Paint Me As I Am

A poet sent me this poem. It is a poem I could never write. It is the poem of a spirit stronger, freer and bolder. When a poem as true as this comes my way I feel I know the poet, I’d recognise him by the beauty of the poem. I marvel at the freedom he claims and I rejoice for him, while holding my breath as he skelters along life’s unseen edge. My timid spirit prays, ‘o let him not fall off the edge.’ 


Paint Me As I Am


Why don’t you paint me as I am?             

Running and reading, with waves and

Sand tangling in my hair.

With fire in my hands. 

Paint me as a surfer, catching opportunities like a wave.

 

Paint me without dark paint, for I am not

only shades of grey.  

Paint me somewhere else, where dew moistens leaves

and the chilly air circulating around me that

makes every fibre of my being feel alive.

 

Paint me with my wrinkles, for those are signs of me laughing.

Paint me so my tears and scars don’t show.

 

Paint me with my nightmares but most of all, paint me with my dreams.

                           – Miles, aged 11


“Daydream Believer: Rats dream of a better future”

You may scoff, human reader, but I, Rattus rattus – also known as black rat, ship rat, roof rat, house rat, Alexandrine rat, old English rat – I have my dreams.
 

I dream of a time without scoffing humans.

 

I dream of Old Hamelin, my home town, Hamelin to which I shall not return, not until the burghers beg forgiveness.

Meanwhile I live in the cleft of the rock, together with the lost children of Hamelin.

 

I dwell in Xanadu, of which you can only dream:

 

…that dome in air,

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see me there,

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

 

 

I have a dream

 

that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

 

 

I dream with smiles

On my rodent lips;

I dream my dreams

Of sinking ships.

 

 

 

The rat dreams:

 

 

All day in the one chair

 

From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged

 

In rambling talk with an image of air:

  40

Vague memories, nothing but memories.

 

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 

 

Phone Calls from my Dead Brother

My brother Dennis

My brother Dennis

This evening and tomorrow the family will mark the seventh anniversary of the dying of my firstborn brother Dennis. We’ll light candles and congregations will join us in remembering him.

Two weeks before he died Dennis underwent elective surgery. I wondered if the surgery was wise. Dennis, whose life’s creed was hope, assured me: ”Doff, this operation can eventually cure diabetes. It will transform my life.”
We spoke daily on the phone – he from his hospital bed, I from a hellhole town in the deep Kimberley. Day by day Dennis seemed to be doing well. But on day four he told me: ”I’m OK but my belly hurts”. A belly ache bad enough for stoical Dennis to mention was bad enough to alarm me.

Day five, no phone call. That day the pain was worse. Dennis collapsed, his circulation failing as his abdomen filled with blood and stomach acid leaking from his wounds.
At his bedside in Intensive Care the following day we counted the tubes entering and departing Dennis’ comatose form. One into his windpipe to make him breathe; a second into a great vessel to deliver information; a third to bypass his kidneys which had failed; a fourth to drain his bladder; a fifth and sixth into peripheral vessels to deliver fluids and the hero molecules that just might save him.
The greater the number of tubes in a patient’s body, they told us, the lower the chance he would leave ICU alive.
I sat at his bedside and I watched my brother. Behind the clicks and gusts of his life machines swelled the sounds of classical music. Annette, his loving sister-in-law, thought to play that music, those patterned sounds that ever soothed his troubled breast.
I sat there and watched as nurses, tender or tough, kept my brother alive. The tough ones, resentful of something – were we too many, was this medical brother too medical, that sister too exacting, that aged mother too accepting? – made me feel small, in need again of a big brother.

Dennis turned the corner: blood pressure held firm, sleeping kidneys awoke, fewer molecules were needed. The doctors conferred and announced: “We’ll let him wake up now and breathe on his own.”

Dennis breathed and slept on. We all breathed, went home and slept.
At four in the morning my phone rang. A crepitous, rustling sound, a broken voice in windy gusts: it was Dennis: “Doff, they want to njjhrnnujicxvclbkvn”
“Den, I can’t hear you. Say it again.”
Gales and crackles and Dennis’ voice in fragments: “Doff… inaudible… they…unintelligible…the tube back in.”
“Den, are you saying they advise you to go on the respirator again?”
More gasping, a desparate heaving of voice: “Yes!” More gasping. “Is it a good idea?”
“Den, it’s your best hope. Say yes.”
“Alright Doff.”

That was the final phone call. Dennis and I never spoke again. By the time I reached the hospital Dennis’ coma was renewed, the respirator breathing for him. Soon his circulation collapsed again, the doctors tried heart-lung bypass (“It’s only ever been shown to work in children. It’s your brother’s last hope..”) and on the eve of Shabbat Dennis died.

***

I can speak or write of Dennis dying with a composure that surprises me. Even my fatal advice does not trouble me. Perhaps it was not the dying of my big brother, but his living, that calls to me and troubles my dreams.

Mrs Hamlet’s Advice

Mr Hamlet Senior, formerly king of Denmark, has passed on. His son Hamlet Junior is sad, sulky, grumpy with Ophelia (who suicides), stabbish with Polonius lurking behind an arrass (who just happens to be Ophelia’s Dad, who dies incidentally of Hamlet’s stabbishness); obsessed, ruminative, haunted; angry, angryangry; refusing to be consoled, refusing to be reconciled.

His Mum, pragmatically re-queened to Hamlet’s uncle, offers some advice to  Hamlet Junior: ‘Tis common. Why seems it different with thee?

In other words, Get over it, son.

And in time we do. As a rule. ( If Hamlet fails to get over it’s because his uncle killed his Dad. And because Hamlet is, well, Hamlet.)

 

This week my sister and my surviving brother and I remember our father and our firstborn brother.  The anniversary of Dad’s death falls on the 13th day of the month of Ellul; Dennis died three years later, on Ellul 18.

Dad was 92, Dennis 63.

They died when they had to – Dad once his broken body began to break his iron will; Dennis, who lived for Mum, Dennis whose meaning was to be a son, Dennis constitutionally unable to live a motherless life. He died while Mum was alive. (Mum, most buoyant of my three lost ones, mourned Dennis, mourning lightly, living on, ever lightly.)

 

I think of them, all three. I wrestle with memories of the brother, he the first of his father’s strength, the brother who wrestled always with Dad. Two firstborn of firstborns, two men of fire who burned each other in their hot loving. I think of them, I remember their awful strife, I who knew, I who witnessed their mutual love, I, powerless to stop them hurting each other. Powerless in the end to stop the pain to myself.

 

I dream of them. The Dad dreams are never anything than pleasant. He smiles as we bump into each other in the lounge rooms of our lives. Dad prepares his enslaving coffee, I write, we smile, we know each other, we accept each other.

When I dream of Dennis the anxious need to rescue him clouds all. Not accepting, never reconciling to my brother’s pain, I strain against his self destruction. Aware always – in these dreams and when awake – aware of his love, his heavy tenderness towards me.

In my waking I recall Dad’s request, directed to me when I was twelve, Dennis fifteen: Some have a clear path in life. They are the lucky ones. You are one of those, one of the blessed. Your brother, your older brother, his path is not so easy. Help him, help Dennis when you can.

I tried, Dad. I never stopped trying.

 

The years pass.  ‘tis common. We get over it.

 

And yet, and yet, that Hamlet scene returns.

Hamlet’s Mum, Gertrude: “Thou knowest ‘tis common.

All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”

Hamlet: “Ay Madam, ‘tis common.”

Gertrude: “If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?”

Hamlet: “I know not seems, Madam.”

 

I had a father. He passed through nature to eternity. I had an older brother, I lost him; I lost a limb. The phantom sensations do not end.

 

I write, a destiny. Until I have written the courageous, the impossible life of my brother, that hurt, hurting life, I will not earn dreamless rest.

 

Yitgadal ve’yitkaddash, shmei rabah.

At Prayer

The pale wintry sun descends and I recite my everyday afternoon prayer. Watching me, my eight year old grandson moves to sit on my knee. “What are you praying for, Saba?”
The enquiry jolts me to consciousness. If he’s asking, what’s your purpose in praying? – it’s a good question.
I fancy he’s asking, what are you praying for – in particular?
Still a good question.

He sits on my knee, this fleaweight who holds me captive. He forces me to interrogate the ritualized murmurings that issue half-bid, half-conscious. I translate for him:
The eyes of all look to You for good news,
And You give them their bread in good time.
You open up Your hand – here I open my closed hand, enacting the gifting of food –
And You satisfy the want of all that lives

I want the child to share my sense of wonder, of providence, however unevenly it might fall.
Grandson takes my face in his hands, brings his face close. Closer. His lips touch mine. He holds my face a little longer.
I contemplate Dickenson’s telegrammatic:
Prayer is the little implement
Through which Men reach
Where Presence—is denied them.
They fling their Speech
By means of it—in God’s Ear—

Grandson is in no rush to return to Lego and the other urgencies of his life. He sits while I entertain Tennyson:
More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

What does Saba pray for? He prays because he can, because he needs to.
Another kiss and grandson descends. Thank you Saba.

I am left to wonder whether a grandchild might be the answer to the prayer I sent to God’s Ear and never knew it.