Dreams etched in pages of ice, conversations captured in frozen crystals.

Like many others, I face my news feeds with a sense of foreboding and angst these days, so it is such a pleasure to read find a hidden gem of news such as the ice library of dreams on the shores of Lake Baikal.

ice-library-on-lake-baikal-russia

This delighted me with a variety of whispers from many places in my own library of memories.

I remember, late July in 1999, dithering at the shore, dipping my toes into the clear, icy waters of Lake Baikal near the village of Listvyanka in Siberia. I was determined to get into the water. Legend has it that Baikal’s water has special powers and I was not going to miss the opportunity to take advantage of these. Just in case. It is believed that if you dip your hands into the lake, you will be rewarded with an extra year of life. The bonus for slipping your feet into the water is an extra 2 years. If you swim in the lake, you gain an irresistible additional 25 years of life. The challenge comes from the fact that Lake Baikal is the largest body of fresh water in the world, it is the deepest lake on the planet and it contains one fifth of all fresh water in the world.

In winter it freezes over completely and even in the height of summer when the air was hot enough to burn my skin, the water remains shockingly cold. My toes curled around the pebbles, the skin already turning red with the cold. Slowly, I ventured in, inch after inch. When it was just deep enough, I lowered myself into the water, splashing briefly, a bear like roar involuntarily escaping from deep inside my lungs before I decided that my immersion qualified for the 25 year bonus. As I stepped back to the shore, dripping and shivering, I locked eyes with a puzzled brown cow before it veered away from the shore and the strange, drenched human.

The ice library on Lake Baikal speaks with a voice which is unusual in its simplicity and complexity. The library is carved from blocks of ice, designed to resemble open books. On each page, there is a wish or dream, sent from people all over the world. Some dreams are personal, some further reaching. All are etched into the ice, preserved until the warmer spring air comes. Then the dreams will slowly melt into the deep waters of the lake. An exquisitely modest concept, yet so powerful.

This is chiming with another page from my personal memory book. I remember arriving in Mongolia in November 2005. It was a warm autumn seemingly, at a gentle -20°C. Yes, that reads minus. I would need to prepare for winter which was approaching rapidly. I knew that the temperatures would settle around -35C in the afternoon sun, and sink to -45C at night. Knowing this is one thing, but these temperatures are unimaginable if you have never experienced them. They are also dangerously cold as described in an earlier post about the Mongolian cold and snow.

The air is so cold and arid that your breath freezes instantly in a cloud around you when you speak.

a winter ride

a winter ride 2

a winter ride4

The Mongolians say that the words you utter are captured in tiny ice crystals, and preserved in the air until the warmer air comes and they thaw. This was such a beautiful image, that it inspired the first poem which I have ever had published. This was called “December Conversations” and appeared in the summer edition of Ulaanbaatar City Guide of 2006, and I share an extract here.

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December Conversations

So cold the river is fully frozen,

unable to thaw for many months

not until the summer sun

is strong enough to permeate each icy layer.

So cold my eyelashes trap

tiny invisible particles

fusing, bonding lash to lash

a mesh barrier filtering my vision.

So cold that every breath and word

tumbles in clouds out of our mouths

instantly freezing in formations of frosted

whispers, words and conversations.

Our every word is preserved

suspended in the air

in frozen animation

through all the winter months.

A mother soothes her crying child

her loving words softly resting

in the air between her lips

and her son’s smarting bright red cheeks.

The two young lovers hugging as they walk

whisper messages of eternal love and endless devotion ……..

All throughout the winter months

the city air is crammed and filled

with captured, suspended conversations

secrets, disagreements and private messages…

The city smiles knowingly

as it releases its melted secrets

into the streets

unnoticed.

ub-city-guide-2006

In Africa the skies are not cold, there is no ice or frost on the grass. Yet the thought of a library of ice, and of words preserved in frozen crystals have embedded firmly in my spirit for the day. I have sent my own dream in the hope that it might be etched on the walls of the ice library, and eventually join the waters of Lake Baikal.

Our words are powerful and precious, let us use them with care, consideration and tenderness.

springtime thaw

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Collecting the water while it rains

A Plea for the rains

I jolt awake.
A click
echoes
in my ears.
And a sinking knowledge
that the power has gone,
the fan has stopped.
In that very instant
the air curdles,
descends,
smothering me,
stealing
any breathable air.
Sleep now impossible.

Please let the rains come soon

In afternoons
I hesitate
to step outside.
My umbrella
attempts
to shade the piercing sun,
but still
my skin burns.
Any remnant of dignity
evaporates,
and I glow
as if
I have danced a reel
or climbed a peak
or chased a runaway child
for miles
when all I have done
is to pause
at the side of the road.

Please let the rains come soon

The trees
have aged,
their expressions irritable,
their humour dry.
The earth is gasping,
craving moisture,
the grasses scorched.
The blossoms on the trees
are holding onto their colours,
afraid
to release their petals
into the sun’s furnace.

Oh please let the rains come soon

The skies thicken,
containing
threats
and promises
of proper, thundering rain.
Padauk blossoms,
no longer able
to restrain themselves,
spill from their trees overnight
onto the lanes,
casting a carpet of yellow
for but a few hours.
Jacaranda
can wait no longer,
flame trees
burn
and the landscape shivers,
calling, beseeching.

Please, please let the rains come soon

And then,
one Tuesday
halfway through May,
under the Kason moon,
the sky can no longer contain
the might
of the unfallen rain.
Plip!
A few,
tentative
drops.
Smack!
Dime-sized
bulging
trailblazing
fat raindrops.
Plop!
At first so few
I can count each one
splat
on the earth
as it lands.
Then the first
bold heralds
of monsoon
are followed smartly,
hurriedly,
by a rush
of impatient showers,
a gathering rumble
building,
and now
thundering torrents,
a deafening
outpouring,
downpouring
release.

Thank goodness the rains have come!

Brothers, aunties, cousins
rushing outdoors,
faces upturned,
delighting.
Raindrops dripping
from noses,
chins,
grins.
Children
splashing,
dancing,
frolicking,
squealing,
drenching.
Fatigue,
lethargy
all washed away.
The grasses
sigh
with delight
before they disappear
under murky
soupy
rising waters.
The cloudburst washes out
any sleeping scorpions,
calls thick red earthworms
to their seasonal duty.
Eager leeches,
waiting for so long,
slither out from hiding.

Thank goodness the rains have come!

The fruit trees sigh.
Mangoes
appear overnight
after weeks of waiting.
Jackfruit,
large,
distended,
defy gravity,
magically secure
on spindly stalks,
bundles
of jagged temptation
hovering
over pavements
too slippery
to walk on,
too often submerged.

Indeed the rains have come

Irritable, sullen black clouds
sweep insistently,
relentlessly.
Days
stretch into weeks
upon weeks
with the barest
briefest
of pauses.
Frogs
night after night
croaking
exhausted,
voices hoarse
craving rest and sleep.
Plans cancelled,
meet-ups delayed,
conversations diverted
friendships stretched,
all disrupted by pounding rains.
Smart outfits soaked
by sudden squalls
or the wet seat
of a taxi.
Clothes musty,
starting to rot.
Surprise threads of mould
appearing one day
on a pristine surface.
Mosquitoes
fat,
greedy,
thronging,
feeding on exhausted beings.
Glimpses too rare
of blue sky
or sun
overhead,
through impenetrable layers
of determined
grainy
charcoal inkblot
suffocating, shrouding cloud.

Oh, please let the rains end soon!

©PCR – Feisty Blue Gecko

“Collecting the water while it rains”

IFG Anthology

This is the final poem in a collection of fiction, poetry and memoir from Myanmar, entitled “Collecting the water while it rains”.  This book is newly published by the International Friendship Group (IFG) of Yangon. IFG works to promote cross-cultural exchange, education and opportunities for all – all proceeds from the sale of the collection go to support IFG and their work.

image

It’s a couple of years since I wrote “A plea for the rains”, but it is apt more than ever this year as we wait impatiently for the rains to start.

The title of the collection refers to a proverb in Myanmar which says “collect the water while it rains. This tells us that there are moments which are auspicious for particular actions, which we should seize when we can. As the blurb on the back of the book says, “what more auspicious time could there be to gather stories of this country..?”

The blurb continues:

“Blending the voices of natives and newcomers, with contributions spanning decades, and representing both professional writers and those simply moved to record a moment of everyday life in an extraordinary place”.

I am honoured to have this poem, one short piece of fiction and a short memoir in the collection. I am especially delighted that the photograph on the front cover is one of my own, taking during my many monsoon wanderings around Yangon’s lanes following a downpour.

The second word of my 2016 mantra is “nurture” and this applies particularly to creativity. I have held on to the news about this anthology for a little while, since the book was launched late in March.

It seems that now is the right time to share this, along with the plea to El Nino to gently release its grip and for the arrival of kind rains.

From a Writing Prompt to a spat out Ugly Truth

Sometimes we can be trundling along, just getting on with what we get on with when something stops us abruptly in our tracks.

Two weeks ago, I was preparing for the fortnightly writing group, planning to go along even though I had no writing to share.  I had even confessed to the other writing group folks that I would be a passenger that evening, soaking in their creativity and critiquing in one direction.  Not only had I nothing prepared, I had not had the slightest idea or spark of inspiration. On top of that, I had just returned from Bangkok and the latest round of exhausting tests.  Nope, I was under no illusions that I would be taking anything with me that evening, in the shape of words on a page.

Then I received an email from one of our cosy number, Becky in Burma, in which she mentioned the e-course she was part of and saying that she would probably bring something she had written as one of the exercises.  With her email was an appeal to print a paper copy as that is always easier to share.  Attached to the email was her writing, along with the exercise details.

Of course I had a look at her poem, a heartfelt and powerful piece of writing.  Then I looked at the prompt, and realised that a strange thing was happening.  My mind was whirling and before I knew it, everything around me was strangely disconnected .  Oblivious to my surroundings, I was scribbling away furiously, words pouring out, emotions running amok, struggling to keep back tears.  Within less than fifteen minutes, I put my pen down, dazed, stunned and spent and I looked at what was on the page

Out of absolutely nowhere, and with less than hour to go until our meeting time I suddenly had something to share.  Not a piece of eloquent writing, nor a passage of creative or experimental prose but a page of raw, ugly emotion and truth which had been lurking not so far from the surface, only to be spat out violently.

I have deliberately not edited this in any major way.  I have made a couple of very minor adjustments, but have left it very much as the words formed.  And that is intentional.  The prompt was “What if I were to tell you”?

And clearly I had a lot that I wanted to tell.  Even if I hadn’t realised it.

I posted the words which had crowded in unbidden, as my own very first Poetry Friday. Judging from the many comments and reactions, it seemed to strike a chord. It appears to be not quite a universal truth, but seemingly a widely held one.

As a lay person, I can only speak of how this appears to me. I feel strongly that diagnosis brings what I see as a psychological isolation. The world we enter on hearing the “you have cancer” words frequently forces an unwanted gulf created between those diagnosed and all close and touched by that diagnosis.   And often we want to protect those close to us from the insidious reality.

WikiThe_Scream

 

And it is as difficult to articulate these ugly truths as it is to hear them.

There’s more to Twang than Twang Arm!

It is another Big Landmark Day today.  On 5 October 2009, I had the surgery which would confirm the diagnosis of breast cancer which makes it three years since my mastectomy, three years of extreme lopsidery and three years since Twang Arm came into my life.

There is no love lost between Twang Arm and myself and not an ounce of respect afforded in either direction.  So I want to upstage Twang Arm in a mischievous kind of way today.

The idea came to me the other evening, when I was preparing to go to my writing group. We had set ourselves an assignment and (as too often happens) I was delving into my writing archive to find something to take along.  So often as the day of the group approaches, either I am scrawling away at the eleventh hour trying to finish it, or conceding that I have not created anything fit enough to share and digging deep to find something from past writing.  As I had been out of Yangon, in the capital the previous week and into the weekend I had had even less free time to write, and I resorted to the archive.  I went back a number of years, to my time in Nepal when I found so much inspiration around me, observing little snippets of ordinary daily life, and sharing this.  I was rapidly enveloped in nostalgia re-reading the writing and remembering those numerous moments.  Very like our recent “celebrating the ordinary” challenge which Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer laid before us.

And I found this poem below, which I had written years ago and completely forgotten about. Memories flood back of the Kathmandu streets and the calls of what I termed the Twang Man”  as monsoon retreats and the cooling temperatures of the approaching winter.

The man with the strange twanging instrument

Outside the bedroom window

along the busy path

of soft mud

swollen by endless weeks

of the season’s monsoon rain,

the morning traders pass

calling, singing, tempting

all to trade with them

Wheeling bikes

laden with fruit, vegetables, fish

to sell.

Bamboo mats, rice nanglos

small matted stools

for us to buy

empty rice sacks, bottles

to collect for a few rupees,

pressure cookers, gas stoves to mend.

A new noise

unfamiliar

competes with their calls

Twang! Twang! Twang!

Who is that man?

What does he carry

against his right shoulder?

A strange wooden object

with a music like string

which he plucks at

as he walks silently

along the lane

Twang! Twang! Twang!

Soon he is seated

in a neighbour’s yard

silently, patiently teasing

the wool filling of the winter quilts,

freeing them of their dampness

brought by the summer’s rains,

repairing them for the coming cold

readying them for their winter work

protecting young and old alike

from the penetrating night time chill.

As the rains slowly come to an end

the man who brings the twanging sound

visits so many streets, yards, homes

silently patiently

day by day

as the skies become clearer

and the cold creeps daily closer.

His work ensures that

each family will sleep

in the warmth and comfort

of the freshly repaired quilt.

In these short autumn weeks

shawls, woollen hats and socks

slowly appear on the city folk

as he readies them

for the night time cold.

In these short weeks

he must earn

enough to feed his family

for the coming months.

Outside the bedroom window

along the busy path

of dried, cold, dusty earth

cracked by daytime sun and night time chill

the morning traders pass

calling, singing, tempting

all to trade with them.

Less one familiar sound

Twang!  Twang!  Twang!

 

Coincidentally this is also Twang Man’s season in Nepal, and if I close my eyes and let my mind drift to the Kathmandu streets I can hear his call.

Unforgettable jacaranda

image

The unforgettable hues of the jacaranda blossom

Why do I always forget?

Every April

when the jacaranda blossom

suddenly appears

I am taken by surprise

Every year

the blossoms appear

Not one by one

Not from slowly opening buds

Not creeping slowly

Nor even patch by patch in the trees.

But one day

I wake up

look to the skies

and there they are.

Bright lilac coloured trees

have taken over the city

while I slept.

And I didn’t even see them

on their way.

They make the dusty city smile

with bright

incongruous

natural colour

everywhere

for several weeks.

Until slowly

one by one

the petals fall

forming a thick carpet

making the pavements bright

holding their colour

for as long as they can.

Fading only

little by little

like my memory.

They disappear eventually.

From view.

From my mind.

For another year.