Verging on full moon

The moon is almost full, I watch it serenely crossing the skies before dawn. Then the sun comes up and for most of the day it is hot if you stand out in the sunshine and bone-chillingly cold in shade or indoors. In the early mornings, as the garden thaws from white frost, I sit up and read Geraldine Monk’s The Snake Goddess of Crete — reflecting on my complicated connection with cobras in the garden, tobacco-brown grass snakes, the evil-tempered green mambas and sleepy pythons of my childhood in the Zimbabwean grasslands. The power and sluggish beauty and shyness of snakes.

The flu has worn off, I feel made-new and filled with possibilities. Write, write, write. And I’m also thinking about Walt Whitman writing through the American Civil War and Alice Notley writing in Paris. My African writers from Lagos (Chika Unigwe’s Night Dancer) and the Jalada AfroFutures collective in Nairobi.

The fiction right now is all about textures, the way patterned Kuba cloth falls as a wall hanging, the warp/weft texture of woven baskets, the brittle delicacy of baked clay pots. How we talk to one another across cultural and linguistic differences, what you hear when I say ‘flood’ or ‘war’. Or warn about the presence of a serpent; wily, uncanny, dangerous. What did Walt Whitman, or Henry James or Emily Dickinson know of the battlefield? War held at a distance, the aftermath of war as witnessed in the hospital cot or the graveyard. The bitter-sweet joy of hearing the war is over, we can now learn again to live in peace. For now. The intense smell of lilacs.

How does texture structure fiction, embody the lines on the page? The sense of touch, rough, crisp, damp, liquescent. What slips away from between the pressing fingers.

Violets outside the gate, dark purple and perfumed. The viburnum bush already coming into flower, impelled by dryness and the heat of the sun. Yesterday I tried and failed to photograph a malachite sunbird sipping nectar at the flowering red aloe. That crazy emerald.


From a Tiny Letter from Maud Newton, all about the death of her therapist, this mantra she heard from a teacher in a class on interdependence: “Enabling someone’s neuroses is not compassion.”


We should not hold one another back from what is to be learned in the hard emotional places. And I begin again to practise friendship between women, what truths we speak to one another, what blows we soften. While the tender winter moon swells to perfection overhead.

Thoughts on Friday

Lighting a candle, a small tea light,  for those killed or hurt in the terrible attack on Nice last night, remembering the candles lit this month for those affected by attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Baghhad in Iraq where 280 died. Placing the candle on a dark sill, an act more symbolic of profound helplessness than anything else, right now.


And there are blue-headed guinea fowl running free on the fields across the road. Dawn just breaking, leaden skies, rain falling. The tea light flickering in the window. The irony to think that Bastille Day celebrations are about liberating prisoners from a fortress, a symbol of liberty, equality, fraternity. That we are brothers and sisters united in pursuit of freedom, equality, togetherness. That we are, at core, family.

On the stove a pot of split pea soup, a simple warming winter soup simmering away on a low gas flame. I don’t do ‘helplessness’ well. Does anyone? I want to go out into the dark streets with bandages and soup and protest signs and put my body out there, show willingness to  stand with others demanding change and a better world. But right now I  sit with helplessness, numb and exhausted. Terrorism is  a many-headed Hydra. On my bedside table a copy of Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs, describing bereaved parents in the aftermath of a terror attack in which their sons are killed. How people survive the unthinkable. That fact that people do survive even the greatest blows and  healing may happen.

Its narrative waves ripple out from this point, moving forwards and backwards in time, examining the awful grief that engulfs the parents of the dead boys, the physical and psychological trauma of the survivor, and the damaged, marginal lives of the terrorists who executed the attack.


And I have some lovely memories of Nice, of walking along beaches and paved promenades in the South of France, the balmy sunshine and  blue water, the palm trees. In my files a copy of a painting by Henri Matisse dated 1922, a view from  his window over the Bay of Angels in Nice. A way of saying to myself that it will not always be this dark a time, that hope will triumph.


Bay of Angels, Nice, Matisse 1922