Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dance of February

Today is all glitter and sunlight and blue shadows. Swells of the sheerest intimation of winter transition quivers in my bones; a tune that teases memory but can’t quite find the words.

After waving goodbye to my parents, who have been visiting for the past week, I hasten to go for a walk. There are melting pools of snow everywhere as the temperature soars to 8 degrees above zero. For the first time in months my body feels an inkling of spring. It registers in my legs, my brain, my heart.

The snow has separated into bone-shaped islands. Blonde grasses peek out everywhere. I stop and eat my apple on a small bridge while looking out at the thawing skin of the river. I knew I was weary of the winter crust on my world, but I hadn't realized quite how much until I feel the glad leap in my heart.

On my way home, I run into my neighbour out walking with her two little ones. B, aged three, scampers ahead, stamping his little boots, mittened hands pawing the thinning snow for treasure. Not having seen her close-up since the autumn, I am astonished at how big baby L has grown. Fat, dimpled, pink-cheeked, she grins at me, revealing two perfect pearly teeth. I issue an impromptu invitation for lunch, and am accepted.

We unwind scarves, remove snowsuits, undo boots. I pass the baby to her mother, a soft, plump burden of love, and then seek out the box full of little toy cars for her brother. I bring out, too, the big Noah's Ark with all the animals. Ben finds this fascinating. Soon giraffes and lions, sheep and elephants, jostle for position in the ark alongside myriad little cars. Baby L gums and drools on a sculpted plastic camel.

I chat with their mother as I add a mixture of sauteed scallions, dried apricots, roughly chopped almonds, and a diced Granny Smith apple to rice cooked in chicken broth. B would prefer a grilled cheese sandwich, and this I prepare as I sear scallops in garlic butter to serve with the rice.

My neighbour comments on a garden plaque resting on the Welsh dresser. It reads 'My Secret Garden'. This I bought the other day because it called to me, partly because The Secret Garden was one of my favourite books as a child, and partly, because I think each of us possesses a secret garden of self which just needs the right conditions to unfurl. We all need light and warmth and watering tears and tender hands. Once the snow disappears completely, I will place the plaque outside.

As we eat and laugh and sip tea and savour the antics of the children, a wave of feeling rushes over me. The dance of February; slowly releasing the soil, stretching the spiralling buds ... thwarting the breath of winter, not just in nature, but in we human beings, too.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Magpie Tales: The Piano Teacher's House

The Piano Teacher’s House

Floors of hardwood, high ceilings,
white curtains, candlesticks on the
brick hearth, clock ticking in dark
wood. Glass bowl of seashells.
No shouting here. No stale beer smell.

She waits for her turn making
up stories for the pictures
lining the room. Babies in white
dresses, men in uniforms,
women in plumes and velvet.

The green house with the piano
converts black insects into
music. She plays them into
gilt-edged pages of incense
breathing secret beauty.

Too soon, in the car, sitting
next to her father, not talking,
eyes closed, trying to keep
the piano teacher’s house
humming inside her.

(Go here for more Magpie Tales.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Pink Cape

(Jo, aged ten years old, 1967.)

Spring in my family meant new spring clothes; a dress or two, new shoes, and a spring coat. Usually the clothing was sewn by my mother, and although I’d see the pattern, and glory in tracing my fingers along the fabric, my sisters and I would only have glimpses of the garments until they were almost finished. Sometimes I’d gaze in wonder and growing anticipation at the little heap of shapes on my mother’s sewing table.

She had a small sewing room right off the kitchen at our house. My bedroom was directly above it, and often I could hear the whirring of the sewing machine at night when I drifted off to sleep. It was a lullaby that always made me feel loved.

My mother was happy when she sewed. "You’re going to love it", she would say, smiling, "As soon as I saw that material, I knew it was exactly the right shade to bring out the green in your eyes." Or, "Princess Anne has a dress just like the one I‘m making you. I saw it in my magazine." In a trifling, I’d imagine myself in my new dress, feeling beautiful as the material floated around me.

The year I was ten years old, my mother sewed me a cape for my new spring coat. It was of pink Melton cloth with a darker pink silk lining and magenta buttons. I hated it! I had expected a coat. The picture on the front of the pattern had showed three figures. My eyes had fixated on the two in coats, barely noting the one girl wearing a cape. No one in my class wore a cape. Nor did anyone else I knew.

My mother, as she measured the hem line on me, knew immediately that I didn’t like it. I also knew I would have to wear it anyway. That didn’t stop me protesting, though. My disappointment came flooding out in a litany of grievances:

"Nobody wears a cape. Nobody!"

"Everyone is going to laugh at me."

"Couldn’t I just wear my old coat?"

My face burned with dislike, and also with shame at having offended my mother.

I wore my cape to school for the first time, filled with mute despair. I tried to carry my satchel strategically front of me, and place my arms in such a way that it hid the fact that it was a cape. To no avail, of course, and my fears of being teased were realized. Being called, "Stinky Pinky Bat Girl!" really doesn’t sound all that dreadful now, but I was a very sensitive little girl, and at the time it stung to the quick.

A few weeks after the cape made its debut, my father had business in London and he took me with him for the day. This was a rare treat, and I was thrilled, despite having to wear my pink nemesis.

As I waited in a rather grand reception room as my father attended his meeting, my eyes were increasingly drawn to a beautiful young woman sitting at the big polished desk. I don’t remember what she was wearing, just that I was very impressed with her beauty and poise.

As my father and I went to leave, I was startled when this elegant being spoke to me, "Your cape is just lovely. It’s the very height of fashion. You look so chic in it!" I left the building feeling almost like I had just had a bath; clean, transformed.

My father and I went out for lunch, and then to feed the pigeons at Trafalgar Square. He snapped my picture as I stood there in my pink cape. The delight of that spring day glows in my face.

In time I grew to love that cape. In fact, I wish I still had it.

(This is a Saturday Sepia post.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Magpie Tales: Icons of Dust

Icons of Dust

When I am alone
The world shoves poetry
Into my brain.
It germinates in earth
And sky and trees
And snow glistening
In morning light.
Brick walls and birds
Cello music and
Gnarled hands.
I name it
Give it story
Fill my language with gold.
And the presence inside
All things muses on beauty
As brick becomes an
Icon of red dust
Coating my eyelids
And choking my voice
With song.

(Go here for more Magpie Tales. It's worth the flight!)