A Blessing in Disguise

A Blessing in Disguise

Yes, they are alive and can have those colors,
But I, in my soul, am alive too.
I feel I must sing and dance, to tell
Of this in a way, that knowing you may be drawn to me.

And I sing amid despair and isolation
Of the chance to know you, to sing of me
Which are you. You see,
You hold me up to the light in a way

I should never have expected, or suspected, perhaps
Because you always tell me I am you,
And right. The great spruces loom.
I am yours to die with, to desire.

I cannot ever think of me, I desire you
For a room in which the chairs ever
Have their backs turned to the light
Inflicted on the stone and paths, the real trees

That seem to shine at me through a lattice toward you.
If the wild light of this January day is true
I pledge me to be truthful unto you
Whom I cannot ever stop remembering.

Remembering to forgive. Remember to pass beyond you into the day
On the wings of the secret you will never know.
Taking me from myself, in the path
Which the pastel girth of the day has assigned to me.

I prefer “you” in the plural, I want “you”
You must come to me, all golden and pale
Like the dew and the air.
And then I start getting this feeling of exaltation.

John Ashbery, from Rivers and Mountains

 

Someone asked me the other day What were your happy memories of 2019, Anthony? To my horror my mind went blank. All I could think of were the times I had insulted people with my feeble attempts at wisecracking humour (for someone so sensitive, I can be cruelly and casually offhand when dishing it out to others); the times I had drunk too much and let slip my dark and actual prejudices about X or Y friend/poet/relative; the times I had not listened and banged on anyway (usually about Brexit), again in search of the perfect put-down; the time I had wasted; the time I had wasted.

For a nanosecond all of this ran through me. What’s that Stephen Berg line? ‘Don’t forget, this is inside us every day.’ And then I found myself saying, in part to make myself look good, in part because it was true: my family memories of holidays. With my children and my wife, I said. And then I went blank again.

That was over a week ago. I have thought about it more since then, brooding about it, pacing around it, unable to let it go. A walk across the Cornish clifftops, I would say. We found a pub and had lunch, bought some fish, then got soaked in a shower on the way home. That is when I was happiest.

But even that would not be the whole truth. I had moments of tender intimacy with old friends in coffee shops, cricket grounds, arts festivals and poetry readings. I had some of the happiest teaching experiences of my life with dream groups of education and medical students. I talked openly with my family and colleagues about climate grief. I rediscovered the joys of protesting. Not to mention that I brought out two new books.

I also enjoyed genuine moments of pure solitude: walking across another Cornish beach, the tide out and the day’s work done, my trousers rolled up and shoes dangling by their laces from my fingers; at my desk staring into space; people watching in a cafe where English was not spoken; writing utter rubbish in my notebook; lighting a candle for my mother in the chapel at work; and listening to Max Richter. Like reading James Schuyler or Jaan Kaplinski, I feel I can go to him in any mood, at any time of the day or night, and somehow feel replenished.

I can’t explain what this has to to do with the John Ashbery poem, above, I just know that it does. I lose count of the time he uses the word ‘you’ in it, but I sense a dialogue going on at the poem’s core that attempts to honour and even connect the ‘shyest, pre-social part of our nature’ (Heaney) with our ‘daylight mind’ (Murray). We need both of them to function properly to live well, it seems to me. Speaking personally, I know that if I allow the latter to encroach too much on the former, I will risk losing the private, pre-verbal space I need in order to do any writing and thinking. That is why I am taking a break from blogging in the early part of 2020, not because I have fallen out of love with blogging:

If the wild light of this January day is true
I pledge me to be truthful unto you
Whom I cannot ever stop remembering.

Remembering to forgive. Remember to pass beyond you into the day
On the wings of the secret you will never know.
Taking me from myself, in the path
Which the pastel girth of the day has assigned to me.

There will be two more New Year/New York posts in the coming days, then I will be away.

See you in 2020.

5 Comments

  1. Dear Anthony, as Christians we are so good at lacerating ourselves, not so good at forgiving ourselves for past failures (perceived or real). I pray you will be able to go into the new year unburdened, and released from blogging for a while, to give yourself freely to new discoveries and to joy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Anthony for this double gift of poem and commentary. And I very much like your Mary poem which brings out the guts, shame – if brief, and loneliness of childbirth from a woman’s point of view as well as the adjusting Joseph has to do. We go the Brendon later tonight to party with Lionel and Jo and their friends. It was there that I heard you talk about your recovery and your anthology which I bought and much enjoyed and seem to have lent to someone – and not got back. All the best, as ASNeill signed off his letters, for 2020, Jeremy

    Like

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