I have chosen, this week, a summer poem. It’s called Intimate Detail, by Heid E. Erdrich, and you can read it here.
It’s about bees, and flowers, and I have chosen it because it’s good to be reminded in the depths of winter that summer existed; just as it’s good, in the depths of sadness, to remember that you were capable once and will be again of great joy. More than that: of wanting joy, of having room for joy.
I think that might be the hardest thing to remember. I was sure, last winter, when I packed up the Christmas things before I’d even really taken them out of their boxes; when I threw all my glittery, silly make-up into a taped-up box under the stairs; when I folded all my party dresses into that one drawer under the bed that doesn’t really open unless you move all the rest of the furniture – I was sure then that I would never want Christmas or glitter or parties again. Not unless my boyfriend got better. Not unless he got better quick.
John isn’t better; nothing is better. He’s not living at home, and probably won’t live in this flat with me again. He’s in hospital, where he’s been, on and off, for two and a half years. That is so long; it is so difficult. I can’t give an update; I can’t give you a hopeful message. I can’t give you anything, really, except maybe this:
The situation is ongoing. Things are still harder than I would ever have believed possible. I still am in tears most days. I am still knocked down by grief and by ghosts on every street corner, every cafe we used to walk to, every recipe I used to make for him because he loved it and I loved him. And yet...
And yet this weekend I unearthed a party dress (red velvet, no less), and dug out my glittery, silly make-up, and went out. I went to a wedding, where the bride and groom had put my seat by a fire, with my best friends either side; I went out dancing, and the band played a song for John, and the people I love best in this city held me up, physically, their hands in mine, their hands on my shoulders, so that I could keep dancing. We cried, too, of course. We miss him. We miss him more than I can write here. I miss him more than I have words for, really. I am frightened for him and heartbroken for him and heartbroken for us both, and yet, there it was: something in me wanted to wear a party dress, and shine. Something in me remained; some capacity for joy. Some desire for joy. It had been dormant a long time, and there it was.
And perhaps that is why, this week, I wanted to think about bees, deep in their hives, feeding on secret honey. I wanted to think about things dormant. About things that will, one day, be there again. It’s hard to really imagine hollyhocks in November. It’s hard to remember that every tree is verdant and abundant; that the sky is blue all the way to the edges. It’s hard to remember, in this tiny unheated flat which was our home for so long, ever being warm. But I was, and it was, and the summer will come again. The bees will come again, and all I can do is wait.
Something in me remained; some capacity for joy. Some desire for joy. It had been dormant a long time, and there it was
Wait, and work: that’s the other part of this poem. Because, if you read it carefully, it’s a actually a poem about summer, from winter.
The bee’s ... few furious buzzings as you stir / stay with me all winter, remind me of work undone; it’s about remembering, and winter, and working.
And when you remember that poetry is work – and it is! –there’s a funny kind of symmetry to it: through remembering the bee the poet remembers work undone, and in doing so makes new work.
Bees are all about work; worker bees, remember? They have to store up that honey for the winter, like the story of the grasshopper and the ants.
I had to look up “bees in winter” up to write this, and I came across this web page: it says that the queen bees are surrounded by other bees, who flutter their wings and shiver (like a dance) to keep her warm and safe when she can’t go outside herself. That’s why they need the stored honey, to get the energy to keep her safe.
In a way I feel as if I stored up our life for times like this: our funny cold little flat full of our life together, and our friends. The kind of friends who dance with you on their own wedding day so you won’t be alone; the kind of friends who sleep in your bed so you won’t be alone then either; the kind of friends who reach for you and hold you and scream the name of the person you’re missing along with you, so you know you’re not alone in missing them. We were so happy together, and everything I have now is built on those joyful, summery foundations.
I have to remember that. I had a summer, and it was beautiful, and everything we are now comes from there.