I dun a poem, and then another

24 Jun

I guess because death is so much bigger than the extent to which the brain can comprehend and express itself in response, I found myself writing two poems in the last year – having not felt the need to do so for some years. The first catalyst was my grandma’s death last Autumn from cervical cancer, and this Spring, the unexpected and wholly devastating death of a friend’s newborn girl just two days after she arrived in the world.

I can’t explain why, but news of these events made me quickly reach for my laptop and words started coming out without any prior thought or ideas about what I wanted to say or express. They’re probably the most genuine work I’ve done in years inasmuch as they remain almost precisely as they came out of my brain, the words, the structure, the sentiments. I wrote my grandma’s poem because when I heard of her death I immediately thought that her funeral might not reflect accurately the impact she made in her life, on me, on our family, on her community – because she was a divisive character, frequently leaving a bitter taste in many mouths. I wanted to sum it up honestly, with the warmth I always felt for her and reflect with immediacy and brevity the type of character she was in my mind. Then some months later, two says after receiving a text from my friend saying she was having the beginnings of labour but waiting around, I got her second text that the baby was gravely ill and that she was to turn off the life support machine the next day. The galaxy of space between those two messages sort of tore a hole in my perception, in reality. I felt the need to put pen to paper immediately, thinking of how fleeting this little girl’s time as ‘a person’ on this Earth was but how her existence would have more impact on her family in 48 hours than someone could do in a lifetime of events. I wrote the poem to be read at the funeral; I was barely finished with my chemo and didn’t feel strong enough to go, so I sent the poem to be read in my stead. I was thinking of the little girl like I think about the clouds that pass over my local park: just as you catch sight of one little cloud, it changes shape and form before you can really acknowledge it, and then it’s gone, as if it was something you only saw in your peripheral vision.

Here they are.

For Binnie – “Blackbird”

A little blackbird in the snow in Salzberg, Austria. My own photo, 2005.

A little blackbird in the snow in Salzberg, Austria. My own photo, 2005.

Let’s not pay our last respects,

Because we won’t ever stop paying our respects.

She went in the night-time

As befits a blackbird soul

It was always her way, or no way at all-

and not everyone could see why

But hers was a path for one.

The Sioux princess hair,

A lifelong rebellion

Proof that this lady wasn’t for turning

I often wondered what secrets she kept

But I knew we’d never know

As befits a blackbird soul

It was always her way, or no way at all

Not everyone could see why

If you didn’t like it – too bad.

Why would this leopard change

Its spots

When it trod a path for one?

True, to love her could be cold

Lonely, to take a bitter pill

I often wondered what secrets she kept

But I knew she’d never tell

So let’s not pay our last respects,

Because we won’t ever stop paying our respects.

She went in the night-time

As befits a blackbird soul

It was always her way, or no way at all.

For Madeleine – “A little cloud”

A wee passing cloud. By Flickr/ Southernpixel Alby.us - http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernpixel/420586146/sizes/o/in/photostream/

A wee passing cloud. By Flickr/ Southernpixel Alby.us – http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernpixel/420586146/sizes/o/in/photostream/


In a perfectly azure sky, on a spring day

I saw a tiny puff of white, a cotton wool ball

drifting, with no hint of where it came from

or where it was going

No one could have caught this little cloud

and I could barely keep it in my sight

Its form, almost round one second, ragged the next

torn, pushed, pulled, encouraged by invisible hands way up there

so lonely, but not sad – for it was free.

The wind took that little cloud away from me, I only ever saw it

from the corner of my eye,

and in a blink

it was not only somewhere else

but had a completely different form

no shape I’d ever seen, nor that there would ever be more than one of again.

A shape and form with no name, that had no use for such things

Because there was somewhere else that cloud had to go.

Where? I don’t know,

But in its way, wafting, rolling, puffing,

It knew, and seemed happy that way.

And then it was gone, without a chance to say goodbye

I went home, thinking about that little cloud.

The wind took that little cloud away from me, I only ever saw it

from the corner of my eye.

It’s somewhere else – something else now; I can hear an almighty downpour over the hill.

That little cloud is feeding the snowdrops and the daffodils.

That gurgling river, it’s filled with that little cloud.

In a perfectly azure sky, on a Spring day, that little puff of white, that cotton wool ball

Is at home – all around us, and forever.

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