“A Dialogue With My Own Temperament” (Diana Chang, 1984)

Here is my favourite of the poems in Diana Chang’s collection What Matisse is After:

A Dialogue With My Own Temperament

Must you, I sigh again,
must you disturb the peace I also garden?

     Small aspects detach themselves from a field
     the dog’s color matches the wheat
     but in motion and thought
     he parts from the unawakened sheaves

My nature replies, I know you come and go.

(Am I hers
or is she my soul?)

Ah yes, I remember with relief,
glad to see nothing down the road of promise and will.
I can do without me very well, she mockingly reminds me
yet walks alongside like a montage
The lanes oblivion all the way

Stray knowledge laments
in trees likes doves.
We’ve each offered more than our hand:
Striving, grief, patience and love

I’ve nothing to say. I am deaf
and single and dumb.
This peace I need, pure and plain,
is such a joy,

Is dismay.
I am away again—
cast far like a long shadow

Go. Stay gone. Why do I keep returning,
large with new time?

But she unfurls
her breath in my sleep
And I have things to say to myself again.
I’m the very rain she rains and weathers.
Once more

we are

one another.

How can I judge a poem that feels so close to my own experience that I recognise my thoughts in many of the lines? Not at all, so I only share it, and wonder as I read it over again if I might grow large enough to be always the rain.


a sudden and unexpected recession of waters

My waters have gone, much more quickly than they came, and I am left in the time after, finding my ground again.  This happens every year, but usually much more slowly; a long period with nothing but water, then a slow, slow ebbing, and all the while holding my little square of frozen earth until at last there is the landscape again, mine but transformed by the water, and myself transformed as well, and I must begin again to learn it all, step by step until the next comes.

Except this year, not. This year is new, however much I may cling to the familiarity of my old calendar (being unwilling so far to take the path of the revolutionary French), and so I should not be surprised that the climate changes as well. The past came, and I did not drown, and it has gone again, and my landscape is changed, but only just, and myself — well, I am changed and changing with this constant motion of growth, but no sudden shock this time, no distillation, just myself a little damp and tired and confused and happy.

Now as I look around, seeing the puddles still left, the mud, the places where the bark came from the trees and the places where, somehow, the flowers remain in full bloom, I think of Margaret Atwood’s “After the Flood We” — especially this stanza:

fish must be swimming
down in the forest beneath us,
like birds, from tree to tree
and a mile away
the city, wide and silent,
is lying lost, far undersea.

That is from her first book of poetry, The Circle Game, from 1966 — about which I have many mixed feelings, although it is quite good poetry. But that, I think, is another post.

today the sea

There are days the past comes like a flood, and one may see it coming, take off one’s shoes, roll up the legs of the jeans (if one wears jeans, I don’t enjoy them, but they are sensible for the garden, where a skirt would catch on the thorns of my roses), and either avoid the water entirely or — more likely and in some ways perhaps more sensibly — get wet anyway, but know, still, that there is dry ground and a warm towel and perhaps even a hot drink waiting, after.

But sometimes the water rises without warning, no rain or wind, just suddenly everything is waste, barren, nowhere to stand that is not the gray, cold sea.

Little indeed can he credit, whose town-life
Pleasantly passes in feasting and joy,
Sheltered from peril, what weary pain
Often I’ve suffered in foreign seas.
Night shades darkened with driving snow
From the freezing north, and the bonds of frost
Firm-locked the land, while falling hail,
Coldest of kernels, encrusted earth.
Yet still, even now, my spirit within me
Drives me seaward to sail the deep,
To ride the long swell of the salt sea-wave.
Never a day but my heart’s desire
Would launch me forth on the long sea-path,
Fain of far harbors and foreign shores.

That is Charles Kennedy’s translation of “The Seafarer,” an Old English (or does one say Anglo Saxon nowadays?) poem.  I doubt it is the best translation, but it is the one I am most familiar with and so fondest of, and the one that comes as soon as I begin to write about my own waste-water.

That ‘coldest of kernels’ is actually ‘corna caldast‘ which fits very nicely with the Cunningham, does it not?  Hail as frozen corn.  I had not thought that before, very nice.  I do not read this language, not yet, so much of this resonance might simply be within my mind, but then, what else is this space for?

Sometimes the barbarians.  Sometimes the fertile land between.  But right now, the sea.


August Hail

In late summer the wild geese
In the white draws are flying.
The grain beards in the blue peace.
The weeds are drying.

The hushed sky breeds hail.
Who shall avenge unreason?
Wheat headless in the white flail
Denies the season.

J.V. Cunningham, from The Exclusions of a Rhyme

Unreason avenges itself, I find.  Would I were a better poet, or did not swallow my words before my mouth opened, but for now, Cunningham says it as well as I might, and considerably better.

the uses of space

The more I think on what I wish to do with this space, the more I realise that I want to talk about… myself. Which feels strange but also natural. I am almost forty years old, but the years I have lived have been much less; the first nine or so were given almost wholly to survival, and then for three more after that to what I thought I wanted, something that would transcend survival, something that would make me into someone which need have no fear — which need have no need. Apotheosis, as it were. Perhaps. Sometime I will write of that, the moment I most truly decided.

After my nine years and three, ending in failure and betrayal, there were many years of waiting, watching, hiding. I remained ready for a consummation that never came, and as the years went on, and on, and on, I began to believe it never would come. At times I found signs, and read them such that I thought the time had come to begin again, but always in the end it came to nothing; a coincidence, an attempt to please or seduce, but never what I sought. And so eventually I agreed to stop waiting, stop hiding, and come back into the world, but I did so only partly. I could not see how to bring everything I knew — no, that becomes a lie. It is that I was not truly willing to give up on waiting, to cease being ready, and so I acted the part of being in the present world, ignoring the past, and sometimes truly reached towards living now, but always, always I held some of myself back. Just in case.

This last year I have begun to finally stop. A strange phrasing, that, but a true one. It is not something I can simply cease to do; it is in me, like my breath, and I find I have to untangle it labouriously, day by day. My dear friend — about whom I will write all the time if I am not careful — said once, perhaps like the craving for drugs. I think a little that, but more I think like an eating disorder, ways of thinking about being in the world, ways of measuring and controlling myself, my experience, my desires, my reactions, ways of letting only a trickle of water through the wall, a drop at a time, so that it is a steady stream but so small, so narrow. When I read of people who have anorexia and control their eating that way, and even years later find they must resist the urge to go back to that control, it rings a little true. For me it was not only eating but everything, and in — well, I will not say service, let us say pursuit. Pursuit of another goal. But I may not simply stop, full stop, and be done; I must resist the behaviours, fight against the inclination, at times relax into the new space my choices make, at other times slip and fall and give in and then get back up and begin it all again.

So — I begin to stop. And I find myself here, a few years from forty, but in life truly lived, chosen to be lived, perhaps much younger. And so with the adolescent’s desire to find herself in the mirror, I write, here, about myself. I thought perhaps a book blog, or a gardening one, or any such thing as that, and there will be all those things, because I do read, and garden, and cook, and every other part of life which I can reach with my hands and heart. I am hungry for everything. But if I write of what I am reading, it will be to tell you how I read it, not to tell you of the book, and when I speak of my roses it will be because I love them so dearly, in their growth and persistence and determination to thrive. Really, I am hungry for myself, and life, and myself in life, and that is what this space will be, if it is anything at all. The story I tell of myself living, so that I may see that I do so, and find myself in it.