Totemic Rebirth

Monday 5th September, 2016

‘For art sings of God, and ultimately belongs to him.’ Patti Smith, Just Kids.

Maybe I’ll write something brave, bony, skeletal, laid out, a metier of carefully measured words. Something to hold human attention, a magical clasp in the mind, a sacred space that is protected, held dear, which multiplies into a body of work. Poetry is an unusual calling that doesn’t always sit easily with the poet. It’s hard to justify. How’s it going to go on? I can feel my first poetry book close to me. I can feel it in the world, almost. I’ll never forget that dream when I scaled a rock face and Jon was hoisting me up – the sheer effort to achieve my dream is seemingly insurmountable. 

I must remember that Jon stands behind me supporting me. Although, it doesn’t always feel that way. It’s as if he went into an intensive career-drive when we had children with the desire to acquire wealth and security. He currently comes home late and gets up early for conference calls. Sometimes he wakes up at 5am for a call and disturbs the whole house. His workaholic tendencies are disrupting our sleep. It’s worse than ever – the hours he keeps. I told him I cannot continue this way and he responded by coming home last night at 6.30pm, but has gone to Italy for business today, and will not returning until late. He clearly needs better work life balance. 

By contrast, it seems that I went into an intensive mother-drive when the children were born and have been focused on nurturing and supporting them. But, I see that I need to loosen the reigns on motherhood, let my children be cared for by others as well. Although, I require an excellent community to do that. Of course, I’ve just moved countries, so there’s enormous pressure on me to be the sole source of comfort and security for the children, especially with Jon so absent. We both desperately need better work/life balance. I need more time to write. 

To add to my frustrations right now, I found out yesterday that Jon’s employer has not yet paid the shipping fee! Our belongings haven’t even been dispatched from Australia and therefore won’t arrive for months. I couldn’t go off to sleep last night, probably because I feel so displaced. I got up and sat on the sofa and stared at the bare apartment, ruminated. I focused on a lone marionette hanging on the doorframe, which I brought to Amsterdam in my suitcase. I looked up at it, as if from a strange cleft of self. That pretty doll I bought on our recent trip to Thailand seemed to pull at me. Perhaps, I had an inkling when I bought it that it was more than mere ornamentation, bore some kind of doubled purpose.

The decorative puppets arms arrowed out on either side, palms flat to the ground, in festive dress, made of thick handmade paper with multi-coloured criss-crosses stitches on it, gold beads, silver sequins, an obi tied around front. Its ornate dress comparable to a fanned-out parachute, in free-fall, floating down a rail of night. Its white kabuki-like mask, coal eyes, crimson lips, overtly theatrically, as if undergoing Holy Communion. Its gold crown a fettered birthday cake, six tiers up, decorated with jewels, perhaps to celebrate a new telepathy with the omnipotent by torpor of night. Its benign smile seemed to assure me somehow it’ll be alright. I’ll land on my feet. But, for now the puppet master is pulling the strings. My own will is superseded, albeit temporarily, at the mercy of some supernatural force. 

Patti Smith says that life is a tarantella; a tender dance between fate and sheer will, which we must navigate on a daily basis. It seems to me that she’s right. It strikes me, based on my readings of her work, that just as Frida Kahlo dressed every day for paradise, Patti wakes up and writes in order to face heaven, with grand hopes of entering divine spheres; her writing like an act of survival and a commune with God. After all, the work of the artist is to approach the metaphysical. Of course, many of those she’s held dearest have passed over; her husband, her first love the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Her spiritual tale of two misfits poor as pigeons, living on the streets of New York city, in the parks, finding one another, both strays, and forging an unbreakable pact; bound by their collective commitment to artistry, is remarkable. Some romanticisms stir the heart, make the mind alter, to approach life anew. Smith’s Just Kids is such a thing, a highly eloquent memoir. Her collection of essays Mtrain is also special, albeit somewhat strange and arbitrary. It is still moving and well written. 

I love that story she tells in Just Kids about sitting in the foyer at The Chelsea Hotel writing with a stuffed raven set down beside her, when all of a sudden Salvador Dali strides up to her, places his hand on her head prophetically, tells her she’s like a raven. Oh Patti’s raven ways: her gothic punk sensibility, her Rimbaud epistles, and endless romanticisms. The vocational path of a writer is tough. You have to be prepared to risk a lot. It’s also lonely and requires ascetic discipline. Also, many people find it hard to accept the figure of the artist, and especially the poet. It’s against-the-grain. Fuck’em. I’m gonna wake up every morning with my head held high and approach divine spheres through writing as an act of survival.

I’ll take up my journal and pen, record the womb-lip drop over night, draw down its heavy shudder-eye. The dream door is opening. Something pure is about to spring from the totemic self. A life entrusted to raven’s and owls to barter over, to prize out the head, bring out the body, its scrawly legs, its fierce claws, until another species of bird bursts out, less scavenger than raven, more fuelled by daylight than owl. It seems owls partially won, somehow an owl-woman-thing emerges no longer human bound, rather guided by her own principals of stealth, no surrender, equipoise in flight and modesty of voice, not shouting, rather gathering steads of emptied out sun, tying them back together in an apprenticeship of letters.