Entries in literature (4)


walking back 

Sometimes only a long walk will work. I fled the house to stamp sightlessly along bridleways and through fields until eventually I could slow and breathe and start to look again. I walked to connect myself back to a world I recognised.

I'd been reading from a book examining the excavation of the mass graves in Bosnia and the importance of the work of forensic anthropologist Ewa Klonowski, who directs the recovery and classification of human remains. The physical recovery of clothes, of bones, is central to those left behind; a key element in their process of mourning. It reminded me of the first time I saw Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam and the photographs on the wall of those piles of shoes and of glasses that were discovered in the camps. In the same way that the ordinary objects left in a house after a death are so heavy with meaning that they're sometimes too painful to bear, it was seeing those careless piles that finally released the tears. 

The book is careful and rigorous and utterly devastating. When I'll have the courage to pick it up again I'm not sure, but how I admire those people who are prepared to face down their own horror and bear witness. 

The day outside is still and muted. There is nesting beginning already and the daffodils are pushing through. The world outside my window hasn't changed but inside me all is adrift. I think I need to get my boots on again. 


love, actually

Flicking through my notebook, I stopped at this photo of Picasso and Dora Maar. Look at the two of them together: perfect. Her glossy voluptuousness alongside his bullish solidity. The symmetry of their poses and their bodies a contrast to the horizontals of sky and sea. And, apart from wishing it was me in that sea with the scents of the Mediterranean around me, it set me thinking about the mysteries of pairings.

Often, during my (many) moments of people watching, I pay particular attention to couples. What was it that drew them to each other; what keeps them together? Over the years I've seen friends and family un-couple and re-couple. I've done the same myself. Sometimes it's a mystery why one individual is chosen over another. But a greater mystery to me is this deep need to move through life with another person. At times it seems that being in a pair demands more than it gives; times when love can be hard to summon. Times, to be honest, especially with the conflicting needs of family life, when a relationship seems less a matter of love than a practical arrangement. There is no hiding in a long relationship; all one's flaws are exposed and tested, over and again. To know someone utterly is to be known, and the vulnerability that comes with that sometimes overwhelms me.  

But to be willing to endure this exposure, endure all the compromise and contingencies and uncertainties that moving through life with another person involves, is to me what love is. To love someone despite, as well as because. To ask 'would I do it again?' and be able to answer yes. Yes. What more?

Bei Hennef

The little river twittering in the twilight,

The wan, wondering look of the pale sky,

       This is almost bliss.


And everything shut up and gone to sleep,

All the troubles and anxieties and pain

        Gone under the twilight.


Only the twilight now, and the soft 'Sh!' of the river

        That will last for ever.


And at last I know my love for you is here;

I can see it all, it is whole like the twilight,

It is large, so large, I could not see it before,

Because of the little lights and flickers and interruptions,

         Troubles, anxieties and pains.


You are the call and I am the answer,

You are the wish, and I the fulfilment,

You are the night, and I the day.

          What else? It is perfect enough.

          It is perfectly complete.

          You and I,

          What more - ?


Strange, how we suffer in spite of this!

DH Lawrence, from Selected Poems (ed. James Fenton, Penguin)



grand oasis

my photo of Russell Crotty installation, Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate



Then I looked down and saw

the world I was entering, that would be my home.

And I turned to my companion, and I said 'Where are we?'

And he replied 'Nirvana'.

And I said again, 'But the light will give me no peace.'


from 'Fable' The Seven Ages, Louise Glück 





Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

People bore me,

literature bores, me, especially great literature...

John Berryman, Dream Song 14 The Dream Songs (Farrar & Strauss & Giroux 1969)

Sometimes, having nothing to do does me good.  I love an unexpected period of solitary time that allows me space to think and to plan - or just to sit with a pile of magazines and a pot of coffee. And the curious subterranean boredom of the earliest days of parenthood, when life seemed to close down to repetition interleaved with the panic of responsibility, nevertheless held a precious intensity.

But I find myself more intolerant of what truly bores me. Waiting interminably in a doctor's surgery with no-one else in it and nothing to read or in a traffic jam with no radio and lashing rain that excludes even the distraction of people watching. Or yet another evening listening to acquaintances discuss schools or cars or extensions. And yes, of books that just don't make my heart sing. Slowly I've learned (these things take longer with me I fear) I can say 'no' to the invitation that makes me groan and put down the rapturously reviewed book that I just don't like. And as for the rest? Perhaps I can use those moments to cultivate my inner zen.