And finally late yesterday, the storm broke, sizzling and crackling across the valley,black and silver gouts of rain, that unmistakeable smell of the red dust and curry bushes, bone-dry foliage, bleached grasses smacked alive by a sudden downpour. Lightning and very loud thunder, the dogs all raced from room to room barking wildly and then clustered around me on the sofa. Afterwards, the air was cooler but the humidity worse.
John Burnside has won the TS Eliot prize for poetry and has an eloquent piece on what poetry means to some of us:
There are poems that have, literally, changed my life, because they have changed the way I looked at and listened to the world; there are poems that, on repeated reading, have gradually revealed to me areas of my own experience that, for reasons both personal and societal, I had lost sight of; and there are poems that I have read over and over again, knowing they contained some secret knowledge that I had yet to discover, but refused to give up on. So, at the most basic level, poetry is important because it makes us think, it opens us up to wonder and the sometimes astonishing possibilities of language. It is, in its subtle yet powerful way, a discipline for re-engaging with a world we take too much for granted.
After the storm had subsided, standing at the back door and looking out into the dripping darkness, the air quivering with gnats, the cicadas starting up again, I had a moment of irrational sadness that had to do with other houses I have lived in, other lovers, other gardens. The times I have gone out to call for a cat in the rainy garden, trains running past and throwing light onto the wet road, the times I picked up broken branches from an oleander bush and paused to listen for someone’s return, footsteps coming up the gravel drive, the evening I went out barefoot in rain-soaked grass and trod on a garden hose in the dark, that sudden terror of thinking I had trod on a snake. The mind can kill us with illusions — that night I came near to fainting, my heart beating unbearably fast, a bitter taste in my mouth, gulping for breath with my foot motionless on that smooth round hosepipe.The mind in error, the conviction misplaced.
How often have I lain awake tormented by fears that did not materialise, things I believed with all my heart and which would turn out to be wrong?
Out here, a farmer told me once about a fruit packer who nearly died after locking himself into a cold room near the packing sheds, waited there shivering and convinced he would freeze to death. When the farmer was able to prise open the door, he wrapped the chilled and shivering worker in blankets, all the while explaining to him that the cold room was not in fact refrigerated, the electricity was turned off. The room had been at a normal temperature, no colder than the summer evening all around in the orchards. But the trapped man’s mind had told him otherwise and his body temperature had plummeted.
This too is part of the inner struggle against addiction, that conviction that a substance is utterly necessary, that we cannot live without it. A conviction that persists long after the cravings have stopped, long after the active addiction has ebbed away. The mind returning to a cherished and essential illusion: this is essential, this is who I am, this is inevitability, written in stone. Accompanied and contradicted by another favourite illusion: this time it will be different, this time it will work, this time it will come out right.