This week I used some embroidery threads which belonged to my grandmother, they are still in a bag from Lynwood Fashions, her clothing factory in Harare. I was named Ursula after her and recent thoughts have been around how much of her, lives on in me. Strangely my grandfather’s name was Clifford and my husband’s name is Clifford. Ursula and Clifford, not a common combination I’m sure, I like the echo of it. Since pondering over the embroidery threads, I have wanted to write something about her.
I also received an e-mail from Itch magazine calling for entries. “The theme for Itch 13 is DETECTION. Taken literally, detection means the search for something hidden or concealed, but it opens up a myriad possible interpretations. Since we welcome work from writers at every level of experience and across cultures, we hope to see many different responses to the theme.”
My recent method in writing poetry is to read some poetry before starting, to get my head in the right space. This time I picked Raymond Carver off the bookshelf, and read this poem by him. The page fell open, somewhere near the middle of the book ‘A new path to the waterfall.’ How strange that it opened there when I was thinking of a pond and the gene pool as my central idea. I liked the feel of the poem, and it did not rhyme, before picking up my pen I knew that the poem which I wanted to write would not fit neatly into verse.
The Kitchen – Raymond Carver
At Sportsmen’s Park, near Yakima, I crammed a hook
with worms, then cast it toward the middle
of the pond, hoping for bass. Bullfrogs scraped the air
invisibly. A turtle, flapjack-sized, slid
from a lily pad while another pulled itself onto
the same pad, a little staging area. Blue sky, warm
afternoon. I pushed a forked branch into the sandy bank, rested the pole in the fork,
watched the bobber for a while, then beat off.
Grew sleepy then and let my eyes close.
Maybe I dreamed. I did that back then. When
suddenly, in my sleep I heard a plop, and my eyes
flew open. My pole was gone!
I saw it tearing a furrow through
the scummy water. The bobber appeared, then
disappeared, then showed itself once more
skimming the surface, then gone under again.
What could I do? I bellowed, and bellowed some more.
Begun to run along the bank, swearing to God
I would not touch myself again if He’d let me
retrieve that pole, that fish. Of course
there was no answer, not a sign.
I hung around the pond a long time
(the same pond that’d take my friend a year later),
once in a while catching a glimpse of my bobber,
now here, now there. Shadows grew fat
and dropped from trees into the pond. Finally
it was dark, and I biked home.
My dad was drunk
and in the kitchen with a woman not his wife, nor
my mother either. This woman was, I swear, sitting
on his lap, drinking beer. A woman
with part of a front tooth
missing. She tried to grin as she rose
to her feet. My dad stayed where he was, staring at me
as if he didn’t recognise his own get. Here,
what is it, boy? He said. What happened,
son? Swaying against the sink, the woman wet her lips
and waited for whatever was to happen next.
My dad waited too, there in his old place
at the kitchen table, the bulge in his pants
subsiding. We all waited and wondered
at the stuttered syllables, the words made to cling
as anguish that poured from my raw young mouth.
My poem did not come easy to me, I was baiting a hook and waiting. I wrote this over 2 days, starting from scratch on the second day, I then married the two with this result.
SEARCHING THE GENE POOL
I hold my breath, diving
into the ancient pool
which birthed us
Where you live
beyond time, beyond breath
swimming in the fluid that binds, (blood
clings more than water)
I am, daughter of your daughter
My blind hands probe silt, bringing
a raw gem to the light
tigers eye, amethyst or a bloody garnet
It looked like any stone, until
faceted in your course hands (like mine)
Now, on our pond, I find you
somewhere between, where sky reflects water
and water reflects sky. Our names echo
Ursula and Ursula, a circle of syllables
Is it the you, in me
of antique things
objects which breathe
Is it the you, in me
who is calmed at a potter’s wheel
or other industry
Is it the you, in me
holding needle and thread
I like to think so, then
you’re not dead
I keep, the cookie roller
from your warm kitchen, where
home’s heart beat, like
an ancient clock, and
baking at Christmas, with my children
we cut the same shapes,
from different dough