To say it differently

Three nights running I dreamed of a black dogs nosing through long grass, there on the periphery, not in the dream but not outside, just treading the liminal. On the third morning I woke up and considered this: I have a large black dog, a Great Dane. I know a black labrador down the road who chases cars. (Fortunately it is a quiet road.) Years  ago I half-saw a ghostly black dog at a Welsh crossroads, a sign of Hecuba according to my Carmarthen witches. No good. The dream eluded me, the dog slinking off into the tall bleached grasses.


Then someone emailed me to say the ‘black dog’ is back in her life and I thought, oh that  black dog. Depression, my old friend, the darkening of moods and silencing of inner responsiveness. Not too serious, just end of winter and a black dog following me around like some shadow grief.


Reading Celan who refused to speak in public or in private about that trauma, the war, the Holocaust, the unmentionable terror,  dating in his life from the night when his parents were suddenly seized and sent away to camps in the Ukraine where his father would die of typhus, his mother  shot by Gestapo, himself the orphan sent to work in labour camps. He would not speak of this, ever, and yet it is there in every line he wrote. Suppressed and present.

I find myself so weary of outrage on the Internet, the banging of drums, the  flailing of fists, the  accusations, the shaming, the reactivity. So tired.

Coming across this with relief, from Charles Bernstein writing on the poet John Ashbury:

Speaking of “leaving out”: one thing Ashbery leaves out of his work is the overheated, hyperbolic, charged-up, emotion-laden styles associated with the prophetic, confessional, “beat,” “projective,” and political poetry of his generation. His deflationary diction provides a powerful counterforce—a negative dialectic—to fighting fire with fire, anger with anger, outrage with outrage, suffering with expressed anguish, self-righteousness with self-righteousness.


To find a way to say it differently. To let out only what the breath will hold — and then  hold still.


Memento mori

Nothing smells sweeter in this cold wet spring than flowers, paper narcissus, snowdrops, jasmine, rose, honeysuckle. Grey skies and silly white blossom everywhere, cascading down, shredded by rain, smelling wonderful.


So this is spring’s contradiction, my birthday month,  a time of year to feel more alive than at any other time, and I am thinking about death. An obscure stomach ache that won’t go away. A little creature screaming in the night when taken by owl or caracal, no reason at all. Just something that is there with hands upheld, saying, deal with this.


Like so much these days, it comes out of meditation and my — can I call them prayers? — the focused time of holding others in my heart, sharing those long-deferred dreams and hopes, letting out the deeper voice of thankfulness. It could all have been so different.


The silent hour of meditation, breathwork, prayerfulness. Through the window I see the round pale moon chilling and whitening the skies at dawn, black leafless branches, the muted black outline of mountains crouching over the valley, what feels so absurdly anthropomorphic and atavistic all at once. As always, up long before dawn, the joy of these early mornings in a wet spring, the peace and quiet that opens up a new day.

And the warmth of the kitchen, soapy dishes in the sink, muddy paw prints near the door, wiping my hands on dishtowels and pouring myself a cup of Earl Grey tea, not bothering with the usual slice of lemon, the bathwater running next door, steam in the glow, a blue flame on the gas hob. In the background Satie playing, music rippling through lit rooms and out into the dark garden. This is the inexhaustibility and fullness of life: the copy of Walter Benjamin open on the kitchen table, the phone’s stylised ringtone, dogs barking at a cat or squirrel out in the road, in the study next door the seductive distractions of the Internet, also fullness but empty too, the insubstantiality of the day opening on routines and rituals, wholewheat sandwiches made with what? — tomato, canned tuna, cheese, slices of avocado pear. Reminders bouncing of walls, a shout from the room along the passage, bills to be paid, calls to be returned, kisses goodbye, the kettle whistling as it boils and clicking off, more curling steam – that all of this, the birds so loud and sweet in the trees, the sun edging up in the east, will come to an end , just like that.

That one of us will stand in the kitchen some morning and see only what is gone, what hardly remains of life’s busyness, the unmemorable dailyness of cooking, gardening, housekeeping, reading, writing, answering calls, opening and closing doors, the habits of loving and nurturing, unhealed old grudges and bitter hurts , stinging recollections of shame, grief, what cannot be undone, what has been forgiven and accepted, the plans for holidays, summer parties, planting schemes for the garden, new fictions — all of this suddenly turned to ashes, drained of meaning.

And I can say this, write it down, but not altogether believe it, death off somewhere like a dim flickering mirage, what happens to others, strangers. It hits me then, standing in the kitchen and drying my hands on a clean dish towel, that the housemate’s sister A has been dead for three months now: the house packed up or dismantled and sold, her clothes given to charity, the car sold, the life completely vanished except in the memories of her children, her sisters and brothers. That loved and cherished materiality in its entirety bundled up into cardboard boxes and garbage bags, so that rooms stand empty, the grass in the garden unmowed, this year’s swallows unnoticed. Not ever to hear her laugh again, no  voice mail messages, the absence from her children’s lives, the grandchildren who will forget even her smile.


So hard these thoughts that flow up out of meditation, the hour of noticing that obliges me to look at the harder stuff, the realities of loss and losses to come, what has gone before, what slips between my fingers even as I  page through recipes or butter toast, remember you are flesh and must die.

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