Thursday, November 24, 2011

Peter, a Tribute

A long time ago
before TV or computers
when girls picked dandelion flowers
in exchange for boiled sweets
and boys wore mud
when the paddocks were alive
with laughing kookaburra
and the train echoed up the valley
rattling its way to the end of the line
broody charismatic men in shirts
with sleeves rolled up
their voices low and guarded
barely noticed the busy four year old
with the wide smile and chubby cheeks
John Lennon specs perched on his nose
a spirited and carefree abandon
propelling his little bare legs forward
on the verandah boards
at Villa Bereguardo
where they all gathered

then one day, without warning
weeks, perhaps months later
sure of his devotion
silently he left
committing himself permanently
to the painful belonging
of his family’s enduring  memory

Peter Perversi 24/11/50 – 8/9/55
61 today

‘The morning glory
which blooms for but an hour
is in essence no different
to the giant pine
which lives for a thousand years’

A Zen proverb

Monday, November 21, 2011

Books and Forgetting

As a kid I wasn’t read to.  When I became a parent I understood why! I wouldn’t have had time to read to seven kids either, let alone inclination. Anyhow, when I was about 10 I had a book shoved under my nose by my mother. Read this, she insisted, dismissively.  I tried, really I did, but I couldn’t concentrate, wasn’t interested, or maybe I couldn’t read.  They Found a Cave was the book, and recently, to my surprise, I recognized its sepia tones on my sister’s bookshelf, picked it up, flicked thru it, felt a cold and unwelcome contraction of my heart muscle, and returned it to the shelf.  I recently tapped its title into google. The book’s about the lives of four orphans, their relocation and battling the baddies.  I wasn’t an orphan but it sure felt like it.

Not surprisingly, my book destiny never really passed go! What reading I’ve done over the decades has got me by tho.  Although I didn’t finish high school, I must have read at least one book because I won a competition in third form sponsored by Actil Cotton Mills.  I shamelessly plagiarized the entire text, adding a sample of cotton I secretly cut off a sheet (and got belted for it later!) enhancing it with meticulously traced pictures of machinery from books like they were my own. I won a set of bed sheets!

I must have read books at Business College for two years, but if I did I don’t remember, and besides I don’t have to because I’m an ace typist, administrator, and sometimes an all round smart-arse when it comes to meetings and noteworthy events at which I can demonstrate  my knowledge of Mr Pittman’s weird shapes and symbols, those that impersonate words, are lightning fast to record and code-named shorthand. 

During a theatre costume diploma, the technical and history books I read, and you guessed, barely remember, relit a fire in my belly, and my inner aesthete and costumier was reborn, along with my passion for sharp scissors (and knives!) .  All those corsets, doublets, trunkhose, frockcoats and codpieces are now buried and communing with moth balls in tea chests in the shed, but not forgotten. 

In the corridors of academia for a year, I read some Foucault and Flaubert, but don’t ask me what they said. 

I’ve now become a bookworm, greedy for horizontal time with my favourite authors.  I have a book bucket-list from here to Africa, and only half a life-time left to make a mark.  I’m not complaining.  I’ve gladly and willingly retreated into the ranks of the obsessed-by-words movement, and whilst it probably does little to cultivate the soft heart of my social animal,  half a century of forgetting behoves half a century of remembering.   Should I not answer the phone or door, well, it’s not personal, I’m just busy, right!   So if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with the page and to borrow the only useful term I remember from uni I intend to ‘faire et se taire’ ( ‘shut up and get on with it’ Flaubert).

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Juggler aka The Coffin Lid

I’m handed a torch at the front desk and enter the ‘Dying Art’ Exhibition. The darkness is punctuated by tea-light candles, illuminating shrines, highlighting and accentuating urns and shrouds, and creating silhouettes of the dozen or so eco-coffin lids standing upright at intervals throughout the room. My eyes adjust to the light as I flick on the torch and move through the space, reading inscriptions, viewing lids decorated with interpretations of end-of-life, images of nature, the human form, abstract and the obscure, all personal to the artists commissioned.  I move slowly in the extraordinary atmosphere, conscious of my breathing, aware, overcome by something I now struggle to put a name to; reverence, grace? Silently, I say a prayer.   It is at once an uplifting and sobering experience, an intricate and intimate web that I am willingly drawn into, and absorbed by, like a moth to a flame.  Tears come as I gaze down upon the infant's coffin, my Carla, and almost immediately I become one with an overwhelming sense of beauty, fragility and mystery.  I feel I've died and gone to the holy land.  At no time do I recall ever feeling so moved by an exhibition.    

At auction later in the evening I successfully bid for the coffin lid depicting the unicycling juggler, seen above. It landed like a long lost relative in the palm of my hand the moment I set eyes on it.   It is the work of artist, Kellie O’Dempsey. There’s something vaudevillian that speaks to my sense that once upon a time I moved across Northern Africa with the gypsy caravans, performing for my supper, and also reminds me of my stilt-walking days.   The juggler's skill is to work with rhythm, timing and focus to keep all her balls in the air; this I see as symbolic of keeping in check our emotional, social, practical, intellectual and spiritual life, maintaining a balance, an equilibrium, and a homoeostatis for the everyday.   The subject of the artwork is looking down, inward, trusting her intuition, confidently navigating her path on the wheel of life, getting on with what she does best. I love this piece not for its lofty, far-reaching and grand style but for its wonderful distinction between the earnest and the whimsical.

Death as a subject is often way too inconvenient a truth for the masses, but how I see it is you can’t have life without death.  It's everywhere.  Why not mention its name, talk about it?  I feel proud and grateful I'm involved in a social change movement that honours life by fearlessly naming death and which acts courageously to demystify its place in our lives.  I’ve installed the lid at home, just inside the front door, as a reminder of impermanence, that now is the new tomorrow. 

No, I haven’t recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness!

How do you view death?