Robyn Rowland
"Affinities"

to Lorna Crozier

The prairie sky is twin to the ocean:
the same restlessness, the blue unfolding.    
Lorna Crozier, from Ghazal 5, Bones in their wings.

I.  Birds and words

Out of the blue you appeared, seeming cool
as afternoon was melting down my back
in the steaming tents of Adelaide.1
Flights of small birds, your words whirred up breezes,
sailing us beyond our skin, beyond bone to that harboured place
where everything can be stilled: home for the words of poets.
That was the first time, the second, the third;
as I trawled through readings, listening for connection.

When you returned years later and sat in my back garden
small under the giant ironbark shedding leaf into a glaze across the pool,
the figs were still hot though autumn was fluttering in.
You loved the gossip of morning birds as they unpicked day from night,
magpies, our flute birds, throats full of imagined rain;
the raucous, rancorous screeching of cockatoos,
mocking angels in their snow-white feathers, golden crests,
already dissatisfied with their rough theft of apricots.

Space of ocean—mine; space of sky—yours;
under that vast blue wonder, inside a borderless cyanic sea.
Everything we could fly and swim through, drown in, bounce salt-light upon;
all that brings vastness and smallness upon us;
that’s what made us; what brought us together
wheeling around the globe—and those
strings of words that keep us tassled to the earth.

You told me prairie men, having never seen oceans, chose the navy in the war.
Maybe knowing their way across unrimmed plains, open, roofless
made the unfettered sea, mirror-twin boundless and deep.
I think of that first film from out there near the moon,
our marbled globe bluely spinning and how
they never really recovered, those men,
over-awed and untrained in the lifeline of words.

Those of us opened by blue spaces and by the loneliness of stars
learn to be awed each day by the small, the ordinary;
how else keep the gift of observation from tangling our minds?
We need to find a way to the light behind the blue
hold it in the poem. We need the story as much as breath:
the dead dog that never died; fulcrum of truth inside the small voice.

There weren’t enough days and hours
to quench our desire for talk, for poetry, for sharing histories
that wove a wrap for the cool evening of parting,
drawn at the waist with the wide red leather belts
we bought in Melbourne.    

II.  Blue

I want a gift; want to make a story for us, part true,
so I’ve been hunting down blue—for you.
Not in the ways Patrick talks of it, with red dogs,
the cougar-tawny tornness of things; or hunting children in the war,
feet dangling dead under the straw out of a wagon back
and the silence of a man’s tears that he has the courage to put down
when the words must slice from the pen cutting a rough trail in his hand,
a bleeding better than leaches for the healing of memory.

I looked into stones and minerals for you, to see what they could teach—
azurite, lazurite, tanzanite bright—
into the sea for the murex trunculus, sea snail of the Talmud, Jewish blue,
breaking open its shell, removing the white gland, its clear fluid magic like indigo,
exposed to light, changing yellow to green, to blue and purple too.
I pried beneath the shell of the horseshoe crab, heart the whole length of its body,
sapphire gold in its veins used to clot our red wounds.

I held in my hand again the nazar boncuk I bought in Turkey, 2
the “evil eyed” owl from Greece; blinding in its demand for attention,
clearly medusa’s bequest, though they try to rewrite that one over again,
put out her eyes on statues; Romans creating the fascinum, phallic charm,
and in their cistern in Istanbul standing her on her head.
Yet the graveyard tombs are full of her face, eyes intact when they need her.

Like your snake I guess with its clever tongue, its sadness and its victimhood,
its flirtation among the trees of life and knowledge
that led to its banishment too from heaven
never mind that it lives both on and under earth,
that it is our saviour when the plague rides the rats.

I searched history—mosaics of Turkey, Portugal;
scanned Egyptian masks; questioned Phoenicians; struggled with linear scripts,
cyrillic, latin, roman; that I might find the secret of our blue-longing.

We have enough to make our own Chefchaouen;
three satin bowerbirds hoarding blueness there;
a blue not relying on shadows, or even the blue flax of snow just before sunrise.
We would make a mosaic world, bright as the tiles in Sultan Ahmed Mosque,
an azure heaven crushed from the mineral itself
deep and clear as your prairie dome.
The walls of our town would be clad in polished lapis,
amulet to protect the hearts within; sea beyond a cobalt expanse,
Ming porcelain dragons rocking along the shallows
white waves a calligraphy from their flickering tails.

We could sit at desks of the Ottoman’s
carved cedar inlaid with turquoise and mother of pearl,
pens dipped in inks of Prussian blue
taking care that its cyanide breath never reached the page,
bitterness dissipating as it dried in the bright day.
Like old Turkish Ebru masters, we could marble our paper
steady-handed now, being finally at peace with ourselves—
all the sins of mother and father written out.

Patrick might garden blue stones,
turning them towards the sky for replenishment,
cultivate woad and indigo to dye our cloth;
paint our skin for War with the Dark, brandishing our pens till it flees,
cleansing tides leaving a brilliant trail of phosphorescence in its wake,
moonshine swarming across the sea, a pointer towards the rising light.

He is the gardener who knows that blue overcoming
when everything starts to live, yet with no way in for years
because where he came from happiness was rare and not to be imagined
and he had grown among broken things—cars, trees,
children, creatures; a silent world beaten, without words,
where a father killed his six-year-old son with the blade of his rusted arm
and the dark bruise-blue he knew was the casing of a flame at ignition
and the inside of the hard steel of the bullet that
tore the blue veins from his father's heart.

A silent world hidden inside, waiting to break open on the page
and when it did, flooding, with rough spirits on his breath.
Yet lucky, finding you, joining like daisy chains of childhood, poem on poem,
lifting into the blue with your sweeps of bright birds across the heavens,
his own hands rising, opening soil and seeds to the day.
A man who knows bone country:
how to survive it; how to love it in you; and you in it.

And I’d be your cat with sapphire eyes, seeing blue horses,
blue light spilling from the windows, blue willows, blue-tongued lizards,
ulysses butterflies from Uxmalnothing that moves is so blue
souls from the sacrifice of a living heart; and peacocks,
their tails full of “lucky eyes”; blue whales; and the blue jays singing
mimicking every bell and note that our blue world can hold;
a blue wind flowing through us, spirit wind, cleaning us out.

And all this time green would be pushing through the earth
this thin line of soilnudged against the sky like a run-over snake,
bearing all the blue of the world on its back,
because some languages have no word to distinguish the two
and real growing things need their verdant flourish,
their spindles of hope and lush canvas of green.

Finally, we’d have so much blue the light would burst out.     
That’s the way of it.
Colour being a trick, a half-truth; being after all, light.

And this is a myth, isn't it?

III.  Source

What is not myth is our mothers. And our speaking of them
and our knowing that only we can see the thread of them between us.
Grown close, so close, they were, that no one has ever loved me better, you wrote.
Grown close, so close mine: “I never loved anyone the way I’ve loved you”, she said, dying.
Too close inside me, I had to cut her adrift fifteen years after her death:
       They do it to conjoined twins.
       It’s bound to hurt.
       It’s sliding along my spine now—
       the filleting knife. 3 

You chose your mother from the ether when she wore a wedding dress
so tactile-plush you carry it still in your skin and the lines of your fingertips
that would stroke it, smell it for her scent;
the scent of her first married days, of intention, of hope;
a spill of velvet, the colour of pooled ink the same colour as the dark waters
that would hold you ten years later in her womb.

My mother had a cloak of dark-blue velvet, dark-red lining its hood.
I still have it hanging, but her scent lingers in the blue and white perfume spray
holding Vol de Nuit by Guerlain that fell from her night velvet evening bag,
when she shimmered more lovely than spun ice dancing at balls with my father,
while all the while she and I were travelling the Dark, lost together.

And it's a bone thing, loneliness and it's in the plum-purple chambers
and the ribbons of blood; and it's living underground,
only the sound of the earth as it rubs against the walls turning in its sleep.
Like you, something pitiless had picked me out for loneliness
chosen me as its cold companion and it was deaf.
It took me over fifty years to learn about silence and its tongues.
Sometimes I wonder, looking at the stars, if we're wrong about communion
if loneliness might be the divine state,
or aloneness.
So familiar, so familial.

There's blue enough there.

IV.  Love

Chance is a skipping stone waiting to settle. Which skip, on which wave?
A season that brings gardenias to my green hope after drought.
Serendipitous is a sweet word. I roll it on the tongue giving thanks.
Distance is only time taking its time between meetings.
Friendship knows the necessary and what is not needed at all.
Sharing all this, we are. And the poems. And the quiet grace of the light.

 

Notes:
1 Adelaide: Biennial Writers Festival, Adelaide Australia
2 nazar boncuk. often named the “evil eye” , deep blue glass with concentric circles in blue and white
3 From Robyn Rowland, “Adhesion” in the sequence, Dead Mother Poems in Silence & its tongues, Five Islands Press, Melbourne, Australia, 2006

Quotations in italics are mostly lines from Lorna Crozier's poems: “Shadow”; “Paper boy”; “On the seventh day”; “White cat blues”; “What the mind turns over”; and her memoir, Small beneath the sky (Greystone Books, Vancouver, 2009). Those in section II, stanzas 9 and 10 are from Patrick Lane's poems “That blue overcoming”; “Weeds”; an interview; and the quotation in the final line is from his poem “Far north.”

Find out more about the Spring 2010 issue (No. 170), Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, and Aesthetic Kinship.

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