There was no power last night

There’s no power here. The internet says they’ll fix it by 9.30pm, and that I’m likely affected. I am. Found candles and two torches with no intestines. But the candles are nice. I am trying to heat my shepherd’s pie without a microwave. 

My library looks like a dungeon full of deep dark works from the days of dragons, steeds of smoke with diamonds for eyes and muscular haunches that scrape at the moon and allow gold to fall on the poor.

The house is no longer a cube of blue light from screens that are sharp and shined and give useful facts and information.

The house is a caramel. I’m sitting in it trying to heat my shepherd’s pie, imagining that I’m poor, and my mother’s voice saying, ‘But you’re not’.

If possible, start each day reading a small piece of outstanding writing

Oxygen, by Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Everything needs it: bone, muscles, and even,
while it calls the earth its home, the soul.
So the merciful, noisy machine

stands in our house working away in its
lung-like voice. I hear it as I kneel
before the fire, stirring with a

stick of iron, letting the logs
lie more loosely. You, in the upstairs room,
are in your usual position, leaning on your

right shoulder which aches
all day. You are breathing
patiently; it is a

beautiful sound. It is
your life, which is so close
to my own that I would not know

where to drop the knife of
separation. And what does this have to do
with love, except

everything? Now the fire rises
and offers a dozen, singing, deep-red
roses of flame. Then it settles

to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds
as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift:
our purest, sweet necessity: the air.

Painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)

Is that a cat or something…

There is a couple here at the shop. She is looking for books. He seems exhausted and stands against a shelf and looks at her. His black T shirt has white lettering: stay hydrated.

‘What’s that movie that…?’ She is sorting through the classics, softly, gently, making a pile, pushing back what she does not need.

He rubs his eyes. His glasses have plastic shades attached, these are raised, a verandah allowing light.

‘You know that movie. It was really good, but numbers two and three were terrible.’

He is silent, looking at her kindly.

She says, ‘I can’t talk and read, sorry.’ She makes clicking sounds with her lips, turning and looking and choosing.

He leans and gazes. Every time she begins to speak, she becomes distracted and looks elsewhere. ‘Little Women, I love that. I might get that Robertson Davies. Is that a cat or something?’

He is smiling.

Instead of seeing one world only

This spicy paragraph, from Marcel Proust (1871-1922), needs to be read more than once – as does everything he wrote – to get the joy – also at the centre of everything he wrote!

“Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of the fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one its special radiance.”

Marcel Proust

Graphic art by Shusaku Takaoka

Two conversations, one inside and one outside, both at once

1) A group of six passed the windows of the shop. They were jumbled and jostling and loud. It seemed as though they have all climbed off the same bus. The tone of their conversation is concern. Their speech is stretched and knocked about. This is because it was windy. So, they repeated themselves and called and argued, trying to knead logic back into the excursion.

‘If you turn right you’ll get to Adelaide.’

‘Right?’

‘No, left. If you go right you’ll get to Harry’s.’

‘That’s where I want to go.’

‘Jesus, make up your mind, mate.’

‘What’s that? What are you saying?’

I watch them blow past, silently thanking them for life. For, of course, this is where life is.

2) There are two ladies. They are great readers, and they are friends. Or maybe they are great friends, and they are readers. They talk in doorways. I only have two doorways, so there they are, digging into the afternoon; quite close to the counter, and therefore close to me.

‘I can cope with the dead bodies, but those little Scandinavian noir things, well…yeah those.’

‘Find a dead body, you know, all that sort of stuff?’

‘That’s it!’

‘I get sick of it. I quite like McCall Smith though. When I read, everything folds around me. Don’t know where I am.’

‘Have you read The Narrow Road to the Deep North, it’s a war story?’

‘What are we talking about? Which one?’

‘Wait, do you think Google are listening to us?’

‘No doubt.’

They buy a modest stack of outstanding reads. They look at me kindly, ‘we’ll be back, don’t you worry.’

I watch them go, silently thanking them for life, for this of course, is where life is.  

The reader

“How, then, does the written word work? What part of a reader absorbs it – or should that be a double question: what part of a reader absorbs what part of a text?
I think that underneath, or alongside, a reader’s conscious response to a text, whatever is needy in him is taking in whatever the text offers to assuage that need.”
Diana Athill, Somewhere Towards the End

Painting by Joseph Lorusso

When school kids go past the windows

They go fast. They lean forward as they walk. They watch each other’s faces closely.

Hands in pockets. The pockets, rectangular slabs of phone. The phones move in and out of pockets, shining oblongs of light.

Someone shouts, ‘Just think how much food you could eat, bro!’

They look in my windows. Bouncing a football, a basketball, a firm punch that argues with the footsteps.

‘Mate, he’ll go down.’ This was shouted lovingly when a motorbike hissed past, the rider standing, plunging through the intersection, the afternoon bakery audience angrily captivated.

They young people are loud. They must converse in shouts. Sometimes a bicycle or a scooter slides through the group, obliging and skilful, the rider chatting as she swerves.

I have spinning balloons that hang underneath the edge of the verandah. Once a boy raised his hand to bang them, but then didn’t.

Huge heavy school bags. Backpacks for the mountain. They bounce from side to side, the weight keeping pace with the walk.  

When it’s freezing they wear shorts and t shirts and carry huge bags of twisties. They look through my windows.

They all talk at once. They look in the windows. They walk shoulder to shoulder. Once some boys tapped and tapped on the glass, ‘Hey, guys,’ but the girls inside were not distracted. They had books to get.

Once a kid passing the window answered someone else, ‘I’m not getting a book you dumb arse.’

They are all colourful and glorious in the cold wind.

Penelope and the Suitors by John William Waterhouse, 1912