floral illustration
Illustration: Polly Crossman

LIFE HONESTLY

I said I wouldn’t write about heartbreak. Still, here I am

Ella Risbridger’s relationship with the Tall Man is over. Now, she’s wondering how you begin to start again

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By Ella Risbridger on

There is this instinct, after you have lost something that mattered to you very much, to seal yourself off from the world. I went four thousand miles away from all my friends; gave up my flat; tried hard to feel indifferently towards everything in case I lost that, too. I resolved not to write about any of this – because I didn’t know how, I told myself, firmly – and yet, somehow, here I am.  

You find yourself (and by you, I mean me) writing love songs about total strangers and letting yourself fall a little in love with everyone every day – a woman in the park who told stories about her mother, a greengrocer who kept you back a bag of blood oranges, a tall young man juggling (juggling!) in the street with nonchalant grace. You find yourself loving your friends more than you thought possible.

My last relationship – the relationship about which I’ve written so much, with the Tall Man – broke down after three years of perpetual illness and six years together. There was a rare cancer, and an acquired brain injury, and both of us had some kind of PTSD afterwards. I have avoided writing this sentence for a long time, but it’s true.

He wants to become a priest, which both makes a great deal of sense to everyone who knows him and is also, obviously, bananas. Just like everything else has been for the last few years.

This life is more stupid than even I could have hoped for, runs a line from my favourite poem – and it is. It is all so stupid, and I don’t know how to write about any of it; I don’t know how to write about the aftermath of something as stupid as a broken heart, and I don’t know how to write about how one chapter closes and another opens, and I don’t know how to write about this poem. This book, really: this book Hera Lindsay Bird, by Hera Lindsay Bird, which is a slim volume of modern poetry that matters to me more than almost any book has ever mattered to me.

I wish we were friends, so that I could explain to you in person how this poem felt to me the first time I read it: how it felt like someone reaching into my chest and holding up my heart for inspection, how I have read it hundreds of times and still, every time, it makes my breath catch in my throat. I wish we were friends, so that I could read it to you and then you could read it to me. I wish you had been here the day the book arrived in the post; seen how my housemate, who hates poetry, opened it and was lost; how that night we sat and read every poem in the book aloud, both crying and laughing at the same time.

I wish you could see – so that I would not have to tell you – how many times I have read these poems with my friends; how we have passed this book around; how we have texted each other pictures of the pages, and held lines of it in our hearts like oilskins against the rain; how we have come home drunk at three in the morning and fallen into this book as if it were our own beds, as if it would show us the way to be.

He wants to become a priest, which both makes a great deal of sense to everyone who knows him and is also, obviously, bananas. Just like everything else has been for the last few years

Our copy of this book is the only poetry book I have ever come across where the spine is completely cracked – the title illegible – from too much reading.

I am afraid to write about this book because it matters to me so much, and I am afraid to write about my friends because they matter to me so much, and I am afraid to write about my new life because I am afraid to look directly at the things that mean so much to me in case – as happened to me before, and before again – I lose them all. I am afraid, as in so many legends, that to name a thing beloved is to mark it as a target.

To anticipate heartache is a grim satisfaction, writes Hera Lindsay Bird. The first time I read that line I read it over and over again. This is what it’s like to love after you have lost something you once loved. You know, now, that nothing is forever, and that everything ends: you know that the official theme of this poem is / The official theme of all my poems which is / You get in love and then you die!

The official theme of all my writing is, maybe, you get in love – and then what? I am concerned most with what happens when you don’t die – what happens when you go on living when part of you has died, or an old love has died, or an old love has shifted mutably and intractably into some other form. I don’t know how to write about this; I don’t know how to write about the story after the story. But from next week I’ll be writing about this more explicitly. I don’t know how to do this; I don’t know if I want to. But something in me is compelled to try. I feel uncertain of how to proceed in an appropriate fashion, says Hera Lindsay Bird, and yet you have to proceed, however it turns out. There isn’t a choice; you have to try.

And I am trying. There is so little writing about what happens after the crisis that I feel like I ought to at least try to tell you what it’s like. I’ll be writing every week on what comes next; about how I’m learning to live again, learning to trust that not everything will fall, or rather I suppose how I am learning to live with the knowledge that everything will end.

Life is hard enough and fast enough, says Hera Lindsay Bird, And there is nothing in this world worth doing / But shaking our heads in awe.

You can’t help but read the poems, and love your people, and to find yourself, drunk and happy and accustomed by now to what it’s like to be always a little broken-hearted; steadying yourself against the fridge door at 3am in the kitchen with a friend who understands, both staggered all over again by the simple and baffling and ludicrous truth of love: every time I knock you let me in.

@missellabell

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Illustration: Polly Crossman
Tagged in:
My life in poems
Poetry
Relationships

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