Morning Swallows


dreams to leave

pees to pee

kettle gets going

cuppa at hand

pills to swallow.

plans to plot

circles to square

pounds to budget

tax been done

frogs to swallow

smiles to mould

thoughts to order

soul to find

breaths to take

pride to swallow

clothes to wear?

soup to cook

crockery to stack

text to send

tea to sip

chakras to check

anxiety to quash

….missing the swallows….

party to plan

noodles and shrimps

lightbulbs to find

foodbin to empty

journal to write

news to read

…. lies to swallow

boots to choose

scarf to fling

gloves to fit

keys to jingle

stairs to descend

pain to wince

car to defrost

….finally feeling swallowed.



sounds of silence

Ascetic  solitude involves silence.  And silence is one of the great victims of modern culture. We live in an intense and visually aggressive age, everything is drawn outwards towards the se…

Source: sounds of silence

sounds of silence



Ascetic  solitude involves silence.  And silence is one of the great victims of modern culture. We live in an intense and visually aggressive age, everything is drawn outwards towards the sensation of the image. Because culture is becoming ever more homogenized and universalist, image has such power. With the continued netting of everything, chosen images can immediately attain universality. There is an increasingly subtle and powerfully calculating industry of modern dislocation, where that which is deep and lives  in the silence within us, is completely ignored. The surfaces of our minds continue to be seduced by the power of images. There is a sinister eviction taking place; people’s lives are being dragged outward all the time. The inner world of the soul is suffering a great eviction from the landlord of advertising and external social reality. The outer exile really impoverishes us. One of the reasons so many people are suffering from stress is not that they are doing stressful things but that they allow so little time for silence. A fruitful solitude without silence and space is inconceivable.

Fundamentally, there is great silence which meets language, All words come out of silence; words which have depth, resonance, healing and challenge are words that are loaded with ascetic silence. Language, which does not recognise its kinship with reality is banal, denotative and purely discursive. The language of poetry issues from and returns to silence. In modern culture, conversation is one of the casualties.  Usually, when you talk to people all you hear is surface narrative or the catalogue of therapy news  . It is quite poignant to hear people describe themselves in terms of the programme in which they are involved or the outer work which their role involves. Each person is the daily recipient of new thoughts and unexpected feelings. Yet, so often in our social encounter and in the way we have grown used to describing ourselves, this finds no welcome or expression. This is disappointing in view of the fact that the deepest things that we have inherited have come down to us across the bridges of meaningful conversation. Stories, poems and prayers lived for centuries in the memory and voice of the people. They were learned by heart. The companionship  and presence of such a rich harvest of memory helped poeticize their perception and conversation.

Without the presence of memory, conversation becomes amnesic, repetitive and superficial. Perception is most powerful when it engages both memory and experience. This empowers conversation to become real exploration. Real conversation has an unpredictability, danger and resonance; it can take a turn anywhere and constantly borders on the unexpected and in the unknown. Real conversation is not a construct of the solitary ego, it creates community. So much if our modern talk is like a spider manically weaving a web of language outside himself. Our parallel monologues with their staccato stutter only reinforce our isolation.
There is so little patience for the silence from which words emerge or for the silence that is between words and within them. When we forget or neglect this silence we empty our world of its secret and subtle presences. We can no longer converse with the dead or the absent.

One of the tasks of true friendship is to listen compassionately and creatively to the hidden silences. Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in  the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people. In our modern lives, there is an immense rush to express. Sometimes the quality of what is expressed is superficial and immensely repetitive. A greater tolerance of silence is desirable, that fecund silence which is the source of our most resonant language. The depth and substance of a friendship mirrors itself in the quality and shelter of the silence between two people.

from Anam Cara by John O’Donohue








It was a dark and stormy night.

“Push, sunshine, push,” I hear the bright voice near my feet. She will never know that these words will for ever be etched in my memory.

I am in labour at 3am in late November, 1974, heeding urgings to push (“like you’re doing a pooh, girl…!”) a baby out into the world. I am being instructed to push a baby out into the world – so it could see the sunshine later, because right now there is a heavy thunderstorm going on outside.

No one is holding my hand. Mrs Botha, the kind matron of the Adoption Home had driven me in silence through the storm and the heavy rain to the Queen Victoria Hospital, to leave me in the delivery room. Mrs Botha has been so tolerant with me during the months in that hiding place, awaiting the hour of this predicament. I guess there is no reason for me not to like her.

“One more push, sunshine, you’re brilliant,” I hear the voice of the midwife again. She is holding my hand now. I cling to it. This pain is new. I feel like a virgin, new to this violation and I want to protest … yet my sensible self prompts to follow instructions obediently, so the job can get done.

Somewhere outside the pain I can hear another prompt. “We have to make a small cut, sweetheart, it’s a big head.” The pain is sharp; the hour is to become sad. “Yes sunshine, here it comes… come on, one more now!”

The ‘one more’ sharp pain is a searing flash around my abdomen, and then I am aware of hushed voices, still encouraging and “sunshine”, but the surge is over and it all feels goopy and soft between my tired thighs. And I am exhausted.

A nurse is gathering up pink flailing arms and torso and she is expressing her own wonderment of another miracle.

“Oh, it’s a boy, it’s a boy,” one of them coos. Then, “Well done sunshine!”

I hear the angel’s voice, the voice of persuasion, at the foot of the table.

“Please let me see him,” I croak uncertainly; suddenly shy, squeezing my eyes tight, just exhausted.

“Now you know, sunshine, we can’t do that.”

“You must not see him,” another voice follows, in a thick Afrikaans accent.

I crane my neck in the direction to where a feeble wail has begun … a child sound, the child that has been in my body, is making a sound. “Oh please, just one look… I’ll maybe never…,” my voice breaks, tears are building. I try to smile weakly, appealing to the “sunshine” angel woman.

The nurses look at each other, confused, nodding or shaking heads, now quiet.


“Ok sweetheart, just one quick look, see.”

I stare fixedly at the red-faced infant boy before my face, for five long seconds. He is held too far away to reach or touch. I take it all in to be imprinted as it is… on my mind, in my memory. In these five seconds  –  I try to register as much as possible

He writhes and wriggles a bit, his features are still flattened and crinkled from squeezing from his warm mother-world – out from the warm into the cold light of delivery room and loud female voices. His eyes are shut tight against the light and he whimpers. He looks like Duncan, his forehead is sloped back and his mouth is perfect. He has dark down on his tiny scalp. He pouts for a second. I see his skin has an orange tinge. His fingers stretch and reach out for a tiny moment. His hands are normal, all the fingers are there and I count them. Tiny. My hand moves feebly on the delivery bed. “You’re already two minutes old,” I whisper in my head. “I’ll never know you.” In my head, I hear that all-familiar voice of reason. Then the moment is gone – the swaddled face in a blue blanket removed from my senses.

He is gone. The nurse wraps him, takes him away to be weighed and measured. I will not be told how much he weighed and measured. The angelic midwife is pulling the thread between my thighs, like a tailor sewing a torn seam. ”These stitches are for the cut, sunshine,”

All the time, she calls me sunshine…my thoughts file it, forever.

“They will need to stay in for a few days, but now you can have a nice rest while you are here. Hey, you were an absolute star. Are you okay now, sunshine?”

“Yeah, I’m okay! Thanks.”

I wince at the darning of my vaginal flesh. “I’ll be okay.”

“Good girl. Now, how about a cup of tea? We will get you cleaned up and take you up to the ward, catch up on some sleep. That thunderstorm is really full on out there, hey! Baby born on a wild and stormy night… I’m sure he will be strong and…um… a tough one, ja!”

The ward is a single room. I am alone. There are no other mothers to share this room with me because I am an unmarried girl, giving her baby away for immediate adoption. No one comes or maybe a nurse comes, to check my temperature. Breakfast arrives on a tray. Dull sounds come from the nursery at the end of the corridor where the babies sleep between their feeds and cuddles


“My baby is in there …is he okay?” I ask. The nurse confesses he is under the lights for mild jaundice – but he is definitely okay – tells me not to be worried.

Mrs Botha comes in at eleven o’ clock with a bunch of flowers. She is wearing her blue uniform as usual, with the watch pinned above her left breast and speaks with her usual reserve. I realize now how many times she has been to visit young girls who have made The Decision.

“Hello dear, are you okay? The nurses tell me it went very well. Quick and easy.” Her thick Afrikaans accent seems comforting; her thick glasses are smeared.

“Yeah, thank you for coming, Mrs B.” I try to sound cheerful and then, as an afterthought, “How are the girls?”

I want to know what they are saying back at the Home, after the night’s storm. All the other girls, who still wait to deliver their babies. There’s Viv, Antoinette and Jolly and that strange older Jewish woman with her hair all over the place. She’s already 28, and arrived at the home two days ago, to have a baby and to give it up. Strange, anyhow…!

“I brought a card from the girls – they all say congrats.” Mrs B. passes an envelope to me. I open it, keen to see the messages. Mrs B. continues, ”Even Brenda, our cook says to tell you, well done! She says now that its’ over, you can be happy with your life – go on, you know.”

“Brenda, ah!” I am embarrassed. She and I have never seen eye to eye. We have had real screaming matches. “Okay! Tell her I say no hard feelings hey?”

“Maar goed, I’ll do that. Are you sore?” She arranges the flowers in a water jar on the night stand. “I wonder if I can do this? There’s no vases here.”

“What happens now, Mrs B?” I try my best to look cheerful. I can still hear the babies’ crying from the ward nursery. Through my open door, I clearly see contented mothers in their pretty gowns with matching slippers, walking up and down the corridor.

“You will stay here for about three days. I believe you had to be stitched?”


“Ja maar, does it feel okay?”

“Yes thanks.”

“When you are released from the hospital, I will collect you and take you to the courts to sign the papers.”

I have been primed on the procedure; all the girls at the Home know that after the hours of giving birth, we are required to make our final decision, to release our baby for adoption as organised by the Child Welfare Society of SA.

I get up to close the ward door so I don’t have to listen to the babies crying in the nursery. Once, I gingerly set off to walk down the passage to a room set aside for smokers. It’s lonely and stuffy in there and I resolve not to go there again. Should be giving up smoking anyway.

On my second day, the door of my room opens and Tommy walks in. Tommy! He grins above the pink flowers he proffers, looking discreetly at the olive green walls, while I sort out the sheets over my nether regions – I had had an infra-red lamp turned on to help heal the stitches.

“Wow, Tom, what a surprise.”

“Hey, this is my favourite girl who just had a baby. I must come and see you. Here, for you.”

He puts the flowers into a water glass next to the bunch from Mrs Botha and props a card next to it. It has balloons and ribbons on the front. His blue eyes sparkle as always. Tommy, who is always so sure of himself, and whom I like so much. I’ve wished for so long he would be my boyfriend.

I lean over and take the card to read it. It says: Congrats and hang in there Gracie, you know you will always be special to me.”

“Tom,” I start.

“Hey no Gracie, it’s good to see you. How was the … you know, labour? Nurses told me it’s a boy?”

“Ok I guess; I’m a bit sore, they had to cut me…’cos I wasn’t stretched enough.”

“Did you get to look at the baby… boy?”

“Well, I did, and….”

“Hey, you sure that was good, Gracie? I mean… aw’ well anyway, it’s what you needed to do maybe, huh?”

We are both quiet for a while,

“Hey Tom, it’s good to see you. My first real visitor. How’s the hockey?”

“Yeah! Always good – going on a tour soon.”

“And how is…Linda?” I look away quickly to avoid the sparkling blue eyes.

“Linda, yeah, she is still in Switzerland, on her training course.”

“I bet you’re missing her…” I start.

“Ag, it’s never easy. Relationships – gee who needs them,” he quips and takes my hand to squeeze it.

I wince as I move up on the pillows. Tommy smiles again and dazzles me.

He asks “So where do you go from the hospital?”

“I have to go to the courts and sign the papers, after I finally decide to give him up, you know…”

I falter, don’t know how to continue. Then I say, “To my folks I guess, for a few weeks and then I will decide. Haven’t thought about it much yet.”

Tommy looks at me quizzically.

“Have you got to give the baby a name, you know, before you sign the paper?”

“Um, I don’t know really, if I have to name him, my mom reckons I should call him Christopher, that’s almost like my dead brother’s name Kristoff – his birthday was three days before this baby’s.”

Tommy asks wide-eyed,” Did your mother come and see you then – here?”

I shake my head and try to look nonchalant, a “so what” kind of look.

“No, she hasn’t. I phoned her from the tickey-box. Matron had phoned her after he was born…Christopher, um, was born, um, yesterday in the early morning, like five a.m. or so.”

I begin to feel weepy, can’t hold the tears much longer. My head tells me to try and be bigger and braver.

Tommy leans over and hugs me with both wonderful arms.

“Hey, hey Gracie, there’s my girl. You are always such a toughie, who can cope with anything, hey! Well done. You will go on… and think about those lucky parents who will have him, hey. Happiness for them.”

“Yeah, crazy. Hey, Tommy thanks for the surprise…”

All too soon he has left – after more small talk.

I am alone again. Alone in this situation and alone in this moment when I can still make a different decision.

I have been deliberating for so long, the moment of knowing this child, now alive, who has my genes and shares Duncan’s. Duncan is gone. He was there two weeks ago when he found me at the Home. He phoned first, “Can I come and see you, we must talk.” Matron had said it was all right but she was sceptical. But hey! It’s my life. I was not in prison.

Duncan arrived looking sheepish. He hugged and kissed me. We sat on the porch. The lions roared into the night sky – the caged lions in the Zoo below. We held hands. He explained, “I had to run off, disappear. I’m sorry. There was so much mess to sort out. My ex (yes, we are divorced now!) and you, no, everyone – all making demands on me like I am some kind of ice cream machine to decide on the right thing. So I ran and I lost myself in Cape Town – somewhere.” Vague, always vague Duncan. Yet here he was, come to rescue me…I had hoped.

We talked, about how I had coped through the months, working in the bank, about the friends who stood by me. About my folks, who decreed the final ultimatum and placed me in the Home do the right thing. Only 19…! Band on the Run – Paul McCartney and Wings – the number one hit album right now!

Duncan asked to walk through the Home’s nursery and we held hands. We stood by the cribs and looked at the older baby born with Down’s syndrome – no parents had come for him yet. He was so beautiful. We stood beside the cribs and we cried together, tears rolling and plopping in unison.

“You can’t go through with this, Gracie. This is our child. We are parents here. We need to do the right thing. Let’s get married now, and keep it.”

We stood there, hearts already broken because so many things were already in place.

I was not sure about his pleas. I had no courage left to face my parents and the matron. The next day, I phoned my mom and confessed that Duncan had come back for me, for us, and we wanted to be a family. Of course. she cut me short, called dad to the phone for reinforcement and the ultimatum was reiterated, “You marry him and we are dead to you! (the punch lines as usual) After all we have always done for you. This will be your biggest mistake and he’s let you down before.”

“I love him.” I tried.

I tried to convince myself. Matron telephoned the Welfare counsellors. We discussed the possibility of my leaving with the father of the baby and the what-ifs. Duncan would be summoned for a consultation about the matter. I saw a glimmer of light around my dread and hopelessness.

This was my last phone call to Duncan, “Hey, it’s me! It’s not good. Mom and Dad don’t want it… me to marry you. And they, the committee want to see you here at the office, to talk… I’m confused… I don’t know what to do.”

Duncan remained cool, was mainly silent and conceded. Just gave in. Did not argue but swore softly. Put the phone down. Now he is gone.

I am seated on a green leather chair in the office at the courts – a man or woman – I can’t really recall, is reading a document with a final question to me, “You have decided finally and irrevocably to place this male child born to you on 28th November 1974, into the care of the South African Child Welfare Society for adoption?”

“Yes,” I am barely audible.

Mrs Botha nudges me gently. “You must speak clearly, please,” she says.

“Um… yes,” my voice is a little louder, cracked.

“Then, please read the following paragraph aloud and sign at the bottom, please.”

I remember reading out the official wording woodenly. When I come to the part where the name, the name I give my baby child, now born and alive, is printed before my eyes. Christopher Jenkins! As I say this name, my heart breaks and I need to let it out. I bury my face deep into my neck and fumble for a hankie. Mrs Botha has her strong arm around me. My tears fall onto the paper I am signing. It’s done! She escorts me from the room, still holding onto my arm. She really is kind.

You have been a brave girl and now all is well. You can go on with your life… and be more careful of course. You learned a lesson. And the boy, he will have a loving family. He will have a better life than you can really imagine. Think of it like that. En mag God ook vir jou sorg (and may God look after you also).” Her accent is as thick as ever and that is all I will ever remember of her.

She takes me outside, onto the steps of the courts in Jeppe Street, where on the pavement, I see my mother and stepfather waiting. I get into their car, bury myself in the back seat. I don’t want to look at the world out there. I am entering a new world.

The words

of a secret lullaby

for the next 20 000 days or more:

Child, dear child,

cradled in the moments,

the so many but too few hours,

by the hands on my belly,

though I know I’ll never touch you

or kiss your eyes…

Dear little boy,

all my pain will be a joy

for another! A fortunate mother.

May you feel her strongest love.

May she who chose you,

touch your lashes with wonder.

feel your skin and laugh easy.

May the father who choses you,

teach you

to run and laugh easy; and to fish.

May your heart beat strong and well

and may you know,

that in secret,

I will love you in a lifetime’s absence.

I hope the gift of you is perfect.



I am the grinder of pepper and spice.

Where my story begins, I am hidden in the folds of roughly woven robes.

My journeys have been long arduous and certainly adventurous.

I am from the middle-east; fashioned in a forge and cast many hundred years ago in a Bedouin settlement of yurtas and goats. My architect worked the furnace in the time when the karavansara stopped for some months beside the oasis. I was made by the order of the old and the blind shaman woman who, the night before had announced the name of her new apprentice. “Aranda,” the crone spoke, “ is the one to learn the craft of mooti, by my wisdom! This gift to her comes by fire, from the earth, cooled by water and formed by the air.”

The smith polished the tiny brass grinder, checked its wheel and the tiny hatch and summoned the wise woman. “Aranda’s gift is made.” he declared. The young girl received into her unlined palms the weight of my brass and the pulse of waiting magic, that which she would grind in me, until she too would be a sage.

I know of the fire in which I was molten and purified

I know of the earth as my rudiments were extracted from their seam

I know of the water preciously garnered from the atmosphere

I know of the scorching wind that carries the songs of all aeons

My first keeper, Aranda was a young and chattering woman who kept me in a finely combed goatskin bag. When she remembered, she tied the bag with leathers around her waist to walk flauntingly between yurtas looking for a husband.

She was impatient with her instructions from the old blind woman; instead of paying attention, gazing instead beyond the yurta opening, dreaming out into the dome of the endless deep blue sky. The goats worried the still air with their monotonous bleatings and Aranda would take little notice of the words from the hag beside her. “Aranda,” she heard the croaked whispers,” it is time for the pledge. Bring me your zedi within the hour.”

I, grinder of peppers and spices, stood newly gleaming on the red swatch of fabric, awaiting my first ritual – the first turning of the handle and my grinding wheel in stiff rotations – which would crush the offerings to powder and rizzle finely into the cup below.

Alone the crone sang over me, in short keens, the fire and earth incantations of Djinn and Rhahat – to inspirit my brass, my hollows and my functions. She raised her arms with closed eyes and spat and blew her breath on me summoning Toolok and Shosh, water and air to inspirit my durability, my poise and my position. The crone muttered more words as she cradled me in her weathered hands, then let out one more shrill ululation and placed me with finality on the red cloth in the sand.

Aranda returned,vainly tossed her long black hair this way and that, wishing she had her hand mirror in her hand instead of the zedi. “I’ve brought as you asked,” she announced to the now silent, unseeing woman, hunched and still, beside the red cloth on which I waited. The old woman gestured with her hands.

Aranda opened both clenched palms and trickled seeds and rhizomes, grains and desiccated peelings around me. These were her first zedi, the offering gifts, collected in her quest from among the people of her karavansera.

I now ground my first offering. Aranda held me firmly, turning my rigid handle and soon a rich powdery earth aroma surrounded the three of us. She seemed pleased. The grinding ended, my bowl emptied of its mottled talcum heap into a small pouch, awaiting its steeping and brewing.

So I learned of my purpose. My keeper, Aranda still so young, had been chosen by the tribe’s wise woman to follow her craft with mooti and magic; to know what to gather or beg or barter and bring it to my grinding wheel to be rendered into essence and flavour both for healing, ceremony and for delight of taste.

Aranda kept me in the goatskin bag and as her own steps began to grow steadier and heavier, and my brass more polished with use by her hands, so I began to know the secrets of the spices and the peppers.

The journey I began with Aranda so long ago is kindled from a far-off memory. I can and will bring the tale of corn and pip that was offered, turned and spilled. Aranda was a careless girl in the beginning. Often I would be left behind a tuft of dried sward, lying in my goatskin, waiting for the rising of another sun. She would have been out dancing with the young men, keen to swing her hips and shimmy her breasts and forget all about her quests.

The old blind woman had died too soon – there had not been enough time for her shared knowledge to guide Aranda for her life’s task. All she really had was the brass of me, inspired by the imbibed breath and incantation of fire–earth and water-winds.

The old woman’s bones rested along the route of a journey ten months away and with her, all her wisdom lay in the sand.

Aranda had her eye on the youngest of the pack-drivers…she fancied that he would be interested in her good looks, her strong legs and black trusses and her status of being the keeper of the secrets. His dark eyes smouldered with lust as they followed her steps alongside the pack mules or the camels. Each passing day she flirted around him, intimating that she would make a fine wife, bear strong handsome children.

The dark young man was called Lazvaa and he was keen to have this lusty girl, who threw her desire at him openly as soon as his chances allowed. He whisperingly agreed to meet her one night when the moon was new, among the swards on the west side of the karavansara. They would not be missed as everyone would be gathered around the cooking fires, listening to the storyteller’s next tale that night. Aranda oiled and perfumed her long dark hair letting it frame her sultry eyes and reddened lips. She took me out of my skin bag and spat on me. “After tonight I shall not need you, after tonight my destiny will no longer lie in the cursed promise to that wrinkled woman. No more tedious grindings for ceremonies, no more searching for seeds. No more begging for zedi!” She shoved me back in my bag and tied the leathers loosely around her waist and hurried with an excited heart-beat to the rendezvous.

Lazvaa wanted to have her within the first minutes. He welcomed her behind the sandy clumps with a lascivious leer and led her further away from the flickering firelights and soft crowd murmurs. Their urgently passionate meeting of bodies stirred up the dust in the moonless night, her groans of delight and his grunts of satisfaction mingled in the night air. Aranda wanted it to be more tender and tried to get away from his strength pinning her to the sand, my brass shape impressing itself painfully on her spread buttock. She gasped for him to stop but his ardour was relentless, she tried to cry out but his hard mouth gagged her into pinned silence. When he finally finished his rough thrusting to be still and limp, he drew away and arranged his robes. Aranda touched his shoulder. “ “Lazvaa, oh it was …so wild, so good? You do know I want to be your woman, cook for you, keep you warm at night…”

Lazvaa chuckled. “You are like the cheap ones, throwing yourself at a man and then wanting to cook for him,” his tone cut through the night air. “Go and cook potions for the camp and do as you must, you who are the keeper of secrets. My bride shall be chaste and no tart. She is already chosen, my sweet innocent Yolani and soon I am her triumphant groom.” He licked his lips and smacked a kiss into the breeze,” Yes, she will be fresh, ripe, having promised to wait for me… but you, you are now used, done with. Go and grind your spices and please men behind the dunes.”

He left her lying with her skirts carelessly flung around her waist, and a tiny spark of fury flared in Aranda. Betrayed! Defiled! She found me, under her body, and fingered my skin bag trembling with rage. Her feverish thoughts changed from humiliation to hatred. She gathered herself up and slipped unseen past the people seated around the teller of tales; back to her untidy yurta.

I was grinding again; kernels, ovules and roots Aranda had found in the hills behind the camp. She had murmured with each successful find and tucked them into my bag. In her bedroll she had a smaller cloth bag storing more precious seeds and nodes from previous forages. For once, Aranda thought about the old blind woman by name: Heezah! and her vital knowledge of plants and grasses to cure and treat.

“I need to stem the growth of this child within my belly; it is not yet too late,” she instructed me as my handle turned and inside me I ground it all into a fine powder. She poured it out carefully onto a red swatch of cloth, measured and finally mixed her potion with water and camel milk and drank deeply from the horn cup, chanting a sincere request to the ancients and to the elements.

“Release from me the curse of my carelessness. I ask for the sweetness of innocence and I pledge anew my gifts to you, Djinn and Rahat, Toolok and Shosh. I serve only you.” Her eyes opened and her stony gaze stared at me on the cloth. She lifted me to her lips and breathed one long word around my polished contours. “Khurban!”

The guests for the wedding were gathered in lazy pleasures around the central fire. For three days, celebrations had seen everyone eat their fill of meats and sweet dates; crisp pastries and honeyed roots, all now cleared off the silver platters. Many scented jars of cool water had slaked thirst and cooled desires. The elders lay on plump pillows smoking the shisha, languishing, relaxed, reminiscing on unions and youth. On the silky carpets, the women in fine silken takshitas trimmed with coloured sashes and veils, surrounded the bride with soft giggles and nudges. The young girl sat beneath layers of sheer veils which hid her tension and she laughed too loudly but lightly at each salacious suggestion of the matrons. This night would end her girlish innocence and she would join her married sisters in the knowing of the secrets of men.

Lazvaa made his entrance. Now he would join the other men of rank; this bride would elevate him from the pack-drivers to a married community man, his children would further enrich his status in the karavansara, and this nubile girl would give him endless nights and sunrises of pleasure until she became too firm and domineering. Thereafter he would seek out the cheap ones, the ones who demanded no price for his preferences. His mentors had initiated him well in the conspiracies of life. Soon the final rite would be done and he could carry her in his keen arms to the specially prepared bedding of his new yurta. His lusting eyes roamed the smoky tent and rested on his veiled prize.

He saw Aranda, in her simple robe for ceremony, bent over a spread cloth of powders, mixing the concoction for the bridal blessing. He also saw me, gleaming in the flickers of the fire, waiting, with my load of aphrodisiacs to be pulverised; to be added to the cup of fermented ewes milk for the life and prosperity blessing from the chief elder.

My powders were steadily poured by Aranda’s hand into the cup of milk and swirled with small circular motions, frothing with an inaudible hiss. She passed the horn cup to the elder who bowed, acknowledging her role as the keeper of secrets. Her eyes remained fixed on the offering as it was raised towards Lazvaa.

The tambor began its beat and the men in the group began their fertility chant. Rough male voices gathered their energy, became louder and bid Lazvaa to take the cup of arousing potion, drain it quickly and turn to where his young bride waited. He snatched her in triumph from the proffering arms of the women. In his strong arms she was a perfect maiden, awaiting the fulfilment of her destiny. Lazvaa bellowed the victory cry at the large yurta entrance, kissed the mouth of his bride over her face veil and they disappeared out into the darkness. For the rest of the night, the music played on and people danced to it in wild abandon. It had been good to have a celebration in the karavansara again. The embers had died before the last of the guests fell asleep and the first rays of the morning sun lit the horizon-less sand-plains and stir the slumbering beasts.

But everyone was woken by a single scream from the tent of Lazvaa.

Aranda rode on the mule, heavy with water bags, food and cloth. In the folds of her robe, I dangled inside the goatskin bag. She fingered me from time to time, a wry smile lighting her eyes. I knew the toxic talc residue in my brass belly could never be found or tasted. Later in the day, she saw the turrets and walls of a town in the far distance. When we reached the gates, she asked for the water well. Aranda held me in her hands, looked furtively around her as she let me slip into the deep clean well waters. I sank to the muddy bottom and lay there, for an eternity resting.

And this is one secret I could tell, where I now rest on a smooth glass shelf, from which I watch through large glass panes the towered spires and windowed blocks of mirrored steel. These constructions stand stubborn under a grey lacklustre sky. It’s been raining again. My brass is tarnished, the grooves of the smith’s patterns worn flat. My handle no longer turns the grinder, my pot is empty and I am the keeper of secrets.

I am Aphrodite


I am an Aphrodite floating about in my natural fibres in jewel or earth colours.

Covering my girth and rump, I choose flowing garments in soft textures to float about me as I make my way down pavements, through malls, along woodland paths and into friend’s homes.

Bold and beautiful.

Well chosen with flair and a distinct eye for mixing it.

These would be the whispers or even direct compliments that I would enjoy around my wardrobe and accessory choices.

It is never easy to live on a tight budget, so I go out finding odd treasure in charity shops.

I am bored with High Street shop fashion for the mostly young, nubile and extra skinny.

And when I glance wistfully briefly into the display or internet windows of boutiques and fine garment salons…I wish I had a budget to match.

The catwalk fashions occasionally seen on TV are greeted by me with delight…I love them all, the flamboyant, the bizarre, the drama, the daring, the original.

All of it takes me into a flight of my own fancy as to how I see myself

Dressed in style and great quality clothes which with care,would last a classic many years.

I enter my dressing area.

Yes I love to play with yards of colours, draping them about myself

and yet become aware of my two personal set-backs:

My size

My shape apple or cello….now how do we dress that?

and no money to spare for frippery.

It’s time then to learn to make my own

To create from the fantasy on screen, on page to fit my own awkward unflattering shape

And make me look the way I want to feel.

A 62-year-old artistic woman with a youthful outlook and a confident strut (when not plagued by a bout of knee replacement aches and arthritis)

How can I change this?

Perhaps finding the right image and expanding a personal scrapbook, gathering sample fabrics and the bravest thing:

Go and try on garments in the flesh without looking at the price tag.

Or being too critical in the mirror.

Do this to memorise cut and general pattern and then go home and design to make something similar in my time.

Wear with pride and enjoyment and the sense of JUST RIGHT.

So this is the beginnings of a fun scrap collection of my personal aspired fashions and a new dress code

Let me clothe my Aphrodite spirit.


The Artist

sits untroubled on the stacked stone commode looking through the huge window.

She’d tramped her steps through a meadow of tugging stalks,

the grasses waving their friendly jabs in greeting.

The seed-heads desiccated cow parsley like tumble weed.

Purple pom-pom thistles prompt her eye

to be a Monet today

to capture – be enraptured

by the crash of the rolling waters

at this place where the sea meets its grounding.

From her granite seat

she enquires at what lies at her feet.

A knobbled stick flung from waves that roar,

left to dry and carelessly be.

The tiny iceberg shape of a sugar loaf rock

as still as the still life of a miniature mountain,

yellowed lichened-covered.

On the ground more polka-dotted egg-rocks

betray an earlier artist’s random blottings

To the left sits a fortressed pier. Man-made-sinister

square blocks to keep all the mighty away

The mourning wet-laden clouds

 darkly loom,

A bright shock of wind-sock flaps

as a sentinel in its castle

warns the walking traveller.

 Beyond the tiny breakers,

a rock shaped walrus,

resists the frivolous spray;

Skywards flap-flutter the wings of two gray gulls,

in directionless

play of soundless dance on air.

A man with a dog,

steps rhythmic thoughts,

slow and deliberate.

Words conceived now

 wait for the labour of a poem’s birth.

She looks down at

a tiny bolt hole where a creature,

even smaller than herself

may have its home:

 an algae front door, a minute wooden knocker.

The artist approves

the discovery of white striations

on a large jagged rock

dusted with gold yellow

as the brush of the earlier painter


sprayed gold in whooping swoops.

He who stepped along this narrow sand,

toeing the line of flotsam seaweed.

Weeds of the sea,

discarded with dried up narration of faraway places.

Beyond the razor edge

where the ocean falls away

 the rising white lights

lift her mood.

For a while.

The jet-loud sound echoes off the shingles

as sudden as a lightning flash

on the stage as the spotlight beams,

and the great curtain parts

and the shimmer appears

in a fibrillating dance across the water.

The artist turns –

strong breeze nags wagging stalks of grass

 a million seed heads and thistles;

one last time

one last time she nods approval.

The work rattle calls.

The artist lingers,

to offer

curiously conceived wordy treasures

from a stone seat

to the spectacular theatre of the air, the land and the sea.

Grace-lines Dunbeath 2010