Yesterday I went around parts of the back garden watering bushes and daylilies, agapanthus, herbs, pots and wooden barrels of plants, giving everything a good soaking in anticipation of a dry weekend. At about 4pm yesterday afternoon the rain began falling in a solid downpour and it rained all night. Sometimes that is how it goes. Last year I managed to plant out spring bulbs just hours before a hard frost struck all the new bulbs stone dead. And each winter the flowers freeze and shrivel as the north wind blows down between the mountains.
Where have all the flowers gone? I find myself wondering, but of course I am thinking about Memorial Day in America and the war-wounded gathering to mourn their dead, the long sad shadows cast by war. Where have all the young men gone? Gone to graveyards everyone… When I think of war and my brother’s death, the deaths of boys with whom I went to school, winter seems to creep into me and settle in my bones. On the anniversaries of wars, when stiff little red crepe poppies are worn, when I hear old military marches and bugle calls and bagpipes keening, I feel as if I have grown old without realising it, that something to do with war and tragedy has aged me. Remembering those who died so young brings only a sense of sadness, even to honour the dead brings only sadness.
Last night I finished my fiction piece and I shall leave it aside for two days and then retype it on Sunday evening, make final corrections and revisions, do a covering letter and send it off. It is a story that has kept coming back to me for two years now and it is all about love and secret gardens and childhood passions, and war, too, there is no escaping that aspect of my life or the reworking of bereavement in the mind. Somewhere Virginia Woolf writes in her diaries that she is creating a necropolis through her novels, a monument to those who died young — and she too would have been thinking of her beloved brother Thoby who died of typhoid diagnosed too late, but also she would have had in mind all the thousands and thousands of young gifted men going out into the trenches of World War I, to return poisoned with mustard gas, maimed and suffering the PTSD then called shell-shock. Or coming back in coffins draped with flags.
But out in the garden, the lavender is blooming and the olive trees shaking themselves free of rain water in a light wind. To be sober is to endure what cannot be pushed aside or overlooked, to mature into honouring grief and loss, to care and resist injustice and question the rationales given, the lies told, the necessity of war in our time.
The Death of a Soldier
Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.
He does not become a three-days personage,
Imposing his separation,
Calling for pomp.
Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,
When the wind stops and, over the heavens,
The clouds go, nevertheless,
In their direction.