I suppose it makes sense to begin where we left. Kind of nonsensical, if you think about it too much, and I do – overthink, that is. My father would notice and tell me to stop lest my brain catch alight. Unfortunately that has yet to occur.
I am rebellious. I never start off reading a poetry collection from the beginning. Instead, I prefer to open a random page and see where it takes me. Akin to skipping Bowie’s later work in favour of Space Oddity, first released in 1969, owned on vinyl by my father and very recently inherited by me.
I opened Cover Stories at page 30…
Should I fill it
with the wing beats
of small birds?
Deceptively simple, no? And me, reading the book in our sunroom – my prime bird-watching position. From there I can see the two feeders; a small concrete bowl equipped with matching concrete sparrow (we call him Stu), and the much larger three-tiered jungle gym my brother constructed. That hangs in the pergola, often swinging wildly, challenging the birds’ agility. I encourage them with slices of fruit stuck on nails, seeds in the bottom tray, perhaps an overripe avocado on a lucky day, or a millet spray pinned to the middle.
When you are in pain, the hours are long. Even more so when the pain is accompanied by fatigue, an inability to get comfortable, an exhausting boredom that cannot be sated because there is no energy to act, to create.
Opening Steph’s book, traveling back in time to her life in 2005, and feeling kinship brought me to tears. Here is someone who knows the length of the hour, my mind whispered. Here is someone who knows that even the smallest thing can become infinite, and that even smaller things are a deeply desired occupation.
I skipped a few pages forward, to Ghost Gum To The Owner Of The House.
The most obvious and unobvious thing about invisible illness is that it is invisible. And so too, sometimes, is the person living with it. In Ghost Gum, I felt myself as the gum, as the house, as the person within the house. It plays with faintness, fading, reaching, rooted and stuck, questions with no answers, the small joys of connection, the bewildered, almost pleading longing of belonging elsewhere. I have many personal interpretations for this poem, but underpinning it is yearning for relief – whatever form that may take.
Rich With Figs arrested me with the first two lines. I felt familiar indignance at Steph’s eloquence; the tight turn of phrase, careful plotting of words on the page, and what I understand as the entire metaphor. How dare she? Except, of course, I know how she dares, and though the cadence feels easy, the capsule is constructed with extreme precision. I have often felt the mockery of the empty page, and here, the author seems to relish an opportunity to taunt it right back.
I laughed out loud at Last Stand. I’m not sure that was the correct reaction, but to me it reads as commentary on the type of poetry that is confessional – open heart surgery – the sort that began resurging around that time. Here is Steph’s indomitable spirit. Here is her line in the sand.
It has taken eight painstaking days to write and edit these 2000 words. It is a feat, and yet paltry in comparison to what I wish to achieve – what I could, were I well.
But what are Steph’s words, for me, if not hope? What are her creations, if not testimony?
And what of Bowie? Despite his own admission that Space Oddity was unfocused and uncertain, it became a defiant and defining sound. The ultimate summation of the disaffected space race generation.
Perhaps all hope is not lost. While the most intrepid journeys I currently make involve pharmacies and op shops, always punctuated by the couch, my mind is still capable of wandering. When my brain awakes from the miasma I can, however briefly, fire on all four cylinders. Enough to make it out of orbit, perhaps.
And then all that is left is to follow the parallel lines.
Jareth: Turn back, Sarah. Turn back before it’s too late.
Sarah: I can’t.
Don’t you understand I can’t?