Enduring change

Woke during the night in a bedroom made strange by perpendicular shafts of bright yellow moonlight and  couldn’t work out  where I was or even who I might be.


Lines from Proust came back to me as I slowly focused and took in the details, hear familiar sounds,  rejoined the conscious self:

…and when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal’s consciousness; I was more destitute than the cave-dweller.


Breezy and sunlit Good Friday morning, ate a large homemade hot cross bun with a sticky bronzed glaze of apricot jam. Many of the churches are closed here because of a shortage of priests — local ordinands sent off to prop up the faltering but affluent churches in the West or to minister in crowded and  chaotic city parishes and congregations. But  those who feel drawn to  the  bright fields and  shady places under trees walk their dogs and pause to reflect on the vanished  traditions of their youths, to look long at falcons circling  over the  kloofs and  African hares loping away down mountain slopes. Aloes just starting to flame out their glowing red spires, nerines still  seen in ditches and vleis, the wild African iris  (Dietes)  blooming as a sign rain is on its way.


Noting how in recent years I have come to slightly dread the long Easter weekend because of the  global threat of violence and  mayhem. All the same I pick flowers  and set them in pretty jugs around the house,  call and  speak with close and valued friends, accept invitations to  dinner, brush my dogs and vacuum dog hairs off sofas. As if this was a time to be anticipated and enjoyed with a light heart. Older shadows creep along the walls and I  catch echoes of an older sadness, ways of belief no longer possible, insights retrieved from disillusionment, little fragments of meaning that glitter in the  shadowy places. New and painful understandings just coming to consciousness, what is not possible, what is authentic but harder, what will  move the ageing self beyond sentimentality.


From Meena Alexander’s Birthplace with Buried Stones


I came into this world in an Allahabad hospital,
Close to a smelly cow pasture.


I was brought to a barracks, with white walls
And corrugated tin roof,


Beside a civil aviation training center.
In World War II officers were docketed there.


I heard the twang of propellers,
Jets pumping hot whorls of air,


Heaven bent,
Blessing my first home.

Through the portals of that larger chaos,
What we can scarcely conceive of in our minds—
We’d rather think of starry nights with biting flames
Trapped inside tree trunks, a wellspring of desire
Igniting men and gods,
A lava storm where butterflies dance—
Comes bloodletting at the borders,
Severed tongues, riots in the capital,
The unspeakable hurt of history:
So the river Ganga pours into the sea.

the Wednesday growls

Blood-red moon




Didn’t see the blood-red full moon this time around — just glowing fragments of hot white between bluish clouds.  Woken at 4am by municipal workers clearing  street gutters of  thickly piled leaves so that when the  streams of water come down in spate from the  dams, the roads won’t flood. I hope the workers  get paid for overtime.


Outside this morning, trimming back a leggy pelargonium when a neighbour  came up and talked about a family tragedy. Usually immaculate, this woman aged overnight, sleepless and  haggard, out walking an elderly  blind dog, hoarse from weeping, her jacket crumpled. I forget sometimes how a sudden death is like an incendiary  bomb thrown into a family. Estrangement, people deranged with grief and shock,  cruel things said,  ultimatums and threats, old wounds torn open.


Afterwards,  going on with my  early morning gardening, I thought  of a therapist telling me years ago that each of us needs to begin  facing the reality of death,  thinking about death, dealing with our cultural denial of death, so that when we sit in the doctor’s surgery and hear that death is near or  get a phone call with  news of  a sudden death, we have somewhere to start, we have  some  place to begin grieving rather than raging. Life is unfair perhaps, but that is because ‘fairness’ is too often all about  believing ourselves to be exceptions to the human condition and somehow safe from suffering  or dying. Until it happens.


What  it must feel like to  have to express yourself in a foreign language, to  have to forget your own mother tongue in order to  be heard. Since I began  doing translation work, so slow and fumbling at times, I have boundless respect for  migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees finding a foot hold in a new country,  facing the impatience and  ignorance of the monolingual, the loneliness of the misunderstood, the  silence and uncertainty of  standing between languages.  Reading a review of  Agota Kristof’s  memoir about growing up as a refugee from Soviet-occupied Hungary and trying to adjust to life in French-speaking Switzerland:

Locating her life’s start at the point she learns to read aged four, Kristof describes, with immaculately condensed acuity, being driven by poverty and misunderstanding, by the assault of the occupier on her country’s cultural and intellectual life, and by the loss of her family and people, into an everlasting exile from every writer’s closest ally, their mother tongue. For, far from being an aesthetic rejection of her own language, Kristof’s decision to write in French was made through necessity, publication in Hungarian abroad being all but impossible, and any return to her homeland likely to result in death or incarceration. Her pain at banishing this most essential part of herself is excruciating, as are the years of enforced illiteracy that follow, until she masters enough French to be able to read and write again.


And here in the mountains, I have the decreasing pile of work on my desk, a  fiction draft to revise (my treat for the afternoon), the autumn wind biting cold even in soft brilliant sunshine.


The week going on, each day’s particular shape and interest, the  hard work and opportunities,  new competencies,  stumbling blocks, engaging with friends and family, housekeeping chores, shared suppers, laughter over supper, waking from troubled dreams,  staying up to finish a novel and  then going to the wind to  glimpse the moon high and broken up by clouds.


From wood s lot


“The Tuesday scowls, the Wednesday growls, the Thursday curses, the Friday howls, the Saturday snores, the Sunday yawns, the Monday morns, the Monday morns. The whacks, the moans, the cracks, the groans, the welts, the squeaks, the belts, the shrieks, the pricks, the prayers, the kicks, the tears, the skelps, and the yelps.”

- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot