You! Yes you. Strangers. Why have you taken up residence in my head? You surface when I walk in the woods, when I hear a song, when I lay in my quiet moments? You entered my life with the briefness of a falling snowflake. Yet, you hide in my vaults. Friendly encounters from early lives. Our ephemeral moments are as detailed as a 17th century Dutch painting. I ask, why are you there when all other fleeting occurrences dissolve in the liquid default of memory? Yet, you travel with me, shimmering in my consciousness like the gentle, mesmerising freshness of an energised snow globe. Transcending space and time, you share my passage in life, but our journey, never was.
By the time you grow up, your grandad may have gone the way of all mankind. Blood pressure’s rising, legs are weakening, and at tall heights, I tremble. So, before the inevitable occurs, can I offer some grandfatherly advice?
Do not tread on the worms or swat the wasps and bees, they dearly need our help. Life and beauty would be gone in their absence. Without them, Wordsworth would never have written ‘Daffodils,’ Jack would never have had a beanstalk, and Matsuo Bashō may have followed his father’s business of wielding death with a Samurai sword.
The worms decompose dead matter and pass the nutrients on to trees and flowers and vegetation in this grand symbiotic dance of death and life. Wasps and bees spend hour after hour pollinating plants and flowers. They bring pleasure to the human family. Think of these little workhorses the next time you see a rainbow eucalyptus tree or a bleeding-heart flower.
1995: Wish You Were Here
Every time I hear Rednex singing Wish You Were Here; I’m reminded of you. I had been reading Moberg’s book, The Emigrants, on our family trip over to Gothenburg. I decided that I would like to visit the Emigrant Museum in Växjö. When we arrived in the pretty town the following Friday, it was a beautiful July morning and I approached you, ‘Excuse me, can I park here?’
‘Sure, welcome, it is fine to park here,’ you answered with a kind smile.
You continued, ‘You are from where?’
‘Scotland,’ I replied.
‘Oh!’ you said, with a nod of approval.
After some time, my family and I were exploring the town when you came to tell us you made an error, and it was not a good place to park. You took us to another place and reassured us that it would be fine. I thanked you for taking the trouble. You looked hesitant, like you wanted to walk around with us, but the owl of Minerva flies at night as the expression goes; I would have welcomed you if I only thought.
After our morning at the museum, we went into a cafe and sat with some snacks and drinks. When I went to pay, the waitress said, ‘Your bill is complete.’
‘Sorry?’ I replied.
‘Your friend paid it a small time ago.’
‘Did he have a moustache and light blue striped shirt?’ I asked.
C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world will satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we are made for another world.’
All the books I read as a child was about a craving. The hero’s striving for something. I could not put my finger on it at the time. It was the human impulse for justice. Something books will never satisfy. I found that hope one day when I picked up a Bible. I read,
‘He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, the old order of things has passed away.’
Revelation 21: 4.
I was looking at the Literature journal’s ‘Bad Writing Competition.’ Interestingly, The Guardian featured a winner some years ago. I reveal a short extract:
‘The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into thinking and structure…’
The Guardian, Fri 24 Dec 1999
Yes, people get paid for this stuff. And yes, a ninety-four-word sentence, but I spared you that. And yes, it’s enough to make Stephen Pinker’s hair stand on end. Surely what we learn from the First Law of Thermodynamics is the need to be creative? The universe tells us so.
I recall the first poem I ever wrote. I had been studying social psychology and wrote about the famous Stanley Milgram experiment on the authoritarian personality. I wrote,
Evil starts at fifteen volts. Fifteen volts and rising
No one seems to be concerned; It all seems normalising
Let them fry let them die, no one blinks an eye
Just so long as the white coat man with the orders stands close by
Teachers, pastors, politicians, and students were on the list
Which goes to prove that everywhere, there’s an Eichmann in our midst…
Well, I look back with amusement. But you have to be a bad writer before you become a good one. Right?
In the middle of life, death comes to take your measurements.
The visit is forgotten, and life goes on.
But the suit is being sewn on the sly.
Tomas Transtrŏmer, The Deleted World
Motives for writing change. In this year of 2022, I write because I’m dying. Well, not in the immediate sense. At some point in the past, Thanatos took my measurements, and the gown is being prepared. But is pending mortality a justifiable reason for writing? Yes, if I wish to be remembered. Yes, if I desire those memories to be wholesome and just.
Apart from the obvious, there is a great unjust disadvantage the dead have over the living. The dead cannot defend themselves. Unlike the characters in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s novel, The Dirty Dust, the faithful departed cannot express their opinions about what goes on in the land of the living. I write to preserve my identity. It’s my way of defying mortality.
1963: The Incongruity of Self-Awareness
I was six years old. You had this routine. Every Sunday at 11am you would come round the back of my tenement building and stand on a soapbox. Wearing your bowtie and Donkey Jacket, you looked like a music hall artist. You took a swig of wine and sang Mario Lanza’s Be My Love, a favourite song of my fathers. And every week, when you finished, my mother would open her purse, throw out some coins, close her purse and say, ‘why doesn’t that man not sing something new?’
Image by Alexandru Bogdan Ghita
There are events through the march of time that dance and shimmer in our heads and hearts and rise at unexpected moments. Like the Northern Lights, they are awe-inspiring in their scope. They reach the deepest parts of our soul and emerge unexpectedly. They are left unfinished like the cadence of an A-minor hymn or a Percy Shelley line. Moments that create self-awareness and define who we are. Humorous events that impart wisdom. Spontaneous acts of extraordinary human kindness. Elliptical and incomplete, they interrupt life’s plot. They just happen. And that’s the way it should be.
I have just discovered the Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus. I like the sense of freedom he generates in this short poem.
A Butterfly’s Dream
A butterfly flying
On an invisible string…
I see it dance over the fence
Dreamlike, a prayer.
Only yesterday a silkworm
Confined to a narrow cocoon.
By Sargon Boulus