It was golden at the weekend. C and I walked the canal into the Peak District, our feet ploughing leaves the colour of blood, of foxbrush, of tangerines. Light striped the green water through the trees, and the underleaf was flush with that lovely light that always reminds me of a jar of honey, a mug of ale. An almost-amber, a gold that sweetens and warms.
I needed that beauty. The black butterflies with fire in their wings. The squabbling ducks. The pair of swans bent sweetly at the neck like a pair of young lovers, a slow riot of leaves in their wake. But what is it the poem says? Nothing gold can stay.
Lately, I have been feeling unmoored. Small, and soft. Full of doubt. Anxiety winds its roots in me like a weed, and thistles flower in my throat.
From nowhere, as always, this. It has been a long time, but here again is that slant of dark. I move between four places only: bed, and bath; the open flame of the Autumn countryside; the back corner of my local pub, where I read and write undisturbed as the fire pops and throws off its sparks. The familiar is important. The calm. I bide my time and wait the shadow out; I know this game. I light the lights I can, strike the matches of small poems and sink in long baths full of scented foam.
As jittery as I am, as sick as I feel, there has been no rupture in my self-identity, no quavering with regards to self-care. No temptation to lash out, as I once would have. To cut or starve or stuff. Beneath this sensitive weeper, there is a quiet core of tempered steel. Years in the building, years of pain. The way the oyster builds the pearl from grit. How valuable it is to know that. To be safe in the hands of myself. And this is where those years of therapy prove their worth – that sure and solid floor of bedrock built in neutral rooms, the gold seam of worth at my core.
I am a quarter of the way, already, into a new poetry collection. The first fourth flowering from the root of the last book, which is, until Spring, still that: still root. But new buds are rising from that slow-building heat. New fruit from the old seeds. Look to that, for my assurances. Look to that, for my proof. That I am what? Living, and growing. Learning through doing. Digging through the dark with a shovel of truth.
I pull myself through the nerves with a rope of language, tell myself you have this, you've come through everything this far. And these are the leaps and bounds that put men on the moon. That distant from me. That near.
Sometimes light just takes its time to reach us. But sometimes it races in the wake of a star.