Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The standing stones of Brodgar

Stonehenge by Constable. Image source: Web Gallery of Art
....a sylvan pagan pyre,
or her body covered in flowers on a boat rowed to Avalon, or buried at water's edge under Brodgar's stones - none of these allowed today....CONTINUED
How I feel was described millenia ago.
My wailing is like the jackals
and my mourning
like the ostriches or owls;
Why have you forsaken me,
This is my soul’s darkest night,
cannot be said today without devaluation.
Metaphors that once illuminated the vale of tears,
now block its way.
Everyone is grief-stricken,
heart-broken or devastated
by loss of life, a job or a game;
Maelstrom and Vortex are muscled superheroes in tights;
The Abyss is a wrestler or science fiction,
no longer our primal home.
We don’t know why Hecuba turns into a dog,
human voice swallowed up by grief,
eyes blazing with revenge,
disfigured by suffering, ugly inconvenience
howling through our civilized land.
Emotional expression must be younger
and more commercially pretty than that.
Infinity looks containable;
stress a fashionable affectation;
suicides (on the rise) inexplicable.
Even irony, exhausted, is the new cliché.
Language and customs are over-amplified,
No-one dares admit they hear the throttled cry
and whiplash sigh in anguish.
No-one listens to the pauses where true feeling rests.
I am bereft.

After scattering ashes, it's “Move on”,
saddle up love and grief,
wild horses broken in by human fear.
Atavistic mourning, 
morbid and avenging
- skeleton statue climbing up the tomb,
blood turned into flowers,
flowers into blood,
drummed heart beats -
feels more true to me
than roses wrapped in plastic,
sterile thanksgiving and goodbye rhyme.

Banning unlikely resurrection promises,
none of the words I’d chosen
for others to say at the funeral,
come near the majesty
of what should be expressed;
words, instantly thrown away,
are funeral flowers, beauty contaminated,
unacceptable to hospital wards.

“Be histrionic as you like at the funeral”-
display of emotion is socially approved there
- but not alone at home, in bed at night,
nor in the street, outside the shops,
nor by the river in the dark,
the places where other animals freely howl -
purpose built 1930s crematorium
for regulated convenience-grief.

- No, thanks. Obstinate, ungrateful,
I will not act being my real self
in front of people I know,
parade bleeding heart on a tacky stage set,
give up tears I cannot control
for entertainment
at the end of the pier
My feelings are not fit to be seen;
they'd hang, unseemly entrails,
letting down the mood.
Rather, avoid a messy scene,
embarrassing for everyone,
easier to sublimate with banal chat:
 “Have a glass of champagne.
How nice of you to come.”

Funeral is a piece of theatre,
ritual, not transubstantiation.
She knew what was real
and what was not.
Only in music from another age
do I find consolation of harmony;
manmade tones of such solemnity
carry a meaning unspecified and vast;
or a catchy dance tune from her youth,
wistful melody that stays in the head
sobs in time with laughter
of someone who never aged or ceased to dance.

                    - her smile in old photos
                    uncovered, of her young and smiling
                    in gleeful hope,
                    the look of hope eviscerating me -.

Funerals, despite their mordant farce,
fulfill their catharctic purpose for some;
others give thanks for a life;
or, spotting colleagues, work the room;
some find a therapeutic module,
borrow the dead person for roleplay
in which a lost child finds an ideal mother
or an unmarried man, a wife.
Someone else steals another guest’s good deed,
to use as an alibi for lingering too long over a drink;
respect for the dead forgotten in an addict’s lies.

Social decorum weighing on a funeral,
gives malice diplomatic immunity,
and good consciences no rest
from worrying what to say,
how close to step.
White knights, dutiful,
guard elderly bereft,
or serve drinks when paid staff fail.
Their discretion is the bravest virtue.
But always there’s a Fairy Carabosse or two:
“It’s your do, darling, you find the wheelchair access”
A man pushing stroke victim
(Speechless, mind in prison we cannot guess)
replies to my confusion at narrow door;
either he wants me to become hysterical
or he’s forgotten this is not a pub crawl.
Later, standing beside the wife who could tell on him, :
solicitously he says: “Phone us if you need help”.
She means it; he speaks cant.

Unobserved obsequies suit me best
and for her - a sylvan pagan pyre,
or her body covered in flowers
on a boat rowed to Avalon,
or buried at water's edge under Brodgar's stones -
none of these allowed.
For eighteen months I’d been preparing,
knowing she was dying, hiding it from her,
guarding and nursing and lying;
storing sorrow behind a dam,
planning when she was gone
to let the waves roll unseen
from unreachable island
into a wide ocean,
not like this -
coursed by shame
into subterraneous
curdling streams,
bitterness flows in me.

My private vigil already vexed,
funeral is stageplay to exalt her
in front of her friends;
not to show or speak of feelings
fathomless -
a family tradition in the female line,
pride and shyness
mistaken for imperviousness.
I dared not drop a tear, for one released
would burst the banks and flood us all -
just as well, as there’s a weeper outdoing Hecuba
while my grief is dumb.
Rather, to avoid a messy scene,
embarrassing for everyone;
 “Have another glass of champagne" I say
to someone who doesn't want one.

She who could not be possessed before death
        is free for all now,
        re-interpreted, objectified.
Intellectual property transferred to public domain,
jealously appropriated for self-therapy
        out of keeping with her reticence.
 “Mine, she was mine” strangers cry
I don’t know the boundaries any more,
I have no rights to ownership.
(When someone not my brother says
“She was like a mother to me”,
I wonder if they’d say to a widow
“He was like a husband to me”)
Their love for you has no room for mercy
for me - but it’s not my death, not my show -
“I’m more upset than you!” they aver -
unhappiness now a verbal competition.
(that long ago was waged in millinery:
when my mother had joked
about the sizes of brims and nets
vying for solemnity on the ladies' hats 
at my father's funeral
I knew she was not really laughing.)

Friends want to hug; I recoil.
Noli me tangere,
I am made of glass;
a touch will shatter me.
I want to spare them
awkward moment
of not knowing what to say
when nothing can console;
I need space and time;
I disappoint them.

In my defense,
stiff upper lip,
nowadays deformity,
was once good manners.
I do not please everybody.
If people don’t see you cry,
they think you are OK -
or mean and undemocratic.
Too right: my grief is for private viewings only;
I don’t have sex in public, either.
My heart’s too full for me to speak.
Someone said I was arrogant
not to confide in them;
a solecism in compassionate society,
        I could not talk while I drowned,
        I could not tell them “How” -
        I cannot pause
        to define
        while I’m falling -
barely able to talk,
scrabbling for a rope
at the bottom of a well,
I say what I think they want to hear:
“I’m fine”.

Someone boasts he’s taken a mobile photo of me with my tongue hanging out.