Transitions

I’m back in Norway again. I am happy. Yesterday I watched my world sliding past the train windows. The train journey from Leeds to Manchester is very beautiful. It crosses the Penines. Soft green-grey and amber mountain peaks, interspersed with grey stone villages. More like hills really than mountains. But they are lovely. I sat there on the train and all these words came bubbling up inside me. It was being in an inbetween space. It was having time to think, which I haven’t, for weeks, because every waking moment I’ve been thinking or writing or reading about Randolph Stow, or sorting out a pressing matter that was preventing me from doing so. It was nice, to sit on the train, and read an entirely unrelated novel, and look out the window.

The words bubbled up so insistently that I thought I would write them down. Just as I got my computer out the man with the drinks trolley came past. As he dragged it behind him he was talking to it like it was a dog: ‘Come on girl, good girl, sit!’ He explained he’d been working since three in the morning. I wrote a couple of sentences. Suddenly all the noises of the train seemed oppressive: the dull hum of ipods, people coughing. I closed the computer, and it was okay again. The words liked it better when no one could see them, or even imagine they were there. The other people were too close – when I tried to write the words down, there wasn’t room for them to sing.

I am writing some of the words down now. Some are secret. Some of them are lost. They knew that might happen. They didn’t mind. I could almost see them – transparent, fuzzy at the edges, rising upwards like flames. My own words, mine.

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In the blue room

I sit in my blue room, with my grey bird for company, and I write. And read, and think. Today it is autumn, and the air is cold on my hands when I ride my bike. But mostly, there is the blue room, and the words. The words come slowly, or in bursts, and the chapter grows like a living thing. It grows slowly, every day. It will need pruning. It will need its tendrils to be tied to stakes. It demands constant attention. But it grows.

I’m having a lot of fun with Randolph Stow. These are my two favourite quotes from the articles I read about him:

‘He has (in a masculine way) some of Emily Bronte’s wildness.’

That one (written in the fifties, can you guess?) just cracks me up every time. I can’t remember who wrote it. I have to fit it into my chapter somehow.

‘…his poetic sense of language and absolutely certain ear for tonal effects – he has, it seems, the linguistic equivalent of perfect pitch – mean that . . . his work is never marred by over-writing.’

Bruce Clunies Ross.

That one, I think, is just true. You can hear it in his titles: Girl Green as Elderflower. You can hear it in the first page of Tourmaline. And you can hear it, most of all, in his poetry.

My mare turns back her ears

and hears the land she leaves

as grievous music.

-‘Outrider’

I just love the assonance and the slow shifts of vowel sounds here, like some strange, tonal, grievous music.

I feel very calm. I am almost in my third year of my phd. Everyone warned me of the second year drought. Oh no, I thought, not me. But it was. But right now, it feels good. It feels purposeful. I am happy.

Birds and Tigers

When I arrived back in Leeds just over a week ago, it was like Christmas. I had been away for seven weeks, and my desk was overflowing with envelopes and packages. A one hundred and thirty pound refund from Yorkshire water. Photos of the Lake District and a Kookaburra card from my grandparents. Hagues chocolate teddybears in a tin from my unbelievably kind cousin in Adelaide, who thought I might need some cheering up. And, most wondrous of all, this.

Claire Souter had been touched by my previous post about her, and was interested that out of hundreds of paintings I’d included Birds and Tigers, which she said had never been framed nor exhibited, nor hardly seen. Waiting for me, she said. She sent it to me.

So now the beautiful bird perches in my room. I can’t quite believe how lovely it is. The bird’s soft grey feathers, its quiet, intense glance, the way it concentrates, the golden light, the golden ring, hovering. It is like a myth and a fairytale. A muse. Just looking at it calms me, and helps me think and write. I love the lace beneath it, too. I used to make lace. These days, when I’m feeling crafty, I stitch away at a giant cross-stitch of Henry VIII and his wives (two wives down, four to go). Claire’s delicate painting of the lace makes me think of women, and patience, and skill and love – and all the hours which must have gone into such creations. It is a metaphor for my own work as well – a thesis is built and held together by tiny stitches. And the tigers looks pretty happy, bounding in from unknown fields, as flowers bloom above them. It is a wondrous painting, a meeting of worlds. I can’t help but think it captures the fleeting, private, luminous act of creation itself. It reminds me of a poem I wrote, once. In the poem I mention a nest. Claire has painted one. Thank you. Thank you.

Paraclete

You would like a poem about a bird,
about that bird
which is a deeper grey than pigeons,
is delicate,
and is visiting our feet.
We do not know what kind it is
but there is something lovely
about grey wings which sheathe
realms of air beneath their quiet feathers,
about the pointed bright eyed head
which bows and bobs
and knows something, but will not say.

Apart from that
it is a bird, and birds
have soft breasts we long to touch
but cannot own –
brittle underneath and light as air,
warm quickly pulsing
(our groping hands would crush in loving
or die of gentleness)
– and mostly, a presence
which can dip away swiftly
but is near now.

I would like to build a nest with words
(nothing like a cage)
fine enough and firm enough
for the bird to live close to you.

You could carry her around like a good secret
you could take her out at night.

She would diminish the darkness
but you still wouldn’t own her –
the bird would be just as precious
just as rare, pure gift.

The red-brick terrace

I live in a red-brick terrace on a cobble-stone street. Outside my window there’s a tree with wobbly branches and wibbly leaves. I look past it, to the chimney pots and tangled gardens of the opposite terrace.

There is something quite wonderful about these red terraces. Three stories high, with pointed slate roofs. They zig-zag all over my suburb, and up the next hill. I have never lived amid such a profusion of chimney-pots. The contrast between the red brick and the green trees is so cheering. I bet they’re even nice in winter. I’d love to see them topped with snow.

I spent my first year in Leeds mourning for York. While this was partly due to York’s loveliness, it was mainly due to the fact that I had moved to an inner-city council estate that could have passed for one of the outer circles of Hell. It was grey, and smelly, and bleak, littered with broken glass, prowled by rude nine-year-olds, and dark figures in hooded jumpers. The contrast nearly killed me, not to mention the poor lovie. But it turns out that’s not Leeds, after all. This Leeds I like. England is suddenly a novelty again. On my way to uni, there are second-hand bookshops, and cafés with wooden tables and yellow walls. And squirrels. Plenty of squirrels.

And you say I’m absent minded?

me: Um, my library card isn’t working on the machines. It’s a temporary library card, cos I left my wallet in America. But they’re posting it back to me.

man at desk: Right. Ok. It’s probably overriding, but we’ll have a look. What’s your home address?

me: Um, Oatland road.

man: No, your home home.

me: Oh. Australia. Belair. But that’s not really home…

man: Yes, definitely overriding. Just wanted to make sure we had the right person. Did you get your Australian drivers licence back yet?

me: No – er – I left it all in America, they’re sending it to me.

He looks at me quizzically, and then at the computer screen. I realise there’s a record of when I left my Australian drivers license in a photocopier three months ago. I blush.

me: Oh, I mean, yes, I got it back that time.

The end of Summer

I fly to Leeds this afternoon. It has been lovely to have a day and a half in the snuggle-house, to pack, to recover, to reflect. It was a good summer. We got back to Norway from Monterey on Monday night. Our Austrian paragliding licenses arrived in the post yesterday – hurrah!! Two years after we began learning, we are now fully qualified paraglider pilots. Yippee!!!

It’s always sad to leave, but I’m anxious to get on with my chapter. I think I’ve had enough sunshine to keep me going for a while. After paragliding in Salt Lake, we spent a week in Monterey California, where the lovie had a conference. I managed to get some reading and writing done, in between splashing in the pool and spotting otters and sea lions. I saw an otter in the harbour, swimming on its back, cradling a baby otter on its belly! This has to be the highlight.

And yesterday, I cycled out to the lakes. I had planned to do lots of cycling this summer, but I got sick. I love the smooth, connected feel of it – the way I can feel the road through the handlebars and the pedals, when my feet are locked in with the cleats. I love the wind in my face, and going fast uphill as well as down. I love the fields and the lakes and the birch trees sliding past, the dark, crowded avenues of pines, the taste of the cool air and the sun on my back. I sat at the lake for a while, watching the pale blue reflection of the sky hovering silvery above the deeper, earthy blue of the lake’s depths. These lakes, through Australian eyes, still seem ridiculously abundant. It is good here. But I carry it with me. It will last.

Nonsense

You Are Elmo

Sweet and innocent, you expect everyone to adore you. And they usually do!

You are usually feeling: Talkative. You’ve got tons of stories to tell. And when you aren’t talking, you’re laughing.

You are famous for: Being popular, though no one knows why. Middle aged women especially like you.

How you live your life: With an open heart. “Elmo loves you!”