Poetry is shamanism
for people who have lost the hang of it
whose bond has been severed
by the glass-shard-sharp
edge of brutality
or lost in
the muddle of
abandoned in a frenzy of updating
running as horses do beside a train
never able to keep up, always exhausted
while the metal caterpillar
never gets out of breath.

Poetry is a shamanism
that requires no psychotropic
but curiosity
no bloody sacrifice
but your lacerated heart
no ritual but the rhythmic
scratching of pen or
tap-tapping of keys;
bodypaint is optional.

Poetry could be shamanism
for everyone ashamed of shamans
afraid of soothsayers and dreamings
unnerved by foreign words with
untranslatable meanings
whose minds fight feelings
discard them as they do
vegetable peelings
people for whom the unseen is a
room with a bust lightbulb
who fumble around in it
aching for a light.

But a poem – a poem
gives you ten more hands
a billion more nerve endings
feline eyes that see in the dark
the sure-pawed tread of a lion
certainty that although you do not know the way
it will become clear as you go
and you’ll see glimmering blue eyes
the nightmare scars of horrors
those lived and those handed down
and the poem will name them
give them the recognition they seek
and let them slip away into the
soft, enfolding gloom
that no longer seems a pincushion
of fearful unknowns
but the solace of a mother’s arms:
here, baby, let me take your pain
and absorb it ’til your pen runs dry.

Paper Dolls

For the last ten months or so, ever since Cavebabe was given the all clear from her urinary infection and brought back from a strip-lit, candy-toned hospital ward to a muddle of unwashed clothes and sibling rivalry, my greatest struggles with parenting have taken place on the inside.

Apart from dealing with a run of ill health that I am still trying to get over, I have been periodically assaulted by waves of anger, irritability, frustration, grief, loneliness, disappointment in myself, and guilt – as well as probably a few other feelings as yet unspecified in our language, so poor as it is in emotional vocabulary.

Where these feelings came from I puzzled over constantly, fruitlessly. A hormonal release catalysed by the shock of the hospital adventure? The burden of carrying two children under the leaky umbrella of an ill-functioning marriage? Toxins being dredged out of old fat cells now being steadily worked through by my breastmilk-guzzling babe?

The mind fumbling around in the lucky dip of life as it tends to do, I would think I’d ‘got it’, found the trick, the remedy, the therapeutic technique that would stop all this illness nonsense and return me from gabbling emotional wreck to sane, grounded specimen of humankind as (I thought) I always was.

Hah! Not so easy, as the blind men feeling the elephant’s trunk, leg and buttock – and each believing it was a snake, a tree and a rock – so amply prove. (Thanks, blind mythological men. You’re a great help sometimes.)

But this evening, that wave crashing over me, usually so dense and white with its own violent force, became transparent as air, and the thoughts that carried it forward suddenly stood out in its luminous arc like fish. It was so clear that’s what this wave was: a response to a thought, nothing more.

I went to my notebook and wrote out these thoughts, to see them even more starkly naked, exposed, caught red-handed in their crime. Phrases like ‘I am not creating a nurturing enough atmosphere for my family’ or ‘Caveman does not value me’ fell limp and artificial to the page in front of me.

Who cared if they were true or not? It was the thinking them that tortured me, filled my head with ‘if only’s, turned my heart into a battlefield between me and reality. I was scrabbling about on the peripheries of my being, looking for answers on Google when I had the right remedy closer to me than my jugular vein. “The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me, but the hearts of the believers do.”

All the therapies in the world cannot cure a heart of its longing for Home. All the distractions in the world cannot numb its desire to be returned to its Source.

So this is my medicine now, my panacea for all ills; come back to my core, the nucleus of my matter, the truth of what kindles life in me. Tonight that meant digging out a book about Sufism (The Camel on the Roof by Burhanuddin Hermann), and sitting alone reciting Quran, only understanding flashes here and there but relishing the sounds as they convulsed my throat and chest and mouth (al-yawmu tashshaqqaq al-ard – ah! Sublime) and being flooded once more with that familiar, indescribable beauty that renders all my imagination’s hobbies paper dolls.

That is how it feels to remember. And that is my favourite cure: to be true, to be true, to be true.