakfasts.

Burned but simmering,
you frog-leapt over the present and into the future,
asking what if again and again,
with the false certainty that a question sometimes brings;
trying to create what you had imagined,
trying to capture what you had created.

You didn't want information,
you wanted to be spoon-fed.
Like a child with Asperger's,
for you each morsel had to be laid out on the plate just so,
else the entire meal was inedible;
the whole less than the sum of its parts.

This is the role we sometimes play:
to be another's mistake.
We cannot help but learn from the lesson ourselves,
and if we're lucky
there is good in the good and good even in the bad;
and though the fairytale ends in nothing like happily ever after,
what comfort there is
just in the after;
what nourishment there is
in successive simple meals.

(First published in New Contrast 148, Summer 2009)