Posts Tagged ‘mother’


what new horror lurks
in the near-total darkness
of Llandaff Road? — can
all this ignorance be mine?
— and time only compounds it

My sister commented to me yesterday that our mother has always been a drama queen. I know what she means. Yet I also suspect my dream last night took me back to Llandaff Road which was our family home for four years 1969-72, as an indication or a nudge to remember just how much drama there was back then.


our trespasses

begging forgiveness
— comes more readily to some
than others — I wish
this whole thing could be dealt with
minus Christianity

I had an interesting conversation yesterday evening, with a man who is quite an experienced counsellor — although it wasn’t a counselling session. We were talking about Christianity. Also yesterday, I begged forgiveness quite insistently, after telling my partner Liz to shut up in the heat of a minor row about where to pick up the bus home. I really hate the monopoly on human goodness which Christianity lays claim to, surreptitiously, via the divine goodness of its ‘good’ God. About fifteen years ago, I asked my father to forgive me for the brutality of my behaviour towards him in my teens. He evaded the issue. I was disappointed not to get ‘closure’. I felt quite certain, and still do, that his resistance to using the currency of that kind of language of forgiveness, has something to do with his lifelong habit of resisting the negative influence of Christianity, which was dominant in my mother’s family, being associated with all kinds of repressive attitudes. But the problem outlined in my poem is much broader. I often find myself wondering what sort of a relationship with goodness and forgiveness I would have, in my own mind, if I had not been brought up a Christian. That would entail being far removed from my actual cultural context — either by space (a non-Christian country) or time (a century before Christ) or simply by being born into a different family in this country, although I suspect anyone born into a nominally Christian country, even if their family is atheist, probably gets infected by the polarities of conformity with, and rebellion against, the monopoly on goodness and forgiveness which Christianity implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) lays claim to. I dreamed last night of my long-dead great-aunt Adelaide. She was helping me deal with the fact that my mother had died (not the case yet in reality). We nearly parted acrimoniously but she was too generous-hearted to let that happen, and called me back and said sorry to me.


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.


fear of the unknown —
a delicious game God plays
— revealing Himself
more terrible in His good
aspect than in His evil

Pretty rubbish this poem I’m afraid. Written in a couple of minutes. It’s very rare I start with the title. Last night I dreamed of my stepmother’s mother who was the focus for my paranoia when it first kicked in, in 1979. I was maintaining an uneasy friendship with her in the dream. The poem derives clearly from my love of the mediaeval mystical theology of The Cloud of Unknowing:

If I may use a funny example, I would suggest that you do all you
can to cloak your great and ungoverned spiritual urge, as though you
were altogether unwilling that God should know how glad you
would be to see Him, to have Him, to feel Him. Perhaps you think
I am speaking childishly or playfully. Yet I believe that whoever had
the grace to put what I say into practice would have a lovely game
spiritually with Him, just as an earthly father does with his child,
hugging and kissing him.

The word ‘terrible’, used in this sense, as suggesting numinosity — the opposite of twee — was a favourite of my mother’s. It’s used in this sense in the fantasy novels both of Tolkien and C.S.Lewis. The spiritual life for her meant an encounter with that which is ‘terrible’ in us and in the divine. The word summed up (for me) her opposition to any kind of twee Christianity. But this value system was challenged to breaking point by my encounter with my stepmother’s mother, during the time I was living as a member of my stepmother’s family, just out of university. And it got to the point where I believed my stepmother’s mother knew telepathically what I was thinking about her, knew telepathically about the importance for me of this word ‘terrible’ — and by having that telepathic power, was proving that she herself in fact possessed that quality of terribleness. I am glad to be able to identify this kind of ideation as paranoid, now. But I still wonder what it was all about. Incidentally it was my mother who recommended The Cloud of Unknowing to me when I was 20. I loved it.


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.


what if — rather than
merely fallible, I’m just
plain untrustworthy?

This morning I sat down to write about last night’s dream, but instead was overwhelmed by the thought of a recent domestic crisis for which I am in part responsible. Generally, writing my morning poem always tends to bring home to me that just the fact of being alive is chock full of potential for evil. I see myself as basically an idiot, in the face of so much unknown danger built into the world and into my own human nature. Two days ago I was instrumental in throwing out my partner’s daughter’s old schoolbooks which she had left with her mother for safekeeping. It was mostly an act of thoughtlessness rather than malice. But I learned from Liz yesterday that, when told, her daughter had taken it very badly. The correct thing to do would have been to ask her if she wanted to keep them. The difficulty then, for me, would have been witnessing the dynamic whereby her mother seems quite unable to refuse her anything: with the result that there is tons of the daughter’s stuff in the mother’s flat rendering it difficult or impossible for me to move in with any degree of certainty that I can find room for my own stuff. None of this is adequate excuse and I feel full of remorse that I can have acted so stupidly. I feel not only guilty but also worried that I may have significantly undermined the delicate balance of the relationship between mother and daughter. It’s these waking worries which are the ‘nightmare’ of the poem’s title.

polar bear

having given birth
successfully to three fine
cubs — instinct kicks in —
she grooms herself and I watch
enviously, open-mouthed

For once! A true poem which simply describes the dream! No abstract speculation. No train of association. I just wish I could have captured the magnificence of the beast a bit more vividly.