“Even as he turned the little handle round and round , the room remained under the tenuous authority of sleep. As yet unchallenged, somnolence continued to cast its shadow over sights and sensations, over forms and formulations, over what has been said and what must be done, lending each the insubstantiality of its domain. But when the Count opened the small wooden drawer of the grinder, the world and all it contained were transformed by that envy of the alchemists – the aroma of freshly ground coffee. In that instant, darkness was separated from light, the waters from woods rustled with the movement of birds and beasts and all manner of creeping things. While closer at hand, a patient pigeon scuffed its feet on the sill.”
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
Image by Daniel Krieger
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains the the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Painting by James Crandall
I Shall Paint My Nails Red by Carole Satyamurti (1939-2019)
because a bit of colour is a public service.
because I am proud of my hands.
because it will remind me I’m a woman.
because I will look like a survivor.
because I can admire them in traffic jams.
because my daughter will say ugh.
because my lover will be surprised.
because it is quicker than dyeing my hair.
because it is a ten-minute moratorium.
because it is reversible.
“Whence did the wondrous
Mystic art arise?
Of painting speech
And speaking to the eyes
That we by tracing magic lines
How to embody
And colour thought.”
The Origin and Progress of Letters
Art by Liz Y Ahmet
I bought Anthony Trollope’s Castle Richmond on Ebay for no reason. It’s for myself, a Folio edition, slip cased. I need it. He wrote a lot of books – Barchester Towers the most famous, and the funniest. Apparently the stories he set in Ireland, like this one, were not so popular. I must find out.
But when it arrived, I couldn’t get it unwrapped. It was covered, smothered, tied up in brown paper, string, bubble wrap sticky tape, more paper, more tape. Took me twenty minutes to strip it. But then, there it was, the captain, in black and gold, coffee and cream, the pages smooth. The words, mine. The slip case has strong shoulders, the book came out grinning.
An unforgettable description of “colour” from American novelist, William H. Gass:
“The word (blue) itself has another colour. It’s not a word with any resonance, although the e was once pronounced. There is only the bump now between b and l, the relief at the end, the whew. It hasn’t the sly turn which crimson takes halfway through, yellow’s deceptive jelly, or the rolled-down sound in brown. It hasn’t violet’s rapid sexual shudder or like a rough road the irregularity of ultramarine, the low puddle in mauve like a pancake covered in cream, the disapproving purse to pink, the assertive brevity of red, the whine of green.”
William Gass (1924-2017)
Sculpture by Rosemary Pierce
This family; three adults, one child. Spent a long time here in the bookshop talking, nodding, browsing, talking more. And the child – I hardly saw him. He was quiet, absorbed in a book about rockets. He sat in the cane armchair under the heater. His family circled, murmuring, calling out to one another. One of them took a phone call, which was mostly laughing in low tones to the caller.
The child read.
The phone call ended.
‘What’d he say?’
‘Said it’s still on.’
‘Yep.’ More laughing.
The child read laying back, head relaxed, the book held up in the air.
They gathered to go. Suddenly they were all in front of me, tangled, talking and jostling, trying to get out of the door. I said ‘goodbye’. But they didn’t hear me.
But the child did. He had one finger looped into the pocket of his mother’s jacket. She was pulling him along, gently. He looked back; looked at me. His other hand, down at his waist, waved, a wing, a fin, held up in acknowledgement and kept there until I saw it, then lowered. I looked at him. He looked at me. Then they left.
Boy Reading by Alexandros Christofis
“I have not always had this certainty, this pessimism which reassures the best among us.
a time when my friends laughed at me.
I was not the master of my words.
A certain indifference, I
have not always known well what I wanted to say, but most often it was because I had nothing to
The necessity of speaking and the desire not to be heard.
My life hanging only by a thread.
There was a time when I seemed to understand nothing.
My chains floated on the water.
All my desires are born of my dreams.
And I have proven my love with words.
To what fantastic
creatures have I entrusted myself, in what dolorous and ravishing world has my imagination
enclosed me? I am sure of having been loved in the most mysterious of domains, my own.
The language of my love does not belong to human language, my human body does not touch the flesh
of my love.
My amorous imagination has always been constant and high enough so that nothing
could attempt to convince me of error.”
Paul Eluard (1895-1952)
Painting by Jonathon Cooper
I went for a run on the roads out of town. I have the time.
On one side of me, cold. Behind me, quiet.
On the other side, a hill scratched all over with thousands of crickets that I can hear but can’t see; the crickets all repeat the same idea.
Up ahead, nothing at all.
I wrote this in December 2015, when the windows were completed, but I had no image of the glass taken in the evening.
“Linden has given me some squares of glass for Christmas. These will be fitted into and around my front door which receives a drench of light every afternoon. I imagine a cathedral, but really this is just my front door. I had my colours organised, but the glass artist changed them because he said my colours were not going to obey me. He said that colours quarrel. My dark rich colours would go black and sulk.
He changed my panes to rose, champagne, sage green, ice and an invisible gold. I complained that now there was no colour. And there wasn’t. He said there would be, that now the colours would cooperate and allow each other a fair go in the light, and that they would change as the light changed and show all of their personalities. My dark colours would just turn their backs because didn’t have enough space.
I said I didn’t know. He replied that it was understandable, everyone is busy. But there is nothing so busy with its own concerns as a piece of stained glass. Each piece of glass thinks it’s right. They needed to be treated subtly and with cunning to get them to all do what you want without them knowing.
Well, my glass panels are up and fat with warmth and light – and they are beautiful; the artist, with his dreadlocks and tools and dusty workshop was absolutely right. In the morning they are quiet and smooth and rich, in the evening they are hilarious, and show blue and purple even though this is impossible.”