Category Archives: poetry

Remorse

You know those days, the days when you want to say sorry to everyone you have ever met and print out apologies to people you have yet to meet so you can hand them out before a word is exchanged, those days when every single choice you have ever made looms up and shouts at you what a chump you are?  You do?

Those are the days when every bite of meat before becoming vegetarian feels like an untenable error of judgement, every mouthful of cheese or butter before becoming vegan is a crime against humanity.

” Regrets, I have a few (million) but then again, no time to mention (them all because they would take years just to articulate)”

The weight of all the animals slaughtered to feed me is unbearable; the cruel words I have used towards people I love parade through my head just quickly enough to allow a lot of them, but slowly enough for my guilty head to savour and feel them and become increasingly crushed and penitent. The neglect, avoidance, failures, all those memories line up to take a swing at me.  POW! That’s for when you ignored your Mothers grief. WHAM! That’s for when you said those ghastly things to your husband. BAM! That’s for not listening to your colleague who was distressed.  BANG! That’s for that ugly arrogance you carry around. But this isn’t, really, about me. Not really.

Penitent: feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong; repentant.”

Repentance:  the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse.”

Remorse: deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed”.

Maya Angelou was potentially comforting: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Except when one does not believe one has done ones best.

First world problem, of course. Self-indulgent breast beating and a way to avoid actually doing anything about it. Those words, Penitent, Repentant, Remorseful, are feelings with no real action attached. Where is a hair shirt when you need one? And yet, again, what would that achieve other than a middle class privileged satisfaction in self-abasement?

Johnny Cash knew a thing or two:

Hurt

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

So, we do stuff, we join groups, action groups, civic groups; we take part partly although not entirely in the hope that it will wash our sins at least a lighter shade and remove some of the surface grime. We Atone.

ALERT: recovering Catholic here. Guilt was my major. Sins reported and regretted were sins absolved, so perhaps marginally better than no religion at all when personal responsibility is flung back into your sorrowful self-indulgent face. Of course there is more to it than that – hopefully we also do things altruistically trying to making things better for others as well. I think so. I hope so.

DH Lawrence poem, Piano, is more about nostalgia than remorse but regret is its underblanket. Regret for all the spaces and times between that childhood and the moment inside the adulthood of now. It speaks.

Piano
by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

And finally, in this attempt to express and perhaps contain guilt, one of Frosts incomparable descriptions of self-alienation and the deep grooves and welts that form in the self when insight and self-awareness open the eyes to regrets and darknesses. There is more than one darkness…

Acquainted With The Night
Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

The darkness fades when the light finally seeps in through the cracks, and gets folded away onto a shelf in the back of the head, tidy and parked for future use. We regret and move on, or not. There are some regrets that sit perfectly in amber radiating a toxic beauty of their own and remain impervious to atonement or remorse. They are the regrets that wait comfortably in their lovely prison, judging the best time to re-emerge and remind us of our fallibility. They serve a purpose. Humility is a gift. Love is our forgiveness.

In that Forest…

Today was a good start to my weekend. I had on Radio 3 as usual this morning – I never check on the schedule, it’s serendipity and I like it that way. Probably my favourite piece in the world (there is a lot of competition for that place) Pergolesi Stabat Mater was an entire programme with the music presented in a wonderful variety of ways. And then! L’Apres Midi D’Un Faun – also possibly my favourite…..

I hadn’t been paying attention so the music, when it began, took me by surprise and the visceral hit was immediate. I was instantly back in the theatre watching Rudolph Nureyev dance. It was the highlight, for me, of one of our London breaks back in the day and the Old Man had bought me a ticket and left me to it. It isn’t his thing. The anticipation was electric. Nureyev was, by then, a little past his best but still the best of them all and sitting in my aisle seat close to the front of the theatre I was alive to the atmosphere. We were anticipating a God.

The music is magical, if one shuts ones eyes the Faun is right there, darting about, the green dell reverberates with animal calls and the smell of the grass and the tree bark are unmistakeable. It is possible to believe the glade is all around. I think it is such a clever, haunting piece partly, I think, because I experience synaesthesia and the sounds and the colours this piece provides are a perfect combination creating a perfect picture of what I think the piece means.

I knew at the back of my mind that it was unlikely I would see Nureyev perform again – indeed that many of us would. I absorbed his movements like blotting paper absorbs ink. I saw the sweat on his shoulders. I watched with hardly a blink as his body measured out the music as if they were one entity, sight and sound, the physical and the emotional, temporal and spiritual personified and made flesh. I smelled the forest and felt the delicate but penetrating intent of that music.

And this morning I sat in my study, motionless, sightless, back in that theatre, feeling the poetry. Thank you Radio 3 for such a lovely surprising start to my Saturday.

Woman, Spectrum, Being, Loving.

Well, who could have predicted…? No, not the complete pigs breakfast we are making of our democracies across the globe or the total neglect of care we show to our planet. Not those. I am referring to the fact that into my 60s I am finally beginning to grow up. It’s an odd feeling. I quite like it.

For the longest time I have beaten myself up for being awkward and sometimes difficult. I have over the years made a decent if variable fist of covering up social awkwardness, mostly, and have also made quite a good job of mothering, wifeing and friending. Less so daughtering, less so in-lawing. But at long last and partly due to my sons MA in autism and my own historic work with people with autism, I recognise that perhaps, maybe, if I squint at it a bit, I can see that it wasn’t all my fault, or indeed a fault at all. It just was. And having got this far I reckon I can keep going. I do work I love and am pretty good at it in all honesty, I have family and friends who are exceptional and brilliant, and this acceptance feels like the next and crucial stage in a mildly chaotic and chequered life story.

“On the spectrum” is such a lazily dismissive phrase which simultaneously manages to sound a bit fun and jazzy. It reminds me of when I was at school and we had to do sewing classes, which I hated. I was so excited to see one day, on the paper we had to read before class, that there was something called a selvedee that we would be making. It sounded whizzo! It sounded like a dance, or a new colour, interesting and inspiring. My disappointment on finding it was a typo and the thing was a selvedge, something that sounded like the sludge in the bottom of a bucket, was irreversible. I didn’t sew for years, but love it now. As I love the refreshed self confidence I have found in just being who I am. Some things just take time.

Why do I want to share this? Because I am not alone. Many women in my position muddle along for years making the best of it , developing coping strategies to enable family life to happen with as little disruption as possible and indeed burying ourselves in that family life, not seeing or valuing that there may be a reason for the uncomfortable feelings and struggles, but we do one thing really well: we blame ourselves. And then we burn out. We rage, resent, defy. And then accept. And maybe if women know that how we feel is ok, is just how it is, and we don’t have to try to conform in order to have a family life or a life at all, maybe then women can breathe easier and enjoy the life they have rather than try for the life people think they should have.

Women face a series of challenges. We are women for a start, subject to a torrent of expectations mostly created by and beneficial to men and perpetuated by everyone because that is how society works. How we look, sound, smell, behave, who we sleep with, live with, how we procreate, if and how we give birth and rear children. We are groomed into a mindset of daintiness and submissiveness and those of us who fail to toe the line have experienced a range of punishments over the centuries from simple rejection and mockery to a lifetime of dieting and anxiety, trafficking and rape, rejected for barrenness and equally rejected for having explicit desires, for being too old/fat/thin/clever/stupid/ambitious/addyourownwordhere to burning at the stake. Even, in the present day, some women and girls feeling somehow that they are better off as, should be, men and being encouraged to surgically alter their bodies, take sterilising drugs, and live a life they don’t need to live and from which there is no return, avoidable if only they could just be themselves. Control epitomised.

So much talk about wellbeing and mental health. For many women that starts and ends with rejecting others expectations, or at least adapting them. For me the catalyst that started my reinvention was grief. My parents died and I dealt with it very badly, although it was probably not obvious. I have had years of practice at carrying on regardless. Menopause also tagged along for the hell of it. A perfect storm into which I tumbled like a discarded, dried and wrinkled leaf, twirling down and around, cold and alone, waiting for the ground to meet me so that I could rest. Regret, grief, infinite change, a budding understanding that I wasn’t doing too well and that there may be a reason for that caused so much introspection that I felt a womans guilt for spending so much time on me. D’oh.

But here we are: not only a survivor of all that has gone before but also of covid, with a bit of a health hangover to go with it. That also causes a rethink or two. And in my 60s, perhaps now I can just be me. Businesswoman, poet, copywriter, social and community activist, whisky drinker, dedicated Mother and Grandmother, tattooed discreetly and probably more to come, part time battleaxe but mostly cuddly and fluffy, and not asking anyones permission to be anything at all. I think I am nicer now, if that matters, more patient, kinder, knowing that almost everyone who looks serene and competent is probably also paddling furiously under the water so I should cut them some slack. I manage very well, thank you, it works for me and I don’t need to change who I am, I just need to endorse it, love it, and work with it. It has brought some great gifts as well as challenges. I would say to women struggling in this way: You are your gift to yourself. It’s ok to just be, we are Human Beings not Human Doings, and you will find your way of being. Every day that I wake up I have a future. So do you.

Dead?

I am dead

You said

How will I know?

You said

I am dead

When did I go?

Where is the slide

From one to another

When one has died?

On one side

I have died

On another thread

I am dead.

If I hide

Will Death walk on by?

Or will he see me walking down the street?

Will I defeat Death

With my last breath?

Or will we meet

And greet?

How it is

Spooling down, further down, where the air clogs the lungs and the blood thickens

And the dark slips over the shoulders like the arms of an old friend helping towards the edge, slowly, easily.

I thought I saw you there but no, an illusion. Of course, it always is.

Dark folds itself into more dark and there is nothing.

 

 

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