what began as year-long challenge has become perpetual until further notice
OK, I must admit that this Ottava Rima poem isn’t a recent one. In fact it was written as part of an assignment in 2nd year at university, all the way back in 2007. I’d completely forgotten about this poem and found it simply out of a desperation to have something to present this week that might be editable/recyclable.
Instead, after reading it, I decided to leave it as is (as terribly rough and somewhat cringeworthy as it is), without any editing, and I have to remark at the little prophesies within this poem that have since come true. If you follow my other blog, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
There are differences of course – this was written to be purely fictional – but some of the parallels are pretty uncanny! Also, it’s very long – sorry!
Have Pen, Will Travel
Wanderlust took hold of Jane a little later in life
than her friends. It was like a taste in her mouth; never wanted to
travel until she faced matrimonial strife,
up till then ever content to imbue
her days with tea and toast and the duties of wife
and mother to children who never came true.
When he left at last it was as instant as that, she reckoned:
He left, the town seemed too small and the world beyond beckoned.
She conjured her savings and stepped aboard
the airbus for the cramped odd-houred flight,
massaged her swollen ankles in cattle-class because it was all she could afford
and grinned madly at the world below steeped in night,
so amazed to have left all her domestic discord
behind her, grounded, tiny from this height.
People round her groaned about the food, but to her it was quaint.
The hums of the jets that infused her dreams like a patron saint.
The first stop was India, an orphanage she had seen
on Sixty Minutes, crying out for volunteers.
There on the streets she saw squalor so obscene
it made her sad to her womb; sheer
disgust that children could grow up this way. Made her feel mean
and selfish and so glad she’d had none of her own. Half a year
she gave to them. She departed Delhi feeling not quite whole:
the children there had ransacked her soul.
Next stop was Mongolia, where her heritage lay concealed
DNA deep. Germanic and Celtic roots ensured she now looked
different to her host family, but when she wheeled
her first shaggy pony with Siberia blowing crooked
winds in her face, and set foot on the tundra, she peeled
away the ancestral layers to find her Mongolian parts still hooked.
There is no difference to be found in separations
from family, whether it’s a day, or a hundred generations.
In France, with India, Mongolia still on her mind she gathered back
some of her soul from the sun as she lay with raking
vineyards in her eyes and mouth. There was no lack
of joy – so sure that lovemaking
here would be better than she’d seen in black
and white movies. She started a diary and enjoyed slaking
her thirst for Frenchmen with a knack
for pleasures she’d never known,
till the light of France in her heart was sown.
Here, her divorce finally arrived, having tracked her down
like a truffle pig. She signed it as she sipped a Bordeaux
with cinnamon notes, then to post it rode into town
on her bicycle. She watched her shadow
before her, Old Sol at her back, her arms as brown
as any local’s. That done, the languid flow
of her life unsettled; she sought work in her love of wine –
a vintner employed her to tend his thousands of vines.
She saw the year colour, ravage and caress the plants,
witnessed dormant wood bud, shake out leaves and fill
archetypal bunches, plumped and heavy-hung. The dance
of seasons marked clear on the vine’s curve seemed to instil
the wine with a sweeter note, and lovemaking in France
was even better than she’d read about. But still
it was not enough to hold her there. Across the water
a father’s long-dead Celtic voice called to his daughter.
With the sun in her hair and the last of her cash
she went to Paris, and caught the high-speed train.
Two and a half hours of darkness spat her into a grey wash
of concrete and drizzle. It was rain
that was old and peppered the mad dash
of crowds. Underground squish, buses with rude drivers, Jane
knew this was home. The dreary streets themselves rang
with homecoming; her purse was almost empty but her heart sang.
In Rotherhithe Jane found cheap board,
made work out of domestic help all over London,
and as the work increased she found herself treading the restored
floors of terrace homes whose origins had begun
as the workshops of the not-so-well-off, now those with hordes
of cash, requiring Jane’s services, who’d outdone
her competition, because in a vase she left them flowers
which sweetened the faces of even the most dour.
Then her divorce settlement was wired through like a gift,
leaving her ex-husband in a dim past while she propelled forward,
and she was so grateful for this new part in the Doppler Shift
between them. Jane marvelled that now she could afford
to relax and enjoy the pretence of rift
between the classes, where, on a basic level there should be accord.
She based herself in these palaces of varying fame
and looking after the pets of these folk gave her acclaim.
One of her lady clients referred her to a neighbour, deeming
that should they go away simultaneously Jane could
look after both their pets. The neighbour’s scheming
was not lost on Jane. He would need his cat minded, and, would
she mind cleaning? Housesitting? He was of BBC fame; Jane seemingly
had never heard of him – the neighbour blinked at Jane’s face of wood.
“You will know him when you meet him,” she assured,
and Jane smirked to see her expression become again obscured.
The new client opened the door to her the next fortnight
Jane knew she had never seen him in her life before.
But was it possible that love at first sight
existed? Well, for the cat, Django, at least, who bore
tuxedo fur and brushed against her legs quite
like she’d just come home, his tail curling, his purs a-roar.
She scooped him up as the man said, “I’m Henry McIde.
On account of the feline’s reaction, you’re hired!”
Jane was there quite often, spending long days alone
with Django. Henry had a good deal many books which she seized
at night along with the cat, and took to the guest bed in his sparse home.
He’d told her, after watching her peruse the bookspines, a pleased
look on his face, that she was most welcome to read and loan
them as she liked. She’d never asked his profession but he eased
into conversation it was in television, but above
all he wrote, and it was writing that was his greatest love.
He found her with Django curled like a kidney bean in her lap.
He’d come home early and quietly let himself in.
Her legs were pulled up on the window seat overlooking the burlap
of Greater London, so enthralled she didn’t hear him.
He watched her from the doorway; in one hand he held his cap,
in the other, the vibrant bunch of daisies she’d bought. Django’s chin
lifted, he mewed and the enchantment broke.
Jane glanced up. “Tea?” Henry beamed sheepishly from the kitchen bespoke.
Jane unfurled herself and made to stand.
“No,” he urged, “you look very comfortable – please stay
and read, if you like.” He picked up her discarded papers on the grand
piano and read while he made her a pot of Earl Grey.
“Email me more of this – it’s damned
good!” Jane took her tea from the tray,
sipped and thought, what was this sudden patronising? She had no flare,
surely, for writing! “You’d only laugh!” but she took him up on the dare.
Back in her shared Rotherhithe flat
she searched her papers for something worthwhile,
chose three articles, three again, then threw them all at
the floor. She wrote three more before adding to the pile,
until, at last, the French red kicked in to combat
her inhibition and solve her problem so that
at four in the morning, as the summer sun began to chug its fiery
course through the smog, she sent Henry her entire travel diary.
As her breakfast coffee seeped through to the bone
so did the dawning of what she had done: What was I thinking!
She inspected the items she had attached and sent, then a moan
escaped her. The mistakes of writing and drinking…
and worse! She’d sent the diary in raw form, including how thrown
she’d been by her ex-husband’s affair – her stomach sinking
further, the feeling of dread began, like harpies, to hover –
Oh God! The gratuities of transient French lovers!!
A month passed by and Henry still had not called. Jane found this time
of year quiet, found time to waste and wonder if Django was being minded by
someone else. She checked her phone again. There was no other rhyme
or reason Henry wouldn’t call, give some reply.
She gave up and travelled to York, and there lay on the sublime
banks of the Ouse, in the sun, staring at the sky.
She felt the echelons of ancestors beneath her limbs,
marvelled at the bumble bee and blackbird hymns.
It was here, where she could almost let herself forget
(drunk on the heady scent of mown grass on the riverside)
the stupidity of jumping in and looking wet
behind the ears, and take her misfired actions in her stride,
feel the urge to put pen to paper without regret –
it was here, with the Ouse murmuring beside
her that she received two phone calls that would change
her life, and as the calls ended she trembled at the exchange.
The first was from Henry, brief and terse, never one for
the phone. She knew his way but felt cowed again with dulled recollection
resurfacing. “Expect another call. Oh, and your
services will be required later this week.” Any affection
there? Jane heard none and tried to ignore
that the blackbird-bumble bee-mown grass connection
she’d felt had vanished. Left in its stead
was a terrible creeping feeling of dread.
The second phone call was from The Paper. “We would like to speak
to you about writing for us. Wine, food, travel.
What do you say? Come in for a chat – let’s say, end of next week?”
They hung up and Jane imagined how unhinged and unravelled
she’d sounded to them – all giggles and Ok’s – What a geek!
Her skin crawled at the thought, as though gravel-
rashed. Christ! He’d showed the paper her flippant toil
and the strangled feeling inside of her roiled.
There were plenty of hours on the train to think,
all the way back down to London. She tried to read but three
times over and still the words of the paragraph did not sink
in. To imagine the life of a gloriously paid free-
lance writer was far beyond her wildest dreams, and she slow-blinked
at the thought. But, by the same token, she
watched her hands shake and swallowed as her stomach refused food,
Because all Jane could think about was Henry’s imagined bad mood.
Dumping her things at Rotherhithe first
she braved the well-worn Tube and let the pollution dull
her nerves. The sense of being home returned, she felt well-versed
to these streets of a city full
to the brim with life in all its incarnations – fit to burst,
Jane thought, climbing the stairs to Henry’s front door, where the lull
she’d been enjoying vanished. Her stomach, again, began to flip
as she knocked on the door she noticed the quiver in her lip.
“We thought we’d kill to birds with one stone,” he announced at the door,
standing aside to let her in. She mumbled “Sorry?” and stood
at the threshold for a moment, Django bounded across the floor
toward her, delight in his every aspect. She could
hear him purr before she gathered him up. The clock gave four
chimes and Jane looked at Henry (all smile, no brood),
before noticing for the first time the svelte woman who
moved, wolf-like, toward Jane. “Dee, from The Paper. Lovely to meet you.”
Jane thought she would faint, then and there.
She had on the same clothes she had worn
on the train, and her jacket was now covered in Django’s hair.
In fact, she felt she could die. “I’m sorry, I’m not – ” her countenance forlorn,
she stammered. All she could do was shrug and stare.
Dee salvaged her, a glint in her eye, while Django yawned
in Jane’s arms, oblivious to intricate human qualms.
Jane relaxed a little as Dee spruiked her writing’s charms.
“It’s simply divine! I felt I was right there with you –
India, Mongolia – those places you describe,
the people! You took me there with you. And the twenty-two
times I’ve been to France for business – the light you ascribe
to the place I’d never noticed before! I hadn’t a clue!”
On she went in raptures to Jane, her words imbibed
little, however, after Dee mentioned the things
about France “Oh dear God!” was all Jane managed, “The French Flings!”
Dee cocked a brow and Henry chortled, wise to Jane’s pang. He suggested
Champagne, popped the cork and poured one that rescued and warmed
her, loosened her as she watched the bubbles that crested
her glass. Dee uttered deadlines, rates, word counts that formed
a blur in Jane’s head so that Henry saw and gestured
to Dee, recommending they conduct a meeting not armed
with the element of surprise. With that, another drink,
and kissing the air beside cheeks Dee left and Henry winked.
“I hope you didn’t mind…” he began and became abashed
The phone-Henry returned. “You’re wasted talent if you do not
write for a living!” Jane thanked him but cringed as the thought flashed
through her mind of the things he’d read and what
he must think of her. “You did edit it, though?” the question dashed
from her, he nodded, and as she spoke she didn’t care if she sounded like a clot
“I sent it without thinking –at four in the morning,
and I hadn’t heard from you – next time, give me some warning!
As it turned out, Henry wouldn’t need
Jane’s Django-minding services. He hadn’t contrived
on going anywhere this week. “Sorry to mislead
you, Jane, but do stay – for supper – if you like. It’s almost five.”
She was taken aback and heard herself concede
to the invitation, wondering how she had survived
the encounter, wondering how she might surmise
awkward silences, should they arise.
Later, she hoped for another such invitation. He’d filled
her with fine wine and advice on how to negotiate deals
with Dee. They spoke little more of The Paper, dined on grilled
Lemon sole and discussed the many appeals
of writing. Django was in heaven and killed
a vagrant mouse in honour of the occasion. As its squeals
ceased Henry said, “I’ve never seen that cat throw
himself at anyone’s feet the way he does you. Cats just know.”
He’d quizzed her on France, the vine and its many faces,
on her family and where they all resided,
on how she was finding big city life after the places
she had seen, after leaving her homeland, and with undivided
attention smiled when she said London was her home, and the pace
of the city wooed her, but it was surreal how her new life had been decided.
Henry listened to Jane as she stroked Django’s lithe
form. At 3am he paid her fare to Rotherhithe.
She negotiated well with Dee the following Monday,
dressed in last season’s Prada that cost her an arm and a leg
but would ‘pay for itself’. Dee looked impressed and asked if forays
into places of the beaten track were what she really wanted. To peg
new places on maps in the minds of readers? “Of course!” On Sunday
Henry rang Jane and asked her over for sturgeon eggs
and a drink. He had a bottle of Verve Cliquot by the chaise
There was Django at his feet and yellow daisies in the vase.
That evening Jane was fired as Django’s minder. In Henry’s room
next morning, she looked across the bed at the decades
between them, and knew she’d still been in the womb
as high school was ending for him. The sequence of years played
out before her eyes. She saw entire childhoods budded and bloomed
one after the other; one learning to read while the other wrote cascades.
If I’d stayed married in that tinpot town, light years ago…
Django lay at the end of the bed, tangled in sheets and toes.
Her assignments took her on wild imaginings that came true
and her words ran as though she held her readers’ faces so they could know;
look over the horizon’s limb and see what she saw through
the eye of words. But wherever she went she remained sown
into the anchor that fed from London Waterloo
to her heart and back again. Her home
was enveloped by a tuxedoed feline, daisy blooms,
and completed by a man of a thousand volumes.
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