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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 11, Number 3, September 2017
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Claire Everett
Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England


Gaia

to render
every needle of the pine
that voice
in the day's blue bookends
just a blackbird, you say

"I thank my mother for my name," she tells me just as she did yesterday, "She was a hippie long before her time and I was her flower child."

Tomorrow's call may be different. Often on these midwinter evenings, I find her hunched in the lamplight, poring over the newspapers, fretting over headlines. Last week it was the number of homeless youths on our streets that troubled her. "Do we have a government these days?" she'd boomed, throwing up her hands in despair such that they seemed about to morph into mirrored question marks.

"Would you like a hot drink before you get ready for bed, or shall we wait until you're all snug?" I ask. Her reply comes, as predicted.

"No, dear, you have other people to see. Don't you be bothering with me. I've had my life."

"Ah, and what a life! Tell me again about San Francisco."

A smile plays about her lips and her eyes twinkle. I know that I have lifted the latch.

"Oh, the view from our apartment! Have you ever seen the Golden Gate, dear?"

"Unfortunately, no," I say, returning from the kitchen with the black coffee I know she likes if only I can persuade her.

The memory of it glimmers at the edges of her vision. "You must go," she urges me, as she always does. "Such a wonderful life I've lived. And that bridge, I would gaze at it for hours on end and it would unlock every view I had ever loved, right back to childhood. It was like Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The Gate was Marco Polo and I was Khan, mesmerised by his stories . . ."

I help her to undress, despite her gentle protestations—"I can manage, you know. There are others who need you far more than I do"—her recent stroke has left her paralysed on her right side. During the unbuttoning she forgets herself.

"I was two or three when I learned to sky. That was here in Yorkshire, long before I knew the world stretched beyond the honeysuckle on the trellis and our rose-rambled garden fence."

"Sky? You've lost me with that one, Gaia . . ."

"You know, like the great painter, Constable. To lie back in the grass and lose oneself in the clouds."

snow-bones,
thunnerpash and tankles . . .
glossaries
that shaped the vistas
of hill and dale and tongue

the words we speak
and etch into signposts
jams and footholds
by which we come to know
the spirits of place

"Where have they all gone?"

"Who, Gaia?" I'm settling her into bed. I’ve checked the back door is locked as usual, although I know she hasn't used it. Coats for all seasons are hanging neatly on the stand. I wonder if she can recall the last time she stepped outside the care home and felt the warmth of the sun on her back.

"The others who used to live here. There's never anyone in the lounge. I sit by myself in front of that damn television for hours."

"They're here. I just think some haven’t been too well, you know . . ."

"Oh, if you say so. . . . Will you bring my things through?"

I scan the page the newspaper is folded to and breathe easier when I see it is an article about butterflies. I pass her her glasses.

"A record year for Britain’s rarest butterfly," she reads, slowly and deliberately. "Pronounced extinct in 1979 and re-introduced in 1984, three decades later thanks to meticulous conservation management, southwest England now boasts the greatest concentration of large blues known in the world. . . . My God, isn’t that beautiful, dear?"

"Yes! That's the best news I’ve heard in a long while."

"So, there's hope, isn’t there?"

Her eyes are like large blues feasting on marjoram and wild thyme.

"Yes, Gaia, there is hope."

I flick the nightlight on and the framed montage of record labels catches my eye.

"I still can’t believe you actually met Louis Armstrong. The Louis Armstrong . . ."

She smiles like a small child with a secret. "A-ah. Old Satchmo."

"Your husband played the saxophone, am I right?"

"A-ah."

"Can you remember some of the songs he played on?"

Her face grows still. "No. I don’t think I do. But it wasn't that one. I know that."

Moments later, as I close the door behind me, I hear her softly humming that one, nevertheless.

our troubled now
tendered by the lyrics
and lilt of the past
the spell shall not be broken
a promise to the land

the rabbit's prickings
and the foylings of deer
the Old Ways
recanted in the songlines
of other-than-human feet

the opening bars
of a favourite song
pine-scented breeze
the greenway remembers me
by the cleats of my boots


Author's Notes:

The reference to "every needle of the pine" is a nod to John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1911.

snow-bones: patches of snow on furrows
thunner-pash: heavy shower with thunder
tankles: icicles

Ethno-linguists and writers such as Keith Basso (Wisdom Sits in Places: Language and Landscape Among the Western Apache, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1996), Barry Lopez [editor] (Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, San Antonio, Trinity University Press, 2006), and Robert MacFarlane (Landmarks, Penguin Random House UK, 2016) have postulated that the more the language of place, and of landscapes with which we are intimate, is eroded and ultimately lost, the poorer custodians we will be. The less often a place is described or regarded, the more vulnerable it is to neglect and ill-treatment. Through language we can re-enchant the land.


Editor's Notes:

Claire Everett's "Gaia" was the Second-Prize Winner in the KYSO Flash One Life, One Earth Writing Challenge.  The results of the challenge were published in KYSO Flash, Spring 2017. We're happy to republish "Gaia," with permission, in this issue of Haibun Today.

"Thanks to meticulous conservation management, south-west England now boasts the greatest concentration of large blues known in the world" is quoted in "Gaia," with permission, from the article "Best year for Britain’s rarest butterfly since 1930s" (The Wildlife Trusts, 27 August 2016).

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