Posts Tagged ‘death’


such gentle restraint — 
the tiger’s velveted paw
enfolding my hand

My maternal grandmother used to figure importantly in my madness in the eighties, as someone I felt I could trust completely. For some reason lost to me now, I used to equate her in my imagination with a tiger. Now my mother is nearly ninety, and I’m often struck how much she resembles her own mother. So I’m guessing this dream refers to the increasing physicality of my relationship with my mother — I was never remotely demonstrative in a physical way with her, throughout my adult life, but the last couple of years I have tended to make sure I kiss her goodbye and embrace her warmly, every time we part, thinking it could easily be the last time I see her.



given life itself
is such a two-faced bitch — how
in God’s name did I
ever imagine old age
would bring authenticity?

I experienced some difficulty remembering, once this poem was written, how it connected with last night’s dreams. Eventually it came back to me — I dreamed of a huge seawave washing over myself, my sister and my mother. We were standing together on some kind of jetty. We were very nearly washed into the sea, but not quite. It was an encounter with death, and I was surprised to find my sister screaming with fear, while my mother and I were able to reflect more calmly on what had happened, and to face the idea that, by rights, we should be dead, given the strength of the wave. Awake, I connected this immediately with a conversation my sister and I had had a few weeks ago. We are both finding our mother’s increasing inability to run her own life (at the age of 88) to be very disturbing. I told my sister I had been thinking back to last summer when our mother nearly died, due to fluid on the lungs following a heart attack. The doctor was in two minds whether to refer her to Intensive Care. He warned us that the procedures for saving someone are almost as damaging as the condition itself, and that in old people the result could be that they lose all their independence of spirit and become almost a ‘vegetable’. For that reason, it is sometimes better not to intervene and let nature take its course. However, when we told him that, up to this moment, she had been fully independent and living a full and active life, he felt that meant whatever loss of cognition ensued from the interventions, it would probably leave her with a decent quality of life, just somewhat impaired. In my own language, what I suggested now to my sister was that our mother had been brought back from death a year ago — but we only got some of her back. This I had found helpful to remember when trying to summon the patience to deal with her current dependency. Otherwise we are in denial.

My dream depicts a brush with death, survived by the skin of my teeth. I fell to thinking, awake, about whether I myself ‘ought’ to have ‘died’ at some earlier point in my life. Am I living currently with only a small part of my true faculties? Am I really ‘myself’? I will be sixty years old in a couple of weeks. Have I achieved authenticity? Or am I a fake? And the poem was born.


to say the human
race hates itself makes no sense
— even if it’s true —
we turn away from the thought
as if avoiding the plague

I dreamed of Newton Faulkner. About five or ten years ago, I heard him perform at a low-profile, live gig in Trafalgar Square, and thought him extremely talented. He subsequently made it quite big. The dream probably suggested by my partner yesterday making me aware of a new artist, Lukas Graham  — who seems already to have made it quite big — but there is a resonance, with both men coming as though from nowhere and in both cases, their talent and originality stands out a mile. My poem began when I started thinking of the recording industry, and from there, I thought just simply of the word industry and all it implies. Go back to before the Industrial Revolution, and human beings would have possessed nil conception of any of the things we understand now by the word industry. Industry as we know it, is such an utterly hateful phenomenon, at so many different levels. And of course, turns out — because of climate change —no-one knows whether industry will be the instrument of our own self-inflicted death as a species. If this is what we’re doing to ourselves, how can it be otherwise than that we hate ourselves? And yet the thought is somehow inadmissible.

staying is a journey

late at the airport —
if I miss my flight, what then?
remain where I am?
— instinctively I reach for
my wallet — but it’s empty

Best I could do with a very imperfectly remembered dream, in which my flight was at eleven o’clock and it was becoming increasingly clear there were too many delays on the journey to the airport. I was going to have to pay for a whole new ticket home. In the dream I assumed I had the money, but I took some poetic licence, and chose to challenge that assumption when it came to the poem, because it felt to have been made so very thoughtlessly, in the dream. The idea of fixing everything with money just seemed entirely suspect. The flight time of 11.00 clearly chimes with some thoughts I’ve been having about death and the dead. If I have an imaginative relationship with ‘the dead’ is that the same as having an imaginative relationship with death itself? Eleven o’clock is the time when we remember the dead on Remembrance Day (11th November). Taking off in an aeroplane suggests the event of death. If my flight represents my death, how can I ever be late for my own death? I like the idea that I just accept being where I am, without hankering after flying (dying). I watched a film called My Life Without Me last night, which probably provoked these thoughts, as it is about a girl who gets diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 23.

the keening

pouring out of me
like song — my limitless grief
exceeds what I know
— a deep, spiritual love
possessing me completely

An extraordinary dream in which I was weeping for the death of a colleague. What an emotionless person I must be in real life, for such richness of emotion as in this dream, to feel so unfamiliar and unwonted! Actually back in the eighties I wept just like this a couple of times when I was very drunk. The colleague who was dead in the dream, figured in a similar dream a couple of years ago, where she was dead because I had been complicit in her murder. In waking life, I told her about that dream and she was quite upset to have been told, and it caused a certain degree of friction between us for a day or two. I guess I can be insensitive. I lack imagination sometimes, to envisage other people’s emotions. Or indeed my own. The word ‘keening’ was a late addition to my vocabulary. I like the dignity of it. I had never heard the word until I was in my forties. I just looked up its origin: it’s from the Irish caoinim ‘I wail’.


enemy attack
scheduled for ten-thirty — death’s
timing is perfect
— here is the moment — right now —
I can be sure you love me

Goodness knows who or what ‘the enemy’ symbolises, but in my dream there was some kind of quite rigid expectation of an attack at 10.30 — to the point where I would have felt let down if it hadn’t come. In a quite separate dream, I was being embraced by a female friend with whom I have poetry in common (so not Liz!), and who in the real world I would hesitate to identify as someone who ‘loved’ me, but who in the dream clearly did. Her embrace was infinitely tender, without a trace of sexual temptation. I am pleased at the way my poem unites the two dreams in what seems to me a meaningful and aesthetically successful way.

levels of transgression

here’s to the battle
between pornography and
poetry! — it’s real
sibling rivalry — sisters
slugging it out to the death

Both activities involve my laptop. Both are vehicles for experience of that realm of being for which there is no other word than archetypal — not that it’s a satisfactory word. Both can be related, at least within my own habitual channels of thought, to the idea goddess. Both demand a willingness to transgress some kind of boundary or prohibition. I’m not sure what exact prohibition as such is being transgressed in the case of poetry — but the boundary it transgresses, is arguably that between sanity and madness. Poetry tips the balance of consciousness consistently just slightly over into the direction of madness. As do all art forms in fact. And this is a good thing and wonderful. Pornography expresses in a different way, the underlying insanity of society itself. I felt concerned halfway through writing this poem, that I was promulgating some vision of pornography as being equally dignified and valuable as poetry — when in fact the battle between them is more like a battle between the valuable and the valueless. So that was how I decided the battle must be ‘to the death’. At the same time, the idea of them as sisters, speaks for itself.

I dreamed I was singing the final few bars of the John Lennon song Nowhere Man. The sheer sadness of it was heartbreaking, and connected for me upon waking with my having dallied yet once more with online pornography yesterday evening. It’s a sad thing.