New Zealanders are reeling after the atrocious events in Christchurch on 15 March 2019. We grieve for those who died, for those who have lost loved ones, for the injured. We think of the many people facing long recoveries from life-changing physical and emotional wounds.
If there is one thing about this terrible time from which I, and others, have drawn hope, it’s been the overwhelming response of connection, compassion and support. There has been a powerful communal instinct towards repair and healing. One manifestion of this is the urge to make. It’s in the service of this urge that so many of us have gathered flowers and arranged them in bouquets, sung together, walked together in silent vigil. Others have cooked meals, baked bread, provided transport or translated words. I happened to visit a wool store yesterday, and was invited to join in on a project that has sprung up to knit socks and face cloths for women from the local Muslim community. “We want,” said the shop owner, “to show that we care about our fellow citizens from top to toe.”
All over the country there are many more examples of people who have picked up tools and instruments to do their bit to create harmony and cohesion: brush stroke by brush stroke, stitch by stitch, note by note, word by word.
Yet sometimes, in the face of such real and traumatic events, it can feel as if knitting a sock or painting a picture or reading a novel is useless, just silly fiddling while Rome burns. But, as the American poet Robert Hass has noted, our remarkable human capacity for creativity is the only freedom we ultimately have. He also points out that “there are technes on the side of death and there are technes on the side of life.” There are so many instruments and tools of creativity. Perhaps, in fact, the strongest response we can make, as individuals and as a society, is to reach for our guitars, pens, notebooks, paint boxes, sewing machines, knitting needles, recipes, hammers and nails, and practise the humanity of creativity.
“I am ill because of wounds to the soul” – D. H. Lawrence.
Iceberg, Peace, American Beauty: the blooms
smack the window in the summer storm, hammered,
bruised, blown apart on the path to the door. Now
is become the only season. Patients all, we ail.
Our wounds are deep, our fractures dirty, complex,
irreducible. Compound upon compound. O rose,
we are sick! Thinner and thinner our skins
in these plague years. The lesions fester and we scratch.
Small words buzz and swarm, stripping the tongue
of buds. Our mouths are full of boils. An excess of bile
mocks the liver. This contagion of crimson rage,
these wails building. Eros, thou art sore.
Our memories fail, fatally. Too much for
get. Thus, prescribe ourselves a salve for
give. Mix in the the blue bowl all our howls
and mutters. Add the lullabies, waiata, sagas,
ballads, legends, odes. Copy and collate
the scrolls; trace the stories written slow
by candlelight and goose quill on illuminated manuscripts.
Resurrect the many, many ways
of saying sister, brother. Compose
our selves. Patience, all. Make open refuge
for the human heart and place the books within.
Read, and repeat. Read, and repeat. Let settle.
Sue Wootton is co-editor of Corpus.
- Rx is the the medical shorthand for ‘treatment’. It derives from the Latin imperative recipe (‘take’).
- The poem “Rx”, by Sue Wootton, was commended in the 2018 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, and first published in The Hippocrates Anthology 2018.
- Comments from Robert Hass are from the essay “Listening and Making”, in Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry by Robert Hass (Ecco, 1984).