All night the north wind has been banging around the house, noisy and restless in the dark. No moon, no stars.
On the verandah I have a small planter with a Crown of Thorns succulent thriving in it, Euphorbia milii, originally native to Madagascar. My thorny yellow-flowering Crown of Thorns has grown from a cutting made for me with great care (spiny thorns and poisonous latex sap) by my friend Trish, from a plant she had growing in their seaside home. You still find Crown of Thorns in hedges surrounding old-fashioned gardens out here. It is an old plant accompanied by old stories, perhaps taken by a sailor from Madagascar to the Middle East at the time of the Crusades, where the piercing thorns and red flowers reminded Christian pilgrims of the circlet of thorns worn by a bleeding Christ as he was crucified, so this little succulent is sometimes called Christ-thorn. It flowers nearly all year round with little attention and the small flowers are primrose yellow, soft and bright.
And as I knead dough for foccacia (that dimpled Italian flatbread spiked with rosemary and a little flaky sea salt) in the kitchen, fill up the dogs’ drinking bowls with fresh water, compose fictional sentences in my head, I think too of the agony suffered in Syria and lines from a poem by Muriel Rukeyser come to me, a woman poet writing in a dark time, the early years of another dark century:
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.