Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Poetry’ Category

Hand in glove

Until I was fifteen, I had two Grannies.  My paternal granny was always known as Granny Kim on account of her eponymous, over-stuffed cat which resembled a large tabby cushion and used to lie on the half-landing of her staircase in a sunspot meditating fatly.  Granny had only one arm.  The other was lost in The First World War.  Amputated on account of gangrene, not mislaid.  She was a nurse as so many of the women of her generation were.  She never expected to marry after losing her limb.  With the over-abundance of women to the dreadfully depleted stock of men when peace followed the tragically dubbed ‘war to end all wars’, she rather felt that her fate was dancing with other spinster women and dreaming of a never-to-be love.  However in time, quite some time, she met my Grandfather who had had his vocal chords severed by the village doctor during an emergency traceotomy as a child and from then on could only speak in a whisper – as a point of interest he spoke nine languages fluently in his whisper.  From time to time I remember to contemplate the thanks I owe the physician who, respecting his hippocratic oath, in that moment saved a young boy’s life and by doing so gave me the chance of birth.   Granny Kim used to say that they were two cripples together.  I imagine these days she might be shushed and cautioned against deflowering delicate sensibilities with her candid comment.

DSCF2021

Granny Kim (who I have written about before) was irresistibly irreverent.  She had seemingly no filter between what  was in her head and what came out of her mouth.  For example the busty girl tottering down the seafront in tightest of tight, scoopiest of scooped angora sweater must clearly  have heard the shrilly uttered ‘VERY uplifted’ from the neat tweed clad old woman tottering toward her.  And the French neighbour of my own new to motherhood mummy proudly showing off her own newborn to Granny was asked what she had called the child.  ‘James’, replied Madame.  ‘And James was a very small snail’ said Granny.  It’s A A Milne, from ‘The Four Friends’ but the French lady, so my mother reports, was visibly and vividly offended and operated the etiquette of ‘on ne peut plus se voir’ which  as Mel of France Says explains ever eloquently her means ‘one cannot see you any more’ and literally makes the recipient invisible ever after.   My mother wondered if she imagined Granny was calling her sprog a frog.  She wasn’t.  She was saying the first thing that popped into her head.  I have the same tendency.  I try to control it.  I frequently fail.

So what is that preamble about.  Well, with only one arm Granny had a drawer FULL of single gloves kindly donated by countless people over the years who had mislaid it’s pair.  She found it ceaselessly amusing that people never stopped in their surge of waste-not-want-not good heartedness, to think that their gift was only useful if it happened to be the correct glove for Granny’s remaining hand.  Therefore she had a quite magnificent collection of single gloves languishing in tissue paper which she had graciously accepted rather than burst anyone’s bubble of well meant intent.

Which brings me to Grenoble.  Grenoble was, for many years the capital of glove-making in France.  The giants of glove-making made fortunes and the most revered of all was a man named Xavier Jouvin.  He has an entire quartier dedicated to his name – looking over the river it is lovely and there is a large statue of him in the middle of it’s main square.  I have become very fascinated with Xav and found out that he is most revered for having created a form of mass-production of gloves.  He fashioned a machine that could cut up to SIX pairs, six mind you, of identical gloves at one go.  Breathtaking in 1838.  When I leave Grenoble, it will be with a pair of hand-made Grenoblois gloves to remember my time by.

You might recall that I was previously living in a positively palatial apartment  provided by the institute that my husband was doing a tranche of work for in the first 6 months of this year. Amongst other delights it had corinthian columns and  as the time approached to leave it  I seriously considered chaining myself to these pillars and refusing to leave.   I had however, a last-minute change of heart and decided that I would leave quietly and with gratitude for the time we had spent there.  Sugaring pills tends to provide incentive, I find.  My candied pellet is this:  the place we found, the small apartment that is less than a third of the size of the other, is contained in what the French call Un Hôtel Particulier which is in effect a grand residence built as the town house for someone of importance.  Guess who?  Well so far, I know it was one of the great glovemen but I am not able to finitely say which one.  Of course I hope its M. Jouvin Xavier.  I am currently researching more thoroughly but this oasis in the centre of Grenoble has given me the rare chance to live in a very special building that retains much of it’s original fabric.  From the hand painted walls in the entrance hall to the beautiful tiling and ceilings it is wonderful.  I have the luxury of a terrace and a garden and best of all I have a double curved staircase up to the front door which makes me feel that I should be wearing kid gloves and matching slippers with some sort of an empire line Lizzy Bennet dress and bonnet with thick silky ribbons neath my chinny chin chin, at all times.  My quarters are exquisite, dare I say better than the last place  and also retain a cornucopia of original features.  If you would like, I will share the innards of this place I am occupying … I’m happy to  but I never want to overtax with tedium..

DSCF2459

PS:  Granny Kim was fond of reciting this poem and peeling with laughter at it’s quite gasping ghastliness.  I had never paid it much heed except to recite it idly and wince when having flashbacks to Granny Kim in her hammock.   Until today, when incubating this post it popped into my head spontaneously and inevitably. I thought I should find out who IS responsible for this vacuous verse.

It was written by a woman called Frances Darwin Cornford.  She was the grand-daughter of the immeasurably brilliant Charles Darwin.  Ironically it seems that the father of evolutionary theory had a somewhat poorly evolved grandchild.  As it turns out

G K Chesterton agreed with me.  Read his wonderfully ascerbic response to this quite appalling effort, please do …

To A Lady Seen From A Train

Frances Darwin Cornford

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much

The Fat White Woman Speaks

G K Chesterton

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

And as a bonus because I swiped it for my title, The Smiths belt out ‘Hand in Glove’ in Glasgow on this date (September 25th) 1985 – it fits perfectly, as all good gloves should

I am not done with my changes

Such little lives we live if only we would admit it.  All of us however fêted.  Marking out our  pathetic tiny snail trails as we go.  Imprinting what we do – good, bad, downright ugly through our little journey.  Imagining ourselves important or impotent when in fact neither is probably true.

Stanley Kunitz, born in a place that I ran (or rather more accurately staggered) last Autumn at a time when I thought I would never run again has it right in this poem.  I, me, mine … not at all relevant when you equate the microscopic me to the great landscape of time in which we exist.  Just let’s protect what we have – we can do our little bit by acting decently, by regarding others with an importance not by dint of  their shoes or their achievements or their accumulated wealth but just because.  Because they co-exist with us on this planet we all accidentally find ourselves on.

I have indeed walked through many lives.  All of them in this skin.  And I will not be done and I will not give up hope  until I draw my fatal last breath.  Never.  Not at all.  I am many layered and yet simple cored just like you … if we all accept that, the rest is blissfully uncomplicated.  I give you this in answer to the weekly photo challenge titled ‘Layered’ of which a delicious gallery of entries you will find here.

DSCF1705

The Layers

Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

PS:  The picture is taken at Vassieux-en-Vercors where people lived and died in a rather more profound way than I can ever begin to imagine.

Who are those who suffer?

I imagine that we all feel that we have been hard done by, unfairly or unjustly treated at some point or, probably, several points in our lives.  Whether or not we have credence for our cries is always a matter opinion and reason generally dictates, a matter of more than one point of view.  Some will have much more valid laments than others.  But wherever it registers on the Richter scale of righteousness, it stings.  Today, as the world hoots and hollers about aggressive posturing that may or may not lead to a fearful battle, I ask you to think about those who really do, inarguably have it tough.  Be it because they live in a warzone, because they are born into poverty in a place that has no opportunity for education and a free ride out or because they have been born in the wrong body by dint of their sex or sexuality, their race or their ability to use that body freely and efficiently without assistance, or simply that the body is worn out by so many years of use. Those.  They are all around you if you look.  Who are they? They are you but for the grace of that accident of birth that gave you a better chance.  I am prompted to this by my savvy linguist friend at Zipfs Law who is currently in Guatemala interpreting (as he has every year of the last five) for Surgicorps International.  He does it because he can.  It’s as simple as that.  I was moved to give a little to help.  Really it was a very little.  This is what he wrote to me:

“Osyth, thank you so much. Your donation pays for a complete surgical pack. To give you an idea of some of the surgeries that we did yesterday: reconstruction of a hand for a teenager who I’ve seen every one of the five years that I’ve been coming here, as it’s a complicated surgery that has to be done in stages; removal of a mass on the right wrist of a woman whose job involves writing with a pen all day, and who therefore was losing the ability to support herself in a country in which there is no such thing as unemployment insurance, or disability support for people who can’t work; repair of a cleft lip for a kid who otherwise would have been unlikely to find a spouse, in a country in which your only social support net is your family… Your support is really making a contribution to these people’s lives.” 

Levelling.  Horribly levelling.  If Guatemala seems a long way away I can guarantee you there is someone right under your nose who could do with your kindness.   Give it a go, for Blanche Dubois was not alone in her reliance on the kindness of strangers.    Pablo Neruda, champion of Chile wrote reams and reams and dazzling reams on the plight and struggle of his own people.  The woeful disgrace is that these decades later, it applies to so many in this ever-smaller earth place of ours.  I give you Neruda’s ‘Mountain and River’ to take to your heart and ponder who might benefit from your act of kindess today. My pledge to Neruda many moons ago, when I first read this poem and imagined myself his little red grain of wheat, was that I would accept his eloquent, searing call to arms.  So long as I draw breath I will keep that promise;

DSCF2091

The Mountain And The River

In my country there is a mountain.
In my country there is a river.

Come with me.

Night climbs up to the mountain.
Hunger goes down to the river.

Come with me.

Who are those who suffer?
I do not know, but they are my people.

Come with me.

I do not know but they call to me
And they say to me: “We suffer.”

Come with me.

And they say to me: “Your people,
your luckless people,
between the mountain and the river,
with hunger and grief,
they do not want to struggle alone,
they are waiting for you, friend.”

Oh you, the one I love,
little one, red grain
of wheat,
the struggle will be hard,
life will be hard,
but you will come with me.

Pablo Neruda

PS:  The picture, captured by HB² (my husband, if you are wondering) in the Atacama Desert of Chile responds to the wordpress challenge titled ‘Elemental’ and, as ever, you can see the glorious gallery of  interpretations of others here.

And here, because it would be rude to resist her, is Blanche:

What is all this sweet work worth …

I’m sure I should be quoting Thoreau since this picture was snaffled on Cape Cod last Autumn. You can indeed stand there ‘and put all America behind you’. And it would be highly appropriate. Thoreau spoke much sense that resonates today. If you let it.

Instead though, I am going to tie this to one of my favourite poems. One I learned to heart so I could whisper it secretly under the sheets after lights-out when I was a just-teen and captivated by the idea of love.

I defy you not to be enchanted by it ..

The fountains mingle with the river

and the rivers with the ocean,

The winds of heaven mix for ever

With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single

All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle,

Why not I with thine? –

See the mountains kiss high heaven

And the waves clasp one another;

No sister-flower would be forgiven

if it disdained it’s brother;

And the sunlight clasps the earth

And the moonbeams kiss the sea;

What is all this sweet work worth

If thou kiss not me?

Percy Bysshe Shelley

PS: Those that kindly and patiently follow me, may relax knowing that I have settled in my new temporary nest and that finally, after some epic shenanagins with local internet providers, I am back in my saddle and ready to hit you with more half-baked drivel. I can actually feel the crackling excitement in the wings. In the meantime, I present this to the scrumptuous gallery of offerings for the weekly photo challenge this week asking for
‘Textures’ …
DSCF9559
And also: Since I have been away for so long, I think you honestly
have
earned a bonus – the other thing the picture spoke insistently to me of … see what you think: