digging and scraping,
rose to my pen.
words writhed and spluttered
gushed out flaking.
response I’ve predicted.
want me evicted.
don’t mean to be unkind
you’d rather unwind.
poet in the making
what you had in mind.
you cry, should this,
parcel of prose, wrapped in two bit rhyme,
shoved in your face?
readily admit, I’m more of a lout
scribe with clout.
persevere, because this year,
season of holly, sorrel and cheer,
message is about hope triumphing over fear.
is your greatest spur
happened to me in Christmas 1995. I had lost my job. Nothing, not even
tinsel and lights, wrapping paper and rushing shoppers, traffic jams with
waving friends, Santa hats and unexpected presents, could lift me out of
wishing it would go away. IT was a sinking feeling which began in my
throat and ended somewhere in the stomach. My shoulders sagged, my smile
lay stiff and false on my face. Tears welled up easily. It’s called
Disappointment (the capital D is deliberate). What I didn’t know then
was that Disappointment is actually a spur. It forces you to unlock your
lens, turn around slowly, and shift focus in this vast, varied,
multilayered sea we call life. Shifting focus is painful. Change is not
resources you had is not easy. At times you tap and come up with more
pain, but at others, you strike oil and set off a hell of a spark, more
delightful because it is unexpected. I wouldn’t be writing this if it
weren’t for Disappointment. A charitable women’s group asked me to
contribute to a book celebrating 150 years of Indian Arrival. I began
writing - and discovered that it was painful but something I wanted to do
more than anything in the world. The piece was rejected - crudely and
publicly judged unsuitable. I showed the story to Raoul Pantin, who gave
me courage. So I sent the story to the Guardian where I met the
then-Features Editor, Pat Ganase, who combines intelligence with humanity
in a manner I’ve not seen before. Pat got me to write columns and, when
she left, men with huge talent and generosity of spirit allowed me to
continue - Carl Jacobs, Dominic Kalipersad, Andy Johnson and Arthur Dash.
Christmas, I thank the Women’s Group which, by rejecting my article,
turned my disappointment into a journey which peels off the false layers
and reveals my own true voice.
last year, I interviewed Joan Charles, who lost two sons in a tragic
boating accident. Disappointment is an understatement. Even my overworked
imagination cannot enter her despair. But somewhere in her ruminations,
her sorrow, Joan tapped into an inner resource. She glowed with courage.
She had emerged from a dark tunnel with a rare strength which she uses to
help others who have suffered. In doing so, she keeps her sons close to
her. She has triumphed over the worst loss.
takes many lashes, even by a woman friend - Sosha, I call her - who is
badly hurt by cancer, both her own and her husband’s. Sosha squeezes
every drop out of every minute of life. You see it in the books she reads,
the music she loves, her daughters’ resilience, and her friends who are
never far away. How this couple manages to draw your sorrow out and leave
you feeling inflated with life I don’t know.
these two cameos you will see the faces of many people you know. This
Christmas they present to us the gifts of courage, strength and, in
sharing them, love. The End.
knew they called her Sour Face behind her back. Her lips were constantly
pursed. She couldn’t stand them anyway, the pretty frivolous girls, the
little toddling brats, the intellectuals and artists who thought so much
felt ugly all her life. The only one not to be asked to dance, the one
without a graduation date. She came from a humble home and had to struggle
for everything she had. No one took much notice of her as a child. In
short, she hated everyone because she hated herself.
weeks before Christmas a new employee began working alongside her. He was
a good-looking boy, old enough to be her son. There was something about
him that made her heart contract in a funny way (she could have had a son
this age if it weren’t for her pride, which made her reject love long
ago), but that just made her more sour than ever. He looked her in the eye
when he spoke. But that made her angry and purse up her lips because she
thought he stared because he had never seen someone so ugly.
young man would ask her advice about writing a report, then admire the
neat way she did it. Or he would compliment her on her crisp navy suit.
But he did something no one had ever done before. He forced her to be
honest with herself. She would say “I don’t want a promotion. I
don’t give a damn about it anyway.” He would insist, “But you know
you deserve it, that you’ll be good at the post. Why don’t you admit
you want the job desperately and the money would be nice?”
she decided to un-purse her lips and smile at him, and he exclaimed at
what a wonderful smile she had. Then she went off and bought some cards
and gifts for some people who had been nice to her, and came in actually
evening of the staff Christmas party, there was no trace of Sour Face. She
shook off her stiff jacket, laughed, paid the frivolous pretty girls
compliments, and when she danced with the young man, the Sour Face came
off forever. This Christmas, she had found someone who believed in her.
who was waiting for the campus bus to take her back to halls, was so cold
she stopped moving. She felt lost and small on this big campus. In recent
weeks, she had walked around empty and light, as if someone had scraped
out all she ever thought was solid and real and true. Everything was too
large and different. The vast landscape, tall pine trees, short bare ones,
the big flat lakes. Even the people seemed bulky, stuffed up in their
winter clothes. It was already dark, even though it was only four in the
afternoon. Her fingers stiff and curled in her pockets touched the letter
was not what she had imagined it would be like. In her village on the
island her brother and two sisters had kneeled in the verandah over the
university prospectus in the dusky evening lamplight with the sounds of
crickets and frogs, and the sudden breezes which came in waves and left
smells of the sea, damp earth and jasmine.
would be celebrating Christmas without her. She ached with loneliness and
tears shook in her eyes, then spilled. The bus had arrived. Sara felt
warmer. It began to snow - millions and millions of white tear drops from
the sky. It covered the trees and houses and fronts of cars and knapsacks,
and eyelashes and plaits. After getting off the bus Sara crossed the quad
to her student townhouse which she shared with three other people.
midnight Sara took a break from her books and came down to the
common-room. Drawing the curtains she saw an incredible sight. The quad
was a vast sheet of glistening ice on which a student with corn coloured
hair was skating - he wheeled, he raced, he spun round and round. Putting
on her winter jacket, Sara walked out to stand outside her front door to
watch. The student recognised her and shouted, breaking the quiet. “Want
to go for a walk?” Sara did. They slid and skidded up and down hills. On
the trees no longer bare and skeletal, hung large jagged crystals like
icicles reflected by the moonlight, and the yellow glow of the long bent
lamps. The lake was a sheet of luminous ice reflecting points of stars.
Sara, whose hands were warm when they touched ice, looked up at the stars,
at the ruddy face of her companion, and knew that Christmas, like
happiness, comes in unexpected ways.
muse is now glaring, a long lingering stare,
to bear this obvious lack of cadence, symmetry and flair,
lingers only to allow a quote from a card written in Christmas 1915,
hangs on my living room wall like a reminder umpteen.
written (or quoted to be fair) by my gun toting great-grandmother,
ancestor who shot at Bengal tigers when she felt mean,
the British, the Moguls, and freshly beaten cream,
books by the dozen, cracked words about like whips,
priestess of poetry with a tongue made for quips.
what she had to say (it’s my sentiment too),
we’re toasting this Christmas with you:
wish you not great grandeur
store of worldly wealth,
only a mind contented,
happiness and health.”
is a time of enlightenment, peace and goodwill.