So much of what we live goes on inside

A friend of mine has suddenly turned to writing screeds of confessional poetry, and while I want to encourage her, I go through agonies of vicarious embarrassment — not unlike scorching belchy heartburn — to hear everything begged, borrowed or blue hurled out in unscanned lines. Some people ‘get’ form and hidden music in poetry, and some don’t, they move to another urgency. I admire what she is doing in her wild abandonment and can see it has a bracing cathartic effect on her — she rages, weeps, vomits onto the page and moves forward. It is just hard to listen to the torrent, read that hectic scrawl. I have done something similar in diaries of the midnight hours and then torn up the pages, despaired of ever reaching the deeper places or  finding a voice in the flood. Too much stayed unsaid and inexpressible.

Via whiskey river:

So much of what we live goes on inside –
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid.  What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.
– Dana Gioia



Changes in thinking around the nature of addiction — is it time to stop using the disease analogy? Author and developmental psychologist Mark Lewis argues for addiction to be redefined as a behavioural problem:


Different types of rehab programs are needed for different types of drugs, for example it might take someone longer to get off ice than say, heroin, and therefore programs should be tailored to recognise that. But given what you’re saying, would the model of treatment be relatively the same across all drugs, because it’s more about willpower and setting goals than the type of drug being abused?

A good question. I don’t think so. Even though it has those goals in common, people are very different and there are many ways to quit. Some people will need to focus more on cognitive tricks to self-program to modify their behaviour, others will need to change their environment to make sure they don’t drive home past the liqour store, and for other people it’s much more of a motivational thrust, more mindfulness and meditation. For others, it’s about deeply connecting intimately and honestly with loved ones. Those are really different ways of getting better, even though what they all have in common is that theme of empowerment of self-motivation.


The greyness of an overcast dawn on Sunday, dogs sniffing their way around the garden to find out what has gone on there during the night. The closer we live to  — what? — trees, wilderness, the ocean, gardens, rough earth, nature’s rude awakenings, the more packed with meaning it becomes, the more complex, magnetic, layered and beyond naming. Moss on brickwork, snapped twigs, piles of leaf becoming mould, red-stemmed jasmine threatening an explosion of  fragrances and white blossom, new leaf breaking out of dead wood. Renewal, the cyclical, the  turning of a season, consciousness altering in a glance, what is passing and what is beginning. Light scattering in opal. Watching  my dogs play together, a line from Paul Valéry: “Animals, who do nothing uselessly, refuse to contemplate death.” 


Msasa trees

Pulling out weeds

Literal more than metaphorical. Spring is right on the doorstep and bindweed is coming up in sprawling tangles everywhere. There’s also a wild onion with tiny bulbs that multiply faster than I can count them. And for all that I admire the tenacity and speed of  what we call weeds in the domestic garden, I don’t want new herbs  smothered, so I get down and dirty with my spade and small pronged fork.


Shaken by the assassination of another journalist friend in Maputo, Mozambique, a city I know like the back of my hand. Paulo Machava, shot dead in a drive-by shooting early Friday morning. Very little news coverage although he was a veteran journalist  exposing  corruption and his death  follows on the murders of Gilles Cistac and Carlos Cardosa.


But for now I am doing what Voltaire suggested at the end of his novel Candide, that the best thing we the vulnerable or defeated can do in an evil world is to cultivate our gardens. Cabbages are always welcome. And  as I begin working with this year’s herbs, new seedlings and cuttings, I go back to  my limited and patiently acquired knowledge of  herb lore,  what plants do  well as soothing  tisanes or calming salves, what combinations of herbal teas refresh and revive. Very simple stuff but with an old history.


Many of the herbs I grow are not indigenous to this part of Africa but  do well in my Mediterranean hot climate. They have been cultivated for thousands of years in Europe and Britain and then in America. Salvias/sages, thymes, rosemaries, lavenders, basils, origanum/marjoram, coriander, parsley, mints, feverfew, tansy, bay leaves, artemisias/wormwood, borage, lemon balm/Melissa, catnip/Nepeta, scented pelargoniums, lovage, sorrel, chervil, costmary, plectranthus, curry plant/Helichrysum, garlic chives, hyssop, lemon grass, lemon verbena, salad burnet, savory, rue.


Over  the last 20 years I have planted and worked with all of these and  other indigenous plants and herbs. Some are culinary herbs, some  scented and soothing in a hot bath, some used in healing tinctures, some are powerful poisons or psychoactives or entheogens to be treated with respect. In the heat and constant sunlight of this African valley, they have tremendous potency and  flavour. For years I handled rue, so pretty with its lime-yellow flowers, its pungent blue-green foliage. I would take cuttings, trim it back with bare hands, touch it carelessly. One summer, rue turned on me: which is to say that my hands blistered if I touched it and the smell made me sneeze. I had developed a mild allergy to contact and now there is no rue in the garden. The most poisonous plant in my garden and grown only in raised wall niches, is not belladonna, Datura, mistletoe or ricin from the castor oil plant, but  all parts of the  scarlet and yellow loveliness  called flame lilies in Zimbabwe. many of the herbs and wild plants I have sought out are those I  knew in another mountain valley where i lived on the border of Mozambique when I was young, plants that  signify ‘home’ to me.


A friend of mine whose grandfather was a ‘cunning man’ in Essex grows many of the older herbs and plants associated  with healing and poisoning in old English folk traditions: she loves the strange mandrake, along with foxgloves, moonflowers, nightshade, and laburnums. Some of her plants are those  associated with ‘flying ointments’ used in craft rituals: henbane, monkshood, water hemlock, belladonna and  marijuana — the ‘flying’ was of course an inner working as much as a romp through the skies on broomsticks. Like most of us with a little plant chemistry knowledge, she wouldn’t mix up doses of atropine, hyoscyamine or scopolamine and risk  paralysis, blindness or death. The idea  that  something is safe or ‘good for you’ to consume because it  grows  in nature and looks or smells or even tastes good is just urban ignorance.


And along with the weeds I accidentally pulled up a  new self-seeding apple mint, my mistake. Hopefully another strand of it may pop up somewhere nearby. The big dog sits  next to me on the grass while I work, his muzzle a little grey but still very much my pup, the Great Dane who came to me at six weeks from a fishing village on the coast. The garden is sunwarmed after the night frosts and  there are grasshoppers and carpenter bees among the flowering herbs, the sea-blue rosemary and dark purple lavender spikes. Eight months of  glorious summer  ahead, in the garden at any rate. Elsewhere the wars rage on.


Manica land