Monthly Archives: March 2014

Genealogy

 

At the railway station she pushes and elbows her way through the crowd. She just wants to get on the train, not to lose sight of her sister, for this part of her journey to be over. She doesn’t know that she will never see her parents alive again. She doesn’t guess that this moment will be replayed forever in the scribble of her pen. She doesn’t know that she is a poet, this Jew child escaping Hitler. Forty years later she sits at a desk in the semi dark of twilight and writes a poem for the grandson she will only ever see twice. He is tied to a dining room chair by a bed sheet, pulling faces at his sister, similarly restrained. His mother is sitting in the kitchen next door, crying softly, her cheeks red from the effort of wrapping the sheets around her children, tying tight knots. In an hour the children will be asleep, forcing the chairs to tip, their small faces soft in repose. A string of drool escaping from the lips of her son makes a wet patch on her shirt as she carries him to bed, her eyes still red. Somewhere in the endless heat of the Middle East their father is learning to fire a gun in the desert. The children are as far from his mind as the reality of death, so life affirming is this moment; what purpose is in the crook of his arm as he aims and fires at the horizon, how much a man he feels. In a bar five miles from the home of the children, a man with a jowly face and sallow skin around his eyes is drinking whiskey. He does not look like a monster. He has sad eyes. He is lonely. One day a woman who he has never met will be hanging dead from a noose made from shoelaces and neckties knotted together, and her last thought will be of this man. But he will never know her; never look into her eyes and see the hatred floating on the surface, like filthy petrol scum.

 

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Biography

So many girls and women in my story: it’s overflowing with them. Blonde, brunette, red headed- all of them serious. And fathers and daughters- absent fathers and present fathers: it’s all the same in the end. They thread their way through the girlhood self-narrative like clumsy stitching. These women are artists, scribblers, diarisers, poets, novelists- to varying degrees- the best a published author, never populist, but in print; the worst a writer of terrible, cliché poems about sexual desire. And then there is me, who has the biography of a writer- the miserable childhood, in which survival relied upon the reading of others, de-coding their double speak; the voracious book reading, classics all devoured like so much breakfast cereal by the age of eleven; the early attempts at poetry, aged 9 and later, the implausible short stories with nuggets of gold; the love of language, leading to the first class degree in literature at a good university where a published author lecturer nurtured and nudged raw amoebic talent; the urge to write, to speak, to sculpt, to capture, to understand; seeing the profound in the mediocre every day, measuring time in sentences, paragraphs and chapters instead of minutes, hours and days- but the novels don’t come, they won’t write themselves. Life comes. And now, even when history is at my feet, begging me to write it, I see only a basket of snakes, weaving in and out, hypnotising me- I cannot even see which tail belongs to which head. I could become a snake charmer, but a snake charmer is not a writer.

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