I have been thinking for a while that so often when I am blogging it is about putting a post-it note on a thought, a place or an event, a memory alert: something that can take me back to a moment, a feeling or an observation I might otherwise forget. Post-it notes tend to be small, so postcards might be more appropriate, or, on occasion, letters.
I was making lunch, and while the lentils cooked with the onions and mushrooms, I thought to use the time to check out some poems for Tuesday’s poetry group meeting. I have a long list of tasks today, and this seemed a good way of maximising the time.
The theme this month is weather. There is a striking number of poems about snow, which doesn’t seem appropriate in August. I found one in a collection by Christopher Reid called Flowers in Wrong Weather, which I thought, to begin with, was about the unseasonal blooming of plants in winter, only to be caught in the last stanza when it became clear the poem is about loss and death. My heart lurched.
I turned the pages, pausing now and then to stir the saucepan’s contents.
This one, A Scattering, which also gives the volume its title, made grief swell up in a wave, an unsteadying physical feeling of loss that reminded me that mourning is a companion that travels with you all your days.
I expect you’ve seen the footage: elephants
finding the bones of one of their own kind
dropped by the wayside, picked clean by scavengers
and the sun, then untidily left there,
decide to do something about it.
But what exactly? They can’t of course,
reassemble the old elephant magnificence;
they can’t even make a tidier heap. But they can
hook up bones with their trunks and chuck them
this and that way. So they do.
And their scattering has an air
of deliberate ritual, ancient and necessary.
Their great size too, makes them the very
embodiment of grief, while the play of their trunks
Elephants puzzling out
the anagram of their own anatomy,
elephants at their abstracted lamentations –
may their spirit guide me as I place
my own sad thoughts in new, hopeful arrangements.
Now I realise the whole collection is about losing his wife to cancer; the journey from diagnosis to death and mourning. I borrowed it from the library; a lucky find.
When chopping the onion left me dry-eyed, I little expected to be crying into my lentils because of a poem. A poem I do not want to forget. Like the elephants.