Another blessedly sober Christmas passing and on to a sober New Year. There was a time when I would not have been able to imagine staying sober for either.There are moments of remembered grief and loss but they arise and pass within me. Reading through bookmarked sites this morning I was inexpressibly touched by this, a reminder of how many of us associate Christmas with bereavement and need to go gently through the celebrations and hoopla.
It was the day after Christmas, 1993, that I got a phone call from my mother to let me know that Dad had died, unexpectedly, suddenly, quietly. It’s a memory that colors my holiday season every year, and it’s a strange thing — the grief and sadness never go away. One of the lies we always tell ourselves is that the pain will go away with time, that we’ll get over it, that time heals all wounds, and it’s not true. Every loss is forever raw, and we can feel it all again with just a thought or a reminder, like a Christmas phone call to the family. The older you get, the more of these moments of grief you accumulate, and they never leave you.
My garden is running wild to seed and looks madly overgrown and jungly. A few weeks ago it looked enchanted and flowery and I retained that image in preference to the sight of scrambling weeds and bleached fennel towering over my head and a runaway bush of poisonous Lantana that I will have to dig up in order to eradicate. My coriander has bolted, my Swiss chard leaves are mostly eaten up by some insect predator, mint has set runners all through a bed of day lilies, the lemon grass is scraggly and brown. There are dragonflies with ancient glittering heads and veined wings hovering and seeking cool in the kitchen. Tiny pale green praying mantises that cling to towels and window latches, swaying back and forth with clasped raptorial forelegs. Harbingers of autumn in the Cape. The season is turning even as the second full moon this month, a Blue Moon, ripens in the night skies. And our hottest months are still to come.
Our dragonflies here are mostly damsel flies, Malachites, Spreadwings, Threadtails and Stream-Damsels. But there are some true dragonflies, Hawkers and Emperors. I love watching them as I move around with my watering can. They remind me of the Yeats poem and the line: ‘Their ancient glittering eyes are gay’, meaning gay in the old-fashioned sense of gaiety. Although who knows? They may be gendered in favour of sameness for all I know. The Masai Sprite, the Blacktailed Bluet, the Rock Hooktail? It all sounds very Lambda to me.
I have heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.
Of poets that are always gay,
For everybody knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out.
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.
All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there,
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
And all the drop-scenes drop at once
Upon a hundred thousand stages,
It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.
On their own feet they came, or On shipboard,’
Camel-back; horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,
Old civilisations put to the sword.
Then they and their wisdom went to rack:
No handiwork of Callimachus,
Who handled marble as if it were bronze,
Made draperies that seemed to rise
When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;
His long lamp-chimney shaped like the stem
Of a slender palm, stood but a day;
All things fall and are built again,
And those that build them again are gay.
Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in lapis lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird,
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instmment.
Every discoloration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.