Had Nino not come along
I would not have known that a dog’s mouth is also its only hand,
Nor that, to a dog, the roots of grass taste sweet.
I would not have known the best treat is cheese
Nor that the crows like it too and so can be our friends as well.
I also would not have known what a peregrine falcon looks like,
How shy a bird it is, and how it likes to sit alone on the tops of empty trees,
Nor how those crows, in numbers, are not scared to chase it from its perch.
Without Nino, I would not have known that dogs make people speak,
Share passing thoughts because of them, sometimes almost haikus as their dogs twist leads.
Like the woman in make-up who explained to me, that all living breathing things have a language,
Except for humans.
I agreed with her that we had lost ours, it was true.
Nino doesn’t like it if we walk too close to where the zoo borders the Downs,
And stands stiff when the lions roar between eight and nice o’clock.
Did you know their roars really can travel miles on the dry winds of Bristol or Botswana?
Were it not for Nino, I would not have made a purpose of this sloping grassy place
And more often than in the bathroom mirror, see my actual face.
I would not have made a special friend of a tree alone on an elevation
About the same age or stage as me, itself again after so much dreaming.
This tree seems so uncomplicated in its approach to living, it could be a peace-maker for politicians.
Once Nino showed me a bench dedicated to a poet from Catalonia who worked at the university,
And readied himself for his early death from cancer by walking here, among the English birds and trees.
It is said he felt nature growing closer to him as he made his homeward journey.
Thanks to Nino,
I have found an empty grove of oaks on an incline by the side,
Where I sometimes say out loud my thoughts as I slide over their shiny leaves that don’t degrade.
These small discoveries are the shiny accumulations of my days, while Nino plays,
And make me feel I might have found a home.
If you want to find her, if you miss her, cross the room when the house is dark and quiet, to that chair she used to call hers. Sit down there and you will feel a little of her warmth still there, deep in the cushions. Very little, but still there, and hers.
Now go to the foot of the stairs and wait there, as she used to, and grip tight and look upwards, as she used to.
Kneel down now and place your fingers on the stairs in front, and you’ll detect the slightest of impressions still in the pile. And if you look hard enough you’ll see the outline of her shoes.
And if you lightly brush your fingers on the rough brown fibres, and hold them up to the light on the landing when you get there, you’ll notice a few specks which will actually be little bits of her soles, not from other shoes but hers.
And if you look your very hardest at the banister that held her hand, you’ll notice again the very faintest of imprints of her fingers in the wood. And if you rest your cheek there, on those imprints, you will quite literally be touching just a little of her fingers, the little that’s still there, and they will be touching you.
Climb up slowly now to the landing, as she used to, and take a breath, as she used to, shuffle to the next flight, and you’ll catch a trace of her perfume still there, just a little of it, that she put on herself.
And at the very top, look up at the Christ set in the wall, as she used to, and look with everything you have, with all your strength, as she used to.
In that smoothed face, cut-in eyes and scarlet-painted heart, she’ll be waiting for you.
It is interesting to watch how birds land in trees and I’ve been paying more attention to how they do it recently. Wings outstretched and still, the pigeon glides to within a few feet above the branch and then suddenly feathers splay to slow right down and then a sequence of very quick abbreviated wing strokes to lower itself down on to the flexing branch, perhaps one or two more strokes right afterwards for final balancing, a quick lift of the tail feathers, and then stillness. It is the same method every time. Flight has ended and that change from flying to standing takes just a couple of careful, practised seconds.
Have I landed yet or am I still flying? Have a found a place to settle? Would it be this unsupported place, this unendorsed experience known only to me?
It is thought that slowly kills us, not the ticking clock.
Revisiting the earlier poem “Aging” I thought I’d try to write a little more about this idea; the idea that there is a different kind of aging, a kind of psychological wearing-down and fatigue that comes through spending our time in the shoes of our thinking, traipsing thousands of thought-miles, living thousands of thought-lives, in search of a deeper reservoir of meaning which we insist must exist behind the uncommunicative immediate presentation of things. I suppose this might have been what Krishnamurti was referring to in his idea of “psychological time” and the fragmentary nature/fragmenting effect of thought and thinking.
When contrasted with the ticking of the clock and circling of its hands, thought-time seems to be of a different order offering a different life, apparently without beginning nor end yet malleable to our purpose and direction, infinite in its ability to self-propagate and grow. In this lies thought’s attractiveness as a plane upon which to live and a route for escape and safety.
However, thought ages us. It tempts us away from the obvious. It distracts us and relentlessly reminds us of the terror of meaning, so that we may spend no time at all in the fresh simplicity of the every-day. And it is the every-day that is actually what we have most in common with. The repetitive yet timeless occurrences like the changing light from dawn to dusk, the sounds of birdsong, the shapes of clouds, the sheen of rain on a road at night. These things seem to speak to our own sense of self that doesn’t age, our own inner alertness to life no matter the age of our bodies.
For while there will inevitably be an endlessly changing content of our thoughts over the years as we grow older and re-position ourselves in relation to life, a bare tree in winter is a bare tree in winter, a bird just coming down to land in a branch is a bird just coming down to land in a branch. A new moon in blue-violet sky is a new moon in blue-violet sky. These things don’t age, life doesn’t age…and so, in an important way, neither do we.
Dwell less on your heart, its pains and beats,
Your chest and breaths remaining.
Less on the minutes and turning years,
Cut lines down your face unsmiling.
More on the loss of moments to thoughts,
How you seek but never find.
How you age with every departure you make,
One million rotations of your mind.
Until the day you say you’re old
And turn away ashamed.
From all the twinkling evening stars
And bird songs that don’t change.