Whenever I’m ill, I think more, I write more. I think it’s a coping mechanism.
It’s a strange afternoon. The sun hasn’t made up its mind on whether it wants to be in or out, and so the sky is a little grey, with the occasional light burst. The gossamer curtains are slowly being lifted by the mid-afternoon breeze, and then slowly placed down again. Once, I’d taken a picture of this scene and called it: this is how poetry looks like.
We don’t know this, but we see poetry in motion, every day.
I’m currently reading When Women Were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams. It is an emotional book for me to read because she talks about things that are very close to my heart: mothers, being a woman, the voice of a woman as a writer, and the voicelessness, birds, birds, birds. It feels like I am drifting along with her this afternoon.
In one of her chapters, she talks about how her grandmother brings her to watch whales off the coast of California. It was in the thick of the Save the Whales movement in the 1970s. Reading about her experience, I am reminded of Roger Payne’s album, Songs of the Humpback Whale. As I think this, I come across her own reference to this album. I log onto YouTube to put it on play, and I try to read on, but a memory finds me.
September 2012, Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia.
It was the peak of a road trip with a nearest, oldest, dearest, photographer friend, L. It was a trip that had come in the middle of many difficult things, and quite like Fraser Island, it was an oasis of comfort and beauty when little else made sense. We were there to see whales, and to visit a shipwreck. They had told us that we would be very lucky if we saw the whales. Usually, the whales would come very close to the shore, they said. But only, if you’re very lucky, they said.
I couldn’t think about whales when I saw the shipwreck. Pristine in its utter devastation, it stood, almost majestic in its decay. The waves were crashing against it relentlessly, angrily. The sun was beating down on us. It was hot, the air was heavily laden with salt, there was sand on my skin, and it was a glorious moment of being alive. It was the first time I was seeing a shipwreck. Who would have thought that there would be so much beauty in the broken? (That was my first lesson, but I didn’t realise it then – the beauty of the damaged was poignant, a stepping stone for rebuilding, recreating).
We got back into our jeep, drove along the sand expressway, keeping our eyes peeled for whales. We never did see them, except for one moment, where we saw a spurt of water being gushed upwards, vertically. Exultant cries; it was from the blowhole of a whale, far away from us. Not near enough for us to see the actual form of the whale, but enough of an evidence to know that it was real, that it existed. Such a simple, but worthy reminder of how life worked. Again, I hadn’t known this then, but it was my second lesson. Keep your eyes open to what was around you, and you’ll find the love-notes that life had left for you to pick up, and carry on.
(We never realise these things until in hindsight, isn’t it?)
My eyes are closed. The Song of the Humpback Whale reverberates in the room, and behind my closed eyelids, I see the golden sand, the heat of the day, the reminder of a trip that brought me to life. L, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but thank you for bringing me to the oasis I needed when life was nothing but a dark, bleak, pain-ridden desert.