Sunday, April 03, 2011

Finistère, March 2011

   From this place
   on sand as fine as ash
   there is only
   the incomprehensible West
                                           ( Dick Jones, Inch strand)

After Belle-Île-en-Terre the road is rougher
concrete and patched, deeply edged
with gorse and birches.  Looking across
to the further hillside, the soft points of pine,
the purpling of spring branches - like feathers,
you say, and full of colour.  Something settles.

At some point we always leave the quatre-voies,
and join, for a short way, the old national road,
running parallel, crossing, merging and vanishing,
its crosses and chapels, ribboning villages,
the slower past, faint and broken over the faster new,
to walk the dog or picnic on the dashboard
by the side of the road or near the top of Menez Bré.


We bring our grief here.  Sometimes it's so large
we can barely find room for it, sometimes
we didn't even know we had it with us,
but find it later when we get here.

Did we think we could float it out for good
onto the waters of the wide blue bay?


Spattered red camelia, flash yellow daffodils, scrambled egg daffodils,
big light daffodils standing out of plantings of dark purple heather
along the road by Carantec.  The foaming mimosa trees towering
and a single fruit from last year's passion flower vine left,
mishapen, forlorn, on the stone path.  Too early still
for the curds of blackthorn blossom thickening the hedges,
the violets and bluebells in the fields.


A witches' sabbath of tormented oaks lean
above the cliff path, their ivy succubi
making a mocking simulacrum of the spring
green the trees themselves hold back, whether
announcing soak or splash, predicting rain
like seaweed, bladder wrack - the one 
with bubbles in, you know, my son-in-law, 
the fisherman, goes gathering it at Christmas
and sells it to the restaurants, for garnishing
the fruits de mer. Five tonnes of it he got! 

A harvest free of duty, extra to the real
and meaty matter of the world.
We look more closely at our plates of oysters.


Wide and blue the bay lies in memory, but, in truth
the mudflats are more of it, sludged and sombre
riven with watercourses, sculpted with channels,
a veinous life of water under water we didn't know was there
(how could we know?), streaked with the calls of curlews,
oystercatchers, patterned with shelduck, stitched with the probing
mismatched pallid feet of egrets.


Low tide uncovers the causeway at last, we get out and walk
on the sea bed, so the sandy tuffets of dry land stand above our heads,
to the chapel, where the votive boats ride at anchor in the beams
over a ripple of candles, and the boiled sweet colours of the windows
pave the flagstones, and two crosses hang in air.


Crop enough stone from the ground for twenty years
and you can build a house, in maybe three or four.
(For sure, she snorts with pride,
all the madmen aren't in hospital!)
Dig a great  hole so the ground yawns and howls,
then build over it.  We rounded the corner and gasped,
nearly drove into it.


The one way mirrored glass in the door hides us, allows
our looking out without exposure, might soften
a hurting glare, yet makes the diffident sunlight
into greyness and lowering cloud. I suppose
you can't have it both ways.


Weariness hurts you, you mourn lost strength.
We park in the town square, eat banana sandwiches
as usual, while pale lemon pansies look wanly up
from beds of manufactured shingle, and a youth
glowers by a granite wall.  It is permissable, we affirm
aloud, to feel discomforted, oppressed
at being human, at being here at all.


You fear not returning to the shelter,
the branches, the majesty of the tree of life, about
the algal bloom, the lichenous and woolly growth
the facile, creeping stems that seem to smother it.
I fear that I'm an empty, thinning oyster shell,
worn by the turning tides and by grit I can't enclose
within a mucillagenous and nacreous self
to make a pearl.

We sit cross-legged on the bed
our heads and mouths full of stone carvings,
rotting churches, landlocked hostility and wine,
drawing close enough to get a sidelong look,
and something of the measure of these things.


Stained with homesickness we check with each other,
finding it means different things which, in turn,
create a balance . So we turn homeward,
meeting each other half way. Why then
make a love song to a place I'll never know?


We bring our grief here,
and take it home again. Only perhaps
with a less vague idea of its shape and size;
it continues, shoals and currents under
the advancing and retreating tides.


Dick said...

These are quite wonderful, Lucy. Such rich, intoxicating imagery and so vital and vibrant a sense of place. Every bit as sharp and focussed as your photographs.

And thank you for placing a piece of my celtic visualisation next to yours.

Jean said...

This is very fine and rich and moving. I don't quite like to comment, but don't want to leave without saying anything either.

FigMince said...

Me, I'd have been well-satisfied by just 'the boiled sweet colours of the windows'. The rest is a bonus – thank you.

herhimnbryn said...

Oh Lucy, this is so very, very beautiful.

zephyr said...

Exquisite and piercing.
Beautiful, Lucy...thank you.

Rouchswalwe said...

Sweet Lucy, what scenes you have set before us in this beautifully conversational poem. I learned a new word, too. And this I read several times: stitched with the probing
mismatched pallid feet of egrets
. Such a wonderful description of the mudflats teeming with 's' ... sludged, sculpted, streaked, stitched. Merci!

Mailizhen said...

So lovely, Lucy. "We bring our grief here. . ." Thank you.

Dale said...

Oh, this is beautiful. Tears in my eyes. This is everything an elegy should be. All the more powerful for the absence in the middle. Who are we grieving for? Oh, everybody, everything we've lost. There's no need to particularize, when you've accumulated this much to grieve.

marly youmans said...

These images make me crave spring and walks and strange thoughts that come with walking through untamed places.

Really especially like the way you use "crop" there. "Crop stone."

Steve said...

Very nice. I came over from Cat's blog.

Barrett Bonden said...

I'll take this with me when I eventually fly over these adamantine surfaces although, to tell the truth, there's been a notion of flying as I've read and re-read what you've written. Now I've opened Notepad so I can go through it all again, picking up a piece of bladderwarck en route and popping it absently between my fingers, as I slur my feet and re-expose what I walked over.


the slower past, faint and broken over the faster new,

"slower" picking up "over", "past" picking up "faster" and the fs of faint and faster playing with each other. That's a lot packed into one line.

It occurs to me I've never really seen Brittany as a touristy place; much more a place where, as you suggest, grief can meet grief. An accumulation of historical grief. And an accumulation of assiette de fruits de mer with me never pondering until this very moment the practicalities of gathering the garnish.

Plus the image of those houses, so unyielding, square, uncaring that - seen in the right light - don't seem man-made. And when they do there's toil visible in their facades.

build a house, in maybe three or four and I'm tempted to add my graffiti "At a conservative estimate" even if it's mischief and not poetry.

Cor, this is going to look enormous as a comment. Better stop now. It's all your fault.

Plutarch said...

I have arrived late to read this post so full of poetry, but have to say thank you for some unforgetable images and sentiments. The spread of landscape and the imminence of grief are hard to separate.

Lucy said...

Thanks everyone, very much.

It's always a somewhat trepidatious moment pressing the 'publish
button with poems, especially long ones, fearing I'm presuming rather. I greatly value your responses.

Anne said...

I'm always late, but eventually I get here. It has all been said above. Beautiful, moving, elegant, universal in its hint of mystery, full of color and surprise.