Saturday, 23 May 2009

'The Sky Was A Petrifying Blue' *

* the title for this post is taken from the song 'Maize Stalk Drinking Blood' by The Mountain Goats. (Lyrics by John Darnielle.)

This photo was taken by me on the Otago Peninsula two years ago, about the same time of year and in similar weather to today's.

As I write this, the rain falls mercilessly on to our iron roof, echoing in our wood burner's free-standing, metal chimney and only ever drowned out by the rumble of the electric jug when I switch it on.
And I seem to be switching the jug on at regular intervals, either for a cup of tea or for water for the hot water bottle Robert applies to his bad back. Today sees an unusual ocurrence, my husband bed-ridden, cut down by cruel, leg-buckling spasms.
Robert could never be accused of being part of the 'Man Flu' Brigade'. He's in some other flotilla altogether, probabaly called 'Silent Sufferers' who never take days off work and never suffer from a cold (or if they do have what the rest of the world would call a cold, they pronounce it as something to ignore along with the headache they'd never take medication for.) In their manual of written instructions, Positive Thinking and Reason will defeat any bacterial or viral assault.
Today though, his painful back has temporarily pummeled any positivism and reason into a pulp of screaming nerves. So, anti-inflams. have been seconded to come to the rescue. Let's see if we can get him to a state where he can at least can make it into the car to get to the physio. without the aid of an ambulance.

The only things happy about this rain are the ferns. Whenever I make a pot of tea, or fill up the hot water bottle, I look out the kitchen window and see them dancing.

I feel less grumpy now that it is the weekend and no more work for me until Tuesday. Even a wet Saturday and a disabled husband isn't bringing me down. I am reading Huberta Hellendoorn's book and loving her voice in my ear as she describes her daughter's upbringing. It is both a biography and an autobiography rolled into one with delicious charm. I am thoroughly enjoying this window on to the life of a remarkable, gifted woman and her equally remarkable and gifted daughter. Addressing her daughter Miriam, the book tells of the development of a daughter's artisitc talent and achievements from the point of view of a proud and devoted mother. Of course there is so much more that Huberta describes and relates as well; for example what it was like to emigrate in the 1960s from your own country (Holland) to a foreign country (New Zealand.) I find that I am absorbed by every aspect that is brought into this story. The title of the book, 'Madonna in a Suitcase', refers to the painting by Miriam as featured on the book's cover.

This photo was taken on the way down to Invercargill. It was taken somewhere between Clinton and Gore. (The reference to US politics has been duly noted, with an official road-sign stating: 'Gore-Clinton Highway.') I took the photo because the Hokonui Hills, very familiar to me, by some trick of sky and cloud appeared on that day to be surrounded by the sea. A fantastic notion indeed. (And yet ... not so much, as due to an ancient heave up out of the sea, petrified seashells have been found on these hills many kilometers inland from the nearest coast.)

I enjoy fantastical poetry when written by other poets. I am even envious of poets who can write this way. I could write a poem about something as eternally expansive as the universe, or about some historical event; the day in the life of a woolly mammoth, for example; and one day I probably will. But being me, even though the boders of time and/or space have been effortlessly tapped and widened, for the poem to have a warm centre I would still have to write it within the framework of reality and by the 'rules' of poetry. Otherwise, when I apply my own intuitive temperature gague to it, the poem would feel remote and icy-cool. But that's just me and how my writing 'neurons' operate. I can't speak for anyone else.
I feel all holds are off when I am writing prose, and I feel restricted when I am writing poetry. Don't get me wrong, poetry is no god. It is just another way of writing. I prefer not to get too precious about it. It doesn't need an ivory tower. Make it too heavenly, and it's of no earthly good.

Lyrics to Maize Stalk Drinking Blood :
by John Darnielle

lying in the hot sun today
watching the clouds run away
thought a little while about you
the sky was a petrifying blue
and while the geese flew past
for no reason at all
i let the sky fall
this is an empty country, and i am the king
and i should not be allowed to touch anything

i picked myself up off the ground
shook the grass from my hair and i
walked around
felt the warm sun in my eye
strangers were passing by
i shinnied up the black walnut tree
let the hard blue sky fall right through me
and i saw the sad young cardinals, trying to sing
and i should not be allowed to touch anything
[ Maize Stalk Drinking Blood Lyrics on ]


Catherine said...

Hope the patient is better soon. The weather is nasty all over the country, I think. Today I curled up in front of an open fire with a book - next year we won't be allowed to light our open fires any more, so this year I am using up the supply of free firewood, when I can find time to just sit (the fireplace being in a room where not much else goes on)

Katherine Dolan said...

Yikes, poor Robert! But lucky to have your benign and capable ministrations.
Your poetry reflects not just physical realities and events, but the delicate emotional and imaginative responses they involve. That takes an enormous amount of concentration, like capturing all the shadows and leafs veins in the painting of a tree.
Difficult to write, but very satisfying to look at.

Becky Willis Motew said...

Just read and enjoyed your other posts. I believe you are right to hold back poems or stories that you want to see published in a traditional way. Publishers do supposedly consider them "published" when on your blog. Of course I may be spreading vicious rumors, but I think it is true. I wanted to be with you to help snap at the power-dressed parents, Kay. Let me at 'em!

kj said...

i love when you talk about your writing. i wonder why i write poetry so freely and prose so thoughtfully? maybe because i am a bad poet!--though i hope not.

i hope robert's back improves rapidly. i say take four motrin at a time if you don't have a stronger prescription..


Kay Cooke said...

Catherine - Enjoy your fire while you can .... a motto for life perhaps!?

Katherine - Thanks for your kind insight, it helps considerably! The more light on the subject, the better.

Becky - Solidarity! yeah! Thanks my friend.

KJ - Thanks for your concern. Robert's back is MUCH improved and now that the weekend is over we have the experts on the job. He was back at work today so he's done well.
I think maybe different writers have different self-constraints?

Clare Dudman said...

Glad to hear your husband's back is better! That sounds like it was quite frightening.

That poem is stunning - the feeling he manages to invoke about the sky is so strange and arresting.

I love that last photo too - it's as if it's painted rather than a photo - and chimes well with the porm.

Claire Beynon said...

Dear Kay - the last few lines of this post ARE a poem...

Poetry is no god.
It is just another way
of writing. I prefer not to
get too precious about it.
It doesn't need an ivory
tower. Make it too heavenly
and it's of no earthly good.

(Forgive me my presumption?!)

I do hope Robert's back is well and truly on the mend. A helpful position for a sore back is this one (Alexander Technique): lie on the floor with your back as flat as possible to the ground and your head resting on a telephone book (or a nice fat dictionary!): bend your knees up, close your eyes, relax and breathe evenly for twenty minutes.

Hope to see you soon. It's wonderful to get such a strong sense of 'the muse on your shoulder.'

Kay Cooke said...

Clare - Thank you, yes he hasn't had his back give out quite like that for 24 years. He's tall and so always has to be mindful of his long spine's vulnerability!
I love the words to that song, the sky allusions are very apt I think.

Claire - Well ... yes! I see what you mean ... thank you! Isn't poetry a funny thing? Eternally twisting and twining among prose! And the fact that we sometimes recognise it when we see it embedded there, is fascinating.
Thanks for the Alexander technique idea, I'll mention it to Robert. I'm sure a twenty minute meditation on a telephone book would appeal!
Yes the muse is being a bit of a nag at the moment.

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