On dreams, stones and sorrow

Collect rocks like Lidia Yuknavith to rip your grief from its moorings. Every rock veined with time, to sediment your sorrow. 

I collected rocks on my walks with the dogs for a week after I read Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water. I lined them along the bench in my study, but they were disappointing rocks gathered from the roadside of suburban streets. 

They were not the rocks of riverbeds and mountains. They were rocks cast off by builders after they turned up the earth for a new dwelling. They screamed urbanisation, concrete, artificiality, and lacked the weight of time. 

But still I kept them. Their presence a reminder of my efforts to shift. 

Like petrichor, the scent of the ground after first rain, the warmth of the earth cooling under the weight of water and giving off a most delicious smell.

A smell I first detected when I was a child and breathed onto stones. I found them on the ground then sniffed them for the gifts they offered. 

Try it. You will see.

Or at least smell the earth, and if like me you are elevated to another place, space and time, then you will have achieved as much as any person might hope to achieve in a lifetime’s search for beauty. The stuff that lies hidden within earth’s creases.

I cannot say what brings me here, only the rush of a morning’s desire to breathe life into memory.

The other night my father appeared in a dream, all six feet plus of him. He was easy in manner. Unlike he had been in life. In my dream he entered the present with a gentle touch and a hint of joy I never saw when he was alive. 

The tricks of dreams or a trick of my imagination to turn the surly into the gentle. In my dream I could talk to him as I never talked before.

In my dream we connected.

Tomorrow is my birthday and as with all birthdays, my feelings are mixed. A sense of pleasure at a chance for celebration and a pang of regret for all it will pass into oblivion. Another occasion lost to time. 

I try to remember birthdays past, the ones of my childhood. Nothing emerges, other than the toy shop window on Canterbury Road where a large anthology of children’s poetry edited by Louis Untermeyer gazes up at me. 

‘Can I have that book for my birthday? I asked my mother, knowing full well that money was not at her disposal to throw away on trivia, but a birthday allowed for something extra.

And on the day the book was mine, I treasured every page, every poem, every illustration. I have my copy still, worn out through overuse, the front cover hanging on by a thread and held together with yellowing sticky tape. 

Another birthday I stood with my siblings near the unused railway cutting from the outer circle line. Shadows cast from a line of plum trees now purple with fresh spring leaves after all their pink blossom petals had dropped and already trodden into the ground.

Firecrackers went off in the distance and we stood alongside local strangers around a huge bonfire built in honour of the memory of Guy Fawkes who in my mind then was a scare crow, an effigy of a man who needed to shrivel on a fiery stake for reasons I did not understand.

Nearby my brothers held onto penny bangers and sticks of red cylinders that would burst into noise as soon as a flame tickled their wicks.

‘Be careful,’ parents said to their children. But the children were carefree and exultant. To be able to create such noise and colour was the ultimate thrill, as the fireworks cascaded along the skyline.

Childhood birthdays have defied me. Only now do I remember those of adulthood in a family which honours the tradition and takes its birthday celebrations seriously.

But we as children must have done likewise. I still know the dates of every one of my siblings’ birthdays and of my parents and marvel that every month of the year was covered by the birth of one or another of my siblings. Only in one month, April, when two of us share a birthday, for the rest we have January, February, March covered. No one in May or August though August was the month of my parents’ wedding anniversary. June, July, September October and the sad month of December with its proximity to Christmas. Also covered.

No one wanted a birthday so close to Christmas to have your life overshadowed every time by the then greatest birth of all. At least so we were taught when I was a child and believed in fairy stories and the lives of saints. That last day fell to my youngest sister. 

Belief evades me now. Awe at the mysterious but nothing more beyond my endless fascination with people and our strange ways of existing in time as if our lives are forever things, even as we know from the moment of our birth, our time is limited. And soon we will be nothing but memories in the minds of others and so distorted over time, very little of us will remain. 

See how I tricked my father in my dream into transforming into a decent human being, so different from the man he was in my childhood.

And a figment of me, in dream, my wish for someone else in my life and memory who could bring different quality to my night-time imaginings.