A new week unfolding like a spring leaf

All writing, creative writing anyhow, as a defamiliarising process. Not to stitch together fragments so much as pay attention to lacunae, the gaps and ellipses, what does not fit, what signifies void, what will not cohere. And catching my breath to push harder into this  writing business. As if I was once again a small girl diving in from the highest diving board, launching myself towards the unknowable flat water surfaces, bracing for the unknown with arms extended for a swan dive, head first. And to dive in cleanly, to slice into what  lies deep and shocking, to enter another atmosphere, another medium.


Writing about war and the pity that is in war.

“I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish


The friends who are divorcing assure one another and mutual friends and family that this will be amicable, polite, no squabbling, no using the children as pawns. They mean well but already they confide in separate friends, they ask friends not to breathe a word but instead to take sides, to stand by them in the ordeal. Rumours fly back and forth. And is anyone ever calm and rational about money? Only the lawyers are dispassionate and keep their own interests close to their chests.

Violence breaking out from East to West, from Munich to Kabul, deaths and suffering at the hands of ‘madmen’. The chicanery ( trumpery?) of politics and elections. The summer flinging itself into throes of heat, the winter here clear and bright.


I pause in my reading of World War I diaries and letters to make a light vegetable stock for risotto. Going into the kitchen and watching (covertly) the ground woodpecker on the grass under olive trees. Simmering pots, measuring out carneroli rice or arborio, grating Parmesan, chopping parsley, soaking dried porcini and chanterelles, examining broad flat black mushrooms from nearby woodlands. Seeing already the smiling faces around the kitchen table.

A new week, new work projects, phone calls to be made, emails to be answered. That hum of a busy life underway, the friends coming around, an anniversary supper for close friends, soups for the hungry, vegetables from local food gardens to be brought home and sorted. And this blog takes on the slapdash quality of a diary, something that doesn’t worry me too much — simply to record a passing moment, a quotation or  lines from a poem, notes jotted down as I take a break between stints of concentrated work.

Conversation in snatches:

“If we go down to the coast for the weekend, we’ll need a dog-sitter…”

“No problem but  I can’t take time off that month, can they make it another weekend? Are the whales birthing in the bay yet, has anyone seen them?”

“We can’t miss whales in spring — have you seen my library books? I stacked them somewhere obvious.”

“What is that dog barking at? Don’t tell me there is a squirrel up the liquidambar tree again?”

“Right, I’m off, there’s M at the front gate in her weird pork pie hat with the candy stripes. Why are all our friends so badly dressed?”


And then the house falls silent again, you could hear blades of grass growing, the sun shafts through onto walls and wooden floors, panels and oblongs of sun falling through dust motes and barred shadow. And outside the gnarly branches of the pin oak, catalpa, poplar, sycamore, jacaranda, tipuana and fig are studded with scaly gummed buds, some tucked in the axil of the leaf, some swelling on a bare twig. Nature does not need us, we are extraneous even in the gardens.




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.