‘….a poem is a little machine for remembering itself’, says David Wheatley in his review of Nicholas Barker’s Visible Voices in Poetry Review. Because I know I have read this quotation elsewhere very recently I go to the internet – which actually fails to identify the poet/poem – probably because Wheatley has summarised the quotation in his own words. After that I skid backwards in my wheely writing chair across the room to take down my Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Metaphorical or possibly real dust blows from the pages as I open it and look down poet, poem, poetry.
For a moment I am back in previous times when I frequently used this book, often wandering far from the original search as something caught my eye and I followed it up.
These quiet meanderings through words don’t occur so often nowadays. Partly this is because I seem to read more slowly, need to read things twice over – ten times if they are what I am trying to remember in French. It is, however, and I say this as someone who in a weak moment before New Year signed up to a daily ‘de-clutter’ homily, a way of making sense of life, a way of celebrating the slowness that old age brings.
One thing I have noticed particularly about this ‘life phase’ is that I am fascinated by degeneration and change in the physical things around me. I remember a friend whose father was a painter telling me that a painting on her wall was one of many that he had painted, as an old man, of a plate of mackerel as they disintegrated.
On my window ledge at the moment there are five moles, lying on their backs in a row, their pink paws reaching out into the air. The taupis man placed them there the other day. I was the only sign of life, how ironic, that he could find –sitting in my pyjamas reading at my desk when he tapped on the window, raised four fingers, smiled broadly and went on his way. He returned a week later to add a further mole he had caught in his traps.
I find that he lays out his moles, for which he charges 2 euros 50 cents a mole, in a public arena so that there is no question that he has caught them in the mole-hilled vicinity rather than taken them from the boot of his car.
At first these tiny black creatures shone in the sunlight, like sleepers on a beach ripening in the heat. Then came hard frost and they stretched out frozen and sparkly. Today the orchard is encased in ice. A pall of ice blocks out the sky and the apple trees, like ersatz Christmas trees, shine down their white trunks. The moles have gone grey. They have collapsed towards each other, they have become an amorphous heap of mole rather than the individuals they were yesterday. Their touching pink paws that have pulled at my heart strings every day have thinned to transparency, just a tiny patch of red remaining in the centre of those perfectly formed hands. So my initial revulsion at these tiny deaths has turned, over the days, into a kind of affection. I write about them every day, I am integrating them into my slowed down life.
This seems to be what is happening with my vision – fascination with tiny things, finding details in pots, pictures, flowers, vegetables, anything I ‘come upon’ that I have never noticed before although they have sat on the shelf or grown in the garden for years.
My New Year’s Resolution, which I had not made on the 31st of last year, seems to be that attention and detail, the latticed beauty of the fragment hornet’s nest, the stipple of a split piece of bark, the curious kink in the cat’s tail when she waves just the end of it, are to be my rejoicings for the year. I’ll bury the moles today, when the ice thaws, thanking them for the insight and their company.