My Garden Day
A poem I wrote in July 2013…
’I am alone. They have gone into the house for breakfast, and I am left standing by the wall among the flowers. It is very early, before lessons. Flower after flower is specked on the depths of green. The petals are harlequins. Stalks rise from the black hollows beneath. The flowers swim like fish made of light upon the dark, green waters. I hold a stalk in my hand. I am the stalk. My roots go down to the depths of the world, through earth dry with brick, and damp earth, through veins of lead and silver. I am all fibre. All tremors shake me, and the weight of the earth is pressed to my ribs.’ Virginia Woolf – The Waves
My Garden Day
Today is my garden day.
But will there be worlds in a bead of dew? Will there?
Will there be sounds more, tastes more, sense more than in these
sentences? Will time be better spent there than closed off
in my house, constructing my own imaginary botany? A guess
work of plants and shrubs and names I do not yet know despite an
early obsession with ordering alphabetically the names of the flowers
I found like fairy tale friends in the hidden places of my garden
when I was a child…. And if there is world in a grain of sand,
or, in this tiny strip of reworked land, the tending hands of a volunteer,
the unrestricted fall of sky into the empty spaces left in the gaps
between items and gardening things, will this be heaven
or something else, some other name,
Can it be explained? Do we have to explain?
A salvaged patch of Shoreditch ground…
Could there be flowers patterning trellised walls?
What were they called, those flowers my Grandmother grew?
Oh yes, sweet-peas. And in the London garden, one day
perhaps, a batch of eggs like oval ingots in the hay.
Rain-wet raspberries. Ruby red. A pair of doves in a flutter
of sparkly rain. A collection of little trowels. A row of wellington boots –
poetry books to borrow in bad weather stored in the shed amongst
stripy fold-out chairs – a kettle for herbal infusions – rosemary fresh
from the tilled earth. Down the road, bankers drink and trade;
pupils wilt and fade over their desks, set in Victorian rows.
At the Cowper Street School, the playground of ironed stone,
not enough space to go round, but the sound, the sound
of a bee-loud glade.
At the garden re-worked from a strip of college yard off Old Street
I watered bed after bed of herb –
courgette – tomato – raspberry – red
currant and nasturtium flowers. Anna said
that the plants grow best if they are close together.
‘Like they are sheltering each other?’ I asked. ‘Yes, just look,’
she said, indicating a vegetable plot, ‘at that little courgette
all on it’s own compared with those over here beside each other
and doing well. And those sages look set to last.
Both the red and the green. But water deep down,
so the roots have plenty of sustenance and can grow strong.
The plants themselves reflect the roots in the ground.’
‘Like symmetry?’ I ask. I picture the roots like neural paths.
A mesh of hidden thread.
Today I rewire my head,
permit the light to flood the gaps between thought and desire,
garden outdoors beneath untouched blazes of fire.
I do not seek shelter or shade. For over an hour I work
without pause from light and dazzling blue
to retreat with notebook and fountain pen into an inside
place like the shed or hut I half expected,
a city refuge of sorts.
No indoor table, desk, chair, cup or kettle.
No distraction at all. We must water the beds.
Bid these flowers to bloom, make fertile this earth.
Seeds will not grow on sand or rock. I heard that
someplace I forgot. We must make fertile
this rescued land.
And let’s suppose that there’s nothing else…
No guest appearance of Godot on the cards.
No God in the wings or King
to make the rules of this yard.
Guardians of soil and plant we chanced upon
this orphaned land.
We cannot just gently pass.
We let ourselves in, set things up – sewed
the seeds to make plants…
So today I take up the hose, a gold unravelling thread, a benign
mischievous snake, a sudden fountain hydrating the soil. And I feel
that I have to deliver, and nuture these little plants.
We are the tillers. We are the gardeners and this
our cherished earth.
I wait like a jug to be filled up with light, concave to convex.
I wish to be full of the sun, unrestrained light striking the flesh
of my arms, shins, cheek, the fluff of my hair, that shimmers
and feels aflame. I wish to give myself to the herbs that I lovingly tended
this afternoon. Books closed. Desk tidy. Unfinished novels left
home alone. They won’t care. I’m not their mother.
Meanwhile my children – they need me much less.
They are at school. Still, I am mother to their thoughts.
I carry them in my head, a weightless image of them… But here
miles away, without family or written work, I want to fall for the herbs.
Nothing but nature and plant. I want to want nothing. To travel
just with a satchel of thought. Or no thoughts at all.
To find where peace is dropping slow, an emptied chalice,
space for the light.
Today I ate leaf after leaf.
I tried to guess at the names as I munched through cellulose to the taste
hidden within each different frond. No one was there to say, ‘Don’t touch.
Oh no, not this it’s deadly night shade. This could kill. Or, ‘That will make
you sick for days. We’re just growing it for the appearance. It’s not edible.
Actually it’s treacherous, though you’d never know from just from the look of it…’
Anyway – the amount I ate today would equal a whole salad! There was
an abundance of leaf. I picked out rosemary, mint, fennel and chive, a veritable
banquet of herb. The others I did not know but I tried them – that
myriad of raw, green texture rough – green – unadorned, washed
only with the recycled rain gushing out of the pipe.
Anna came by naming the other herbs: fever few, chamomile,
caraway, lavender, dill and said – have no fear of the plants.
Have some raspberries too.
Palms full of ruby red fruits. And a single red currant just ripening,
a ripening currant the shape of a miniature globe, the taste of heaven
upon my tongue and spurting into my mouth. I knew eternity
in that hour. As an infant freed of regret and ambition and hope, just there
inhabiting the present tense, my arms like the arms of a clock measuring
the day by the act of just slowly moving round and round, carrying out tasks
without request for anything but to exist, moving through time as neutrally as
possible. No damage nor prize. And when the tasks were all done
and it was time to set out for home Anna said I could take a couple of plants.
She set them down on the table and I asked, ‘What’s this?’
‘That’s tomato,’ she said. ‘And this?’ ‘
‘This one is chilli.’
And since they do not fit in my bag I carry them aloft
as though I have been to a party – going home gifts.
Talking this evening with a horticulturalist
at Phoenix Garden (just off Shaftesbury Avenue)
he described the excavating of a bomb site. Cleared
of debris, shards of bottle glass, broken
porcelain and charred furniture, homes
that shivered like ship-wrecked
to every element, collages
and tile – walls loosened from
mented structures letting in
and sleet through skeletal forms….
Shapeless windows, gaping like mouths without words,
smashed in roofs.
The razed ground later covered in West End car-park space.
The horticulturalist paused and said –
‘This tree, see over here has two names….
Mountain Ash and Rowan, and
this plant, this one is edible.’
‘Oh yes, nasturtium. I ate them once at a party.’
‘And this – this one here – is juniper… Marsh
marigold and lilies down
by the pond.’
I left him then, by the shed, and went on my way
to the flowers next to the pond. And there…
little frogs, flowers and honey bees.
I met someone, another July, and we went a few times to The White Hart on the corner of Drury Lane, and later for dinner on Gerrard Street. On occasion we met in Hyde Park at the Pavilion by the Serpentine Gallery. From the very first night that we met, I found myself writing a diary in poetry. I considered sending him my poems but instead I said, that actually I wanted to hold them back, and maybe I would reveal them later in a different context. I started out with the idea of a sonnet form, experimenting with the metre and rhyme schemes of the Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnet, for example, but soon found that I rebelled against the constraint and customised the sonnet form my own way. I liked the sense of having to reach a closure after fourteen lines. This discipline liberated a certain creativity within the constraint.
I wrote these poems two summer’s ago, and decided to assemble them together for you to read, if you wish, and if you have time.
8 July 2013
That droplet of wine
as nectar would be to a honey bee, as
water to hidden rhizomes… oxygen
to wilting leaves.
That syrup of wine
to me like a spell from a vial labelled,
like the rock and the lull of a cradle.
And when I awoke from my secret trance I
looked in my mirror and touched my face, and flinched
at the touch of flesh against glass, mouth
against glass, chest against glass, and turned her away t
to look at the wall.
Left her forever alone in the past.
The bookstore in Bury Place, around nine and
suddenly you’re there, and I sense you anticipate that
I will rotate and set down my drink on a table between books and
as I do so you will step into my arc. You came right in,
into the inner circle of me, as though to summon me
onto your ship. I feel like I’m sailing further from known
reflection. The familiarity of my girlish mirror.
The faraway moon, a distant rondel of glass,
scarily far. I want to seize it and look within but
I know that I will see nothing. Little wide eye, bright
as a sea-washed pearl, a featureless blank,
if I reach for you, into the night, I could fall off this coracle
into the waves and drown as you drift away,
just water, sea-water running through bone-hard hands.
In the hinterlands beyond looks and mirror, and the peripherique
and by-ways of known thought, mouths trembling like instrument parts
after a symphony, perceiving that we have nothing to say,
that gazing, fantasising and longing to reach across the pub table,
at The Plough, or move away from that troubling obstacle
is all that is on our minds, wondering then how
to accept that language, the raw metal of our everyday work,
somehow falters and fails? Could something mean more
than poetic form, my novella, your poetry.
I fear this echoing night,
this deathless void.
I fear a floundering for the best words,
for something to say.
I want to be worldess with you.
I wish I had gone to your car. I wish
I had stepped inside and onto the passenger seat
in the dark, just you and I quiet after the clamour
at the Bloomsbury pub. The smell of leather inside,
in the dark like the pool of a quiet sea, you like a spool
reeling me into you. Alone in the dark beyond histories
and bedroom mirrors I must have sounded like a damaged
creature let free, the wine making it sound perhaps
like I’d lost my mind. You set down your drink and moved
towards me a little way – and I wished I had realised,
stayed quiet, receptive to signs. But all of a sudden, pushing a chair
across the floor I was saying
I have to go.
Suddenly checking for keys.
As the bar closed up we fell quiet
The chinking of bright washed glasses set back in rows.
The inaudible chatter of bar staff waiting to leave,
the rowdy mock brawl of a couple of lads
an abstract musical score that drifted somewhere peripheral
to sense and sight. Nothing at all but your face in the place
of the mirror I carry about in my head, that just tells me the same
from wake to sleep, over and over, day after day, just looks
and acts like a clone; I can read her thoughts, she tells me nothing
new. Follows me about, clings to my neck as a child.
How I wish to erase that shadow at times…
But at least, for the last few minutes we gazed
into each others eyes.
I forgot everything but for your irises, eye-lash and smile.
I fear the temperature of your gaze.
Yet… you cool it with the most rational conversation.
Your shirt is as pressed as possible. (Do you have a maid?) And yet still
you undulate beneath like a rippling stallion.
I fear the silent chasm of this endless look
like a pool of immeasurable depth. Fear.
But I like to stand as though on the edge.
I would like to live on coffee and adrenalin,
wine and late night dates. Drives
You are reflection but not made of glass.
My imprint in clay.
You are the page absorbing my words.
Instrument to my composition.
The speed that I wish to ride.
A sun-warmed wave that carries me
into the sleeping sun,
under a shiny moon.
Now you are moon to my sea.
Magnet to tide.
To you will I cede my hold.
With one guess you figured the password.
One turn of the key.
To you I unfold.
You could drown, or find you’re alone on a tiny raft.
You could lose your way in the depths of this mirrorless night,
in the hollowed spaces of timeless time, in the dark of the void,
this violet void. Drifting – breezing – anchor-less in clouds not
of knowing or unknowing or anything definable,
somehow adrift, somewhere or nowhere between signifier and
signified. Far far from the house with sash windows with barely
a star visible to the naked eye from the hemmed in terrace set
between high, high walls. Far from the familiar face in the looking glass
on your bedroom wall, that cut-out paper doll you, gazing from mirror
and screen, replicating each move, her outfits like paper dresses
for trying on, not real, swapping round, like a childhood game
of fashion shows and switching image.
Alone in a fall of rain. Your raft now blowing away.
And how ever benign this ocean seems,
how ever gentle the waves that lap and lick at this little vessel
this is a precarious ride – like it’s balanced between risk and
possibility and it feels like until this point I never fully realised the full
meaning of a word like inevitable. Too late. My estuary tower is ablaze.
Furnishings aflame. Why is it that the only metaphor to describe how I feel
for you is conflagration? Why do I feel like I am alight?
Is it the quickening of my heart when I think about you? Is it
the sweetness of your touch that is as kindling? The gaze of your eyes
that to me are smouldering as coals? Is it the racing of heart
that heats my blood to this fire. I wish to be quenched.
(Do you feel the same? This desire?
Shall we swim off the side of a boat together and dowse
these raging fires?)
Here it is not about make-up or clothes,
nothing could matter less than those, does not matter
if my hair is in disarray, if I forget my adolescent ways.
I vacated my tower of childhood rhyme, though I fear that
he is Sir Lancelot to my Lady of Shallot.
His car is parked down the street in a Bloomsbury Parking lot
or side road, equivalent of a waiting steed. His uncovered
shirt like the clothes of a knight disarmed, his touch
equal in tender invitation to any same touch under
the timeless, ageless stars, any place, and yet the only one
that could ever perfectly fit. I left my tower and now I cannot return.
My keys have gone. This poet, only he knows the code.
I roam the waves. I feel like I’m under a curse. Oh my God
I fear the worst.
The wine’s wearing off after three nights of wine,
the poetry reading on Monday, drinks later at a pub that we found
after crossing a gated courtyard via a still open bookstore
and almost getting locked in, wine at the dinner for Gigi Gianuzzi
in Fitzrovia (he would have been fifty that day), gold edged glasses,
like for a fairy tale ball. And last night wine with a friend of mine,
Velvet, at the White Hart on Drury Lane. Never or at least rarely
have I drunk so much wine in a week.
But – I feel like I am coming down;
I feel like the ground is getting closer, like I am seeing it all for real,
like I am starting to question everything. Whether he likes me and
if he does then where would we meet, would there be time?
Can we arrange to coincide?
What will it be like?
How long will it last? Will you see me again?
And if I see you again then what will I wear? And will I ever
just not care about what I am wearing like on that first night we met?
Nothing pre-empted at all, my shirt un-pressed, just reading,
completely unguarded and finding you suddenly there, no time
to prepare. You took me disarmed and I just fell into conversation
with you like the best improvisation ever in my life. And
should I just not care in the same way as that first night?
Should I act every time like I never met you before?
Forget that we ever spoke? Just go back to how I was?
That spontaneous way that I dressed in above-the-knee skirt,
flowered shirt, scuffed T-bar shoes, the way I just rushed a smudge
into my eyes…
12 July ’13
The sense of looking back, sands receding beneath folds
of sky like rippling silk merging every edge into one mist.
The sense that someone else is steering the boat;
that sense of having only a vague idea where I am,
where we are heading, watching the dip and the rise
of the oars, someone else rowing, and thinking,
I’m in his hands. Does he know how to steer? The sense that
these waters have never been charted and if so then the charts
are hidden from view. Out of our sight. A strata forbidden to know.
A hidden logic not to be decoded but felt like the current’s tow.
In some ways I wish this had never begun. That this boat
had never appeared and I hadn’t stepped in.
When did I step aboard?
Did you just sweep me away into the hold of this ship?
13 July ’13
The second I wake I picture you… Why have
you done this, why invaded my thoughts, a stalking thing,
lingering all night at my side, clinging
to this same room, a sheen, an ambience. The minute
I wake, inevitable axis of me, the image
I cannot erase from my head, enigma I cannot solve.
Did I ask for this? Can’t you just go? Cease these visitations?
I don’t want to wake up with this ghost version of you, this
flimsy apparition in the cinema screen of my head, elusive,
shadowy, a chimera you, a phantom fantasy you, I want
you – flesh and sweat – not this fake version
of you. I feel mad at you, at this disruption to my head.
My imagination all to blame.
You stepped I remember within my circumference without asking first.
Did I have time to consider you from a afar? Checking you out,
a glance lasting a fraction of a second too long,
giving out the clues that I wished you to approach?
What made you appear like that beside me, sudden distraction
as though you wished to abduct me and make me yours? Me off guard.
Powerless to resist. Your conversation holding me back against the wine
table, compelling, everything else just a blur, then just the two or us
by the last of the wine, in an emptying room, then everyone else gone.
Sometimes I feel I could slap you for changing my life the way that you have,
but at the same time, I love the way that you played it, the way you
conducted me like your taken bride, taking me up as though onto
your waiting mount; commanding the horse ‘Ride! Ride into the night!’
Through the dark night. Whoever you are, I am yours so do as you will.
19 July ’13
I’m not the Lady of Shallot. I shall not die if I step into the waiting boat that is you,
Your invitation is my passage to another land; the fusion of our conversation,
the weaving of our glances like the fabric of an island home,
shade of a kind from onlooker and storm. There is
no curse and yet my young child despises me without a doubt
for taking coffee or wine with another man, any male not their father.
He can sense when I am entranced. He has that sixth sense for these things.
Radar to movement, distraction and thought. Does he fear that there will be less,
less of me left for him? Maybe he fears that love is not infinitude. And if so,
if love is not an infinitesimal and ever replenishing store of nourishment like
magic substance of fairy tale and wonder, but a finite resource like gold that could
run out, what if suddenly he feel there is much less of it? And if I hide my tracks
what if then I am inscrutable as a ruined treasure map and he feels
lost in a kind of wilderness. He pines already for his absent father.
He wants us more than anything else back together….
My child, like a dove, flutters from me to his father, little forays,
messages, one to the other… ‘Dad says he likes your hair.’
‘Mummy is planning a picnic, do you want to come with us, Daddy?
Just us. Tomorrow at Regent’s Park by the boating lake. He tidies around.
‘There. I’ve arranged the cushions for you and Daddy on the sofa. Your bed
is made. You can sleep with Dad. But only him. Never
anyone else. Swear an oath on your life that you are in love with my Dad.
I am integral to the home. I feel like part of its structural engineering.
Without me, everything would fall apart. All expectation, all hope would fail.
One act, one single choice for my delight at the exclusion of their father
is to them a betrayal. It is like pulling bricks randomly out of the wall,
watching the whole edifice of home starting to fall.
I have no cause for complaint,
but he knows he can lose all hope with one bad word or critical look,
that I am on the brink and my fickle heart will be hard for him to win back,
he feels like me were were never in love, we just were together thousands of times
as there was no one else; we are honest with each other and say it was by default.
There was no one else in either of our lives for all of that time. It was something
to do – a way to pass time. He summoned me today. ‘Come, sit beside me here.’
But it’s weeks since we touched. There was an argument in December.
Since then he treads gently like building a house of cards.
Like sweeping away broken glass underfoot with small kindnesses.
Is he worried now about dying alone?
Does he wish now he married me earlier whilst he had that chance?
If I could marry for pity instead of love then just maybe,
Pity and the memory of us together, young together on Isle St Louis.
Mainly I have my back to him typing relentlessly at my desk.
The children. They are like memos. They stick post-it notes
all round the house. 17th July – Daddy arrives.
Tagliatelli Carbonara for lunch. Sunday – a picnic in Regent’s Park.
2nd August – Daddy’s birthday. Age 47!
‘What are you giving Dad for his birthday?’ they ask.
They keep on asking me that. Then J says
‘Let’s pack the hamper up for the picnic.’
‘But it’s not Sunday yet.’ But we can start to pack
Let’s bring Daddy. And a blanket for you to relax on
whilst we climb trees. ‘You can chat.’
‘But Dad never listens.’ ‘He will this time, Mummy.
You know that. I think you are in denial. Like you want
22 July ’13
My Persian poet writes poems of garden moons,
but never invited me round to his London lawn to gaze for real
on a garden moon, nor did we lie on the grass in the night to watch
moths on a buddleia or shooting stars or drink
wine or be together alone.
After our dinner trip on Gerrard Street I heard nothing for a while.
So then, the next night, the night after the storm, a flutter of rain falling
out of a troubled sky, I wandered the West End streets, impulsive,
depressed, directionless just wishing to forget. And
(midnight just gone) I came to the gardens by the Savoy Hotel and,
longing to get in to that lush, luscious, somnolent, verdant garden beneath
London’s industrial haze, momentarily paused.
A hidden lawn!
A fountain’s lilt.
Then, here at my side, as though reading my mind, a man
bare of shirt, tattoos across muscular chest….
(NB. I have left out the remainder of the sequence from 22nd July. I am not sure if I still have the others here at home. i think I wrote the rest of the 22 July sequence out in a diary.)
Wednesday, 7 January 2015
In Max Pensky’s “The Trash of History,” taken from the larger Melancholy Dialectics: Walter Benjamin and the Play of Mourning, Walter Benjamin’s use of the objective dialectical image is viewed in juxtaposition–and unwanted collaboration -with subjective allegorical imagery. The dialectical image, where past and present interact with one another, is Benjamin’s method and subject of critical analysis. The allegorical image that has arbitrary meaning is melancholic: the passing of time is marked by sadness. The dialectic image “cannot be” (Pensky, 211), and yet it is as our history is a “catastrophic history” (Pensky, 211). This issue of imagery is one aspect of the larger subject/object problem and is how Benjamin incorporated Kabalistic elements into his criticism.
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A powerful quote: “Historicism gives the ‘eternal’ image of the past; historical materialism supplies a unique experience with the past. The historical materialist leaves it to others to be drained by the whore called ‘Once upon a time’ in historicism’s bordello. He remains in control of his powers, man enough to blast open the continuum of history”(Benjamin, 262)
Below are my notes from class on Monday. I cleaned them up and also posted some of the passages that were brought up during discussion. Feel free to post any questions or comments that you might have. Hopefully this will come in handy later on!
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In his essay, “The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin discusses a shift in perception and its affects in the wake of the advent of film and photography in the twentieth century. He writes of the sense changes within humanity’s entire mode of existence; the way we look and see the visual work of art has is different now and its consequences remain to be determined. How does human sense perception related to history? Is it a universal perspective that is being critiqued here? Can there be a universal perspective in the first place?
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