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Hungover. But a soft woolly kind of hangover, the kind that makes you want to drink milky coffee and watch old movies in the daytime, allowing time to lumber past you, no hurry, no worry. And heat for the first time this year – real heat, heat that could be mid summer not the beginning of May. A BBQ at Bernie and Chris’s later. Bernie will be cooking piri-piri chicken and homemade burgers and wearing one of his Hawaiian shirts and Chris will make Pimms with white zin instead of lemonade. Some days just work without you having to do anything.
A dark green sludge smeared on the bathroom floor that I reckon is bile when I find the wormlike pipe on the rug and something that could be a kidney. The cat doesn’t shift from his cushion. I keep wondering where bile is made, by what organ, mean to look it up. Yesterday Bernie didn’t wear his Hawaiian shirt and his chicken was so hot it made my eyes water, my tongue a hot little animal bouncing round my mouth. Bob tells me, ‘you’re well fit you are’. I treasure those moments of romance hiccupped by beer-soaked, sweat-bound, hairy policemen.
This morning: an orange and mango smoothie, one dead rabbit bleeding on the utility room floor, and six poets. This afternoon: thirty girls making concrete poems from circles and spirals or writing poems called Yes and No. A woman tells me how to book bind, how to make marbled paper with oil paints floating on water. Then being stood up outside my flat by a prospective tenant who doesn’t bother to phone and cancel. Tonight: a margherita pizza, a large glass of sauvignon blanc, flopping into bed with Ann Tyler. Why do her characters feel as they’re acting their lives?
On my desk a card from students – echinops, it says on the back, and I suppose that’s the name of the flower heads. They remind me of alium flowers, little spiky blue balls. There’s something about them that makes me want touch them, but they won’t be hard, the spikes will give to the pressure of my palm with no more than a tickle. People are like that – they respond to the kind of touch we offer – but a lot of the time it’s only in retrospect I realise what I should have offered. But I think I’m catching on.
Poems need to mean something, which isn’t the same thing as what they’re about. I’m more and more concerned with the ideas and themes behind the work. Which means I’m writing more but producing less poems. Probably not a bad thing. My poem ‘Deep’ in the Rialto today. And two new books arrived from Amazon. New books make me want to hug and stroke and smell them before I even think of opening the covers. When I told Bob about Cocoa and the rabbit he said his ‘retarded’ cat Pumpkin tried to drag a piece of pizza through the cat-flap.
Something Martin said about Jesus’s resurrection, that the likely explanation is he didn’t die on the cross at all, but was taken down and revived, and people assumed he’d returned from the dead. But I think it could be less manipulative. We lose someone and then keep thinking we see them in the street, in a passing car, our hearts unravelling towards them – how big a step is it, if the grief is so strong and the need for comfort so great, to convince ourselves we did see them. We hold that ‘gift’ for so long it becomes our truth.
Brown six chicken breasts in hot oil and transfer to a terracotta dish. Fry a coarsely chopped onion and three cloves of minced garlic. Add 4 fresh roughly chopped plum tomatoes and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and two tablespoons of dried thyme. Season with salt and pepper – add brown sugar if the tomatoes aren’t sweet enough. Pour over the chicken and garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme and pitted black olives. Cook for 45 mins on gas Mark 4 or 5. Serve with baby potatoes and peas braised with spring onions and lettuce.
The young lad who wants to rent my flat had two silver studs in his eyebrow. He was the manager of the Five Pointed Star for three years and now he’s training to be a stonemason at the quarry. He took photos of the place with his mobile phone, even the garden and the shed. The next couple brought her mum and dad with them. They looked so young but quite ‘old’ at the same time – this moving in together, setting up home. He asked if they could decorate the rooms and I had to stop myself from yelling PLEASE!
Cocoa leaves a dead yellow finch on the utility room floor. Tony went out looking for him and I just heard him saying, ‘Look at that. Look at that. Now out you go, go on.’ ‘I hate bird claws’, Marion said when I told her about the chomped rabbit last week, and I know what she means, how when you pick them up and their feet touch your palm, even through a cloth, it’s like something you think you know, but don’t. Like a tickle. Like a scratch. Like a shiver. But none of those things either. Like something lost.
What to say about today? It’s cold and grey. I’ve been drinking raspberry and orange crush. Working on a poem on the theme of ‘wilderness’, which has ended up more on the theme of wildness, the need to have a certain amount of wildness in our lives, to be uncultivated and ignorant of time occasionally. To let our hearts have a corner of wildness so they can run and scream every now and then and not get told off about it. What wild things have I done recently? The Egyptian sand-dance around the house when I finished my University marking.
No internet connection today – Onetel is on the blink. And part of me is cheering because I end up checking my mail a dozen times a day and getting pulled into too much admin, and part of me feels disconnected. Like the world is getting on with its work and I’m sitting in a small house in the middle of a forest with no phone or electricity. In fact I need to go out and bring in wood, and while I’m out there I might just lie flat on my back and get swoozy watching the tops of the trees.
Just when I find a tenant, Nick wants to buy the flat. Actually Nick and Jerry want to buy the flat and Nick’s going to keep the garden and Jerry’s going to buy the flat from him and use it for an office. I have a lot of expensive computer stuff he says. He’s an architect and he has a machine that bounces light off walls and measures distances. I guessed 23 feet and was pretty close and I didn’t even touch the walls let alone bounce. I’m too old to bounce. Unless you catch me on a good day.
At Benenden School I adjudicate the short story competition in prayers – read out my mini reports on the girls’ stories and when the winners and runners-up come up to the stage to get their prizes their faces are tumbled drums of surprise and embarrassment and pride. When I have my picture taken with them all they’re all flinching and squealing. Giles, the photographer, says these girls who are so confident, and they are confident, he stresses, just hate having their picture taken. It’s a girl thing I want to say. But Giles is so good looking my mouth locks up.
We lie in this morning – I go down and get the post and bring it back up. My poetry students’ evaluation forms read like I’ve forged them – Lynne is great, Lynne is inspiring – I start to get the giggles as one lovely comment follows another. My summary of these will sound like I think I’m fucking wonderful! Part of me squirms, part of me beams. It’s taken a long time for me to say to myself: you are good at this. It’s not big-headed or showing off. It’s being proud of myself; it’s about how finding poetry made me real.
What I do too much of: checking my emails, eating M&Ms, staring at my skin in the mirror, drinking spicy tea, imagining dead-ends, working on lesson plans and admin, staring bug-eyed at crap on TV when I should get off my arse and go upstairs to bed, whingeing about things I’m not prepared to change. What I don’t do enough of: write, sweeping the fluff from under the bed, cleaning windows, saying people look lovely, reading (what happened to all those hours of tucked-upness with books?) going to the gym, talking to people at the gym, , writing, writing, writing
What’s wrong with the bloody weather? This morning all balmy and promising – the sky like clean washing. Then half an hour ago I’m wading through puddles in the street, rain that spits in your face. I bought a pint of peeled prawns today and we ate them for lunch with sliced avocado. I’m looking at poems about witnessing for my group tomorrow. All poems are about witnessing I guess – what’s happening in the world as well as in the strange alleys of our own experiences. I want to write about leeches – how closeness can be threatening as well as comforting.
A piece of old lace like a rope running from church to the sea. Like a river to drown in. A length of scalloped hope. It smells of forgetfulness, scratches my skin like the feet of mice skittering over me as I sleep. I carry it with me – pull it out of pockets like a magician’s string of coloured handkerchiefs. It remembers sweeping across floors, the unpicking of its stitches, the absence of light at the back of a drawer. In rustles in the palm of my hand – spools away from me. It’s a memory of flickering fingers and knots.
One glass of red wine and I’m as loose as a penny in a shoebox. What happened to the girl who could down a few gins and tonic, a bottle of red and post-prandial brandies and still get up for work the next morning? If there’s a parallel universe then she’s probably some lush with smudged mascara propping up the corner of a smoky bar. No-one can keep up with that kind of drinking, can they? Maybe it’s hormonal. Maybe falling oestrogen levels have the same effect as a couple of large glasses of Shiraz. Not so much fun though.
Leaving. We’re doing it before we know what it means, delivered in a squall of limbs to a riot of light, and after that it shapes our lives – we learn to wave, close doors, slip through gates, say Goodbye, brave the anxious gaps of departing trains. We wince. We cry at love’s raw breaks – bags packed in the hall, rooms scraped clean. We stutter in its wake. Begin to dread even the small leavings – the surrender of seasons, days losing to night. Though sometimes they’re gifts we’re afraid to see. Light startles us awake like the turn of a key.
The old man at the gym with a walking stick takes such slow little steps. If he’s moving between machines I don’t walk behind him as it feels as if my muscles are freezing in my legs – I can’t go that slow, my brain doesn’t have that gear change. He works out his legs on the fixed weights. Will I come to the gym when I’m 70 and crippled or will I hug myself with self-pity at home? I like to think I’ll be smiley, sparky, and people will talk to me. But I haven’t spoken to that man yet.
Toasted crumpets and milky coffee for breakfast. The rain pulverises the roof, stops, and the sun snaps open wide sheets of blue. That feeling like a bulb lighting up the whole of my body while I sit at the table – connection, belonging, riding the world like a reliable wave. I need to remember these moments when I fall off, caught in a churn of salt and grit, fighting the pull of the water. I have time to think now – the term over, poems - my own and other people’s – swimming in and out of my days. The air smells clean.
Carys draws me – knots of eyes in a head like a small pumpkin. When she gets stuck I ask, what about my neck? and she draws one at right angles to my head and my legs shoot down from it, wiggly lines ending in little bunches of feet. My arms reach out to either side of the paper as if I’m trying to balance myself. I stagger around on my soft spaghetti legs, both of us trying to make sense of the room, all these people talking, the sky through the tall windows where the moon is like a fish.
I was on the verge of crying in the lingerie changing room at Marks & Spencer. The breast cancer was years ago, seventeen years ago, and it's not as if I had to have a mastectomy or anything. But bra after bra emphasised the difference between them – the empty space in the left cup, or with a smaller size, one snug cup and one overloaded. It's not life and death, and I get angry when I feel sorry for myself. Then I think - it's my body remembering. I should let it feel afraid or sad if it needs to.
The plate of chips looks huge and I think I’ll never eat them all, not as well as the steak and kidney pudding. But one minute they’re piled there and the next I’m nibbling on the last few, wiping up the gravy with them. I even eat the salad garnish, which has gone limp with the heat. If I’d had a slice of bread and butter I’d have made a chip sandwich, let the butter melt with the heat of the chips, drip through the crust. Chips and an offer of an international poetry gig at the same time. Bliss.
Some days are scratchy days. Everything we say seems to stick to each other’s skin like burrs. And it’s only silence and space between us that can resolve it. These irritations can feel worse than any explosion – a wollop and smack of words, tables thumped, back turned. They’re like the creep of cold fog around our feet, a chill that rises to our hips and shoulders. Our faces are like pressed glass. Even when we lean against each other on the sofa at night I can still feel it between us – like a cool wind skimming over a stone ledge.
Bernie’s second BBQ of the season this Sunday – this time without the hairy policeman and his wife, but with the drummer and his wife. Shennanagins a few years ago between drummer and hairy policeman’s wife now means that they can’t all be invited together. At the last BBQ the hairy policeman’s wife told me what MILF meant. Except she added ‘really, really’ so it was more MIRRLF. One of her son’s friends had said she was a MILF, and she seemed pleased about that. As I’m not a mother I can’t qualify but maybe I can be OWILF (older woman).
Stony ground this morning. Even 100 words seems like walking barefoot over razor edged rocks. Unwilling to put one foot on the page and see what happens, except I am by pushing ahead with what I’m typing now. Think about stones, about their strength and their inflexibility. Everything is two-sided, even the things we love the most can turn around and snap in our faces. Mountains and hills – that time in Cornwall, when I left the path and stumbled across the mouth of an old open mine shaft, I was frightened, by their secretiveness, the thought of their dark veins.
At St Mary Cray the guard tell us there’s a fire on the line at Dulwich and the power’s out ahead so we can’t go forward. And we can’t go back because there are other trains coming up behind us. How long do you think we’ll be here? a woman asks him. For ever, I say. We’re all going to die here in this carriage in fifty years time. Has anyone got any food or water on them? They laugh a little bit, and smile the way they might at a mad woman on a bus who’s offering them biscuits.
Day before my little brother’s birthday except he’s not little anymore – he’s 42 and 6 foot. He says he’s happier now with Manuela than he’s ever been and that’s good to hear. He learnt the word scrumptious when he was about five – you scrumptious girls, he said to me and my sister on holiday in a caravan park in Devon. We were inside playing cards because it was raining. Rain on the caravan windows, the smell of wet grass, my baby brother’s face like a shiny apple and the sun breaking out from clouds. That’s what scrumptious says to me.
Bernie’s BBQ - steak burgers with stilton, Cajun chicken drumsticks, Cayenne Chicken kebabs, a salad of artichoke hearts with sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and slivers of parma ham, and a creamy Caesar salad with big leaves of Romaine. I eat more meat there than I do in any normal week, or in any normal month. I’m Lady Carnivore, my plate piled with body parts (or reformed body parts) – I snaffle and tear and smile, and get up for more. Today I cannot bear the thought of meat, or wine. I drink sweet milky coffee, imagine only plates of cream cheese.
The conference programme has come through, and now I feel scared! Up until this moment I was convinced that I’d stand strong against people delivering papers at a Creative Writing Conference but looking at the titles of the papers it feels like I’ll be in a foreign country without a phrasebook or guide. Bakhtin, CW and the New Internationalism, The Sign of Infinity, Teen Blaxploitation. Oh shit. I’m going to talk about much I enjoy writing… and how much I enjoyed writing with Sarah. I sound like Loopy Lou, Andy Pandy’s sidekick. And I’ve gone all floppy like her too.
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