Your eyes have seen the sun rise on 90 days, you have felt the dust of three months on soft skin. The woman holding you has gathered the days of war in her lungs, and where her memories are now smoke signals not even she knows how to decipher, her hands still tell her brain how to hold your little body so you won’t fall, how to shield you from the world she has fought and conquered and forgotten.
By the nursing home kitchen table she’s got no notion that dark coffee will scold her own mouth, but she moves the cup away from you, ”careful so he doesn’t burn himself.”
Suddenly, her language returns, her voice is the voice of the woman who has been hiding in the back of her heart since the turn of the decade.
She has held so many children safe in her arms, cured the scrapes of playground battles and lulled sobbing nightmares to sleep with lullabies she can’t recall ever knowing.
But holding you in hands that have held rationing cards – knitting needles – dried apple slices and one way tickets – the lady in the back of her heart breaks the surface of forgotten memories, takes a big gulp of air and looks at the world with her own eyes once more.
Coffee soaked into the roof of a mouth whilst rain rallies itself outside strawberry fudge melting between teeth fingertips on the back of a neck. The mist outside falls into the bottom of the mug coalescing white smoke condensate heart on a window is this what it is meant to feel like?
I’m building a home on Tuesday’s laundry and broken light bulbs.
I’ve spent so long balancing on top of the return to sender-confidence that I toppled over and hit my head, but I’ll clean the place up before you come over – I swear.
Do you want to stay the night? I can make a bed for you! Oh, just remember to beat out yesterday’s daydreams, they like to keep people awake, you see.
And if you want a cup of tea, I make an okay ginger and lemon. But please excuse me for a second; ambitions keep dusting up the bottom of my mugs.
If you do come around, I’ll welcome you with a marching band’s drumroll, to my fort of dirty dishes and expired parking tickets. Just don’t expect too much from me, when you arrive with your shirt fresh off the ironing board and your briefcase full of documents and signatures.
I’m still trying to divide my socks from my spoons from my groceries, And I’m doing my best.
I swim through quiet waves of evening, enveloped by lazy currents. I am not afraid of the water.
As a swallow graces the surface, droplets falling from its wing, I think of all the lives lived by this fjord before me. Women wrapping their shawls tighter around themselves, waiting for sails on the horizon, for fathers, for brothers, for husbands to come home.
Young boys who went to sea, much like I went to university, clenched fists and starry night-eyes, who learnt that nothing can quell an unforgiving ocean, not even the children who challenged the shallow shores, those who never returned to their mothers’ lullabies.
Their stories are in every rock, in every seashell. in every tide that swallows the docks. Stories of islanders who read tomorrow in the skies, who knew that red clouds predicted weary storms the type that could orphan their children and starve their homes.
The water still cradles me, there is salt in my ears, my hair flows like jelly fish tendrils around my shoulders. I have no doubt that all the souls lost at sea, the stories and the children and the ocean are resting in these waters.
I’m turning 23 and I’m not entirely sure what that means yet. I’m aware it won’t mean that I’ll wake up taller, wiser or more confident. I know your birthday is just a symbolic notion and that what helps you grow are all the days in between. However, like with New Year’s Resolutions, maybe birthdays can function as a day of reflection, a definite marker of another year passing. Not for everyone and not for the world, but in your very own timeline. What have you learnt since your last birthday? What have you figured out? What new people have you met, and what new paths have you travelled down?
To “celebrate” that today is my last day as 22, I’m posting this little video. It is a poem I wrote for the OctPoWriMo challenge, last year, about all the things I’d love to tell myself at 16. In the original post I wrote “this took a long time to get right, but I didn’t want to post it before I was happy with it. Felt like I owed 16 year old me that much.”
Filmed in my bed, with a comfy shirt on and a cup of tea waiting. It felt fitting to post this on my last day of being 22, as a symbol of all the things I’ve finally figured out, and of all the things I’ve yet to learn.
The hillside is full of sheep.
They graze the grass we walk on, they don’t mind the steep slopes
and the cliffs.
The villagers call it a mountain, everyone else calls it a hilltop.
I want to call it an adventure.
Everyone we meet are prepared with hiking boots and walking sticks,
we are armed with sneakers and half a sausage roll.
This wasn’t where we thought today was gonna lead us.
Four hours up and four hours down,
we scale steps carved into the hillside,
past trees that have grown into each other
to seek refuge in numbers
from the sharp sea air,
gusts coming in from the northern sea.
Beneath us, Swanage wanes away.
The bay grows smaller and smaller,
until you could fit the entire town between your thumb and ring finger,
lift it up and put it in your palm.
Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do;
Lift Swanage out of its little nook between the hills and the unforgiving ocean,
nestle all the teacups and barefoot walks along the beach
into the crook of my neck,
keep it there to remind myself of the times I’ve felt like I belong here.
I clutch your hand in mine,
feel your nails against my skin.
In front of us, the terrain evens out.
Two chalk rocks stand side by side,
broken away from the hillside, they hold each other up.
They’ve been standing since long before the town came to be,
just as the town will be here
long after I have left.