“You have a lot left in you,” said the bartender as I left. “I can tell.”
It was a nice parting gift from someone who’d been a stranger an hour or so before. I’m not in the habit of frequenting bars but, needing to fill in a couple of hours before a book launch and accompanying poetry reading, and also needing to sit down, I’d pushed open the door with some trepidation and asked whether I could get a cup of coffee.
“Sure,” came the friendly response. When I requested only one shot of coffee in the Americano he commented that he hadn’t made a one-shot coffee for a while. My explanation about needing to keep my potassium levels low struck a chord with him and we went on to exchange some medical history. He’d had a bad concussion and caffeine was now contraindicated. Like me he loved coffee, however he could only allow himself one cup a week. I was fortunate in being allowed one cup a day, but rarely had ‘real’ coffee as I believed it to be higher in potassium. My restrictions resulted from kidney impairment.
His face lit up and his eyes twinkled when I commented that I’d bet he enjoyed his one cup a week so much more than those who could have a coffee whenever they chose. We went on to discuss the delights of small joys, and to philosophise about bullying, the sound of traffic, of children squealing and how church bells were dying out, the difficulties of communicating when you have the idea but cannot find the words, neighbours, the value of siblings, families, and life in general. Being mostly unable to get out of the house I hadn’t had such an interesting and varied conversation for some considerable time. It was with some reluctance that I left.
The book launch was for the Selected Poems of one of my favourite poets, Brian Turner. When I arrived I wondered whether I’d have to sit on the floor as standing for long is beyond my strength, but I managed to snag a chair. Before long I was joined by another pair of twinkling eyes. Margaret and I hit it off immediately.What a day I was having, two strangers, each someone I really liked. Margaret and I chatted away without any effort and seemed to share a similar sense of humour. On leaving she gave me her phone number to keep in touch. I shall.
After a scintillating introduction by Vincent O’Sullivan, Brian Turner read some poems from the new book. For me, Turner’s work is like the wind, ever changing but holding iconic to its own sound. The poems often connect me to Central Otago, a place I love. (Not that I really need a reminder, it’s just lovely to share a similar love of nature and of place as well as reading about it.) So much so that when I hear him read I mentally see wind ever-shifting through tussocks. I wonder what other people see when they hear poetry?
When I was at high school I was reprimanded by the music teacher for giggling when she played a recording of classical music. Who the composer was, or which piece it was, I’ve now forgotten but my explanation seemed to impress when I explained that the music made me see squirrels and mice running around collecting and storing nuts – that every time I heard music I ‘saw’ scenes. I I was very sorry but I couldn’t stop seeing things whenever I heard music. This appeared to be music to her own ears and she tried very, very hard to induce me learn to play the viola. She didn’t succeed. I’m afraid I disappointed many a teacher.
After a surfeit of joy I rode home on the bus very well pleased with myself and life, grateful for the B12 injection from my doctor’s nurse that enabled enough energy to let me stay in town and open myself to the music of words again, to new people and the joy of connection. It had been a long time of illness, of struggling to walk from one room to another, of being housebound and an even longer time since I’d felt enough energy to put pen to paper.
Maybe I was back.
WHEN THE WAY IS ILLNESS
when the way ahead
is blocked and there is
no way to return,
there is only in,
then, further in,
one day it is easier
to stand, to move
one foot before
the other and
as petals to
it cannot be seen,
yet, here is the sun
there, open petals
Grace Carlyle lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.
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