A few weeks ago I attended a poetry workshop in a lovely old house owned by a friend. The weekend allowed me to spend a considerable amount of time in large silent rooms and uninterrupted; I managed to write 5 poems in 2 days. This poem came about as I sat in the drawing room and listened to the silence.
Sitting in silence is an interesting thing to do. If you try it you will quickly discover that we are very rarely able to sit in total silence. That day I could hear an orchestra playing in the old house.
The house is quiet, but not silent.
I can hear an orchestra.
The stray branch which scrapes the window
mimics the strings as they warm up.
As wind caresses the chimney pot
a flute plays in the fire place.
The ‘woods wind’ can be heard
through the old sash windows.
The rattle of a door as it sways against its latch
Then, as a spoon tinkles in a distant cup
and a pianist springs to life.
In the hall the grandfather clock conducts
beating out a steady rhythm.
Footsteps herald the arrival of coffee
and the moment passes.
I live a few hundred meters from a beautiful secluded bay called Saints Bay. The steep descent to the bay and the lack of parking mean that whilst it is one of the best beaches in Guernsey it is never too crowded. Unfortunately it also means that on most days I am unable to get down on to the beach too, but I hold the memories of the bay in my mind. I thought I would share these memories with you;
The stone tower overlooks the bay,
round, grey and austere
it’s slotted windows ever watchful.
Down below two granite slipways
slide from land to sea,
red carpets of welcome.
Grey stones give way to golden sand
exposed by the retreating tide,
silver pools glinting here and there.
Around the bay tall cliffs
stand like sentinels,
clothed in vibrant green.
Waves rush ashore and withdraw,
their white petticoats
flowing over the sand.
Beyond the breakers
pink and orange buoys bob happily
waiting for boats to return.
Lying on the stones, eyes closed,
I listen to birdsong, wave rushed pebbles
and the chatter of children.
The heady scent of honeysuckle
and the fresh sea air
assail my senses.
The pebbles I lie on are hard,
but their smooth surfaces have been warmed
By the sun’s loving gaze.
Here in the bay of the saints,
eyes closed in glorious worship,
I am at home – Heaven.
I have been very fortunate to have travelled the world extensively as both child and adult. I was born in Trinidad and sailed back to the Channel Islands via the UK at the age of about 6 weeks. Shortly after that we sailed out to Kenya via the Suez Canal. I remained in East Africa for Three years before returning to Britain via the Cape of Good Hope. By the time I was four I had crossed the Atlantic and circumnavigated Africa on board 3 liners.
My parents knew that if I continued to live with them I would be constantly changing school and in order that I had a stable education they sent me to boarding school whilst they continued to Globe Trot. By this time Airliners had become the normal means of travel and so my school Holidays were full of trips to exotic countries such as; Ascension Island, Mauritius, Hong Kong, Grand Cayman and Gibraltar, to name a few.
This nomadic lifestyle continued when I joined the Army on leaving school. I moved regularly sometimes for a few weeks and other times for months or years. By the time I left the Army the longest I had lived in one place was three years.
I have now lived in Guernsey for eight years and I am still enjoying the stability that has come with remaining in one place. I was thinking about this about a year ago and thought that it might be fun to pen some verse on the different forms of accommodation I have lived in over the years. I hope you enjoy the results of this endeavour;
I boarded at school
along with my brother,
spending our holls.
with Father and Mother.
I’ve lived in the tropics,
the Far East and near,
a while in the US,
I even lived here.
I spent years in barracks
surrounded by wire,
with guards on the gate
ready to fire.
I’ve lived in a trench,
in all kinds of weather,
wrapped in a poncho
surrounded by heather.
I lived in a port
in a bombed out warehouse.
In Hong Kong I lived in
a parquet floored penthouse.
I spent six months
In a far off region,
sharing a camp
with the Foreign Legion.
Now refugee camps
are not “state of the art”;
they have to be uncomfortable
so people depart.
While a shipping container’s
a ready made shelter
it’s freezing in winter,
and in summer you swelter.
The heat of a jungle
the cold of the snow
these are the things
I’ve come to know
I’ve lived in buildings
as tall as the sky
and down in the cuds
but these I decry;
For all of these places
have become part of me,
but none were a home
without my family.
I am breaking with my normal form by posting someone else's thoughts. The following story was sent to me in one of those circular emails. Normally I read and then consider the message and then delete them as I don't like emails with my private email address going to hundreds of other people. but the message in this one caught my attention and I had to share it. I hope you enjoy it;
It's What You Scatter
I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly picked green peas.
I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes.
Pondering the peas, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.
'Hello Barry, how are you today?'
'H'lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus' admirin' them peas.. They sure look good.'
'They are good, Barry. How's your Ma'?
'Fine. Gittin' stronger alla' time.'
'Good. Anything I can help you with?'
'No, Sir. Jus' admirin' them peas.'
'Would you like to take some home?' asked Mr. Miller.
'No, Sir. Got nuthin' to pay for 'em with.'
'Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?'
'All I got's my prize marble here.'
'Is that right? Let me see it', said Miller.
'Here 'tis. She's a dandy.'
'I can see that. Hmm mmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?' the store owner asked.
'Not zackley but almost.'
'Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble'. Mr. Miller told the boy.
'Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.'
Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.
With a smile she said, 'There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn't like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store.'
I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado , but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.
Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his visitation that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.
Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts...all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband's casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one; each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.
Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband's bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket. 'Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about.
They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim 'traded' them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size....they came to pay their debt.'
'We've never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,' she confided, 'but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.' With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.
We will not be remembered by our words, but by our kind deeds. Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath.
Sorry to my regular readers for my last post. It was posted in a particularly bad bout of pain related depression and as such is at odds with several of my other blogs. I have decided to leave it up as it shows a side of me that I do not normally blog about and as such might offer some comfort or even balance to readers who suffer from chronic pain. I guess the message to take away is we all have times when our emotions and our ailments get on top of us.
I made the mistake of overdoing things yesterday and as a result I ended up in a world of pain and didn't get to sleep, somewhere in the midst of that I allowed self-pity to dominate my feelings.
Today, having spent several hours using the mental skills I have mentioned in previous blogs (‘The Pebble' and ‘Truths’) I am back in control of my feelings. As a penance I am going to post a poem called ‘The Race’, which was written to remind me that I should not allow myself to become the victim.
When I wrote the poem I was thinking of two people who I admire a great deal, Oscar Pistorius the South African sprinter known as the Blade Runner and Chris Moon an old Army colleague who now speaks as a motivational speaker. Both of these gentlemen have excelled in their lives in spite of their disabilities. To me they are the epitome of strength of character and courage, both of them stressed the importance of getting on with life in spite of difficulties and avoiding becoming the victim.
“Take – Your – Marks”
The figures bend and kneel,
search out the line and all is still.
Knees rise, fingers and arms take the strain,
The gun rises,
Eyes fixed, ears pricked, all is still;
Save one finger….
Legs drive into the blocks,
Bodies hurl forward heads still down.
With each step the pace increases,
Heads come up to see the goal.
And now focus….
The race is on,
Feet and heart pound in time
The tape draws near
Concentrate ….. and….. dip
Arms flung back the chest broaches the line.
The long drawn breath,
The look to see who won,
and the joy to feel a race well run.
Richard Bach made the following observation in his book Illusions;
“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
In recent years I have found this idea to be most useful in surviving moments of depression but occasionally, I have found that it does not stimulate the same defensive thoughts and I am left asking myself a much more fundamental question.
Today has been one such day. I have been busier than normal and, having done too much, I am now suffering with both increased pain levels and depression.
I’ve been searching for an answer to the following ‘simple’ question; the problem is the answer is not simple. The question; What is the point of living when you spend most of your life racked in pain and unable to do almost everything you enjoy doing?
I have heard the standard answers, “luckier than others”, “loving family”, “I’m needed”, “almost, isn’t everything”, and “there is hope”….. but to be brutally honest when the chips are down and the spiral of doom is turning the wrong way these answers are not good enough.
I’m exhausted, frightened, angry, depressed and in agony. When our dogs were ill and in pain we made the difficult decision to put them down, the decision was born out of a very deep love for them and a deep desire to end their suffering. I wish with all my heart that our society was not so averse to offering humans the same dignity.
So if there is anyone out there who can answer the question please enlighten me. When you can’t live your life as your true self, what is the point of living?
The best I have come up with thus far is another Richard Bach quote;
“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished:
If you're alive, it isn't.”
My poem for today is based on a thought I have had almost every day since my accident;
Half a Job
I wish she’d done a better job,
the woman who hit me.
For if she’d done it properly,
I would not live in misery.