Lockdown

Beyond my kitchen window, grey skies
crumble like clinker over empty fields.
The scarlet willow bends in the easterly,
branches stripped naked like veins.
Crows smudge charcoal on the horizon.

Indoors, I inhale recycled air and open
my liquid crystal display. Your face bubbles
expectantly, cornered. Behind you double
doors slide shut, a TV grumbles. You hold
a Bugs Bunny mug, ‘What’s up Doc?’

 

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Photo by the author

Dark Days

The end of the year can be a difficult time for those of us who are alone, either through circumstance or choice.  In the northern hemisphere temperatures drop, the nights grow longer and Christian communities begin their Christmas celebrations.  More than any other time of year there is an emphasis on family values and sharing which can leave single people feeling alienated.  There is a stigma attached to being alone at Christmas.  Turkey for one?  So in this post I wish to share some inspiring quotes reminding us that solitude can be a positive and healthy choice.  Being alone does not necessarily mean feeling lonely and company is often overrated.  The beaming, perfect families of television commercials rarely exist in reality.  If you find yourself alone this Festive Period use the time wisely to recharge and regenerate your energy levels, treat yourself kindly and cherish your freedom.  I’m planning to lock myself indoors with a fridge full of party food, a bottle of the local whisky liquor and a pile of wonderful books.

Ten quotes to celebrate the gift of solitude:-

1. “… the highest and most decisive experience of all, … is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”

Carl Jung (1943)

2.  “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

3.  “The only antidote to fear is to go through it. Only by embracing loneliness may its tyranny be broken.”

James Hollis (1996)

4.  “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

5.  “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

Patricia Highsmith

6.  “Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

7.  “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

George Gordon Byron

8.  “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

Aldous Huxley

9.  “I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer, LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953

10.  “Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.”

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

 

If you need support try http://www.standalone.org.uk

 

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The Winter Break

The blizzard began, cherry blossom from a flame sky. The road home
vanished. Pink ice floes shape-shifted in the river, bumping
and grinding like clubbed seals. We tended the fire
and played strip poker. In bed you wore lipstick and a balaclava.

On the third day we tracked through the crystal forest. The valley
was a fandango of silence. I clawed at it with my bare hands.
You held your phone up high, immobile as the Statue of Liberty.
We returned to the cabin and played Scrabble with four letter words.

The windows became peepholes. I saw no footprints in the virgin drift,
only the farmer’s wife floating silver between the tree tops.
She was wearing a wolf jacket, her face upturned to the falling snow.
That night you thought you heard singing in the wind.

On your last day, you stopped speaking, stayed in bed, a tender huddle
of bones. I roasted meat on the log fire and drank Jack Daniels. I recited
the tale of our first New Year’s Eve, kissing in Times Square
while rockets fell. I could still remember the neon taste of your flesh.

 

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Photograph created by the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Secret Place

Before the onset of middle age and chronic caution, I often went out exploring the picturesque country lanes and tracks around the market town in North Yorkshire where I lived for ten years.  I would forget my chores, ignoring housework and assignments and set off in my old maroon Volvo 340 with my collie-cross dog, Flossy in the back seat. Sometimes I took a picnic. I would drive around for hours out of curiosity.  This resulted in a few scrapes such as getting stuck in mud, falling into ditches, trapped behind locked gates and lost on the moors. However, it was also the way I discovered wild and beautiful places hidden away off the beaten track. These were my secret places where I would go whenever I needed to recharge my energies.

One of these idyllic spots was by a crumbling stone bridge spanning a fast flowing stream and surrounded by a cluster of trees.

I would stay there all day, reading, dreaming and painting and see no-one at all other than birds, rabbits and the occasional fox. I felt completely relaxed and safe. Solitude to me is safety. My dog would run free, swim in the stream and then shake water all over me and my water colour pictures…often improving them in the process!

There was always a deep undisturbed silence free from the intrusion of traffic or human voices.  In the silence my anxious thoughts would unravel into peace and optimism. I would start to think and see more clearly.

According to the OS Map it was possible to ford the stream at this point but I never had the courage to try. I never found out what lay on the other side of the water or where the track would eventually lead.

 

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Photo by the author

Destination

(after Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter)

I lie down in my little room,
my ghost limbs restless on stiff sheets.
Where the moonlight filters green,
I know he is waiting beneath the yew tree.
Through the small snowed-up window
I can see Cancer flicker in a crystal sky.
Neither the walls of the hut nor the roof
can keep out his fearsome spell or
can dispel my fancy that I am myself

no longer woman. No longer flesh but merely
moonlight, gliding along the spires and ridges
of rooftops towards a cold constellation, east
of the mountains, through the white valleys.

 

Note:- the lines in italics were written by Ritter, the rest by myself.  This is an example of a coupling poem where a section of prose is reworked into a new poem by responding/echoing each line. I wrote it as part of the NaPoWriMo challenge.  The aim is to write a poem every day in April, National Poetry Month.

 

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