The Wave

A blog full of poetry, colourful art and age-old wisdom: a rose garden whose leaves cannot be touched by autumnal blasts.

A Poem about Surviving Cancer: Changing the Subject

2 Out-Patients

Women stripped to the waist,

wrapped in blue,

we are a uniform edition

waiting to be read.

 

These plain covers suit us:

we’re inexplicit,

it’s not our style to advertise

our fearful narratives.

 

My turn. He reads my breasts

like braille, finding the lump

I knew was there. This is

the episode I could see coming

 

– although he’s reassuring,

doesn’t think it’s sinister

but just to be quite clear…

He’s taking over,

 

he’ll be the writer now,

the plot-master,

and I must wait

to read my next instalment.

 

4 In-Patient

I have inherited another woman’s flowers.

She’s left no after-scent, fallen hairs,

no echoes of her voice,

no sign of who or how she was

 

or through which door she made her exit.

Only these bouquets – carnations,

tiger lilies, hothouse roses,

meretricious everlasting flowers.

 

By day, they form the set in which I play

the patient – one of a long line

of actresses who’ve played the part

on this small white stage.

 

It’s a script rich in alternatives.

Each reading reveals something new,

so I perform variously – not falsehoods,

just the interpretations I can manage.

 

At night, the flowers are oracles.

Sometimes they seem to promise a long run;

then frighten me with their bowing heads,

their hint of swan-songs.

 

6 How Are You?

When he asked me that

what if I’d said,

rather than ‘very well,’

‘dreadful – full of dread’?

 

Since I have known this,

language has cracked,

meanings have re-arranged;

dream, risk and fact

 

changed places. Tenses tip,

word-roots are suddenly

important, some grip

on the slippery.

 

We’re on thin linguistic ice

lifelong, but I see through;

I read the sentence

we are all subject to

 

in the stopped mouths of those

who once were ‘I,’

full-fleshed, confident

using the verb ‘to die’

 

of plants and pets and parents

until the immense

contingency of things

deleted sense.

 

They are his future

as well as mine,

but I won’t make him look.

I say, ‘I’m fine.’

 

8 Knowing Our Place

Class is irrelevant in here.

We’re part of a new scale

– mobility is all one way

and the least respected

are envied most.

 

First, the benigns,

in for a night or two,

nervous, but unappalled;

foolishly glad their bodies

don’t behave like that.

 

Then the exploratories;

can’t wait to know, but have to.

Greedy for signs, they swing

from misery to confidence,

or just endure.

 

The primaries are in

for surgery – what kind? What then?

Shocked, tearful perhaps;

things happening too fast.

Still can’t believe it, really.

 

The reconstructions are survivors,

experienced, detached.

They’re bent on being almost normal;

don’t want to think

of other possibilities.

 

Secondaries (treatment)

are often angry – with doctors, fate…

– or blame themselves.

They want to tell their stories,

not to feel so alone.

 

Secondaries (palliative)

are admitted swathed in pain.

They become gentle, grateful,

they’ve learned to live

one day at a time.

 

Terminals are royalty,

beyond the rest of us.

They lie in side-rooms

flanked by exhausted relatives,

sans everything.

 

We learn the social map

fast. Beneath the ordinary chat,

jokes, kindnesses, we’re scavengers,

gnawing at each other’s histories

for scraps of hope.

 

Carole Satyamurti

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Saints Genevieve and Apollonia, 1506, oil on linden wood, 120.5 x 63 cm, [detail], The National Gallery, London, United Kingdom, source: commons.wikimedia.org.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Saints Genevieve and Apollonia, 1506, oil on linden wood, 120.5 x 63 cm, [detail], The National Gallery, London, United Kingdom, source: commons.wikimedia.org.

Chen Chin [陳進] (Taiwan, 1907-1998): Laid Back [悠閒], 1935, oil on canvas, 136 x 161 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), Zhongshan, Taipei, Taiwan, source: tfam.museum.

Chen Chin [陳進] (Taiwan, 1907-1998): Laid Back [悠閒], 1935, oil on canvas, 136 x 161 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), Zhongshan, Taipei, Taiwan, source: tfam.museum.

Full Day

how would I know

the centre of a poem, the heart of a loaf,

the taste of calm weathers in my mouth,

how would I know

how many springs, how many pictures

I have in my pocket?

 

this afternoon is humming in me,

your eyes are huge, shadowy.

walk, let the streets stretch

walk, let your motherhood increase.

something light, something airy rises in me.

how would I know whether it’s love or helplessness?

 

Turan Koç

 

Translation from the Turkish by Mevlut Ceylan

A beautiful painting (details unknown) by Yu Xiaodong [于小冬], (1963, Shenyang, Liaoning Province, People’s Republic of China), [detail], source: jingtaok.blog.163.com.

A beautiful painting (details unknown) by Yu Xiaodong [于小冬], (1963, Shenyang, Liaoning Province, People’s Republic of China), [detail], source: jingtaok.blog.163.com.

A ceramic tile depicting a group of peacocks in a landscape, square molded decoration painted in polychrome under a transparent glaze form; Qajar art, Iran, 19th century, 28.5 x 28.5 cm, private collection, source: sothebys.com.

A ceramic tile depicting a group of peacocks in a landscape, square molded decoration painted in polychrome under a transparent glaze form; Qajar art, Iran, 19th century, 28.5 x 28.5 cm, private collection, source: sothebys.com.

Fever Tune

It is sad that it rains in autumn,

and out here, it rains every autumn day.

Sad how flowers stoop in autumn;

how the same rain is leaking down the window-panes…

 

Bare trees stand motionless against the grey,

the good old trembling trees, rustling, crying;

but it’s only the wind – singing a tiresome tune,

a low moan, in tones lamenting… 

 

Soon it should come, the quickening step,

now it should come, my peaceful memory;

my sweet grey mother, comforting round the sunken bed

where a feverish warmth dared dream of a light,

and weighing woe burst in silent tears…

 

It is sad that my sorrow should come today,

and listless in the languor of the trees;

It is sad that it rains in autumn…

 

Karel van de Woestijne (1878-1929)

 

For this translation from the Flemish I am heavily indebted to Tony Curtis

 

 

Koorts-deun

’t Is triestig dat het regent in den herfst,

dat het moe regent in den herfst, daar buiten.

- En wat de bloemen wégen in den herfst;

- en de óude regen lekend langs de ruiten…

 

Zwaai-stil staan graauwe boomen in het grijs,

de goede sidder-boomen, ritsel-weenend;

- en ’t is de wind, en ’t is een lamme wijs

van kreun-gezang in snakke tonen stenend…

 

- Nu moest me komen de oude drentel-tred;

nu moest me ’t oude vreê-beeldje gaan komen,

mijn grijs goed troost-moedertje om ’t diepe bed

waar zich de warme koorts een lícht dierf droomen,

en ’t wegend wee in leede tranen berst…

 

…’t Is triestig dat mijn droefheid tháns moest komen,

en loomen in ’t atone van de boomen;

- ’t is triestig dat het regent in den herfst… 

Pietro Perugino [Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci] (c. 1446/1450–1523): Portrait of a Young Man, possibly a portrait of Alessandro Braccesi, c. 1480, [detail], oil on panel, 26 x 37 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy, source: wikimedia.org.

Pietro Perugino [Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci] (c. 1446/14501523): Portrait of a Young Man, possibly a portrait of Alessandro Braccesi, c. 1480, [detail], oil on panel, 26 x 37 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy, source: wikimedia.org.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637/8): Calvary, 1615, oil on oak panel, 99.9 x 147.5 cm, private collection, source: sothebys.com.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637/8): Calvary, 1615, oil on oak panel, 99.9 x 147.5 cm, private collection, source: sothebys.com.

The Spirit is too Blunt an Instrument

The spirit is too blunt an instrument

to have made this baby.

Nothing so unskilful as human passions

could have managed the intricate

exacting particulars: the tiny

blind bones with their manipulating tendons,

the knee and the knucklebones, the resilient

fine meshings of ganglia and vertebrae,

in the chain of the difficult spine.

 

Observe the distinct eyelashes and sharp crescent

fingernails, the shell-like complexity

of the ear with its firm involutions

concentric in miniature to the minute

ossicles. Imagine the

infinitesimal capillaries, the flawless connections

of the lungs, the invisible neural filaments

through which the completed body

already answers to the brain.

 

Then name any passion or sentiment

possessed of the simplest accuracy.

No. No desire or affection could have done

with practice what habit

has done perfectly, indifferently,

through the body’s ignorant precision.

It is left to the vagaries of the mind to invent

love and despair and anxiety

and their pain.

 

Anne Stevenson