Circumstances dictated that I had to get up early this morning and take the dogs out for their constitutional.
It was very dark and cloudy looking as I scrambled around, drinking a big mug of coffee, gathering up the car keys and a befuddled looking Puppy Stan.
I had visions of needing my torch in the wood as it seemed that the daylight was never going to come . My mind slipped back to a snippet of conversation I overheard yesterday as I walked passed two women chatting in Waterford. One said in a very serious tone: I wish I could wake up dead.’ At the time, I thought to myself, ‘You’d only hear that sort of thing in Ireland.’
I think she probably meant that she would like to die in her sleep and not have to endure any lingering illness. That thinking had brought me back to a hot sunny Summer morning years ago when my mother found herself at a coffee morning where the subject of conversation was: Would you prefer to die suddenly or be sick for a while beforehand? She came home that day in a fury and said that she needed to go to the beach immediately to make up for a wasted few hours discussing ‘ridiculous nonsense ~ as if you have any great choice how you die!’
The sight of a tiny break in the dark sky changed my car and mental gears rather swiftly. All in a few moments, I was treated to drama of dramas as morning painted herself on the black canvass over Tramore Bay:
Standing out by Newtown Cove, I couldn’t but think of Seamus Heaney’s poem, Song, which opens with the line:
A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Nor could I stop myself from wondering how I could ever have doubted that the sun would once again wake up and cast her beams across my world.
It all started a few days ago when I was out at the beach. There on the standline was a pink rose bud looking so out of place that it made me stop, pick it up and hold it as gently as you’d hold an injured bird.
I wondered how it had got there; had it been washed in with the tide or had someone brought roses to the beach ~ maybe a romantic or maybe a grief-stricken soul.
I peeled away a few of the petals and the faintest rose-scented fragrance was discernible. Somehow that smell was fraught with poignancy and made me think of William Blake’s poem, The Sick Rose.
I contemplated bringing the rose home and pressing it in one of the heavy books that lives for that purpose in my my study. But, I felt that the rose belonged to someone else; that it had a story and was meant to be there on the beach, even though it didn’t fit it with the seaside garden.
To my surprise, it was there for three or four days ~ getting more and more battered and clearly being bashed by the high tides that are around at this time of year.
I was almost relieved not to be able to see the rose on the fourth day when the beach was serenely empty inviting me in for my swim:
As I was leaving after my dip a mother and two young kids passed me. The children had buckets and the little group was gathering stones and shells. The mother reminded me of my mother, back when we were small. She was as interested as the kids were in the adventure and was examining the children’s choices with a tenderness you don’t see all that often.
The rose may have been missing that day but it was been replaced by the pink hat of a little girl whose mother exuded love and the ability to make magic out of simplicity.
Seamus Heaney has been very much on my mind of late. Today is the third anniversary of his death and I miss him with a passion. He was there for me when I really needed him ~ in the aftermath of my mother’s death ~ reading with that wonderful voice of his at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2009.
It’s strange how there can be people who never know what a mark they have left on a life. I never spoke to Seamus Heaney but he spoke to me through his poetry and humanity.
Tonight, as I read through some of his poems, I feel even more blessed than ever to be among those who have shared this world and country with him.
How do you say ‘thank you’ to someone who has died? I wish I knew the answer to that but, for now this is the nearest I can come to it.
Rest in Peace, dear man, and I hope you have feasted on some glistening blackberries this late August day.
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
The heart is your student
for love is the only way we learn.
Night has no choice but to grab the feet of daylight.
It's as if I see Your Face everywhere I turn.
It's as if Love's radiant oil
never stops searching
for a lamp in which to burn
The mere sight of daffodils brings me back to those precious evenings from January to September in 2010 when Father and I chatted, laughed, drank tea, listened to music, sat in companionable silence and enjoyed poetry together.
As he drifted off to sleep I would always return to William Wordsworth’s The Daffodils and without fail Father would join in with me when I reached the last stanza:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
There is much that flashes upon our inward eyes but some things linger there as our anchors of love.
What was a quick walk at sundown yesterday after a long day at the computer turned into a feast of soothing light out by Carrigavantry Lake, which is just a couple of miles from Tramore.
It brought thoughts of lines from W.B. Yeats’ wonderful Lake Isle of Innisfree:
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
Carrigavantry is a place that holds all sorts of memories for son, Harry, and me and we often go there when we crave tranquillity. Yesterday, though, was different as it was an ordinary day for both of us ~ that is, if any day can ever be called ‘ordinary.’
We didn’t go there for any emotional reasons or with any inner longings but it was like as if Carrigavantry hadn’t been told that and was determined to envelope us in magical light.
The green of Spring seemed tinged with Autumnal gold as we caught our first view of the nestling blue lake:
The rusty old bath that serves as a water trough fitted in perfectly with the golden hues. There was a softness in the air that made the ordinary exude extraordinariness:
The lake itself was high and the dying sun melted into the trees that frame it:
As we left for home, a well-coated grey horse gazed a pensive farewell:
International Book Dayhas had me thinking about my lifetime with books. I was very fortunate to have been born into a family of avid readers and being the youngest of us three kids, there were always loads of books for me to read.
I was also fortunate to have had a book published in 1996 based on my PhD thesis which was about the life histories of people with physical disabilities in Ireland. I guess one of my proudest moments was at the launch of the book and having all the people who mattered to me most, both personally and professionally, either physically present or there in spirit. Having my parents there was brilliant and I remember thinking how well they both looked. As a parent now, I have a greater sense of how they probably felt.
Even though I can derive satisfaction from knowing that my book made at least some impact on the world, I tend to think about other people’s books in terms of whether I would love to have written them or not.
The following are among the books I would adore to have written:
There’s a tameness and a wildness in us all ~ whether we like to, or can, live these out or not.
I was very taken at the hairdressers the other day by a woman in her late sixties or early seventies who had long grey hair. She wanted lots of pink and purple tints put into it.
She has stayed in my mind and I wonder if she is an extreme Jenny Joseph follower:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
I loved her cavalier attitude to the hairdo. She said it didn’t really matter if it worked out or not; that it was an experiment.
Those of us who live on the wild side maybe need to experiment a little with tameness and I’d like to see the tame experiment with the wild.
What fun to meet on a purple bridge in the middle!