The Poet

The first time I fell in love, it was in the library. I was in Year 7 and he was in Year 12 (oh the scandal!) so hanging out around everyone else always drew unwanted attention. None of the narks and gossips went to the library at lunch time, so that is where we could meet without scrutiny. I liked to think that the librarian understood our impossible situation and had a soft spot for young love. It seemed all very Romeo and Juliet to me, star crossed lovers, forbidden by family to be together.  His skin was golden brown and his eyes flecked with gray and gold. But it wasn’t his skin or his eyes that made me fall so hard. It was the poetry. That day, he asked me to hold out my hand and close my eyes. He placed two things in my palm. A folded piece of paper, and a tiny heart carved from chalk with the point of a compass. The heart, he told me, had taken all of a double maths period. The poem he’d written last night, lying in bed, thinking of me.

I was moved.  My heart was his. He wrote poetry for me!

 

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A few years later, when time and circumstance had brought that ill-fated tryst to a close, I heard that poem on the radio. It was song lyrics, from a song written long before I ever met him. His declaration of love was a pilfered fake. That moment of perfect romance; plastered on the walls of my gallery of treasured memories, frayed and curled on the edges before dropping to the floor.  A new fissure cracked across the surface of my idealistic heart. It would underscore my opinion of men, along with all the other little and big betrayals. All the while, the books I had read, the movies I had watched, built my romantic hopes until there was no man that could reach them. And eventually, there I was at 23, divorced and bitter. My young husband had gotten our friend pregnant, he had left to live with her and raise their family.  It took a few years, but finally, I saw a counsellor.

“Why do you punish every man you meet for the behaviour of another person?” she asked.  It gave me pause. I realised that I couldn’t go on like that. Dropping all my disappointments at the feet of any man, as if he were solely responsible for the failings of all men.  My man-hating ways had to find some balance. I had to look at people as people, not with the prejudice I had toward their gender. Or be forever alone. At that time, being alone seemed like a fate worse than death.

I spent years looking for a person to spend my life with. Years for learning a great deal about the nature of men and of myself. About how being a ‘victim’ of relationship breakdown is a choice. Bitterness is counterproductive. When things go wrong, we are always equally responsible for how it will play out, no matter how preposterous that might seem. And that I am the only person who can be accountable for my own happiness. I grew up. Poetry isn’t always literary genius, sometimes, poetry is a two word text in the middle of the day: ‘Love you’.

Romance takes many forms, if you care to notice it. A cup of tea when you’re not expecting it. A shared glance about something over the heads of the kids. Or something like this…

 

'Enjoy the day my honey. Love you!'
‘Enjoy the day my honey. Love you!’

Today I have wrestled from our schedule a little bit of ‘me’ time. Time to write, to drink coffee and muse. It’s been a busy school holidays and the kids are off doing fun activities, both on the same day in a little bit of heavenly orchestration. I have loads of jobs to do, but I don’t mind a whit… because I can do them uninterrupted and listening to my own music! I can dance like a ninny around the house and tap out my words into the ether. The hubster knew how much I was looking forward to my day of solitude; he gets it. So when I got back to my quiet kitchen from dropping off the kids, I found his words scrawled across the splash back in the kitchen. They are not borrowed words, they are straight from the heart words, genuine words. Words to make my heart warm.

I am the luckiest of girls to have a guy like that in my life. He is a whiteboard-marker-wielding poet, even if I didn’t know it. 😉

Hello From the Other Side

In Wellington airport the other day, I was flicking through my internet stream. And I came across this awesome Rolling Stone interview with Adele, have you read it?  Her voice sends vibrations down into my reptilian brain. She moves me. She’s amazing.  But I was a little relieved to read that her new song “Hello” isn’t about another lost love, it’s about her younger self. It really resonated with me, because I was about to fly into Sydney, the land of my ‘old self’… (who is really my young self, suspended somewhere in time). My passport is in my maiden name, so every time I looked at my boarding pass I was seeing my old name, the name of that Sydney school girl. It all conspired to make me very nostalgic. So on the plane I wrote this little reflection piece. Thought I would share it here…
because I think Adele tapped into something universal with her song.
If you could call yourself twenty years ago, what would you say?
Would you warn that girl? Apologise?
Hmmm. I’d try to bolster my old self up.  Give her some encouragement.
She didn’t look like she needed it, but she sure did.
I wish I could go back and give her that.
Anyway… here’s my piece about my two selves. My then, my now.

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I used to go walking there, far above the chase, and perch on a rocky outcrop in a blue-green sea of gum. I liked thinking that maybe centuries earlier, indigenous people had sat there, watching the bush fires maybe, or searching for signs in the skies. Maybe they were children, maybe they were not so different to the girl I was, hiding in the wide bush, running from the things she couldn’t shape with words.  My legs were strong then, I would relax my breathing and let them carry me along the barely perceptible bush tracks, avoiding the hostile prickles that seem to typify every Native Australian plant. Stay away!  the barbs and spikes screamed. Yet they sheltered me, surrounded me on my rock. Hummed and buzzed with all the wildlife they sheltered, too. Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate, one by one into the heated haze of afternoon. I was the only person who knew about the rocky outcrop. Just me. No one ever replied to the chalky poetry I wrote on the rocks, stone against stone. There were never any signs of any other person but me. Yet I felt the ghosts of the aboriginal children who sat there too, kept from me by time alone. In the bush I was anonymous. Alone. Free to think my thoughts and ache my pains. I loved it there.

Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate into the heated haze of afternoon.

Today I am flying back to the city that cradles my rock of anonymity, a small space amongst the wide Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park. I haven’t been there for so long. Maybe the rock has been discovered by another person by now. Maybe the bush has changed so much I would never find it again. The landmarks I used, now grown and burned and reshaped in the decades since I walked there. Strong on those young legs. And there wouldn’t be time anyway, I tell myself. I couldn’t absent myself to go bushwalking alone.  I am scheduled. Planned. There and back. Quick trip.  Short stop. Turnaround.  A thought panics my mind. Maybe I left my girl self on that rock. I have an urge to find her again. To see the banksia and gumnuts and breathe the eucalyptus in the air.

I remind myself that nothing ever stays the same.

I didn’t. I think of my internal topography. The rifts and seismic shifts of the years between. The person I have become, so far from the girl on the rock.

Soon, the driver I have never met, will hold up a placard with my old name on it. The name of that bushwalking poet. It must be the strangeness of that, making me nostalgic for her. She’s had two other names since then, two more selves layering over her original self.  She was so afraid of what would come. But she should give herself more credit. I return in her name, a brief walk in her shoes, back in her town. That pony-tailed girl in the white school shirt and grey checkered skirt. She had long brown legs. Strong legs. Walking legs. I will walk on the same bones, strong of heart, towards a new and exciting experience of this place. The questions I don’t know the answers to, the questions I won’t ask, will hang, palpable in the air. I will be patient. Wait until I am at the studio. Prepare the strength I will need to walk in my body, proud of who I have become. Because confidence is never as easy as it looks! There will be no sign of that girl, troubled and stormy, hiding on her rock in the vast space of the Australian bush.

Sydney will feel so big and busy. It always does. Everybody bright and smooth and slick. The cars so fast, glossing across the flat wide roads. It’s an efficient city. No pause for poems scratched on rock faces. For ancient faces. I turn inward and begin to sculpt my outward self. There will be expectations and I don’t know what they are, but I will smile and read the social cues I find. I will joke and try not to say the embarassing things I often blurt out. I might talk about the Sydney I used to know, so long ago.  I will stare down the blank iris of the camera and imagine myself within it. Caught in a nanosecond, angles and tilts, light and shade.  I will stand tall. Kia kaha.

And while I am doing that, the girl inside myself will look out across the Chase, somewhere north of here, back in time. Somewhere between a rock and a hard place, she will find a pathway through. If I could, I would wave to her, out there on her rocky outcrop. I would wave to her and tell her I’ll see her on the other side of twenty years. Older, wiser, taller, kinder.

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry
for breaking your heart

But it don’t matter, it clearly
doesn’t tear you apart

Anymore

lyrics from Adele’s ‘Hello’
You can listen to the song here: