I write, and time feels geological. Vast and slow. I move through the hours like a glacier, stilled to a cold and concentrated point somewhere deep in my own centre. And then when I’m done, and the last full stop is placed, I blink, and the world comes flooding back, a rush of quickness and colour, sounds so loud I can almost see them, doubling and redoubling in the air.
The poems in my first collection are poems from the start. Of everything, of my life as a writer. Poems from the tap-root, from the well’s heart. I imagine the book as a map: follow a line with my finger, trace it all the way back. Here, I am twenty, and sick, writing in the bright library between doctor’s appointments. Here I am thirty three, in
in love. Here is a bedroom I remember
every detail of. A classroom. An office. Each poem a snapshot. Each poem a
journal. Each poem a lovely anchor, fastening me to a time or place. New York
Some of the words, I can almost taste: the wine I drank while teasing out the tangles of a phrase; the vending machine cocoa, rich brown silt at the bottom of the cup. I remember the paintings that hung on walls, the glossy books thumbed thin. I remember the essays and articles I read – a spark of interest that caught and leapt, and burned, intensely, in my skull’s crucible. And I wrote while they burned, until all that was left was the ash of black words on a white page. News stories. How sounds were sent on discs into space: human voices, whalesong, nightingales. How a herd of three hundred reindeer was felled by a single lick of lightning in a Norwegian forest.
My friend once saw an exhibition in
– human bodies,
split and cut. The heart, visible. The layers of spongy yellow fat. And the one
thing she described to me with exquisite clarity: a red net, delicate as wire,
hanging like art behind plate glass. A lattice of blood vessels, removed from a
once-living body by injecting the arteries with plastic and then dissolving
everything but that. These tiny tunnels that once ran with breath, with life; a
tangle in the air describing the place they once inhabited. Manhattan
That is how my poems feel, now. Like an entity separate from myself. They hang together, hold my shape - but they no longer live in the dark of my body.
There is a tribe in the Amazon whose chief wears a cape made from hummingbird feathers. Imagine it - a wake of blue and yellow that falls like fire and sky from his shoulders. But the cape is so heavy that he cannot walk when he wears it.
I come to my writing desk, find the slate completely clear. The first time in a decade it has been this way. I imagine my book, I imagine that bluegold cape. The shrugging off of all that beautiful weight.
How naked and vulnerable it is to be without it. And yet, and yet: how utterly free, how wonderfully light.