Between

I exist in the impossible land of the folksong, the acre between foam and strand.

Liminal space. Interstitial.

I’m waiting on the foggy threshold between two months ago and next week. A nowhere place.

They say one should seize each day, not worry about tomorrow or beyond tomorrow but I’m not good at these in-between times. I feel so healthy but know I’m not. The betrayal of my own body confuses me. How could I not have known there was something wrong? And now I have to wait to be put right.

Just like those days before childbirth, I pad awkwardly from project to project, unable to settle to things that normally calm me but instead doing thing I normally put off: cleaning, dusting, rearranging, hopeful, excited, fearful, disbelieving, confused and above all anxious to the point of nausea.

Fidgety, I excavate the strata of my jewellery box – the nearly oldest items are from my teens – some no longer fit, others no longer appeal. Older still are two rings that were once my grandmother’s. Each piece reminds me of moments, emotions, people. Each was once a loving gift or spontaneous purchase. Whyever do I have so many earrings? The light catches on tiny facets of colour. I shall clean these neglected sparkles and wear them again if only for the memories they recall. After this is all over, I shall give most of them away.

Cooking is the only other thing I can sometimes concentrate on.

I find a recipe for my husband’s birthday – a special dish but tricky. It has so many fiddly, unfamiliar steps but my mind stops whirring while under knife, then pestle, then spoon, rich colours merge and flavours blend.

As it slowly cooks, I put the spice jars away. Their shelf is full and chaotic, it had taken me a while to find what I’d required. I must sort that cupboard out – empty the old, out-of-date bottles then check to see what I need to replace.

A jar of paprika tumbles off the shelf as I rummage and the lid pops off. Powder red as dragon’s blood spills everywhere. How ridiculous that something so silly makes me want to cry. But I don’t. I rescue what I can and replace the lid firmly. Then I start my inventory, extracting every other bottle to check its age.

Whyever do we have so many jars of mustard seeds?

I tip the bottles and watch the seeds roll and tumble, trying to remember through the fog of anxiety what they traditionally represent. Is each orb a worry or a grain of faith?

I tip the out-of-date ones away. They trickle down a mountain of out-of-date spices. The chaos of reds and browns smell and look like expired magic. I decide that the discarded mustard represents seeds of worry.

I retain just one jar. But its contents represent tiny seeds of faith to help me cross the space between sea and shore.

Words and photograph copyright 2020 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Lost Sometimes

I remember when the sky was always an impossible blue.

The days when I left home after breakfast not to return till evening.

When with a friend, I’d lie in fields of barley or under larches or hide from little sisters among the bracken or in hawthorn trees or walk among plants taller than our heads …

or more often than not… 

I’d sit alone in the quiet copse or by the whispering river, deep in my own thoughts and worries and dreams and ideas: lost.

Lost in the waiting room between worlds: the one which was and the one which might be, the one which I feared and the one which I hoped for.

There was sometimes a joy in feeling lost, caught between a range of possibles none of them yet real.

Sometimes of course, lostness meant fear. 

Turning the wrong way on an unfamiliar road, walking further and further hoping for something I recognised. Too terrified to turn around. Fearing I’d never see anything I knew again. Feeling guilt in trusting a stranger’s hand …

Or falling into the fast-flowing river all alone, tumbling toward the not-so-distant waterfall, catching at last on branches till I could drag myself out and dry in the sun so that no-one would ever know…

Or older now, driving in fog or heavy snow, too fearful to stop. Has my turning been missed? Am I too close to the edge? Will I drive like this forever?

And in the end the heart-calming, velvet warmth of being no longer lost but safely home.

Yesterday I felt lost and I feel lost today and tomorrow I will doubtless feel lost as well. It’s the way things are right now.

I’ll be feeling lost for a while, caught in the space between what is and what might be, between knowledge and doubt and possibility, on the edge of the cliff contemplating tumbling down or the possibility of flight.

Yes, there is a little fear, but just now…

the sky is that impossible childhood blue again.

I accept the lostness. Not abandoned, not angry nor terrified but in a waiting room between worlds: the one which was, the one which is, the one which might be, the one which I fear and the one which I hope for.

I hesitate under tall trees on a path which forks into side-trails and copses, hesitate on the edge of a river which twists out of sight and dithers towards side-brooks and weirs.

I feel lost but I’m all right. I will own the lostness and I’ll wait until the unknown is known and the possibles become probables.

And today I am content under this impossibly clear sky, closing my eyes and imagining all those unknown worlds around me as blue – from opal to indigo – each as beautiful and embraceable in its own way. 

Sometimes it’s all right to feel lost. 

I don’t know quite where I am today, but I am all right.

Lost Sometimes – music by Dissimulated

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Words and photograph copyright 2020 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

 

 

 

Four a.m.

Yet again, despairing, I wake at four
Hoping this time the lava of oblivion
Will overwhelm the vortex of my thoughts
Spinning in chaos at this burgling hour.

Outside from house to house invaders peak
Easing open windows, doors
Armed with picks, crowbars and ill-intent
Burglars sneak.

In nurseries, dream-fogged people creep
Feeding, rocking, soothing
Those soft and milky balls of want and fear
Burgling sleep.

Elsewhere, people pause in jaws of death
Frail pulses beat, hands clasp, tears run
Exhaustion flutters in vain against the foe
Who burgles breath.

And in my mind, these thoughts won’t cease
Fears, anger, confusion whirl with draining force
Worry forces entry into sleep
Burgling peace.

vortex

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Refugee

I flick the fly from my face and arms. Its incessant unhygienic search for moisture irritates and repulses me.

She does not flinch as flies crawl along her dry lips and tiptoe through her eyelashes.

I wish I’d managed to lose that excess weight.

She wishes she had enough food to fill her breasts with milk for her baby.

I wonder if I will ever have a child of my own.

She wonders if her child will live till tomorrow.

I wonder if I will ever have a man to share my life.

She wonders if a man would protect her from other men.

I wish my period wasn’t so heavy, worried the blood might spoil my new clothes.

She wishes she had sanitary towels; worried that she will be shunned as unclean when the blood soaks through the rags and spoils the cast-off clothes from the charity bags.

I wonder how I will pay for my parents’ care as they age.

She wonders, in her damp shelter, under grey skies, how to dry her parent’s urine soaked mattress and shame drenched eyes.

I wish she had a home like mine: cosy and safe, with nice things and friendly neighbours.

She wishes she was back in the home she left, with a roof and a floor and a kitchen and a bathroom, with her own country safe enough to live in.

I wonder what her job had been; if she had been like me once upon a time: educated, qualified, responsible, respected.

She wonders if anyone will ever recognise her worth and skills again.

I know I will never forget her face.

She knows she will never remember mine.

She is a mirror. Not because she looks like me, but because she makes me see myself: not as I want to be, but as I am: well-meaning, self-centred, pampered, rich, safe, ignorant, born in the right place at the right time. Taking my life for granted.

grey-sky

Here is a link to a charity which helps women in refugee camps set up and operate machines to make sanitary towels, nappies (diapers) and incontinence pads. Please check it out and if you know another charity you think is worth mentioning, let me know.

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission