In the hour of the scream
We write poems
A friend and fellow writer, Michelle Mcafee wrote today on her Substack post: I’m having trouble focusing. The smallest tasks seem like mountainous effort….These are terrifying days. I’m an ocean away from the aggression, but the ripple effect sends a tsunami of sadness around the world. The collective fear is palpable. It leaves a metallic distaste in my mouth that I can’t seem to shake… (Read her Substack - Storylife here)
I feel the same, it is very difficult to concentrate. It’s been a week of errancies and extreme sadness, so I spent a lot of time with my Violette, at the National Gallery in London.
A friend, June, who is 89 told me how, as kids, they’d watch their parents listen frantically every hour to the radio in the beginning days of the war. They would hide behind the large sturdy set which boomed out a voice which made the radio’s speaker vibrate and would lick their little children tongues over the radio batteries for the tickle fizz. That is what she remembers as a young girl of the war. Not fear, but the taste of battery acid kissing her tongue.
So life goes on, along the years, back and forwards, like waves, it continues, it weeps, it laughs, it does not care, it cares too much, it protects and it does what life does.
The first real book I ever read on my own was I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942–1944. It was given to me by my father, Marius when I was very young. This is the opening poem is by Pavel Freidmann who wrote the poem on a piece of thin copy paper after being transported from Prague to Theresienstadt at the age of 21. On 29 September 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz where he died.
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would singagainst a white stone. . . .
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished tokiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here, in the ghetto.
Raja Shehadeh, is a Palestinian lawyer and writer, who was born in Jaffa, Israel and who currently lives in Ramallah, West Bank. I found an article he wrote in 2009 about his friend the poet Mahmoud Darwish – a poet of peace in a time of conflict.
He, (Mahmoud,) described to me his poem State of Siege, which he wrote in response to the Israeli invasion. It was "a poet's journal that deals with resisting the occupation through searching for beauty in poetics and beauty in nature. It was a way of resisting military violence through poetry. The victory of the permanent, the everlasting, the eternal, over the siege and the violence." Hearing him speak, I realised how fortunate I was to have found a kindred soul who was struggling with the same difficult issues I was having in my attempts to write about the invasion."We will become a people when a writer can look up at the stars without saying, 'Our country is loftier and more beautiful.”
Mahmoud Darwish died on the 9 August 2008. He is buried in Ramallah.
I come from there
I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.
I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland.....
Monday, January 13, 2003
With this, I leave you.
Next Substack I will return to my journey into la France profounde, on the train for Châtellerault from Montparnasse.
With all love,