Postcards to Myself

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
lends sprezzatura.

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.

18 thoughts on “Postcards to Myself

  1. Amazing poem – thank you. Arrived back at the flat late yesterday. Does your long list of tasks today allow time for a cuppa this afternoon, or a drink this evening? Supper no good, as we have mackerel from Salcombe to cook.


    • Maybe a drink this evening. I am shocked how quickly the afternoon is speeding by, but a glass later may motivate me to work faster!
      I hope you enjoyed your holiday.

    • Glad you liked it. I found it very moving. Most of us have seen that footage of the elephants, and, when the death has been as a result of poaching, felt terrible guilt. It hits a nerve.

  2. what a poignant poem.
    am gradually returning from my 2-month+ blogging hiatus, and i had a little shock yesterday evening when i wanted to continue reading about some travels to Europe only to learn that the blogger had suddenly passed away. The family had kindly provided that sad news to the blogging community, and it was what greeted me when i headed over there.
    while i was not blogging, i enjoyed some travel and gardening, etc. but during this time it turned out that my last living uncle here in Canada, my Dad’s brother, passed away. he was 94. my Dad was much younger when I said good-bye to him more than 15 years ago. there were stories told at the funeral that included my Dad’s childhood, and i was surprised to learn that the grief can still well up even after all these years.
    the next day i happened to be near a cemetery where there is a small garden with a pond. my Dad’s grave was some 100 kilometers to the east, and yet being here, at another cemetery, enjoying the stillness, and watching the flowers swaying in the breeze, and the new bamboo shoots awakening to summer and thinking of my Dad, was a very soothing moment.
    am thankful my Dad is no longer suffering, and that i have so many good memories of him. and although i believe that i will see him again one day, there are times when, unexpectedly, i quite miss him. grief is an odd thing.
    had to remember the moment as you told about the poem of the elephants and the lentil soup. so here’s sending you hugs.

    • It sounds as though this poem came to you at the right time. Poetry can be such a good way to express complex emotions simply. I also read about a play that was performed at the Edinburgh Festival, written and performed by someone as a celebration of life with, and a farewell to her dead father.
      This summer particularly with all the commemorations f the start of the First World War, death seems a constant presence.

      • and at the same time, i must admit it is good to be reminded of life and new things, and to remember the good times and conversations with my father, and to have a cat that provides more comfort and laughter than he realizes πŸ™‚

    • I was thinking that this is a poem I would have on the wall. It brings to mind the majesty and dignity of the elephants, and connects us paltry humans with animals who seem to have a greater respect for life and death than we often do.

  3. I have seen programs on television where elephants come upon the bones/bodies of other elephants and find it incredibly sad but I do think it is their way of sorting out their grief. Thanks for sharing this poem Isobel and for your thoughts too. I also think as you do with respect to your comment to Steve,

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