Walking in Mind

A Trail of Thoughts

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A Separation


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.











The Colour of What Matters

The loss of a loved one alongside whom we have grown in physical rather than solely emotional space, someone like a father, is not the same as the loss of someone we have felt deeply about from a distance, like a writer or musician. The reason for this is what interests me.

When an admired songwriter or storyteller dies, all we ever had of them – their work – continues to be present in its entirety. It is true that something remains of a lost father too, since he has disappeared only from the physical realm, and I may go on hearing his voice, and replying in kind, long after he’s gone. But this conversing with the dead does not compensate the physical loss. I may conjure up my father in words, argue with him still, come to love him more than before, but something of my embodied experience of him is forever beyond reach: the smell of watch oil on his craftsman’s fingers; the skin on the back of his hands, as thin to the touch as tissue paper; the trace of his hard and brittle backbone in that final embrace. The words and songs of Leonard Cohen have long meant much to me, but the death of a ladies’ man last year did not deprive me of things such as these.

I thought of all this the other day while reading a book by John Berger. Since his recent death, I realised, he has become more, not less, present in my life, his work now occupying a little bookshelf of its own. I have gained, not lost. One of the things I have gained is a renewed curiosity in familiar things. This morning, while walking a stony trail through the scrubland to the west of town, I spotted my first wild poppy of the year. I crouched down to take a closer look and thought of what Berger says about poppies in the first few lines of his story, Once In Europa. How the hard shell of the poppy’s calyx is split open by nothing more than “a screwed-up ball of membrane-thin folded petals like rags”. Petals whose colour changes, in their unfolding, “from neonate pink to the most brazen scarlet”, the colour of my first poppy. “It is”, writes Berger, “as if the force that split the calyx were the need of this red to become visible and to be seen”. It is, I thought, crouching still, as if this red were the colour of what matters, of all that’s worth remembering. Tissue-paper petals, so delicate, such force.


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In the Pyrenees There is Beauty in Both Life and Death


High in the Catalan Pyrenees

a lignified cetacean,

a washed-up monument to deep time,

to the singularity of sea bed and mountain peak.


Mountain pine. Pinus uncinata

Mountain pine. Pinus uncinata



The Catalans call it clavell de pastor, shepherd’s carnation,

the name a reminder

that this is the wild source

of a flower we know from elsewhere,

a decoration for table or gravestone,

and once a symbol of revolution.



Maiden pinks. Dianthus deltoides

Maiden pinks. Dianthus deltoides



Its purple cowls draw the eye,

invite the hand to touch,

revealing nothing, yet,

of the poisonous heart

that for millennia

has served schemers

and fooled the unknowing.



Wolf’s bane, monkshood. Aconitum napellus

Wolf’s bane, monkshood. Aconitum napellus



Here at the source,

before contamination and ownership,

we may drink freely of the water of life.