This week I am working hard - fleshing hides, tending jerky over the coals, cooking many meals of venison from the ‘using the whole animal’ course where I am assisting. Meanwhile the beautiful Pennsylvania hills roll around us full of birdsong and the skies hold gyring turkey vultures asking if we need all the whitetail deer meat we’re handling. We do. The students are hungry and the hill between the kitchen and the camp is steep. But we will leave the raptors scraps when we finish on Sunday night. It’s only proper.
Here are three poems that feel right for this moment. The first is a glimpse of how I write or draw and brings a recurring childhood dream and menopause together. The second gathers all my gathering into one place and queries the compulsion I have to unearth. The final one, from last autumn, is about class, and seems apt given the aristocratic shenanigans in my home country this weekend. I am 5000 miles away, and happily so.
Today I had my first pang of homesickness, after almost three weeks away, not for ‘Britain’, but specifically for the sea view at the end of my road. My sister sent a photo from there of heavy leaden skies, a stormy sea and her windblown hair across her face. And, though standing in hot sunshine on a beautiful hillside, for a moment I suddenly longed for tea with my family in damp Dorset, to see gorse and hawthorn rather than dogbane and Russian olive. And then I was back here again, right where I am, glad to be hauling a basket of homemade venison stew back up the hill.
All the drawings this week are from dreams. I never rework or change spontaneous dream drawings, they capture something from between the worlds that melts under an improving eye.
Give Each Part A Pen
In a strange bed nearby three small sleeping creatures All her mothers stand there in a line going back behind her as far as the ammonites even to plankton she feels a strong pushing-forward sensation at the waist and fire in the chest like water just ticking not a rolling boil One mother says ‘So you think you have an outside chance?’ then plucks her up in a giant hand and with fingernail sickles sheathed squeezes until her wriggling stops but drops of blood drip from her ‘You have to write this down or draw it,’ says the mother, she replies ‘How? I am in pieces.’ ‘Give each part a pen wrap each bloody limb in paper wait unwrap and attend to the blots fill in the gaps describe the stains this is how you will see what I see.’
Haem I want to tell you of the pull I feel when I enter the ochre grove and kneel heft my trowel and dig until the bag is full I barely look up to the singing woods or have a thought in words as I am drunk and overcome but that’s not quite right am I scoured, dunked, mordanted madder rose, cochineal, brazilwood? but no not these either it’s mineral not bug or plant almost nothing can draw my gaze from the green of woodland trees and moss or bare black winter boughs except this rusting luscious mud **** When I chased porcini in my youth or hunted hedgehog, ink cap, chanterelle some years I missed the canopy for months attending only to some fragrant fungal swell my eyes were always downward cast until one day as though awakened from a spell my back straightened and I put away my knife and listened to the bellowed call a red deer stag on the hill at Linn of Dee and my acquisitiveness stung me like a slap my cheeks were red - capillaries of shame I’d dragged my city scarcity up with me on the train **** In front of me are drying deepest earths making this mid-century table a hearth an altar and a place of work the levigation is complete my tiny kitchen is alchemical alembic when I don’t burn the toast or let the tea go cold huge jars of red are settling beside the kettle and the sink the rubedo of the ochre the albedo of the paper the nigredo of the ink I want to tell you of the pull I feel when working with the wild abandoned real a visceral delight in musky smells sometimes borders on disgust when mould blooms in jars or the worm appears between the mica stars where I dig a great magnetic pull breathes me in sends me rushing pulsing singing through the world-veins
This poem this poem is for you if you name things plainly: breast-feeding woman, insomnia, collapse, drought this poem is not for you if you are analysing my use of line breaks this poem is for you who must choose between food and heat this autumn whose landlord has given you notice as Airbnb is more lucrative you who don’t have time off to be at the shelf where the food is reduced at 4pm I write you my words and wrap them in comradeship when the rain stops, (blessed rain, blessed rain) I am off to the garden of the houses next door and opposite to gather fallen apples and pears as I know you don’t have the time to core, peel and chop them, or freeze them for the winter then after I have finished today’s efforts at trying to find paid work I can bear to do I will prep them for Grounded Community gleaners and find time to deliver them by foot to behind my old school as the Yellow Bus company just went bust and we must now walk everywhere maybe you are wondering, ‘Is this poem not for me? I shall read it anyway! Her style is over-earnest and her form is lacking.’ well then, this poem is also for you, in the way my songs were, that second time I went to the Laird of Kintore’s house to sing for Hogmanay the Art Deco annexe was full of objets d’art, priceless Minoan pottery Majolica bowls, Ancient Greek and Egyptian artefacts all arrayed on a shelf gathering dust picturesquely you could just pick them up as they knew no one they would invite would take anything we had all been vetted even we the minstrels of 2004 with our southern accents and our fascinating day jobs so yes, pop this poem on your shelf over there I am that working class woman using the skills of her body to pay the rent you can place me beside the finer ware as an example of your broad taste I don’t stick out too much, blonde and well-spoken the laird killed himself in the classic ‘backwards through the hedge carrying shotgun accident’ so the insurance would pay out but this poem is not for him, it is for you.
This week’s good thing: Book of Earth by my ochre inspiration and friend Heidi Gustafson is finally out. Everything you wanted to know, feel, love and admire about dirt, iron ochre, coloured rocks, primordial ooze, and the sheer beauty of bright earths is here. Go to Earlyfutures.com for details of the in person USA and worldwide online book launch events, exhibitions and how to get the book. It’s available at all booksellers now, published by Abrams. It looks stunning, my copy should be in North Caroline soon for when I get there later this month, I can’t wait.
the rarest of earths
yet omnipresent in thick veins
i feel your words viscerally
flowing through me
and meeting themselves
I always look forward to the emails I receive from you in my inbox. You bring joy and beauty into my life and the poems and artwork from the post today speak to me more than is typical. Thank you.