Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Seeing In The Dark

  Pam's barrel of roses (and I'm pretty sure that her husband Gary would like me to point out the neatly-stacked wood-pile, top right!)

When I saw this photo that Pam had posted on Facebook, along with her description of the barrel the roses were planted in, I knew that once I'd got her permission to post the photo, I had my choice sorted for the next poem to post.

My friend's roses announce summer is here in this part of the world. The barrel that the roses prance out from in a tra-la! of carmine-pink, is also worth noting. The old, wooden barrel comes from Pam's childhood home; a farm in the Maniototo town of Middlemarch. 

The barrel was where her father kept the meat for the dogs and as it was often Pam's job to feed the dogs, she remembers it well. I am sure for her the barrel has become a kind of touchstone; a tangible connection to her childhood.

This puts me in mind of a title of one of Wallace Steven's poems; 'It's Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself'. After it had been fashioned, brand-new, from some cooper's workshop, who knows how many different things the barrel had been used for? Then for years it became a container for dog-tucker. Now it is a keeper for pink roses, memories and years.

I share one of Pam's memories of feeding the dogs on her parents' farm. I was staying there with her; we were there on our own and in charge of the farm chores for the weekend. Part of our job included feeding the farm dogs (I guess about three or four of them) chained up at their kennels under the trees. I don't remember the barrel, but I do remember chucking the tucker from it towards the hungry, barking dogs. We were doing it in the dark, because by the time Pam remembered we were to feed them that day, it was night-time. 

The poem for me serves not only as a description of the still depth of a night in the country, but as a symbol  of my search at that time of my life (early twenties) for authenticity and relevance in an often baffling world. Experiencing going out into that cold night with all its sensations, wasn't mind-altering so much as mind-sustaining. 

There we were then with our feet in gumboots and firmly planted on planet earth. There we were spinning somewhere in a vast universe, feeling small, but vital and alive. There we were, concentrating on our own breathing under the stars, feeling our way and trying to see in the dark.

feeding the dogs

the torch's twitch
picking out dead thistles,
wooden railings.
Where the ground shines,
bare, snarled
by the roots 
of trees, the dogs bark,
rattle chains that drag
over old bones.
Throw them the meat,
pale traces of fat clinging
to the wool of your gloves.

Hear the crunch of bones,
the night closing in,
the cry of two birds
flying out over rocks.
See ticking stars
in a blind sky.
Softer than light,
darkness leans in
- so close, so cold
its breath is all
you can breathe.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

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