Diary Notes : The Softening of Steel
Originally published in Terror and Text: Representing Political Violence in Literature and the Visual Arts , ed. Gerrit-Jan Berendse and Mark Williams ( Bielefeld: Aisthesis Verlag, 2002): 291-312. Rpt. Landfall 205 (May 2003): 16-28.
4th September, 2001. Wellington.
What were you doing in my dreams last night, Bernadette? Welcoming
me to Christchurch with such generous and singular style?
The Banana Woman
Bernadette (the poet) meets my sister and I at the Ch.Ch railway station and leads us down a ramp into a kind of cul-de-sac seating area, covered above and on the sides but open to the wide entrance ramp. Against the back wall she has built a sculpture to welcome us. It is a huge seated woman, like a seated Buddha, 15 feet high and made entirely of bananas! So yellow, curved and substantial. A natural wonder. On each large breast - for they each have a little hollow on top - Bernadette ceremoniously lights a small white candle and we all stand back to watch the two little flames begin to flicker.
The funny, obvious thing is that yesterday I had a mammogram. I went decisively after putting it off for years, prompted by seeing the short film Titless Wonders , then afterwards promising Trish. I remember now the disturbing clarity of the film and looking back in my journal I see that I wrote, 'I can't bear that women should lose their breasts. I am so frightened of losing mine since I love them so much. My breasts are like family - children, of course!' The film itself, through the courageous women in it, several of whom I knew, was plainly saying: however much you love your breasts it is better to lose one, or both, to save your life.
Although the mammogram wasn’t particularly painful physically it still hurt a lot psychologically. It is just not right to treat breasts in that heartless, mechanical way. I thought, ‘I’ll never have another and debase my body again.’ But I knew as I thought the thought that it was too simple.
10th September, Paekakariki
A message on the answer phone asking me to make an appointment at the Breastscreen Clinic. There is something on the mammogram 'to explore further.'
I am thinking about my life - which is calm and marvellous at the moment - and I am thinking about my death. I Have in my Arms Both Ways . But I am not ready. I’m ready for a wonderful last surge of years, a creative burst : day to day, in my relationships, in the garden, on the page. The welcoming white page. This page.
I have just been doing Tai Chi Chuan on the enclosed deck in very light rain. Suddenly a large dark-grey dog broke through the trees and shrubs and stood on top of the sandhill looking down at me. Like a small horse with a bull-dog face. Bill came out and laughed and laughed at the imperious, lolloping creature, coming out of the green like news of death. But able to be shooed away, and rather harmless after all. I hope he is a metaphor and a neighbour’s friendly dog.
11th September, 2001, Northland Rd
Waiting to hear what time Max and Barbara will be arriving today.
Waiting for a 'further investigation of an indeterminant lump' in my right breast.
Keeping positive but sober about it. I won't be rattled this time even though I panic for a split second when I think of cold, arrogant Mr D, Breast Specialist. Breast Specialist! But I have checked. He doesn't work there and if he did I would refuse to see him.
Look up and the harbour is shining. Doing Tai Chi Chuan is like drifting in a boat on a calm harbour leaving a curving trail. J. is coming to dinner and this waiting state is channelling down and reaching the place where I so love my kids. But I won't tell him about the possibility of cancer at this stage. Not until I know more. (See, I used that word. Cancer. I do it again deliberately to show and steel my courage.)
The six 'altered stones' arrived yesterday, packed carefully in a big box. John Edgar, who sounds delightful, also sounds delighted at the idea of one or two of the stones travelling with me to New York to inspire a poem for his Calculus exhibition in Lower Hutt. I have a favourite straight away. The small flat greywacke with the jasper (stop/point/eye/heart) set into its centre. An excellent size for my palm, and the jasper is an amazing colour: earthy red with subtle streaks of blue in it. That stone will go to N.Y. in my suitcase wrapped safely in soft clothes. Jasper is literally a touchstone. 'A hard dark stone that is used to test the quality of gold and silver from the colour of the streak they produce on it.' The other stones have a number of bands of a different stone set into them. (One has glass which is wonderful.) Or they have a sign. They are either numbers or operators.
I'm cautious about the idea of altering a stone. There is something about the unity and intactness of a stone that is significant. Sacred even? But somehow John seems to retain, or re-store, the integrity of these stones. I wonder if it is because he himself approaches a stone with integrity? I think he must.
First of all a stone.
The first toy.
The first gift.
The first weapon.
The first tool.
The first knife.
The first coin.
The first small god.
I'm trying to start writing. Calm music on the CD. TV off. The only clear word I can think of is unprecedented. The Trade Towers are down. Just like that. In NY. Something fundamental has happened.
Yesterday morning as Mike and Laura were walking to work in Manhattan an airliner flew directly into a Trade Tower and an hour later the steel was so soft in the heat it collapsed down and down. Then the other tower. Thousands of people in the rubble are unreachable. Family and friends are trying to find them or are waiting for them to be found.
Fanatical, ruthless men have done it. We are shocked. Sad. Subdued. The Pentagon has been attacked too.
New Zealand is far, far away and so near.
Woke up to this on the 6.30 news and like so many others, for a moment, didn't believe it a live event. I phoned Fairfield straight away and got Mike and Laura's au pair who had had an email from them and so we knew they were O.K. At Nic and Sivan's in the Village. So I was able to phone Molly who had been up since 2 a.m watching T.V. on her own and becoming more and more anxious. At 8.30 - after breakfast with Max and Barbara - I was off to Hutt Hospital for 'further investigation' of my right breast which I am very relieved to announce is fine. Fine and mine and I never want to let it go.
Hell I'm sad. And relieved that I am not dying and that Mike and Laura and Nic and Sivan and Clara and Susanna are still alive.
Doing Tai Chi Chuan this morning on the deck on a sombre Sunday I felt as if I was wandering into a church on my own and in the church, looking up, I began to wonder if those two towers had been too high, too ambitious and too ostentatious all along?
Thank god there was a height in high Gothic
beyond which it was dangerous to go.
The view from the Trade Towers was out-standing but I always preferred looking up at the skyline from the Staten Island Ferry at night, or up and through the buildings from the top of the Beekman Towers.
How we love to look down
17th Sept. 2001
First of all a stone. A thing, millions of years later, offering itself to an animal-being to be touched. A re-minder, an example, a gift.
I'm not going to New York. It is good to have decided despite the disappointment. It doesn't feel right to go for pleasure at this time. And it is safer here. I think. It feels safer. Now, of course, I don't want Bill to go. No-one seems to know yet what is happening to the U.N. General Assembly which is odd. The UN may have more support and strength now to deal with the underlying issues that have led to this?
I think of my blow-up globe of the world. Press in one spot or several spots at the same time and the subtle repercussions are felt elsewhere and overall. I hope - now - the U.S. won't keep going on so arrogantly and distrustfully alone. Perhaps we, as well, have to learn to trust the U.S. more? (Where warranted I quickly add.) Not just react against a Big Boy for being a Big Boy which we NZers know about so well. Michael Ignatieff said on the radio today something like 'most people in the world are moderate and of good-will' which seems to be true but very hard to remember. He talked about extremists and nihilists needing to be isolated in their own communities, countries.
Long talk to Rach on the phone from Dublin. She too, like Molly, but at 2 pm , saw the events unfold on television, far away from home. T and K came round on Saturday for a good strong conversation: personal and political. There is a natural instinct to see and talk to the ones you care about at a time like this.
Poetry can seem peripheral and soft in the scheme of things. But still we look to it. A few of us do.
are hardly known to their followers.
Next after them are the leaders
the people know and admire;
after them, those they fear;
after them those they despise.
To give no trust
is to get no trust.
When the work's done right,
with no fuss or boasting,
ordinary people say,
oh, we did it.
Lao Tzu. Centuries ago. Imagine. No television.
What can I do? What is my small piece, part, bit? Perhaps I will write some poems? I will try, mostly, as T suggests, to be decent and generous day to day - to friends and strangers.
Lashing out at injustice is instinctive but not always wise. Bush & Co you have so much responsibility, please be patient.
Marianne reports a big U.S. flag hanging from a window near her place in San Fransisco and below it a peace flag bearing the big word PATIENCE.
Patientia - endurance.
Pati - to suffer.
We will suffer. We do suffer.
It's my birthday. Woke up this a.m feeling more normal, less floating and shocked. New York will probably be back to normal pretty quickly. Perhaps it makes sense to go as planned and not to over-react?
20th September, 2001
You listen to and read one commentary after another and it is a help - to under
stand more and to try and make sense of a changed, changing world. But the complexity is impossible to grasp and so it is basically overwhelming. How ignorant I am and have been. About terrorism, about the Muslim world, about Afghanistan.
The people in Afghanistan are exhausted after 20 years of war. Home for many has gone, or is too dangerous or too arid a place to stay in.
lying this situation too is the oppression of women, the need to look down on women, on the other, on us. What extreme lengths we can go to to avoid facing our own fears, our frightening human puniness.
'Life in these United States will have to share, from now on, the precariousness and uncertainty that is the daily lot of the enormous majority of this planet's other inhabitants.' (Ariel Dorfman.) He is right and I also think back to my work with the homeless in New York and know that hundreds of thousands of Americans already know that uncertainty. We forget them. Many are Vietnam vets.
I want to go and see my younger brother. I'm knocked by the news that Bill is still to go on Sunday.
Alongside is such a good, long, horizontal word and I want to be alongside Bill and have him alongside me. He's going too suddenly, too soon.
Good talk to Mike on the phone.People are traumatised and there is a lot of fear in the air. What is going to happen next? More attacks? Chemical, and/or biological weapons? This is new territory, a new conversation and a terrifying one.
Mike himself sounded positive and in control as usual and I was relieved when he admitted his anxiety too. And glad that he thought it was not a good time to come, confirming my decision. When we had talked the evening after the attack, and he and Laura had finally got home by train, Mike mentioned the anxious people, mostly women, waiting on the Fairfield railway station. I keep thinking of those women. Waiting and waiting.
The spring northerlies have arrived. Interfering with everything but adding vitality.
Dream about Bill. The Man with a Package. He is walking down the street carrying a big oblong brown paper package with a handle on one end. Bang! The parcel explodes and reveals the remnants of 2 large balloons, one pink and one green. They have simultaneously popped and the explosion that makes me jump in the dream also jumps me out of the dream. Wide awake and amused at the dream/joke. Bill says (back in the dream somehow) 'It's a good thing this happened in N.Z. If this had gone off in a New York street I'd be surrounded by police.'
Campaign Infinite Justice!
The grandiosity of it.
The hypocrisy of it.
The crudity of it.
Bill went toN.Y. yesterday reluctantly. I said goodbye reluctantly, accepting how much I didn't want him to go and accepting that he was going. That is that. Fears can be very primitive and they require the firm hand of rationality plus a warm human hand on the back.
The general situation with U.S. military and air power accumulating in the Middle East is uncertain. If the U.N. is a place for communication and sometimes resolution it might be worthwhile that Bill adds his own piece of decent weight to the process. Small man, small country, small influence but part of 'the whole tremulous scheme of things.' As I am. As we all are. I'm holding on to that idea.
Another commentator, an American academic, said on the radio today that a central problem is the envy of the Muslim world for the freedoms in the U.S. A bit rich! A lot of us don't want that brand of freedom. Who wants to be lynched on the queazy electric signs/ of mid-town? Who wants their children going to a school with other kids who carry guns?
It would be great, i.e. truly great, to balance freedom and restraint. We need leaders who can play the complex, global world like a precious instument, like an orchestra of precious instuments. But we are far off being capable of that.
My father's birthday. How I miss his calm and solid presence. I see Jane and I, 2 and 3, gripping one trouser leg each, scared of the barking leaping dogs or the big people who might suddenly turn their faces down towards us. Imagine never having had a father like that.
Before the 12th of September I was skipping whole sections of the Guardian Weekly. The week before, looking back, this is some of what I skipped:
Israel confronts enemy within after day of carnage.
Belarussian president tightens his grip on power.
Last stand in the Belfast ghetto of hate.
Afghan rebel leader blown up.
I was tired as a small boy is tired in the back bedroom of an old house. Tired of the bickering and slamming in the kitchen, pushing my head under the pillow and trading everything in for the drift of sleep.
That week I did read:
A free market in hypocrisy.
African heads rebuke Mugabe.
Australia's rejection of refugees 'unlawful.'
Prison is high school for many Los Angeles teenagers.
Coral reefs face total destruction.
Long march ahead for China's women.
But now I must wake up. Someone is hurt. Someone has set fire to this big old house.
Yesterday I spent almost all day with Robin and Linda. We met together on the South Coast, ate outside at the Brass Monkey and walked and talked and talked. So good to have the time. To be able to talk in an open, triangular way about the 'events'. Our fears and our families, and our fears for our families, some of whom are directly affected, living in N.Y. or London. Two of Robin's sons are airline pilots. Anthrax kept entering the conversation. Behind us, the wonderful cold blue sea crashing and spraying white above the jagged rocks.
And the first email from Bill! Straight into making a speech about agression in the International Criminal Court debate (from which the US is still holding back.) Bill shocked, as he drove in from JFK, by the absence of the two towers from the skyline. But he sounds good, energetic. That is a reassurance. It's like touching stone.
Here I am at Paekakariki.
The diseased cabbage trees are flowering strongly and from above, from this too-hot-little-little-writing bedroom, their conical feathery flowers look larger than the 'cabbage' itself. This is hopeful.
What I don't know about the U.S. - since I do know from living there that it has the symptoms of a disease and some of them are really weird - is whether its vibrant, often remarkable, flowers are a sign of strong immunity or whether its flowering is a final one before decline.
'It is precisely at the beginning that serious concentration is important, because the beginning holds the seeds of all that is to follow.' I Ching.
Thank god the U.S. seems to be behaving thoughtfully at first. Thank god the more thoughtful European leaders are encouraging thougthfulness.
'If fellowship is to lead to order there must be order within diversity.'
Lu Chi: 'I am constantly anxious lest the meaning should not match the object of attention, lest the artistic form should not reach the level of meaning.'
I hold the warm stone to be in touch with warmth and to absorb warmth that has come to the stone from the sun to my palm to my blood to my heart.
I love this stone. I love stone.
Solar core. Star. Stone.
I say this next thing with trepidation and respect.
the most beautiful
in the English language.
So good to hear Bill sounding good. He is good. Today the U.S. and others have begun their attack on the Taleban and also begun a surge of humanitarian aid. Both at the same time. By air. Both: is that unprecedented?
I haven't let myself think about retaliation yet. Where and how? O may Bill be safe, and Mike and his family. Perhaps Bill shouldn't go to the Opera at the Lincoln Centre with Vanessa and Elana this week? Or to Grand Central Station? Or, or. God, imagine a suicide bomb exploding at the climax of an opera. Or gas released. I won't scare myself.
Is Opera the height of decadence?
Here, in Paekakariki, it is a gorgeous day. I'm quietly, gorgeously alert after Tai Chi Chuan and Jane, who is staying and who is exhausted by work and stress, has been calmed by the vastness of the sea. All is well.
I have finished the stone-poem for about the 5th time. I come down each morning after writing and say to Jane 'I think I've finished it.' And the next day, happily, I undo it. I think this poem is going to be hard to let go. It is now called The Company of Stones.
Secular is a beautiful word too. Almost sacred.
LL saecularis : temporal
A stone, is it sacred or secular?
Did Tai Chi inside this a.m to Gregorian Chant, to Pax: chants gregorien sur le theme de la paix. Mixing east and west. Thinking about peace. Chuan. Chant. Chi.
Talking to J last night I began to hear and recognise his pessimism. From my own at his age, and later. He can't understand why I am optimistic. I'm not always, but I realise how my belief that all the constructive pieces add up and matter protects me from a sense of hopelessness at a time like this, which is one purpose of believing it of course. I know, have felt, how extreme and dismal our human destructiveness can be, and what dire straits we are in, now, especially ecologically. I remember New York in the 80's during the mad Reagan years, working with the homeless mentally ill on the wealthy Upper East Side. I remember the sense of recognition, the crucial comfort of discovering Adrienne Rich's lines - which have bouyed me up ever since.
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, peversely,
with no extaordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
So I give $200 to Oxfam for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. J is totally against the military intervention and I'm sure he's right in principle and because of the fuelling of the anger of young Muslim men. And do I know how much food and water could be provided with the cost of a bomb? I'm convinced. But in political practice it is so complicated. I don't know what is best in practice. I live amongst those in the middle-decision-making-age and I know - now - (a) how complex the decisions often are (b) how incalculable the consequences of the decisions often are and (c) how fallible and ordinary the decision makers often are.
Such gentleness in the voices of the monks of Saint Benoit-du-Lac Benedictine Abbey. 'The monks approach the liturgy with the greatest of care.' As a mother approaches a newly born baby and lifts him gently to her breast.
Molly has had a fall during the night and is in Accident & Emergency in Tauranga Hospital. A broken humerus. Lacerations to her hands. Poor M, she sounded shocked and frightened but O.K. I will drive up tomorrow.
26th October: Ocean Shores Village
Here I am suddenly being a home-help, nurse, physio, househld manager and a very good daughter. In the cautious enclosed world of the elderly. Tending and attending. Errands. Visitors. Phone calls. Friends have come with cards, flowers, scones, muffins, pikelets, cauliflower cheese, stew, soup, kiwi-fruit, peppermints, sympathy, suggestions, jokes, prayers and a small healing ceremony. The occupatinal therapist has been with a bed-rail, commode, tripod stick, perching stool, shower stool and walking trolley. The ACC and Home Help assessors have been with questions and forms. The District Nurse has been with clean dressings, and solid common sense. Which Dot has too, the village nurse, who called the ambulance and cleaned up the blood. The handyman has been with his tool box, a hand rail and screws. The Physio has been with arnica ointment and a small programme of painful exercises.
Talk about everyone doing their 'bit.' This is a community at work and truly working. The coordinator is exhausted.
2nd November: Ocean Shores
Still here. Odd feeling of marking time. Molly is improving - fracture healing, less pain, swelling going down, her walking steadier, freer use of hands and therefore more independence - and I am deteriorating. I'm missing my own life and friends. It is hard to be generous and patient. I'd love a swim.
I've insisted on half an hour walk on the beach each day (to keep sane.) Recently, walking, or sometimes running, I find myself repeating over and over again 'Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden.' The name is in the global air. It is haunting me and I find I really like the sound of it, the exotic rhythm.
Rumi, a help as always.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralysed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
Home to Paekakariki, the journal, Tai Chi Chuan and the company of driftwood, grasses, ocean and stones. Bill coming home in 4 days (fingers crossed) and Molly generally coping with one and a half hands, home-help and many friends. Impressive at 87.
The five-finger seeds I am growing for Nga Uruora have finally, miraculously come up: two small oval leaves pushing through, clasped together in their brown pod-hat. Then letting each other go. Green. Green. How we count on green. Especially with a war in the wings.
Hey Bill was elected to the ILC!
Perhaps there could be a more stable and representative govt in Afghanistan? Perhaps the fighting could stop, perhaps the aid trucks could now lumber safely in?
Meanwhile a plane has crashed in Queens.
May my man return home safely.
The chances are.
20th Nov, Northland Rd
We hada lovely welcome back and celebration for Bill on Friday night with the 8 friends. There was no holding back, no coolness, no cynicism in it. No buts. I want to live like that amongst friends like that.
I think I've finished the stone-poem. I've sent it off to John and now feel very vulnerable.
I was thinking during Tai Chi Chuan today about equally being controlled by and controlling the movement (the life) we are in. It is such a force-ful way to be. It is like a long, low note on the cello.
Today in the paper I saw an x-ray photograph of a 'suit-case nuke.' 'Nuke.' I can't bear to think about it.
Going on Gracefully
being moved to move and to be moved
by moving and by being moved while moving
to keep moving and to keep being moved .......
3rd December, Paekakariki
Soft rain outside, warmish. It has been a great weekend with 7 of the 8. How lucky to have a group of companionable, curious, vigorous friends who can talk about their inner and outer experience equally well. And laugh a lot. And even cry.
There was a moment, in the middle of a robust discussion (about the point of celibacy in religious life!) at dinner on Sat. night, when L suddenly criticised G and G's face looked so hurt - so exposed and wounded for a second - that I could hardly bear to see it or to have seen it.
That night I had this dream, and woke up in terror. I don't remember ever being so frightened by a dream.
I am stepping up, as part of a queue, into a large trailer like a circus trailer. It is a long slow-moving queue inching forward. A short way after entering there is a choice point: whether or not to go into the curtained entrance of a stall on the right or to keep going straight ahead with the main crowd. Out of curiosity I decide to visit this first exhibit and so lift the curtain, which is made of a light, padded material, and go in. I am surprised to find myself in a very small enclosed alcove, not a room, and its walls are made of the same soft fabric as the door, in thick layers down to the floor. There is an exhibit space straight ahead of me, human-sized. A tall middle-aged woman, the owner of the stall, stands beside it. She says to me: 'If you are willing to see this exhibit of the heart you will never look back. You will have surmounted all fear.' Immediately I imagine having to see, right in front of me, a living human being with an exposed living, working heart. I am in acute conlict: terrified to see the exhibit and at the same time challenged by her promise. But can I trust her? She is enigmatic, brittle and her purposes are commercial. Yet.....
The fear woke me up and I lay for a long time wondering why I was so terrified. I realised that my greatest fear was not of seeing the heart but fear that others in the queue might push into this space behind me and I would not be able to get out. Fear of entrapment, of actual suffocation. And fear - I think now - of not being able to escape seeing the heart, having to keep on seeing it, not being able to turn away.
I am still frightened as I write this. The claustrophobia is intense physically. There is great need for the space to breathe.
I'm afraid of the heart. It is so alive and live. It is so exposed and exposing. So bloody. So red.
The heart is so responsive. It registers instantly, it knows. Surely I know my own heart well enough by now to let it live me more. I could have reached out to G. I could have spoken. Actually, she and L sorted it out themselves. I don't have to save everyone. Who do I think I am?
I am haunted by the young woman's face on the cover of Landfall 202. It has such beauty and complexity and intricacy. Sadness, uncertainty, discernment, self-containment. I love the freckles. The delicacy of the freckles.
So much in one moment on one face. The naturalness and the humanity of her face brings me back into balance. This face. This Big Face.
There is a photograph in the newspaper of a young woman who has taken off her burka straight away in Kabul, and who is looking straight into the camera. I shudder at her daring. At her impulsiveness in exposing herself. Like that. Suddenly.
To speak out is more desperate than to keep silence,
To open the heart is to bleed to death surely.
Lake Rotoiti, 18th January
This calm lake. How are we able to live like this, priveleged and
beside water? Even here the unpredictable can happen: a car accident, an easterly storm that hurls an old poplar down on the house, an incurable illness can be diagnosed. But it is the next, hard question: how do I/we, those of us with money in a bank (8%? of the world's population) and those without money in the bank, live a good life in this big old crowded house.
Now under a lightly overcast sky, tuis singing on the flax and gulls looning low over the water, there is stillness. The face of the lake. Upturned. Calm.
24th Jan, Rotoiti
The Guardian Weekly is utterly depressing.
Britain behind $1.5bn arms push to India.
Israel's military superiority and US support make peace
process a one-sided and moribund option.
Liberators plunder and loot Kabul.
Al-qaida captives caged at US base.
Palestinian gunmen take revenge for Israeli killing.
Is US power a force for good in the world?
See the small boys and girls dragging the thin pillows back over their heads. Look out and see the neighbourhood, the expansive lawns mown down to the edge of the lake, full of children. These practical, energetic, competent, rural kids coming to the lake. No distance between them and what they are doing, with boats, and bats, with each other, with us. Hear the simply translated words of the refugee woman. 'My little baby was cold and hungry and I was hungry too. I didn't have anything to eat, and the baby just ate my milk, and I didn't have any more milk. I just held him like this and he died in my arms.' Like this. See her face. See his face. And see Dayna's small, concentrating face as she walks to the door with a big plate of chops from the farm, for our dinner. Perhaps that's one good way: to simply try and see the faces that happen to come towards you.
26th January, 2002, Rotoiti
Jane's 60th birthday today. I'm reading the issue of Parabola on Fear and there is an interview with Frederick Franck called The Human Face!
'Perhaps our all-too-justifiable fear could still stimulate an intensified questioning of what it means to be human'......stimulate an understanding of 'that which makes me recognise the human face, in the other, in each one of the others.'
The face, the mirror of the heart. Easier to look into than the heart. A week or so ago I read an interview with a professional woman in Kabul about taking off the burka. Warasa Rezaye. 'It really is quite unbearable. Wearing the burka makes you feel less than human. ...... I went to a reception at the government offices and I saw women queuing to go in without their burkas. It made me feel so happy, so I took off my burka and put it in my purse. But then after 10 minutes I felt that people were looking at me and I felt too exotic, so I had to put on the burka again.'
Seeing the accompanying photograph of four women wearing the heavy coverings of the burka, their hidden eyes peering throught the 'grills', I suddenly remembered the dream and my terror of being suffocated in the soft alcove/tent.
The Company of Stones
Stones are heavy and hard and wholly
at our service. I keep wishing
to hold one. Here, behind the glass.
Once a servant offered me a diamond
on a dark red velvet cushion.
I accepted that stone and embarked
on the hardest human task, learning
to be a servant myself,
like the first servant, humble and calm.
We know we can count
on one and one being bound to make two
and two dividing into one and one
but what about three? In a deep body
of water a stone, unfathomable,
is so well beyond our reach.
Yet I am counting on you
while you are counting on me
and we are tripled in the company of stones!
However much we love their density
don’t let’s be precious about stones.
They keep lying on earth as hosts
to each falling and rising nation.
It is time, 2001, to hold them,
our common sense, our striking lost souls,
and to be absorbed by sounding out
their long, composed, absolute story.
Then to stand. Pronounce their name.
© Dinah Hawken