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Some exciting news about music, poetry and where small adventures can go.
Keith Moss, a friend from my orchestra days who is also an award-winning composer has been invited to premiere a full orchestral work in Brazil at a prestigious festival. The work chosen was inspired by one of my poems, “Wild Horses Don’t Break.”
It is such a favourite that in a post I claimed, “To date it is one of the poems I’d be happy to have on my gravestone.”
It was a scorcher today.
We ate ice-lollies in the office
and called it quits at five
only to find
the District Line had melted.
It really is too hot for any more words about this very warm day in London. Some say it has been the hottest day of the year. The weather forecast suggests there may be another day or two of similar intensity.
A couple of years ago I happened to write another poem about a warm summer’s Wednesday and being confined to an office.
And along with the District Line melting, my internet connection has been on a go-slow while preparing and uploading this post. Perhaps the heat has jammed its way into all the day’s component parts.
The pillowcases and sheets
scalped from the bed.
The mattress turned over
your last impression
sucked by the earth
through to its core.
Beds are such intimate spaces and bed linen is the shroud to these secrets of sadness, joy and contentment. When the moment has passed, the residue is washed out by soap and dried away, perhaps by the sun if pegged up on a washing line.
And then it is time for a new start with clean sheets.
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I spent an evening last week swatting down mosquitoes and moths. The moths are the vicious sort that will eat holes in fabric between one blink of the eye and another. It has been known for me to put a knitted item down on my chair, and then pick it up two hours later with three moth-holes chewed into it. In my room there is such a selection of moths in incremental stages of growth that I am convinced they are breeding somewhere in the cupboard or behind a bookshelf. The mosquitoes, I know, are breeding in the buckets and pots of stagnant water under my window in the yard below.
At this time of the summer, when the tiny flying and crawling messengers make their way into the house to eat up the last of the season’s succulence (my blood, the summer fruit, a cardigan), the closing hours are near. So near that there are already mushrooms in their colonies among the tree-roots in the wood (find a mention in my previous poem, ‘He could not pause too long‘). The nights are a little colder and only a week ago, we were expiring in the sunshine.
From this height to what feels like the season’s shift (although we may still be in for a second warmth) and during my battle with the flying fiends, I was reminded of a poem I had written about summer’s excess turning to rot. To my surprise I discover that it is two years old, yet it still speaks of current things.
An overdose of summer
Soft to the thumb,
the pear I sliced
It was rotten inside.
In a wither of ruffles
the rose-heads have browned
dry in the heat.
They sodden after it’s stormed.
Even the blowflies ferocious
have stopped their wings,
landed their green torpedoes
for the last time.
Something from lunch
churns in my stomach –
the rice, three days old?
the dhal, two days defrosted?
the sliver of cheese, too sweaty?
the coffee, a cup too many?
He set off from the village
when the blossoms dropped
their petal tears
and the green buds bid
to escape from the branches.
While walking along a
he was stopped
First by an old woman
who bent over a stick.
The stick gave way on the path.
The old woman fell
and struck her knee on a stone.
She said there was no need to worry anyone.
He could not pause too long
and, as she had said, there was not much he could do.
Along the back road
he continued walking
under trees now shadowing
with their leaves
and he was stopped
By a young man with hard arms
who implored and
would not let go.
This circling did not hurt
until the man dropped his embrace
and dissolved into the darkened roadside.
The journeying man
could not pause too long. There
was not much he could do
along the back road.
He continued walking.
He continued walking
and after some time
in the summer sunshine
he took off his shoes
and drank at a waterspout.
He was stopped
by a sweet-talking salesman
in a clean shirt, buttoned down
with a solution.
This opportunity would surpass the roaming.
Here, if the journeying man would
step off the back road.
He put on his shoes, washed his face
at the waterspout. He should not pause
too long. There was not much he could do
on the back road if he should keep walking.
The trees were dropping their leaves
and mushrooms clustered at their roots.
Given the contemporary climate of gender pronoun fluidity, it occurs to me that this may be in an antiquated voice. I had in mind those old fairy tales (such as “The Tinderbox”) and in particular those where the traveller – often a soldier or humble village man – is confronted by three companions on the trail.
Here are the words of the blazing day
and the once beautiful arrangements.
It was heady, was it not?
The arrival of this brightest of days.
Outside the day was perfection.
Here a few few bees in the garden
hid under clumps of cut grass.
Why are they tucking themselves away?
Or are they burrowing for pollen,
heady on word from the other bees?
Our day of blazing perfection was heady,
was it not?
Was it not?
It has been a wildly warm day by London standards. I tried to write in the garden first thing this morning. The bees and butterflies and a single large-bodied horsefly were my ground company.
When all else fades,
semi-trailing heath comes
into its own. In banks and borders
snow-petalled asters make a
brilliant ground cover. Shimmering
their heads: a butterfly magnet
in the wildlife garden’s
banks and borders. Plant this by autumn,
plant this great choice in height and spread
before the winter turns.
I spend the occasional sunny, bright afternoons sitting on a plastic chair in the backyard staring at the hanging roses, pink hydrangeas and purple foxgloves. I am no gardener at present, and do nothing in this patch of yard in the house where I lodge. When I was a child, I first had a corner bed in which grew a pink hibiscus bush. Later I had a patch of soil next to my wendyhouse in the back garden and as a pre-teen I changed the flowering contents of a box outside my bedroom window. Since living the rented room life, I have dabbled with the usual supermarket herbs in pots and seasonal indoor bulbs. Currently, I am nursing an Ikea spathiphyllum that moves from the chest of drawers next to my bed to the sun-catching shelf on the other side of my room. It really needs a dose of plant food and would probably benefit from re-potting.
I love spending time in green spaces, surrounded by plants, and sometimes I find myself drawn to glossy, coffee-table garden books in bookshops or the gardening pages of home magazines. Yesterday I was leafing through the Guardian Weekend and stumbled across the gardening pages and started reading the “What to do the week” section. The advice covered Thin this, Read this, Plant this; reduce clusters of fruit on your trees, read up about 101 chillies and consider planting asters in time for autumn.
Today’s resulting poem is drawn from the column and echoes another poem, “look – really look”. This poem of two years ago (and uncannily this very time of year) was also inspired by the Guardian Weekend’s gardening pages. The relationship between gardening, seasons and plants holds a deep mystery for me. Birds, and especially butterflies, are for me symbolic messengers from another realm. My paternal grandmother was a botanist and her interest in the flowering world seemed to be the science and beauty. My interest is the beauty and lessons it offers about our human flurries.
It is no coincidence that garden banks and border feature in today’s poem during these times when both national and economic security are under pressure in many parts of the world. There is something of ‘the lilies of the valley in all their beauty’ about the delicate snow-petalled asters. Yet, as they trail like other determined ground-covers, they may prove the surviving, life-continuing film when the monuments of mankind have faltered. There are seasons of all kinds, both in the natural world and in our rhythm as humanity. Perhaps planting star-like flowers is not such a bad task to consider before autumn. As three of my favourite lines from “look – really look” remind us:
Concrete is brutal.
It needs softening.
Plants should have dominion.