The week at full tilt

The summer edging in, my new Veilchenblau rose peeping out between fence poles.Thorny tumble of yellow Mermaid rose at the side of the house.


Got up early this morning and planted up some large light-weight pots for the verandah, hoping to have  plenty of basil for  December salads, bright red and gold daylilies and some rare pelargoniums from the Karoo. Last week a cousin of mine who is  a keen genealogist sent me  a note on a 19th-century ancestor of mine who was a triple bigamist (!) and a respected pelargonium grower.


Days of unrecorded happiness, writing and editing, thinking, just living. I  make a large note to myself: NB BLOG! and post it up on the fridge.


Reading Marilynne Robinson and thinking about how hard she makes me work when I read her novels or essays. A good feeling. Her advice to  writers is always in the back of my mind:


“I think you should write as if people who are smarter than you are will read it, because they are out there.”


renata parsley

Get there by candle light

Power cuts and  what are ominously called  rolling mass blackouts. I light candles in the early evening, hurricane lamps or tea lights for each room. Scented candles: vanilla beeswax in glass tumblers, lime-blossom, blackcurrant, figuier, moss rose, oranges and cloves. Then we dream into twilight, flickering light on the dim walls, fragrances elusve that come and go, the world outside greening and gloaming into darkness,  and wait for the fire  to be lit, bright enough to read by.


This weekend I’m repotting  two  newish pelargoniums, one a fresh mauve-white flower, the other  a tiny brilliant cerise and black. Mouthwatering in terracotta pots beside the front door. I’m also  planting out fierce small scarlet chillies, parsley and a wild Italian rocket.


Early summer pleasures, snatching time from work to read poetry, email friends, listen to jazz and bake tomato tarte tatin. Wearing in new denim canvas  shoes (pretty but toe-pinch!), walking on the beach at weekends, helping a friend design an urban kitchen garden on a windowsill.


Deep lazy contentment of the dormant soul. Is this enough to live by?


From Marina Tsvetaeva

I do not think, or argue, or complain.
Or sleep.
I long for neither sun, nor moon, nor sea.
Nor ship.

I do not feel the heat amidst these walls,
Nor garden’s green,
Nor do I long for your desired gift,

Days, I’ve known them

And  between computer meltdowns,  thrilling poetry epiphanies, fleeting household and health crises, a variable equinox, a garden brilliant with lavender, daphne, clivias, narcissi, Indian hawthorn, viburnum,  night-scented jasmine and  roses just opening in every shade of white and  soft pink, well, it has been a busy time.

So  here I am with dogs playing around my feet, a cottage Artemis, watching airstrikes in Syria (sick at heart), reading about trench warfare in WWI, proofreading legal prose,  trying to identify the smell of lilac in the front garden — Noting that the roses are breaking up in the dry winds blowing from the west, from over the veld.

Who really looks at a rose these days? As the poet HD might have done once in her poem Sea Rose:

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,
more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.
Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.
Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?

Monday’s beginnings

Small dogs to the  dog salon to be washed and trimmed, paw nails  cut, grooming them up  for summer. They came  back reeking of violet cologne, very cheerful and fatter than I expected.. The Great Dane  didn’t recognise them for a minute and was thrilled to have new dogs in the house. Everyone is now on diet, no extra biscuits.


Stood on a  woven-reed chair in the drive to pick loquats and was nearly stung by a wasp. The greedy blackbirds and  small mossies or sparrows have  eaten most of teh ripe fruit already.


About to plant out punnets of  coriander seedlings, mustard leaf for salads, a new fleshy strong mint,  some  baby tomato plants.


Reading Lorine Niedecker, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens. Mind exploding in the  small hours.


The housemate had back pain and  went for a noisy MRI scan. Hoping the news is not bad.

Oneiric moments. I dream every night and wake to shivery premonitions.  Perhaps my new granola will help. A hefty nut-laden granola is very grounding.


Greening up

Viridian bristle as trees green up for  spring. Letting dogs out  in the small hours, into a garden misty with moonlight and raucous with tree frogs.

Eating home-cured green olives while watching  baby housemartins learn to fly from the low  stoep wall, gyrating their  wings and shrieking with joy and  terror.


The Great Dane has dandruff.


Reading poetry in the spring and crooning Whitman’s Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking to myself in the bath, along with a soapy rendition of  Ezra Pound’s Cantico del Sole. Soaping myself with a supposedly ‘organic’ Grapefruit and Brazilian Orange body wash. So that I  can rejuvenate the epidermis while  smelling like a chemical fruit peel.

The great Abstract Expressionist  Jackson Pollack wrote: “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”


That is  what  painting or writing a poem is all about in this  brief lush greeny-blue spring. Cleaning brushes, mixing colours,  scrubbing my palette, priming the canvas. And then doing what I don’t  know I’m doing, splashing on colour and finding lines and  white spaces and  different colours, painting not thinking or knowing..


John Yau riffing on Pollock and  painting like writing like becoming.


830 Fireplace Road

(Variations on a sentence by Jackson Pollack)

“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing”
When aware of what I am in my painting, I’m not aware
When I am my painting, I’m not aware of what I am
When what, what when, what of, when in, I’m not painting my I
When painting, I am in what I’m doing, not doing what I am
When doing what I am, I’m not in my painting
When I am of my painting, I’m not aware of when, of what
Of what I’m doing, I am not aware, I’m painting
Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
When of, of what, in when, in what painting
Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I’m in my I
In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
Painting “what” when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
When painting, I’m not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.



Sparks and shreds

Open the back door and a cloud of jasmine perfume swaddles you, overpowers you  and carries you off to a scented prison. There is so much jasmine in the back garden this year. Scrambling through  wild ginger, through plectranthus bushes, up brick walls and into  small trees. Shedding whiteness and  fragrance on balmy nights.


The reason why I write entries in the mornings is because I am not tired and my mind is fresh. But all day I have been working at close-reading  fiction and  drafting fiction and  thinking about fiction and suddenly I have journaling time but now I am  so tired I am just jotting down  scraps of thought.


Workers in the loft dragging cables, bricks, buckets of paint and rebuilding a chimney out through slate roof tiles. The noise something I  try  not to push away but to  stay with in a  meditative way. I fail. I  take a deep breath and  soon enough they  loft falls silent. Until tomorrow.


Seated at the kitchen table folding and spooning and wrapping dolmades. A Lebanese filling I have used for years with rice, chopped onions, pine nuts, mint, dill and lemon juice, wrapped in fresh blanched  vine leaves. My spring rituals  to do with slow food, slowing down, paying attention. Like slow-reading poems I love.


Walking through solitude, syntax, history and fiction. Stories making and unmaking themselves.  The small brown African nightingale, the Piet-my-vrou calling from a thicket of plumbago.  The learner driver going up and down the  quiet road in an old Vauxhall, flickers on and off, braking too hard, creeping along. We all have to start somewhere. The thing is to start and keep going. Sparks  flying up the chimney, black and gold scraps of littleness, the blaze eating dust. Life, itself.


“I’ve given up on my brain.
I’ve torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.

If you’re not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you,

and sleep.”
– Rumi



First day of spring

My birthday month, first day of spring. Had a  fantastic weekend with friends on the Overberg coast, watching  whales bobbling black-backed and barnacled in the green tides of the  bay, dolphins in the surf. Contoured hills green and blue with new wheat, eye-popping with canola’s canary yellow. A falcon on the winding lane ahead of us tugging at bloodied roadkill, new-born lambs already grubby with mud and leaping around in wild flowers. I  live in the most extraordinary place.


And friends, the kindness and hospitality, the small unspoken connections and tenderness. The laughter, the quick tears not held back, the  listening and appreciation of one another. We are here so briefly on this green and growing earth, we have so few chances to  help one another  or show love to one another. And  the withheld embrace or kind word is all I shall really regret when I come to die.

At times like this I sometimes think of Thomas Merton’s description of an epiphany in Conjections of a Guilty Bystander, when he  talks about standing on a street corner in Louisville and writes: ‘There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.


Overberg 2014-08-31