A weekend writing workshop in Wytham Woods on the theme of smelting: the prising of metal from ore, of words from stone …
Last year I turned forty but these days I find
my wisdom bested by a toddling child.
“Hold me upside down by my ankles,” she says, “and swing me from side to side.”
And I say: “Ella, my lovely,
if you had only mined the depths of fickleness in me,
if you only knew how little I deserve your trust, you’d never ask.”
And she says: “Hold me upside down by my ankles,
and swing me from side to side like a pendulum.”
So I do.
Below the pinchmarks of her nappy
her belly is as round and as smooth and as full of laughter as an unbaked bun.
And the hairs of her upturned fringe strike sparks of pure gold from the carpet.
In their afterglow she pleads: “Again.”
And I say: “Ella, my lovely,
if you only knew how rich a seam of unreliability you’ll find in me, you’d never ask.”
“But it’s fun,” she says. “Really … you should try it sometime.”
In my dreams I pray to the Goddess:
“Hold me upside down by my ankles and swing me from side to side
like the pendulum of a Grandfather clock.”
And that’s just what the Goddess does.
Squinting upwards, into the radiance, I can’t help but notice
that my navel’s crammed with grey-green fluff.
And the thought comes that it’s ages since I changed my socks.
“It’s no good,” I say, “I feel like a Bat, I feel like a large, ungainly Vampire Bat.
Maybe we could try it the other way up?”
So we do.
And for a moment, for the briefest of moments,
suspended by my armpits in the grip of the divine,
I know myself utterly and completely an Angel.
Angel; vampire bat. Vampire Bat; angel.
Bat, angel; Angel, bat. Batangel; Angelbat.
In the early morning bustle of coffee-brewing and mislaid socks, I seek her out.
“Ella, my lovely,” I say,
“In my dreams I dreamed I was a cherub
with teeth like hypodermics and a freezer full of Type O blood.
In my dreams I dreamed I was a Vampire
haloed in gold and endowed with all the wisdom of the Seraphim.
In my dreams I dreamed I was an angel. In my dreams I dreamed I was a bat.”
And she looks at me, with infinite compassion, from out of her three-year-old eyes
and says: “Such little progress, and so much to learn …”
And she squats, and shits serenely on the living room carpet.
My daughter's six years-old. Last Saturday
we went to Cowey Sale to feed the birds.
We stood there with our bags of bread.
A swan approached, a full-grown cob,
ungainly, lordly, every inch as tall as her.
He stretched, and spread his wings – I felt their waft.
She never flinched, she held her ground.
She fed him titbits from the bag. I felt so proud.
We stood there on the Surrey bank
and stared along the Thames to Walton Bridge.
“What do you see?” I asked her. And she said:
“A bow, a metal rainbow with its feet touching the earth.”
I smiled; she said: “When we get home tonight
I want to stay up late and watch the Stars on Ice.”
One day, perhaps this year, we'll walk across that bridge.
We'll cross, as so many have crossed before:
its span of wood and stone and brick
remade in steel – the girders braced and tensioned,
tempered to withstand the shock of centuries to come.
I'll lean against the parapet, ask her what the future holds.
She gestures to the bridge's end. “I want to dance,”
she says. I tell her: “Sweetheart, you already do.”
She thinks I'm teasing her. I'm not.
With every step she takes she makes the world anew.