Walking in Mind

A Trail of Thoughts


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All The Things You Give

It is All Souls’ Day. This is what I am thinking, although I say nothing. After work I go with P. to the hospital, where we find her father already asleep, or so it seems. He is still dressed, but covered with a blanket and facing the wall. The television is on, an early-evening action film, but he is oblivious. I lean over, kiss him on the cheek and rest my hand on his shoulder. He begins to stir, so I speak my name. Kiss, hand, name. He shifts a little, squints, and closes his eyes once more. Then, to my surprise, he turns open-eyed towards me and says something that I take, at first, to be delirium.

‘I’ve left you some fruit on the…’

He pauses, the sentence hangs in the air, the word not found. Lost in the twilight brain.

‘The bedside table, on the bedside table. Some fruit.’

The words come. I look to my right and see a mobile phone, a box of tissues and a glass of water. No fruit. But then I find them, tucked beneath an open tissue. Two ripe berries from a strawberry tree. I realize then what he has done.

A few days ago I had taken him out in his wheelchair, half an hour together in the hospital gardens. It was a sunny morning and I lingered, trusting that he wouldn’t catch cold. Along a path I had never before explored, we discovered, the two of us, a small grove of lemon trees, separated from the garden by a mesh fence, its diamond holes just too small to pass a hand through. And then, at the end of the path, another tree.

‘Miri, un arboç,’ I said. Look, a strawberry tree.

I reached up and picked one of the berries, knowing from its colour and feel that it was not yet ripe. I placed it in his hand and waited. With his right index finger, he rolled it back and forth across his left palm.

‘No te lo comas.’ Don’t eat it. ‘It’ll be sharp.’

He let the berry fall to the ground, and I wheeled him back to his room.

So, he had remembered all this today. A daughter this morning had taken him for a walk along the same path and they had picked a few berries from the tree. Ripe enough to eat. He must have held two of them in his hand, trusting that later I would visit. They were there waiting for me. The sweetest berries I’ve ever tasted. As sweet as a father’s love.

 

Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), and ripe berries


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A Loss Foretold

No words here these days and weeks. It has been a time of listening, of uncertainty, and sometimes it is best to remain silent. Keats spoke of negative capability, and psychoanalysis has made a virtue of being able to hold one’s words in the face of not knowing. But a time comes when something has to be said. To be offered. Doubts prevail, but as one of my Catalan psychoanalytic tutors used to say: “S’ha de dir.” You must say it.

***

For Maria

Two hands, 85 and 88.

First entwined in ’55,

they’re at it still,

holding on

and holding out

against an imminent farewell.

 

Not long now,

she knows,

unknows,

until her hand will close

around his absence,

seeking still

that wordless love

to see her through the days.

 

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Salut

Tomorrow (29 June) is the Feast of Saint Peter, so here in my Catalan hometown of Sant Pere de Ribes it’s time for our annual festival. The sun is shining and the atmosphere on the streets is a lesson in conviviality.

The festivities were formally inaugurated a couple of hours ago in the town square. Each year is the same. At 1 p.m. the toll of the church bells is followed by the explosive sound of a series of mortars. Boom, boom, boom. And then the fun really starts. Here’s a photo of the town square just before it all kicked off:

 

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Strung between lamp-posts and trees, tens upon tens of fireworks, small sticks of dynamite linked in one long fuse.

You have to give the Catalans their due. They don’t let health and safety get in the way of a good street party. Well, OK, they did put up a flimsy plastic tape to keep the public out of the arena!

Anyway, the video below should give you a taster of what happened next.

For now, and in the spirit of these festivities, I raise my glass to you all, and wish you Salut – especially if your name so happens to be Peter or Pere or Pierre.

 

 

 

 


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His bones are elsewhere

For those of you who don’t follow my ramblings on Twitter, I’m posting a link here to a piece I’ve written and which has been selected by C.C. O’Hanlon for publication on the website of Burning House Press. I recommend a leisurely browse around their site, where you’ll find a rich array of words and images that will lead you off, both geographically and emotionally, into other worlds.

My piece is entitled This is not a memorial, and other stories of remembrance, and you can read it here.

 

Portbou

 


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A Separation

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That late winter day, do you remember it still? The rain had passed, the sun was out and off we went, skipping work like a couple of truant teenagers, five or six miles up through the woods and back home along the vineyard trails.

We hardly said a word that afternoon, but later, when making some tea, you told me you’d kept your head high, your gaze wide. You talked to me about the sky that looked as if it had been painted by a young Yves Klein, about the little birds flitting in and out of the still dormant vines, about the light on the far-off sea. Only once, you said, did you kneel to ground, there where the white rocket flowers had colonized the field.

You were disappointed that I’d noticed none of these things, but courteous enough to listen when I compared the hole in the neighbour’s wall to the stoma in my belly — the Bocca della Verità, you said, shit will out. You carried on listening when I talked about how beautiful I found the still damp wood of the telegraph pole, the archipelago of algae on the rainwater puddle, the yolky lichen on the fallen mastic branch. Why didn’t you call me over? That was what you asked when I told you about the bitter almond flowers and the pawprint in the newly resurfaced track.

Not long after we went our separate ways. Your question haunts me still.

 

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After the rain…

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I wake and walk

to find the town

transformed. Ashen,

empty streets,

a godforsaken place

straight out of

a Béla Tarr film.

 

There is a tune in my head —

Gnossienne no. 1

whose time slips and slides,

always a beat behind

or ahead of my footfall.

Satie, the inveterate walker,

having the last laugh.

 

I see now a figure approaching

through the white light.

It is my mother.

She is wearing

a floral dress and blue sandals,

so perhaps it is already spring

on the other side.

 

She dances partnerless towards me,

her feet marking effortlessly

the time my own had failed to find.

As she draws level

I see in her eyes

a measure of tenderness

that only the dead can offer.

 

On the way home I remember

something that Herzog said

about the chaos of events

encountered when walking:

Only if this were a film

would I consider it real.

 

***

#NowPlaying

Erik Satie, Gnossienne no. 1 (Pascal Rogé, piano)


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Convalescent

What to say first? I learnt I was afraid,

Years back, before the turn of the century, I lived for a time in a shared flat near Highbury Corner in North London. It was a dilapidated place spread over the two upper floors of what, in its day, would have been a rather grand terraced house. My room was on the lower of the two floors and shared a wall with both kitchen and lounge. Most nights I was undisturbed by this proximity to the lives of others, but not that night.

Not frightened in the way that I had been

When wide awake and well, I simply mean

Drunk feet on bare boards, and two voices. One was that of my flatmate, C. The other was unfamiliar, a deeper male voice that presumably belonged to his catch for the night. Had I fixed the latch on my door, strangeman would have merely fallen against it, but instead he came crashing through and hit the floor face first. Out cold. C. grabbed the carcass by the ankles, dragged it back out into the hallway, and closed the door without a glance.

Fear became absolute and I became

Subject to it; it beckoned, I obeyed.

The following morning, C. knocked on my door, this time bearing a gift of apology. We stood there wordless while I removed the book from its wrapping and read what he had written inside the front cover: Elizabeth Jennings wrote a poem called ‘A Litany for Contrition’. She’s a poet I love very much & I thought this would make a suitable offering from your contrite flatmate.

In 1998 I went to Barcelona and ended up staying, and in the process I lost touch with C. The book, however, has remained close to me, above all for Sequence in Hospitaleight short poems, each individually titled. One of them, After An Operation, struck a chord at the outset, stirring and constructing memories of hospitalisation in childhood.

Fear which before had been particular,

Attached to this or that scene, word, event,

Now, as I recover from a perforated colon and fecal peritonitis that saw my life begin to wane, I find the lines of that poem mingling with my own thoughts. Thoughts about C., wondering where and how he is, and visioning in my mind’s eye how he dragged the unfucked body of a stranger back into the hallway with all the nonchalance of a slaughterhouse worker or master butcher.

Here became general. Past, future meant

Nothing. Only the present moment bore

This huge, vague fear, this wish for nothing more.

Thoughts, too, about my own body out cold on the operating table, and about the wonders of our day — anaesthesia, antibiotics, precision surgical instruments. Slice me open, flush me clean, sew me back together again.

Yet life still stirred and nerves themselves became

Like shoots which hurt while growing, sensitive

To find not death but further ways to live.

And then there are the digital wonders. What was once for surgeons’ eyes only is now available to all via YouTube. It’s all there in brutal, beautiful detail — how to perform a Hartmann sigmoidectomy and subsequent reversal of the colostomy, the two procedures I underwent, four months apart, to salvage my colorectal system. For me, now, there is something uncanny about watching these videos. It is akin to an out-of-body experience, except that it is not my body, merely my reflection in the mirror of dreams.

And now I’m convalescent, fear can claim

No general power. Yet I am not the same.

***

And now I’m convalescent, and fear has dissipated, what remains is gratitude. To C., for introducing me to the work of Elizabeth Jennings, and above all to Laura Lázaro and Antonia Lequerica, the two surgeons who brought me back from the edge of life and shadowed my every step as I inched back into the fold.