Writing Memories 6

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Writing Memories 6

Module 2.2: Accidents

Accidents are not pleasant, nor are trips to the doctor’s surgery where the fear that something might have gone wrong and that the doctor might find out what it is and might then want to do something about it always haunts us, well, me at least. That fear is something I carry around in the back pocket of my jeans. Sometimes it hides in my backpack or my brief case. I am afraid that one day it will suddenly leap out and frighten me. That said, waiting rooms and coffee shops are among the world’s greatest places for listening and hearing what is happening, not to our selves in our own inner worlds, but to other people, real people, who also live and suffer like you and me. So here’s a series of conversations overheard in a waiting room. First, as always, the poem.

Waiting Room
words overheard while waiting

Back turned to the world, my good ear trained on two gossips
who chatter about friends, family, acquaintances,
the intimate details of childlessness, caused by
cancers and sudden sicknesses, all laid out before me,
willy-nilly, to root, grow, and fester in my fertile mind.

Never will I put a face to those girls with breast cancer,
the overweight women with diabetes, the old men
with their heart attacks, strokes, and haemorrhaged brains.

“Just one of those things,” one of them whispers, “my husband
gone and me alone with all the grand kids.” “Was it four years
ago? Or five?” the other replied, “I remember his name, but I forget his face.”

“I’ll cope somehow, and the fourteen-year old, with her belly
already swelling.” A subtle silence wraps a scarf around
their flapping mouths. Lives and worlds end and begin. Words settle.
Fine dust dances in a sun ray that spotlights floating motes.
I think of my own lost loves, buried before their proper time.

Commentary: This snapshot in time resonates with me. I never saw the faces of the speakers, they were behind me, and I only heard their voices as I waited outside the doctor’s office for my beloved. I usually take a book to read, or a notebook in which to write some of the snippets that come floating across to me. In this case, I wrote down the gist of the conversation, I would like to say verbatim, but there is more than a touch of creative in this particular non-fiction which transforms itself into fiction because it is no longer real, even though it may have started out that way. And that’s what happens: reality metamorphoses into a fictitious entity that, if it is well-written, then becomes a new reality, linked to, but not the same as the original itself. The secret of art is this process by which the real becomes fictitious then becomes real again. It’s like walking a tightrope blindfold or walking hands before your face in the dark trying not to stumble into objects. Clearly, some do it more easily than others, but all of us improve as we learn how to sharpen our creative senses of touch and balance. Here’s the prose version that I read on Sunday (March 10).

Waiting Room [Prose 1]
words overheard while waiting

Back turned to the world, my good ear trained on two grandmothers who gossip about friends, family, acquaintances, the intimate details of childlessness, caused by cancers and sudden sicknesses, all laid out before me, willy-nilly, whether I want to listen or not, to root, grow, and fester in my fertile mind. Never will I put a face to those girls with breast cancer, the overweight women with diabetes, the old men with their heart attacks, strokes, and haemorrhaged brains. “Just one of those things,” one of them whispers, “my husband gone and me alone with all the grand kids.” “Was it four years ago? Or five?” the other asks. “I remember his name, but I forget his face.” “I’ll cope somehow, and the fourteen-year old, with her belly already swelling.” A subtle silence wraps a scarf around their stricken mouths. Lives and worlds end and begin. Words settle. Fine dust dances in a sun ray that spotlights floating motes. I think of my own lost loves, my three missing brothers, buried before their proper time.

Commentary: The introduction of the intensely personal at the end changes the sense of an ending, but does not materially transform the piece. I have revisited this piece, but feel unable to transform it further. It is stuck in the sands of time and no amount of pushing and shoving will budge it. It is just there. And there I will leave it. The last thing I want to be, as a writer, is a dog who chases his tail round and round in ever-decreasing circles until, tired and dizzy, he keels over and drops off to sleep. If fresh inspiration is to come, it will. It will not magically appear just because I keep rubbing and rubbing at that old brass lamp, hoping for the genie to emerge and grant me one more wish. So, there it is and I’ll let it be.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

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Writing Memories 4

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Writing Memories 4

Module 2.1 : Accidents

Like it or not, accidents happen at our age. We trip on the rug, slip on the ice, fall in the bath, so many little things can happen, none, hopefully, serious, but every one of them annoying. In my case, my beloved traveled to Ottawa to visit our family then and I stayed to look after the cat (and have my favorite chair vomited on by the monster). I played contact sports for years, no stitches. My beloved goes away and two or three days later, I slice myself up sharpening a kitchen knife. Everything is fodder for creation. Here’s the poem.

Triage
A stitch in time

1

Banality, stupidity, or just old age:
how did the knife slip from its intended path
and end up slicing through my finger? Blood

everywhere, oozing then pumping, flowing
freely, deep ugly, red, between fleshy
cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain,

short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing
out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning
my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand,

right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first
aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press
down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet

ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom
towel, run down corridor to garage,
leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following,

sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor,
one hand clumsy on steering wheel, the other
held high as I drive to emergency, fast.

2

Three nurses attend me. The first completes
the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages
my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait.

Second nurse inserts needles, kills the nerve,
cleans the wound, sews my little finger up.

Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time
now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, checks me
for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: The poem summarizes the instant well. I think the most horrible and outlandish thing of all was looking over my shoulder and seeing the cat following me, licking up the blood trail that I left spotted across the floor. I remember her squatting there, licking her lips: little horror. So, for Sunday’s session, I turned that moment into prose.

Triage [Pose 1]
A stitch in time

1

Banality, stupidity, or just old age: how did the knife slip from its intended path and end up slicing through my finger? Blood oozes, then squirts, then flowing freely, deep ugly, red, between fleshy cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain, short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand, right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom towel, run down corridor to garage, leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following, sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor, hand clumsy on steering wheel, horn tooting, driving to emergency, fast.

2

Three nurses attend me. So many questions. The first completes the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait. Second nurse inserts needles, kills the nerve, cleans the wound, sews my little pinky up to the sound of thread pulled through flesh, then knotted, and snipped. Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, checks me for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: Nothing wrong with that. From poetry to prose poem. But is it lacking something, some bite, the feeling of panic, a sense of shock? Alas, it is missing so much. “Every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it.” And that is so true. What was true for me then, battered, bruised, bleeding, in shock, no longer comes through the words I left on the page. I wondered if I could warm them up a little. Here goes.

Triage [Prose 2]

A stitch in time
1
Banality, stupidity, or just old age: how did the knife slip from its intended path and end up slicing through my finger? Blood oozes, then squirts, then flows freely, ugly, red, between deep, fleshy cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain, short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand, right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom towel, run down corridor to garage, leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following, sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor, hand clumsy on steering wheel, horn tooting, driving to emergency, fast.
2
Three nurses attend me. So many questions. The first completes the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait. Second nurse inserts needle, kills the nerve, cleans the wound, sews my little pinky up to the sound of thread pulled through flesh, then knotted, and snipped. Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, asks me questions, gazes into my eyes, checks me for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: Not much has changed yet now I seem to have lost the thrill, the shock, of that moment. I never even mentioned the feeling of achievement that warmed me when I got home, the knowledge that I had hurt myself and had got myself repaired without having to call my neighbors or emergency. I didn’t add that the first nurse tossed the blood-soaked kitchen towel into the garbage can and that she was unable to stop the bleeding. The second nurse managed that, after he injected me. He also gave me extra bandages in case the cut re-opened during the night. It didn’t. Looking back now, and remembering, I recall the hospital smells, the sense of the needle slipping into my flesh, the gradual loss of all feeling, the smell of the surgery, the scent of the anesthetic, the taste of the saliva in my  mouth. Revisiting the scene, so much later, I can begin to see all that I missed. As a result, Eliot’s words ring out truer than ever. Clearly, I will have to revisit this poem, this prose, this memory sketched into my life. This commentary, written on the spur of the moment, may help me do just that. Clearly I need to move from visual expression to visceral experience and taste and smell may just do that. Yes, I tasted my blood (so did the cat), and my saliva, and  I remember how the taste changed, oh so subtly, with each injection (there were three). I also remember the smells, all different of each of those rooms. Oh dear, so much work still to do.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

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Triumphs

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Triumphs

Waking to moonlight in the middle of the night, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, managing to pee without splattering the floor, the seat,  the wall, or my pajamas, climbing back into bed, staring at the stars’ diminishing light until I manage to fall back to sleep. Waking to birdsong in the morning, walking to the bathroom without bruising my left arm against the door latch, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall and without dropping the soap, drying those parts of my body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between my far-off toes, pulling my shirt over those wet and sticky patches still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants hanging on to the arm of the rocking-chair so I won’t fall over,  tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows each sock to glide onto my feet, oping the heel will end up in the right spot, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them with my stick in hand, cautiously, one step at a time … on guard for the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my cane might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down. The first of today’s miniscule triumphs.

Butterfly

 

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Butterfly 

     Un-mown the front garden, the grass long. Like hay, no flowers in the borders, how could there be when nobody can bend down to plant them? They want me to mow the lawn, but I can’t. I call a man who has an industrial mower, a hay-maker, and he comes and does the job, front and back, within half an hour. Even with a scythe, it would have taken me a couple of days.

The magnolia tree leans low across the red-brick wall that separates the house from the street. White butterflies, its petals, blown on the wind, and its perfume regaling our noses of the waft of the wind. We leave the ground floor windows open during the daylight hours so we can take in the thick, rich, delicate scent.

     Pale and delicate, a cabbage white butterfly floats into our yard from the road. The roses are not yet in bloom, more thorn than rose. A sudden gust blows the butterfly across the garden and it shreds its snow-white wing upon a thorn: sudden shriek of white against wall and grass.

     Looking back, remembering  how I cast her ashes over the sea, thoughts pound in my head like waves on that Gower beach. Each word is a grinding of small pebbles. Mother, you are a swift river of blood contained within my skin and bones.

Family Album

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Family Album

I recall him early in the day, carving his field into brown-tipped waves, with his two sheep dogs  running loose beside the enormous cart-horses that give him the horse-power, huge, born to labor and the plough, as they create their own steam in the morning mist, so cool, but stay clear of their hooves, huge hooves, iron shod hooves, hooves that will break a leg or stove in the dog’s ribs as if he were a rowing boat crushed against an Atlantic rock in the fast ebb-tide of the local bay, and watch out for them in the stable where they lean together, side by side,  like the oxen twins, Bright and Lion, out at King’s Landing, and like the oxen they munch their hay and stomp their feet and blow hot air out through their nostrils, almost in unison, their sweet-smelling breath sugaring the air, and the bright hay surrounding them, prickly and tickly, and leaving its speckled rash on arms and legs and necks …  and I thresh in dream-memories, flailing from harvesting remembered brightness beneath a star-filled sky, gathering memories, ordering them into vital bundles, and every package a re-creation of everything that I was, and am, and ever will be, and those who come after will find less of myself, yet more, much more, than this empty snowball of flesh, which sits here at the table, pen in hand, scribbling the words that begin and end it all, the tell-tale words that blindly bind and knot the ties that tie me in place, forever, between these lines, between these covers, and I jot down supplements that will supply fresh blood to the memories of my rapidly fading life … how long will I hold on to them, those memories, those moments of glory, those seconds that turn into minutes, then hours, and  the hours stringing themselves together to form days and weeks  as memories gnaw away the years, as a mouse gnaws away at a cheese, with jagged teeth until all that is left are sad photos of unnamed, unremembered people floating in the family photograph album like the one that my grandfather once gathered, and glancing from page to page I know no one even if the name is written there, his wonderful copperplate standing out beneath the photograph, ‘my sister Betty, aged two’, ‘my cousin David, aged ten months’, ‘my grandmother’s father’s sister’s cousin by marriage’, and there she is, this anonymous being, riding in the sidecar of a motorbike, and the photo all speckled and brown, like a hen’s egg, waiting in its egg-cup for the silver spoon that will bring it magically to life, a real life, not the false life of a forged memory that floods through my mind, so young, they are, so small, so pretty, all of them, so dashing, so handsome, even in their old-fashioned clothes, and now they are here, their spirits trapped in this photograph, floating ghosts in the half-life of a sepia snap, and will this be the afterlife for all of us, these snaps, taken in an instant, and then lasting, at first for hours, and then, forgotten and laid aside, then surfacing in another country, held by another hand and viewed by foreign eyes that do not know and will never understand … how can they ever understand?

Billy

 

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Chronotopos

A dialog with time and space.

But what is time? A river flowing? A long line leading from our beginnings to our end? Alpha and Omega? An instant held between finger and thumb and so swiftly forgotten? A dream we dream when we are awake. Or asleep. And which is the real dream, waking or sleeping? Sleeping or lying awake?

And what is space? This house in which Billy lives? The garden Billy watches from his widow? Billy’s town? His district? His county? His province? His region?

And how does Billy relate to his “time” or his “place” and what is this being called “Billy”, this dream Billy dreams, this post-amniotic ocean of life in which Billy floats?

Billy dreams he is male. When he reads Carl Jung he learns a large part of him is female. Billy thought he was masculino / macho / male, yet when a large part of him is femenina / hembra / female, he’s no longer sure what he is.

Billy has ten fingers yet he uses only two to type. Two fingers manipulating twenty-six letters and Billy turns his black-and-white keyboard world upside down when he thinks his subversive thoughts and types them onto the page.

Time and place, male and female: Billy lay on his side in hospital and the young urologist shot him full of female hormones so his prostrate cancer would not takeover his inner organs and destroy his life.

Place and time: Billy lies awake at night and shapes disturbing dreams, dreams he never before dreamed of dreaming.

Billy senses the end is drawing near.

He fears it. Yet he loves it. He loves it because it’s his and nobody else’s.

In Billy’s beginning is his end.

Beginning and end: both belong to him.

Time and space, so sacred to Billy’s life … they will continue with or without him.

Billy may not be there to bear witness. But he has been here and parts of him will remain embedded in the mind of each and every one of those who knew him.

On an unusually Odd Sunday at Corked: raise a glass to Billy’s name when he is gone.

Leave an empty glass on the table for Billy and he will be there.

Squirrel

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Squirrel

He’s here for the food on the picnic table, of course. He’s been here before, even in bad weather, and he knows where the treasure is: buried beneath the snow. I can’t believe he’s out in this. He should be in some little squirrel cave, tucked in, nice and warm. One of my best friends told me he was going to drive to Halifax today. What drives people out on a day like today when the snow is deep and still accumulating, when visibility is such that I can hardly see beyond the trees at the edge of the garden, when more snow, higher winds, drifting snow, and blizzard conditions are all around us. There is also the possibility of ice pellets and freezing rain when the snow finishes. “Stay home, little squirrel, stay home,” I told him. “It’s not a good day for travelling. I can hardly see the road through the falling snow.”

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Squirrels are tough, though. They must have Welsh blood in them the way they tunnel and dig. Unsnubbable on the trail of some winter seed and totally defiant against wind and weather. “Did you see him?” my beloved called out. “See who?” I asked, clicking away busily with my Christmas camera. “The squirrel,” she said. “You should take a picture.” So I did. And another and another. I caught him first head down, back towards me, guzzling, deep within his snow cave.

 

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He reminded me of Lorca’s roosters: “Los picos de los gallos cavan en busca de la aurora / the roosters’ beaks dig in search of the dawn.” I wanted him to come out and look at me, to show me what he had found. I didn’t have to wait for long. Then it was in (click) and out (click). What a cheeky chappy.

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I wonder why I always call this squirrel ‘him’. Maybe I never learned enough about the birds and the bees when I was a child. I find it hard to tell the difference between the genders of animals unless they have antlers (male) or, like the birds, they have distinctive plumage. Then it is much easier for me to tell them apart. I had a tortoise once, back home in Wales. I called him Henry, don’t ask me why. It took me two years to find out that Henry was actually Henrietta.  I guess I was slow on the uptake. Dai Bungalow: not much in the top storey. Or should that be story? There, I’ve looked it up:  storey in the Oxford Dictionary’s English English, but story in Webster’s American English. Oh dear, there are some things I still have to look up.

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So there he is, Mr. Squirrel, perched on the balustrade, about to make his final farewell. Fare well, Mr. Squirrel. Come back soon. I am so glad you didn’t decide to drive to Halifax.