Photo I captured of a paper napkin my friend issued me yesterday. It apparently came from the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, so full marks to the artist and some free publicity!
I think I wrote this poem based on an entry in The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon,
which was a list of ugly things. I tried to bring it up to date with pet hates of the
20th and 21st century.
which is unkempt with fine clothes;
on a helmet-like mullet;
hand-made paper spoiled
by spidery handwriting;
low-cut brides kneeling
in front of praying vicars;
presenting logic to the
who try to pretend
that they understand;
a trout-pout selfie taken
by a narcissist – tramp-stamped,
and no Spring chicken either.
Yes, everything was inflammatory.
My father blamed my sensibility;
said my symptoms were imaginary.
My mother sighed at my debility,
but did not want to show complicity.
Works as hard as his affliction allows –
my teacher flagged my disability.
Meseglise might tempt with its rural airs;
lilac pollen permeate Illiers;
Guermantes might involve inhaling dust,
or powdered fumigation for its lust.
Caffeine and a mist of belladonna
might immunise from the attractive whores,
coquettes and those almond-eyed madonnas
one pursued, with breathless dedication.
Revivescences were what physicians
ordered: affective disorder cure!
Poisoning my mother’s joy
required expiation and purification.
I recalled aunt’s invalid infusion:
its scent of lime blossom, wafting to me,
unlocking sense of selfhood, combined with
distinctive whiff of pharmacology.
My anxiety about maternal
separation was supposed to have led
to an unconscious conflict of desires –
steamed from me at sanatoriums;
sucked from me at those pristine Alpine spas.
Writing as therapy? Sublimation
through describing Albertine’s departure?
I found it a dreaded master, but a
faithful servant. There’s no insulation from
a germ-laden world in cork-lined chambers.
I tried to avoid contamination.
Wheezing asthma is like being chained
to a mad, unreasoning octopus.
Its souffle coup punctuated my prose.
Each virgule was an expectoration.
I wrote eight hundred words in one sentence,
though I disliked the declamatory.
Nothing was going to constrict my flow –
each clause a vesicle to be expelled.
I’d emerge like a pale pupa at night,
morphing into my imaginal state
and the tabacs sold me Cigares de Joy,
my stramonium fix for each attack.
One hopes to have been an inspiration,
even for a thirty five second play,
based on the brief interval we call Life,
between vagitus and the death rattle.
Dillenia indica- the elephant apple tree. Image Wikimedia
Hamlet said a king could pass through the guts
of a beggar. Well, I was not prudish.
I was dependent on the pachyderms.
My genes went on elephantine journeys.
They were spread far and wide by these creatures.
They did their business – pat!- while I would pray.
Firstly, of course, they had to eat my fruit.
(Don’t ask me why Elephas Maximus
assisted me and was so efficient too.)
We had a symbiotic arrangement:
if you scratch my back, then I will scratch yours.
Only, I haven’t seen them for five years.
I am hoping that they will not forget.
Their cognitive map used to bring them back;
if it’s true they have all been poached, I’m stuffed.
They would recall when my seeds would ripen.
Humans don’t need them in the way I do,
but, as heavy horticulturalists,
these so-called Gardeners of Asia,
would lumber in a positive fashion:
not pulling down forests permanently,
but merely clearing a space for others.
Now we have Empty Forest Syndrome.
I have to drop my seeds around my base.
Sure, monkeys, rodents, bats and birds oblige,
but my sphere of influence is curtailed.
Here I stand: Dillenia indica,
last of my kind. I can do no other.
Humankind’s nine billion seeds may not last,
for men don’t follow the ancestral paths;
they don’t see the elephant in the room,
but argue about constituent parts.
As in the fable, they are visionless.
I am the last Elephant Apple tree.
I can teach you about good and evil.
Photos by Candia Dixon-Stuart
A gardener gave us brief directions
and we walked to Holy Trinity as
two believers in invisible cats
and curled up comfortably on its wall
was a very tangible companion.
Could this be a descendant of ‘step-cat‘
who ruled The Kilns; dominated the dog?
This was where Jack took his first Communion:
a mouse, finally captured by a cat –
or the quarry of The Hound of Heaven?
He didn’t metamorphose from a dog
immediately and other felines
did not recognise him as kin at first.
‘Cats,’ he said, ‘often don’t like each other;
they can be Pharisees who stare you out.’
‘Men must endure their going hence,’ proclaimed
the grave which nobody was visiting.
I placed two purloined Heartsease on the stone,
under unblinking, eye-slit surveillance
and thought about grey army blanket drapes;
those nicotine-stained ceilings; single beds;
Joy’s introduction of a Siamese.
That church cat was cool. It was convinced that
its whiskers could pass through a needle’s eye.
Lying in rows, there were sheep and some goats.
Often we don’t have an inkling as to
which is which: we transform at different rates.
Could this have been the cat who comforted
souls in the charnel houses of old? Or,
could it have been an erstwhile canine?
For this creature’s inscrutability
spoke of divine ineffability.
And all the while, it did not spring away,
but purred me towards an unseen lintel.
I expected gradual disappearance;
maybe some kind of cosmic benison.
But suddenly it was gone and a smile
seemed to hover over the whole graveyard.
I still believe in invisible cats.