weekly: pictures and fictions
(what is metanoia?)
images: Deirdre Burton; words: Deirdre Burton or Tom Davis
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Who am I? I'm glad you asked. That's the beginning; when you ask.
I am your other, my dear, your hidden sister, waiting, in your darkness, shining quietly. I am what you could not afford to be, because the world got in the way. I am what you can become: I am change, but change as you are changed in your mirror image: the same, but opposite.
I am the stranger you see in your mirror, I am you looking at you.
Where did I come from? Many times, in your life, but especially the first time, you made a choice. You chose the comfortable, the satisfying, the easy way. The first time you did that, I was there; I was what you chose not to be. And again and again, as you built yourself, you built me too: always there, your opposite, growing stronger as you grew your self.
And then, at some point, something happens. An accident, an opportunity, a disaster, a lifetime chance. A loss, often, a terrible betrayal, it can be anything. Maybe a book you read, a play you've seen, some music, a film: Juliet, Jules et Jim, Robert Johnson. Or, of course, Jesus. And you think, no, no, give me my life back, I want to be comfortable again, but that has gone, gone.
And then either you live the rest of your life trying to resuscitate what you have lost, your lost comfortable self, or ...
Or you embrace me. You let go. You look upwards, smiling, bravely, and move forward, into me, through me, towards whoever you now are.
Life is change. Life is inconstant. It cannot be frozen into the comfortable. Choose life. Choose me.
I am Metanoia. Beyond. The mind. The inconceivable, is what I am; inevitable, too. And always, always, do remember this, always, I am your good.
So now you have met me: it has started. See what happens. Watch carefully, be courageous, and, above all, look for joy. You will find it, now, nowhere else.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
If, to satisfy your curiosity, you want to see what they imagined me to look like, then go to the cathedral of Torcello. Take your time. Linger. It's an old building. It's an old city. It's an old country. It will wait. There you will find a marble bas relief of Bios, Metanoia and ... Me. Well - it's what they wanted me to look like. Those ancestral story tellers. Overly dramatic for my taste - the wings, the lock of hair. The implication of narrative. The pull towards worldly action and reaction. The truth is, you see, I don't look like anything at all. I'm more a passing sensation than a form to be seen and captured. But you know how people like to pin things down. Turn us into shapes they recognise and feel they can negotiate with.
I do not require you to negotiate with me. I am happy to serve you in my own quiet way.
It's up to you entirely. But, if it takes your fancy, then simply take the opportunity to put Chronos to one side and realise that time is on your side after all. With me. Kairos. The god-given opportunity. The gateway to epiphany. The moment within the movement of moments. The slender chance.
I'm an ordinary sort of bloke at heart. I am not at all interested in stories. I do not need the unfolding of one damn thing after another - the cliff hanger - the trajectories - the jeoparardies - the double jeopardies. The sticky stuff of your soap operas and arias - the tantalising trails within your comic books and sitcoms. I have no understanding of characters and motivations. The fluff you endlessly blend and caress into fuzzy felt. Cosy. Familiar. Soporific. Suffocating.
If you come with me, you will forget you. The you of likes and dislikes. The you of compare and contrast. For a moment - for a micro-moment - you will remember the who of you. The who you really are. Before they told you who you are. And con vinced you. But take your time. I can wait. I am like patience on a monument. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. No-one to answer to.
Small children can see me. So can cats. Some poets, some heavenly fools and a few photographers. You know the ones I mean. They whisper a shiver through the very bones of you. And when they do, you know - you really know - that Life and Love and Laughter are calling you. They see the brightness of my entrances and exits, my weavings in and out, and in and out of the hazy conditions you like to call reality. I'm with you always. And in all ways. No flashing lights, no ecstasies, no uplifting choirs required. Simply an innocent remembering. Before language. Before categories. Before the languid limitations of the arbitrary shaping of experience.
in be tween each or din ary mo ment there is an in fin it es i mal o pen ing not to be ig nored or mis tak en as some thing of no sig nif i cance
no thing could be fur ther from the truth and no thing could be clo ser
here is the op por tun i ty for some thing quite new for me or for you or for who you thought you were or what you thought you were ab out to be
turn a round and turn a bout and flout the cir cum stance and rigid stance and dance the dance my out stretched hands in vite
you are al ways wel come and all ways well come.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
I was sitting by the sea shore, listening to a poem, as it sang inside my head. It took the noise and colour of the sea inside itself, the rhythm of the waves, the seagull songs, and it was beautiful.
While my eyes and ears were within myself, they came. With their noise, and their unlanguage, and their anger; a huge unwieldy flapping boat that came from nowhere, from the no place on the other side of the sea horizon, from the back of that.
I addressed them courteously, as one does, and they did snarling and untalk, and grabbed me, roughly. I floated through their blundering attack, as we are taught to do, but there were too many of them, and.
When I awoke I was a slave.
After a long time they came to another island. There was strife (there is always strife, with them. They are mad, I think). They forced Prospero, and his daughter. Ah, Miranda. My heart stops as I see her in my mind. They forced them into a boat, and me too, and they put us on the island, and left. It was then very peaceful, you could hear the music of the island, and it was good. There was a harmony, again, at last, at last, and I could hear the poems.
But there was a discord, too. Where? I looked round. Oh, Prospero, it was him: he was terrified. He was afraid of the island: imagine! And that meant that Miranda too was discordant: it was terrible, that such beauty could be out of tune. I went to them, in courtesy, in compassion, to open the joy of the island to them, but they shrank away.
I went inwards for a little. Ah, I see, they are afraid: they are like children, they don't know how to do anything, to talk properly, to sing, to harmonise, to feed themselves, to join the dance.
And all around them there were fresh scamels, there for picking up, waiting, on the rocks! And look, clear spring water, running down the rocks to the sea! They were hungry, in the middle of plenty: so strange.
Well, it took a long time, to teach them. To teach him, that is; he wouldn't let me teach her directly, though I could see the understanding, waiting, shining, in her eyes. I taught them to recognise food and to eat it with respect. I sang the grace songs for them, and the thanking songs, and they ate and began to be less afraid. I showed them shelter, and blessed it, and calm came to the island, though Prospero was never happy, he had a strange starvation inside himself, a localised emptiness, a hole that always he sought to fill, and never could.
But Miranda. Ah, my heart. Soon there arose a love between us; without touch, love, in the air like a smile, like a breath, like joy itself. Soon she could hear the music of the island, soon she began to move with the beginning of understanding the dance.
Love. It was wonderful. Without words, because she had no language, but that would come, in time, with care.
And it did, a little. I taught her to talk, even to sing, a little. And she taught me some untalk, a language with no ethical inflections at all, just imagine, a a terrible concoction of grunting and wanting, but I managed some of it, an odd unlearning.
However. She taught me two wonderful things. She taught me Kairos. She taught me Metanoia. These are gods, or experiences, or people, or ways of being, I couldn't make it out, but I could see the wonder of it, and took them inside myself, to live in the inmost, where the poetry comes from.
One day, morning, the sun rising over the edge of the sea, colours coming to life, the sea silver, the world coming into tune, she came walking towards me as I sat with a poem about her in my head.
I looked at her, at her smile, and knew it was time. I held out my hand to her. Smiling, she took it. That moment, that touch, that exchange of sensation, that mutual gentle grasp, is a most important element of the dance. Crucial. Pivotal. Wonderful. I was so happy. And so was she. The sharing.
Well, Prospero saw. And things became very bad. Mad. Bad.
I let him beat me, and bellow at me, and hurt me. You respect the father. That is fundamental. And if he is mad, or seems it, then that too is part of what you are here to learn from. Miranda screamed, and.
There are no words for all of that. It is not concordant. He beat her, for trying to protect me. Not concordant. Unspeakable.
I never really saw her again. Glimpses, that is all. Eventually one of the ship things came, and took them away.
And here I am, alone; alone with the joy of the island, though it is sombre also now; but beautiful, too, in a different way, a way that needs to be learned.
And, of course, I have company: Kairos, and Metanoia.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
(Judith Shakespeare, that is, twin sister of Hamnet, daughter of William)
Caliban? Cleopatra? Well, he would say that - wouldn't he? That's typical of my brother, you know. He always was attracted to those striking individualists. The "one offs" - the ones of whom they say "they broke the mould when they made him - or her." It wasn't the same for me. Perhaps because I was born second - a good half hour after him? Always running to catch up - always left behind. Always longing to be close by his side - seeing the world from what I truly believed to be our shared point of view. Whilst he strode off - wanting to be ahead somehow. Maybe wanting to be alone? No. Why would he want that?
It wasn't that he didn't like me. It wasn't that he didn't love me. I was sure about that. We had some extraordinary times together. But somehow, for him, I was his funny little sister with weird ideas. And, as we grew a bit older, he wanted to be off with his mates - doing boy things. "What things?" I would ask. "Just things. Stuff." Not suitable for a girl, apparently.
I dressed up as a boy once - in some of his clothes, actually, And I cut my hair - my luxuriously long ginger hair - with a kitchen knife. I looked quite gamin, quite urchin - sort of Audrey Hepburn on a day-off-from filming day. I strolled around the lanes with a churlish swagger and a switch of witch hazel, chewing grass, whistling. I liked to believe that passers-by were taken in my disguise. They smiled and said "hallo there young lad." But I expect they were just being kind. People are, aren't they? Hamnet wasn't taken in by it - not for a moment. But he went quiet. He didn't tease me or tell me off or anything - just looked at me a bit funny. Sideways. Thinking about something. But I don't know what it was. He didn't say and I forgot to ask. It was a sort of magic moment actually, and later - afterwards - I wished I had asked. About that and about so many other things. I wish I had asked.
My mother was furious. It was the hair mostly I think. I heard her shouting at my father - saying it was his fault - spinning fancy yarns that gave a girl some silly ideas. "Girls don't dress up as boys" she said. And he just smiled. That beautiful, heart-stopping smile that means he's somewhere else inside his head. Unreachable. Making something.
It's odd being a surviving twin, you know. You spend the rest of your life looking for something - someone. Maybe they're just around the next corner. Go and see. Perhaps that long October shadow will bring them home. Wait up for them. Maybe they're out there, under the same moonlight as this. Close your eyes and wait for morning and he will be here. It is a pain that ebbs and flows, as the madness of unrequited hope flares up and fades away. Over and over and over again.
My father understood. Of course. He never spoke about it directly, but he would sit and tell me the old stories of famous twins: Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus, Helen and Clytemnestra. I knew his heart was breaking, but he took the time with me. Carefully. Consistently. Conscientiously. He told stories that would hold you in a half sleep and wash your mind with light and sound.
One day, a tear or two crept down his soft brown face. He thought it was too dark for me to see - but I did. And, foolishly perhaps, I dared to say it. "Tell me a story about twins who are a boy and a girl. Please." He said nothing. But I think he nodded "yes". And I know he understood. And so, for my sixteenth birthday he gave me a special, grown-up present: a manuscript called "What you Will". And there, as nowhere else in my lonely world, I found both heartache and comfort. Viola and Sebastian. Both feared drowned. Both lost. Both found. Re-united.
Just a story, of course. Just a play for the theatre. Just something to amuse the audiences. And yet. For me, and for any actor who gets it right, any listener who feels the heartbeat of the rhythm and the blood pulse patterns of reconciliation in the music of lines, it's more. Much more.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
--So, how does it feel, to be immortal?
--I am, actually, dead, if you remember. So, living for ever, but only in the minds of others. It's a bit of a paradox.
--Yes. And, you are everywhere, too. Distributed all over the world, performance after performance, reading after reading.
--It's an odd feeling. Everybody has a piece of me.
--All the time, too; somewhere, always, there will be someone acting you, watching you, reading you, thinking about you.
--Maybe even writing an essay about me. God help me.
--And what they are each doing is creating a new me. Again and again. Over and over again. I feel myself shift and reshape and flow and dissolve and re-harden, like clay, like water, like ice, like air. Everywhere.
--Yes. Now: I need to get on with the interview. My readers would like some answers from you, if that's OK. There are questions that need clearing up, and here we have this unique opportunity to do just that.
--Sure. Glad to help. Ask anything.
--Why did you delay?
--You know, Hamlet's famous hesitation. Why did you waste all that time before you killed Claudius?
--What, you mean, why didn't I do a Laertes, brandish a sword, storm the palace at the head of an angry mob, slaughter him outright?
--Yes. That's what everyone wants to know.
--Well, that's a little short sighted of everyone, isn't it?
--Yes. Think. Why do they want to know?
--Because they are fascinated by you.
--Because they are in love with me.
--Because they want part of you, they want to be you.
--Yes. And had I not delayed, there would be no Hamlet for them to be in love with, would there? There would, instead, have been a short and tedious one-act play. No enigma. No depth in which to lose themselves, to find themselves, no darkness, nothing strange. In other words, no Hamlet.
--Ask me if I was mad.
--Were you mad?
--Or just pretending?
--Yes, were you just pretending?
--Answer: yes. I was mad. And yes, I was just pretending. And yes, I was in love with Ophelia. Never doubt that. Freud's Hamlet is true, and David Warner's Hamlet, and Olivier's Hamlet, and T.S. Eliot's sad Hamlet, they are all true, every one of them, because any Hamlet you can imagine is Hamlet, all the Hamlets are there in the play, all of them. That's what he did. That's how he wrote me.
--Let me tell you a story. A fiction, if you like. A fairy tale.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy, half a pair of twins. He had a largely absent dad, who loved him, whom he loved. He had a tough competent mother, who loved him, whom he loved. He had a secure and reasonably comfortable childhood, there were the usual ups and downs of childhood, but there was enough money, and he had a good life. It can be nice, being a twin. And so on.
His name, by the way, was Hamnet. Hamnet Shakespeare.
Then, age 11, he died. The plague took him. Very painful, that was. But relatively quick. And his father, who loved him, who could not be there in his extremity, who missed and mourned him, was a poet at the very height of his powers, with complete awareness of the curious immortality of his own genius.
He decided to make a memorial for his son. He invented the unforgettable. He made the lost little boy live for ever, because he wrote his name everywhere, everywhere, across the sky, all over the world.
Think about it. Look inside yourself. Hamlet is a small but fundamental part of what it is to be who you are. All of you. And that's because anyone, anyone, can be Hamlet.
The ghost of Hamlet's father said, remember me; and Hamlet too, dying beautifully, said, remember me; but the boy doesn't need to say that, does he, because you do. All of you.
--Thank you. And, finally, one of my readers would like to know, who is your favourite fictional character?
--Caliban. Or Cleopatra. One or the other.
--Thank you very much.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Did someone call? Sorry I didn't get back to you straight away. They call so often you see - on stage, in rehearsal rooms all over europe, all over the world really. And then, oh dear, in classrooms. That's not so nice. Not so nice at all.
I don't mind the the actors. They try to understand - and sometimes they get it. They strut their stuff, do their Stanislavskyan thing - if that's their preference. Try to be original. Say the words quite well. Occasionally well enough that I'm find myself in tears. Yes. Really. That's sort of fascinating isn't it? Seeing yourself as others see you. Weird. But kinda nice. Sometimes. Sometimes it's just weird. Still, you learn a lot about the actors. The way they see the world. I find that quite intriguing. I've learned not to take their views of me personally. They're only ever telling us about themselves aren't they?
But the teachers and students. Oh dear. They just think about me, you see. They put me in their little boxes, argue more or less enthusiastically, and assume, with such arrogance, that they have me fully pinned down. Like a sad dead butterfly in a glassy eyed showcase. Smelling of formaldehyde. And heading drily towards dust and decay.
I'm very fond of butterflies, actually. And newts and toads and the trout that swim alongside me. Oh yes, I've made my home here - amongst the reeds and rushes. It was just my body they buried. Not me. I stay here in this sometimes sunlit, sometimes shady little river. In the flow. Movement and melody. Slow, turning waves of moderation and wonder in equal measure.
Gertrude drops by from time to time. And that nice young woman from the Millais painting - Lizzie Sidall. I like her a lot. She thinks it's very funny to meet the real me. We put flowers in our hair, tell bitter sweet stories, sing soul music and set the world to rights. Hamlet? Claudius? Polonius? Laertes? Oh no. Not them. They can't see us, you see. They can hear us though. And I think they're a bit frightened of our laughter. Well, fair enough. We do get a bit loud from time to time, I suppose. It's all quite kindly though. There's no reason to be anything else here. Maybe that's what they find strange. Do you think that could be it?
And my mother of course. Oh yes, she's here. She's been here as far back as I can remember. This is where I would come as a small child - to be with her. She died as I was born, you see. She says she didn't mind that - not at all. She likes to be here. Prefers it actually. She watches the turning seasons and the comforting ebb and flow of night and day. She's only a little tiny bit older than me, actually, so we have fun now. She improvises the coolest tunes and I harmonise. I'm getting quite good at it , I think. You can tell when you're doing it right. The antelope comes to drink it in, the wild hawk hovers and her wings hum wordless through the still soft air, the lapwing slaps the bass riffs over the gently carved hollows of our undulating daydreams.
But are you real? I hear you asking. As they all do. Well, all I can say is, like everything else in your surroundings and experience, I am as just as real as you believe me to be.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
--I am Hera, shod with gold, daughter of Kronos. He swallowed me, he ate me up, and vomited me forth, not wanting to; he was drugged by Zeus. I was raised by the changing seasons, nursed by the daughters of a river, fought with Zeus against Time itself, and won.
I was and am the most beautiful of all the gods. Zeus my brother who governs the gods pined for me for three hundred years; at last we made love, and, with the Morai, the fates that rule us all, as priests, he married me on the island of Crete.
I gave birth to Ares, god of war; to Hephaistos, master of craft and intricate invention, and to the sea storm monster, Typhaon. My wonderful sons. The last two, I may add, I produced without the benefit of impregnation by the king of the gods. Well, I was annoyed with him. And much chaos my offspring caused, did they not?
Hera. I am Hera. I am woman. Mother, virgin, widow. Queen of the earth, of the winds, of the heavens themselves. I do not take any nonsense from men. I am woman as master, white armed, beautiful beyond all others, swift to anger, terrifying.
Read the stories. They will tell you who I am.
--Will they, really?
--Who are you, then: what is it like, to be you?
--Well, it's strange, being married to god.
--Yes, I imagine it is.
--For one thing, he's so promiscuous.
--Yes, yes, he puts himself about, indefatigably, he's everywhere, he is anybody's.
--Are you jealous?
--What does 'jealous' mean, exactly?
--Never mind. Stupid question. Do you mind, sharing him like that?
--No. I get all of him. So does everyone else. It's a nice arrangement.
--How did you meet him, then?
--Oh, you know, I was walking through the morning, and he appeared in front of me, knelt, and asked me to marry him.
--Interesting word, 'really.' Yes, really, more really than anything else whatsoever, and I said yes, and he carried me to a a wonderful palace, and -
--You're teasing me, aren't you.
--I find it helps. People's minds are so solid. They are stuck in stories.
--So what's he like, then, god?
--Blue. Plays the flute. Interested in cows.
--Oh, come on.
--Yes, really, and one day we were milking the cows, and along he came, and played the flute, and we all instantly fell in love with him, as you do, he being god, and he seduced the lot of us.
--Look, this is a different -
--Simultaneously, that was the wonderful thing. The seduction, I mean. It was great!
--this is a different story! I want to know about Zeus, the thunderer, the world shaker, husband of Hera. You.
--You mean you want me to tell you about a completely different unique supreme being, creator of everything there is?
--Yes, it's a problem, isn't it. I blame literacy, personally. Stories are fine, as long as you don't write them down. The mind makes mirrors, narrative mirrors, it likes to look at itself. But real stories swirl and change and flow and cross-fertilise. Metamorphosis, that's the thing.
--I read that. It's by Ovid. Zeus comes into it, a lot. It's really good.
--There you are: that's the problem. Soon as someone writes a story down, people start thinking they own it. The mirror turns into a photograph; fixed, apparently permanent. No flow.
What is my real story, that's what you want to know, isn't it.
There are no real stories unless they are open, unfettered, wind-born, flying.
Stories, in my opinion, should be set free.
--So, who are you?
--I am Hera. Woman. I am Mary, mother and virgin, and Mary Magdalene too. I am Ophelia, and Gertrude; I am Beatrice and Laura; I am Catherine Earnshaw and Jane Eyre and Morgan le Faye and Guinevere.
I am all of those stories. And none of them.
I am you. You plural. You.
Well, half of you, anyway.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Praise to Thee
Grea - ea -ea - ea- ea-test go-od dof
Ha ha ha ha har-mon-y.
It's 1961, (it seems like yesterday) and I am in a girls' school in north London. A small group of slightly off tune singers - in, I can't help but notice, gruesome dull green uniforms - are dutifully rehearsing an operetta - about King Midas - that loony king. Since they've summoned me, I have to drop by. Remember that darlings - be careful when you carelessly call our names - we will be there.
They don't seem to need me. Well, they do, but they can't hear me - so I alert their singing teacher to the corrections that would, ideally, be made - and I move tirelessly on. Surfing the centuries. Dancing determinedly down the dog-eared decades.
Where now? I wonder. Life these days, in what you call the twenty first century, is much easier in some ways. Now that you no longer believe in my many diverse powers (god of light, political life, healing and destruction, and even, heavens help us, flocks and herds) I no longer have them. Such a relief. It was a mixed portfolio with so much to see to. Nonetheless, my name lives on. Theatres, galleries, restaurants. I pick and choose. I relish my celebrity status.
It's September 2012. I think I'll try the Apollo theatre in London. Ah. Twelfth Night. The scene where Viola and Sebastian, the twins separated by shipwreck, are miraculously re-united. I understand miracles and I understand twins. My own twin sister, Artemis, was born the day before me and, so they say, assisted my poor mother with my birth. Just as well, she needed all the help she could get. My father's wife, Hera, being somewhat pissed off with her. You'd have thought she'd have accepted it wouldn't you? It wasn't the first time Zeus had strayed.
Well, there's a little music in this production, and they're doing quite nicely without me. Elegant, renaissance stuff. It'll do.
Well now - here we are at the Apollo theatre in Chicago - and this is more like it. Just listen to the blurb, darlings:
"On December 4, 1956, an auspicious twist of fate brought together Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. The place was Sun Records' storefront studio in Memphis. The man who made it happen was the "Father of Rock-n-Roll," Sam Phillips, who discovered them all. The four legends-to-be united for the only time in their careers for an impromptu recording session that embodied the birth of rock 'n' roll and has come to be known as one of the greatest rock jam sessions of all time.
Million Dollar Quartet captures the infectious spirit, freewheeling excitement and thrilling sounds of a singular moment when four of popular music's most extraordinary talents, all in their creative prime, came together for a night that would raise the roof.
Oh my giddiness. Now that's what I call music. That's what I call style. Feel those rhythms. Those tensions. Those resolutions. Making love instead of war with the studio as their peaceable battle ground. The inspiration of the moment. Those riffs and tiffs and larger than lifetimes soul bending solos. This is my sort of music.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll think I'll head back to 1956 itself, and that recording studio in Memphis. Sit in on the session. See if I can add a little something. This lyre has its uses you know. Ask Orpheus. Mercury gave us both identical instruments, you know. It's said that when Orpheus played and sang the wild animals themselves came to hear his singing. That sublime poet.
"And who said that?" I hear you ask. Why Apollinaire, of course. That other sublime poet who trusted in me enough to change his name to mine. Sadly, at that time people still believed I was the god of plague. And so he died in my arms - the Spanish flu after what you call your first world war. He could have given his allegiance to me as the god of healing - but he didn't. Still, it was a poetic passing. And he rather liked that. He did have a choice though, darlings. Remember that.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
--Right, I said. I'll be off, then.
--Really? she said. So soon?
--I've been on this island for fifteen years. Time to move on.
--I suppose so. Where are you going?
--Right. Well, I'll be seeing you, then. Or not. Goodbye.
And I left. Well, I left for the tavern, to round up the lads.
--We're going travelling again, I said.
They looked at me, unbelievingly.
--Anywhere. Just keep going. Onward. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
--It's a poem.
--What are we looking for, they said. How long for? Will we fall over the edge? Will there be monsters, danger, enough to eat, women?
--Yes, I said. Yes to everything. We are looking for everything that happens. We're going. Get your stuff.
And they did.
We sailed out through the pillars of Hercules, out into the enormous ocean. We found islands, shipwreck, boat building, monsters. Men who were red, and black, and brown; blonde, red haired, wild, wise; all manner of wonders. Ice mountains. Golden deserts. A different set of stars. We sailed far from Ithaca, unthinkably far, over a world that has no edges. There was no end to it; we went on, and on.
We found buildings that scratched the sky, great flying killing machines that could devastate a city, ways to talk to the world, paintings that moved and talked, whole new concepts of beauty, love and death and art and music, and all manner of dreams made real. Without end. No edges.
Eventually, the lads got tired of wonders. Ithaca, they said. Nice place. Not much happens there. Peaceful. So they put me on this island, where there is water, and enough to eat, and not much else, and sailed off.
And here I sit, at an end to wandering, and look at the sea, and let its beating rhythms chime with my breath, inward, outward, and travel still, in the depths of my mind, my increasingly peaceful mind.
The gods walk past me, saying nothing: Apollo, the poet; Diana, huntress; Neptune, who moves the sea. And are gone. The sound of breath, the sound of the breaking waves.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
My husband left. My life began.
Sometimes, I thought he would never actually go. All that preparation - that planning. All those men to organise. So much expense. Glamour and glory. Pomposity and boys' own do and daring, props and paraphernalia. Woggles and toggles, guy ropes and tripods and, inevitably, swords and shields. Glitter. Such a lot of glitter. But then. At last. At long long last. He waved a cheery goodbye and set sail. "Goodbye (hand on heart and eyes towards the sky) Ithaca." . . . "Goodbye - er (he struggled to remember my name) Penelope."
So he went away, my husband, on his long, strange adventure, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. He was a restless, childlike companion - always wanting to be off doing things - testing himself in daredevil fantasies. At last, some peace and quiet. Time and space all to myself. I knew he would be gone for a long time, so I decided to do something special. My own dare-angel journey of discovery. I decided I would weave a cloth.
They thought it was a burial shroud. I'm not sure who started that rumour. Perhaps it was me - an odd idea - but quite amusing. It certainly meant they left me alone. They boasted with bravado about battles, they were dramatically declarative about death, but they were squeamish about this careful preparation for the dead body itself. So they left me to get on with it. More or less. The word got around that I wouldn't be available till I'd finished the cloth. So, I simply wove during the day, and deftly unhooked the threads by night. I sometimes wonder why they never worked that out. Perhaps they did, and perhaps they enjoyed the silent collusion. Maybe - and this has only just occurred to me - maybe they understood. Perhaps they understood that it was the weaving itself I was dedicated to. Not a finished cloth.
And so I rested with equanimity in my peaceable kingdom. My inner world. Quiet. Spacious. Watching the thoughts come and go as the stitches breathed their rhythm of in and out. In and out. In and out. Hour after hour in my ocean of unimaginable bliss. Where everything is possible and nothing is necessary. And the chaotic dramas of everyday life are so obviously just that. Just so. Just so stories.
But in the early afternoons, when I knew the household would be taking their solemn siestas, then I got busy. My imagination, you see. My alternative reality. In the corner of my room I summoned up a small rectangular bright white screen. And I watched with interest and amusement as my boyish husband fought his battles and sailed the seas - behaving so very badly, loving so very madly, leaving trails of confusion and chaos behind him so very sadly. It was entertainment - of a sort. And more. An education. I watched. I faced it. I confronted it all - until I knew, I really and truly knew that there was nothing left of any interest that could keep me in this soap opera world of yours. That was actually how I made my beautiful shroud. My cloak of multicoloured freedom.
Except, perhaps for Circe. She, I must admit, still intrigues me. Perhaps we will meet one day.
Even as a small child, I had the gift, you see. Remote viewing they call it these days. I thought everyone could do it. Until I realised that people were treating me as strange. Looking at me a bit sideways. Asking me to find things. To spy on other people. My mother told me to keep it a secret. So I did. I pretended I couldn't do it anymore. So they stopped asking. I pretended so well that I even fooled myself. Till I suddenly remembered. But even then I never ever told anyone else. You're the first person to know. Why you? Why not. Why now? Because there's nothing left to do or say and no-one left to please.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
"I would rather be the servant of a slave, than ruler of the empire of the dead."
So said Achilles, formerly the world class killing machine, now redundant. You can't kill people here. They're dead already. No wonder he was depressed.
I am Hades.
I am, in fact, that very ruler that Achilles would rather not be. And, let me tell you, it's a nice position to be in, though not in any way that the psychopathic warrior would understand. I am Hades, the unseen, the Lord of the multitudes, monarch of anything that is, in any way, otherwise; prince of paradox, owner of all the spaces between whatever can be said. Part time husband. Dog lover.
Imagine a posthumous world: you are in it, but you are - not. Yes, you, that's you I'm talking about: pay attention. That place would be, would it not, the infinitely indefinable, the world beyond words, the dark place. The underworld. Well, that's where I live, and where you will live, too, one day. Though you can't call it living, of course; but then, you can't call it anything. It's quite nice, when you get your head round it. You'll see.
And, no, forget the stupid stories, pitchforks, fire, torment, punishment. It's not like that. Here, you are free. Unconstrained by the tedious limitations of matter, you are free to create all the joy you like. Or suffering, of course. It takes all sorts, it truly does.
There are simply no limits to what the mind can invent for itself, given the infinite freedom of my wonderful domain. Sisyphus. Prometheus. Those suffering beings. All that invented pain. While others walk gently amongst the asphodels, singing quietly, happy as the universe is long.
Poets spend a lot of time, hanging out in my place, you may be surprised to learn. Not in person, obviously; not yet, anyway. Morbid lot, then, poets, you might say. No. You say that because you have a bleak idea of death. It's not what you expect, you know. Surprisingly gentle, it is, receives you kindly, enfolds you in silence; it's very safe. You'll see.
But that's not what the poets want, they are only half in love with easeful death. It's that meeting point, that lucid dream, the crossover between your world, so resolutely this world, and the other, which is so absolutely out of this world.
That's where the sparks fly, where the metaphors live, where kingfishers catch fire, where dragonflies draw flame. That's where the brilliant fictions are, where love can meet its only possible mirror, can look at itself, and learn.
And it's where I live, too. With my dog. and my part time wife. And the vast company of the dead, all those heroes and lovers, that beauty, that courage; Andromache, Helen, Penelope; all of them. All human life is here - or will be.
Where is this going, I hear you asking; when does the story start? Enough of the intro, already: get to the action.
No. This is the action, this still point is the whole point of death's dream kingdom. This point. This. Here, now, and always.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
And he said:
"Hey babe . . . take a walk on the wild side."
Yeah he said:
"Hey babe . . . take a walk on the wild side."
du didu didu duu-didu
du didu didu duu-didu
du didu didu duu-didu
du didu didu duu-didu
So I did.
Man, he had rhythm and he had rhyme. He had the sound and he had syncopation. He had everything I knew I wanted. He played that bass riff and he was plucking my veins. He strummed those chords and my aorta knew I oughta be a dutiful sorta daughter, but he caught a contrapuntal punk in me to contradict the very blood and bones of me. He whispered those wine dark words and he lured me into Life.
"Time to stop smelling the roses, honey. Time to leave momma to her gooseberry gardening, her eco-projects and her green galoshes."
He beckoned. I followed.
It was heaven. To be young and full of blood and muscle and empty of a future. The now now now of it. Enveloped, endeared, enclosed, enfolded and, of course, embedded in his deep dark velvet underground.
It passed though. Of course. It was a time that's all.
My mother, Demeter, wept. My grieving mother gave up her painstaking care of the crops and the fruits and the plants and the bees. She made her frenetic journeys over the weeping wastelands of the whirling world. Without me, her child, her one hope wonder, she wandered carelessly over her dying lands. Calling calling. If I'd heard her, perhaps I'd have taken pity and made an effort to return. Maybe. Maybe not. But in my subtle subterranean refuge I'd put her out of my mind. Shuttered my ears. Hooded my heart.
He would have given me back, of course. My Hades. He was getting a little bored with me, I think. But he waited for my father, Zeus, to make a deal. Helios, ever watchful, ever vigilant, had spilled the beans. He sees everything, you know. Never sleeps. Not much escapes his watchful overlooking. Don't eat the fruit girls. Never trust the fruit.
So here I am - two thirds of your year above the ground - helping the spring to come into being - caressing the summer - guarding the harvest - all those sweet and savoury seasons and the mellow yellow fruitfulness you love to love.
But then, at last, they come again - my longed for lessening days. The cool crisp winds and November rains - my deep dark secret place calling calling calling me. Calling me back home.
Hades? Long since gone, thank goodness. And maybe goodness did have something to do with it. And oh the peace and quiet and stillness and utter truthfulness of my soothing winter refuge. Beyond the gaze and glare of the world. Slipping and sliding towards sleep, and embracing the mystery worlds beyond worlds beyond worlds beyond. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. No words to say. No songs to sing, and only the humming silence to nourish me. As it does so well. So dark there is only light.
Nothing to know. Nothing to fear. Nothing but.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Yes, that's me. The other one. The ex. Mysterious, beautiful, but, sadly, demonic.
Beautiful is right, yes, and mysterious, too, I guess - who knows? - but demonic? Well, indeed, some of my best friends are demons, that's true. And very nice they are too, if a little polymorphous. Which is no bad thing.
I was the firstborn, did you know? The first born of all. In the beginning, there was a woman. Me. Formed from the same clay as the Man, but it was I who first felt and was shaped by God's fingers, who first inhaled the intoxicating breath of God. I am the oldest of all of us. And I was and am of and with the earth, and the earth was, and is, womanly. Fecund, nurturing, food providing, kind.
The Man came later, and things became different. He leapt up and got busy, straight away, as I lay with my mother the earth and all the polymorphous earth beings, at one together, endlessly, inventively, at home with each and all of us.
We looked at him, curiously.
What he did was, he invented names for things, name after name after name, so that's what they became: things, just things, no longer part of me and the mother, no longer womanly. This thing and that thing and yet another thing.
Look, I said, please. Knock it off, will you, this naming, it gets on my nerves. There's so much of it, it just goes on and on, it doesn't stop.
Yes, he said, great, isn't it? I'm so productive! I think I'll call it the Protestant ethic. You wait till I get started on syntax, and alarm clocks, and quantitative easing, stuff like that. It will be - wonderful!
So I went and complained to God.
Look, God, I said, it won't do. It was really nice, before he came along. Everything was just, you know, us; including you. Mostly you, in fact. It was peaceful, and kind, and quiet. And now, look at it: it's in bits, this and that, all over the place.
I know, she said. She was a she? I hear you asking. Of course she was. And a he, too. And a you. In fact, you is how she mostly was. Yes, you said, it's not good, but what can you do? Strike him down with a thunderbolt? You're not that kind of deity, are we?
No, I said. God forbid. But don't expect me to have anything to do with it. I'll just stay out of the way, with all my earth friends. It's a big universe, there's surely room for him to be somewhere else in it.
So he went and complained to God. Our father, which art in heaven, he said. What? said God. What are you talking about? Never mind, he said. Just something I'm working on. I call it religion. Anyway, he said. I have needs. Sexual intercourse, for one thing, he said. Which, though in some ways sinful, is very essential, isn't it? Because there's the issue of progeny, and all that sort of thing. Also: going to work, and bringing home the bacon, and the Oedipus Complex, and so on.
God looked at me, wonderingly. What on earth is he on about, you said. God knows, I said. No, you said, God doesn't know. Actually. It's kind of a first, you said. Well, I said, I don't know either, I don't know what the hell he's talking about. God looked at me rather sharply, and said, there is no hell. No, I said. Not yet.
So you turned to him and said, look, is what you want, an - appendage? Exactly, he said, that's exactly what I want. OK, said God, free will is free will, here you go, and did some magic with one of his ribs. And how that story turned out, you all know very well indeed.
Me? I beat a hasty retreat, in all directions, through all dimensions, and was, and remained, elsewhere; everywhere else. Me, and God, and our green and womanly earth. Oh, and the demons, too, of course. And, eventually, my friend Persephone. But that's another story.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
He thinks I'm the mother of you all does he? What a romantic he is. No, darling. I'm simply the mother of invention. Yes, little woman that I am. I don't like to talk about it. Well, not too much and not often. I keep in the background as much as possible. But come into my kitchen. Away from all this hustle and bustle. Have a nice cup of something.
Now where was I? Oh yes, the mother of invention. Well, if I didn't exist, you'd have to invent me. No, really. Who else are you going to blame for the mess the world is in? Who else would be the troublemaker in your poems and plays and soap operas and stand-up routines, if not me? Just think of all those mother-in-law jokes darling. I am a necessary inconvenience. And, I have to say, enormously happy to be so. Such fun - watching you all.
And such a clever plot design don't you think? There it was - paradise (as you like to call it - I couldn't possibly comment). Undifferentiated glowing light and the seductive velvet stillness of nurturing night. Things you have learned to call sun and stars, reindeer and rainbows, and fruits and frost. A never ending list of things that you keep apart by their fancy names and perpetually shifting descriptions. And just how did you learn to do that, may I ask? Why me of course - little old me. Ate the apple - quite delicious by the way - and mysteriously connected humanity with the tree of knowledge - with its myriad branches and twigs, leaves and seeds, and held together for ever in the endless diversification of its roots. This and That, you see. This and That. Language comes into your consciousness and voila! Everything falls apart into quite ridiculous arbitrary patterns. Patterns which you compute as "real." What fun! What larks! What joy - what a dance! Farewell limitless bliss - welcome to frills and furbelows, fancies and fortune cookies.
And don't pretend to me you don't enjoy it. Your ups and downs, your ins and outs, your likes and dislikes, your must haves and don't wants. Dear me, how would you entertain yourselves, pass the time, live what you think of as a meaningful life without it? The striving. The sense of purpose. Let alone the shopping. Darling, the whole economy would collapse. What a disaster.
And the knowledge thing - never ending onward and upward. So much to know. So little time to know it. And time - well - don't get me started on time. You've met Chronos. He likes to think he's in charge of time. But remember me darling, remember my initiation into This and That. Into one damn thing after another. How would you calculate anything without my showing you the way? From addition and subtraction to alleyways and skyscrapers. That's me.
But let me tell you my secret. My hidden gift to people like you. There is a way back, you know. Back to paradise. Oh yes. You could be there right now if you were willing. Willing to what? Ah, I see you might be ready. Can I tempt you? May I entice you?
Well, my dear, simply release your likes and dislikes. That will do it. No? Doubtful? Oh, I see, you think it might be boring. Too quiet for you perhaps? The tedium of indifference. Well, when you're ready, just try it and find out for yourself. Simply stop the grasping towards you and the pushing away - and allow what is - to be exactly as it is. Then, in the tranquility of that perpetual peaceable moment, beyond any idea you might have of either difference or indifference - beyond any idea you might have of either/or - beyond, in fact, any idea of any thing - you will know how perfect it all really is. How perfection is obvious.
You will remember love. And, actually, when the pulling and pushing stops, you will be love. And love will be all there is. Limitless bliss my dear child. Safely home again.
And that, you see, is the true beauty of the design. Without me - you would be taking paradise for granted. With me - well - what can I say? The journey home becomes necessary. I am, after all, the mother of invention.
But, silly me, I'm keeping you from socialising. Why not chat to my friend the serpent - over there, look, in the bushes beyond the terrace. Or Lilith. My husband's ex, you know. Interesting woman once you get to know her properly.
Thank you for talking with me. Remember my hidden gift. When you are ready, it will be there. And so will I.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I had been talking to Eve, mother of us all. I looked round the room for someone else to meet.
She was standing in the corner. I think. She was kind of hard to see: a tall shadow, a suggestion, a possibility. A long fall of straight dark hair (maybe), a narrow calm face, eyes - yes, such big, such dark and devouring eyes - that saw everything, judged nothing, took it all in. Very beautiful. Truly terrifying. So I went over to talk to her.
--Hello, I said. I'm -
--Yes, I know who you are.
--Right. And you - oh. Oh. I know who you are, too.
But I stayed there, talking to her. Well, I'm a writer. I collect mythological beings. Also, I work with actors. Nothing much surprises me.
--So, I said. Do you know - everything?
--Oh, no, she said, smiling. Like a hawk. But there was kindness, somehow, in that smile. But I know everything about some things.
--How does that work, then?
--It's like mathematics.
--Yes. You start with some basics, numbers, connections between them, very simple. One, two, three. And it all comes out of that, and keeps on coming, getting more and more complex, for ever.
--Yes, I suppose it does. And?
--It's a fixed system. Nothing in it is random. No surprises, actually. The whole thing is one fixed beautiful inevitable set. And I can see it, all of it, the whole lot, in one moment.
--Indeed. But what I see is not mathematics. It's moral possibility and its consequences. All of it. The whole lot.
--Yes, and badness. From sainthood, right down to simple kindness, down through a small lie, and on all the way down to inconceivable evil. All of the possibilities, in everyone.
--And you're still talking to me?
--Because I love you.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Oh gods oh gods - there's nowhere to hide. Look over there - under the mirrorball - another little giggle of gorgeous girls congregating - ready to flounce and flaunt this way. Chirping , chirruping already. A flutter of frilly skirts and frothy fashion accessories pecking their path towards me. Me. Looking to me to share the nest. To feather the nest. To father their longed for fledgelings. Not to mention the boys - oh gods oh gods - the beautiful willowy bodies and sensitive sighing souls. Longing for me to join the dance, to soft shoe shuffle, to share the song. The delicate duets and pas de deux. Mon dieu. Oh gods oh gods, wherever and whoever you are, get me out of here. Why did I accept this invitation? Well, old deities, this is definitely the last party. The last dance. The last of the last at last. And that's my lasting promise to myself.
My self. That's the problem, you see - my dilemma, my daydream, my destiny. All they see is my beauty. Oh yes, I am truly beautiful. No doubt about it. And there's my downfall.
Imagine if you can, you who are not so marked, you fortunate ones, how painful my daily life is. I long for simple friendship, for quiet understanding, for considerate companionship. For passers-by to pass me by. To go unnoticed, unremarked upon. Sight unseen. That's all. That's all. My own heartfelt, heartrending prayer is that they should no longer desire what they see. What they think is me. Do you see?
And so tomorrow I will go back to the lake. And this time for good. Forever. For better or worse. Marriage, you see - the marriage of true minds. Mine and the mind that simply reflects - without judgement - without desire - without appreciation - without criticism. My friend - my only bride - the slow, still water of the silent lake. Admitting no impediment.
And that's why I love looking at my reflection. The daylong gaze. They think it's vanity. But for me, it offers freedom. Eventually. If the gods are kind. If they would simply leave me to it. Leave me alone in my lucid loneliness.
All I have to do - all I have to do - is stay there long enough for my little mind to mirror the mirror. To accept, just as she does, what it sees. No praise nor blame. No censure nor approval. No regrets of the past nor hopes for a future. No thoughts of any thing. Emptiness and bliss. Love's only lasting kiss.
So tomorrow I'll return to the lake and stay there till I get it right. Until there arises that illusion of a moment when I can truthfully say "I do." Unwavering this time. I'll wave goodbye to this seductive show. Or die in the attempt.
Don't, please, regret my fading away. Like the bulb of a flower returning to the all forgiving earth, I will be free. Free of me.
And don't blame her over there - Nemesis. The one handing out the carefully composed capricious canapes. My teacher, my guide. My path to salvation. Oh yes. Don't, please, misunderstand her. She gets a bad press. Just like me.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Don't listen to her. She's not what she seems. She's notorious, she is, for the words. She makes it all up, you know, she's a makeup artist, that's what she is.
Me? Oh, me.
You have to guess my name.
Are you listening, are you ready?
I am your father, and your enemy. I will eat you all. Think about it.
I was there before anything was. I am what you think you have a lot of, all of me in the world, you think you have.
Sometimes I'm on your hands, sometimes I seem to hang heavy, through a slow afternoon.
I think you know my name.
I fly, I do; and when I do, which I always do, you wonder where I've gone. She says I'm on your side, sometimes, but she talks such balls, darlings, really, she does.
I was there before she was, before anything was. She came along later, and decided she was a relative. Of mine! Such a nerve! She is my fool, my plaything, my distraction, my charming bit of nonsense. Sometimes I listen to her, and quite forget myself, she beguiles me, wastes me, spends me like a paltry penny, she does.
Sometimes, you know, don't tell anyone, she makes me think, sometimes, dreaming, that I don't exist. Listening to her lies, sometimes, there only seems to be some sort of now, and no me at all.
I think you know my name.
Don't waste me, darlings, don't let me go by, unconsidered, but do remember you can't stop Time, not for a moment, no. Each mortal moment of your life is mine, my dears, mine, all those innocent instants, one two three, look at them go.
You know me, but you will forget me. Listening to her, you hear the stories, those little excitements, and for you I am no more. But I will however always be there, as long as I do live. Which is, in fact, always. Unlike you.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Darling what a marvellous venue! Where did you find all these extraordinary people?
Yes, actually, I do know most of them - well, all of them, in a way.
Do you remember me? We first met a long time ago. A very long time ago indeed. And I have been with you, on an off, ever since.
I move unnoticed through your waking day, and flounce lightly through your sleep, and tease you. Oh yes - I do enjoy a good wheeze.
Since I can be everywhere and anywhere at the same time, I accompany others too - all others. Well, almost all. There are a special few who no longer need me. So I leave them in peace. But apart from them - the fortunate few - I whisper differently to each and every one of you. Oh what fun I have - watching you argue my stories - thinking they are yours.
It's not malicious, what I do. Not at all. If there is suffering then it's down to you my dears - your choices - all of it. I merely provide possibilities for recalling the past, you see, the wherewithal and the whenwithal. What you do then, with your writing and re-writing of the past, has nothing to do with me. Nothing whatsoever. I take no responsibility for your joys or your heartaches, your grievances, your treasures, your complexities of plot, your biographical fictions, your nostalgia, your regrets.
Who am I? Oh - you have forgotten me after all. I am Mnemosyne. Goddess of memory and inventor of all words. Mother of the nine muses - yes, I have nine divine daughters. All doing terribly well. Terribly well. I love them all equally of course. But I am closest of all to my brother. Have you seen him? I'm sure he's here somewhere.
Oh yes - over there look - him and me we're like that - thick as thieves - without him - well I don't know where I'd be without him. Where would any of us be?
Yes, honestly, it's a marvellous venue.