Prose, The Ritual Atelier

I get worried that this piece might be an exercise in guilt-tripping bystanders when tragedy strikes. But, it depends on how I approach it.

I remember when I researched what I should expect, needing to cover every prospect of that certainty of losing Ivy at any moment. I wanted to be prepared for my own grief, and the awkwardness of others’ around dealing with it. You see, I had carried our daughter in my womb for 6 months, with the knowledge that she might not be born alive, and that if she did make it to full term, she might be in a lot of pain, or pass away shortly after. Ivy Valentina died the day before she was born, at 35 weeks gestation.

The thing is, it’s difficult to empathise. Generally, we all view the world from our own lens, unless we are super enlightened, or are trained therapists. So, we always treat people in the way we think is best, how we think the other person might respond. When it comes to infant loss, we don’t actually know what is best, because we’ve likely not been in the position of consoling someone in mourning, or we just don’t want to put ourselves in the shoes of the other because it’s all so confronting.

One of the people I really treasured through this process was our post-natal nurse. She seemed always to know what to say. She asked questions, the right ones. Specific ones. She also said things, plain and simple. “Jane, come here. I see it’s getting difficult. Go upstairs so you can have a rest, I’ll look after things down here, and I’ll be gone soon so you can have some time with Ivy.” “I see when you cry, that it’s about different things each time. Do you feel like talking about what you’re feeling right now?” “I feel so privileged to feel the power of your daughter. It’s amazing. I see her power in you.”

Things people can do when they are confronted with someone experiencing loss:

Ask how Edwin is. Many did this, but most were concerned about me. I’m still concerned about my husband, even 10 months later or 6 years on, but that’s another story.

The well-meaning suggestion to get on with life will never sit right with me.

The reminders that “at least we have Milo”, “make sure you enjoy Milo”, will never be a consolation in and of itself. I mean, OF COURSE we are grateful for the gift that is Milo and we cherish him every day. But he shouldn’t fill that gap, because he has a complete and perfect place as our firstborn. Just as Ivy has her place as being our complete and perfect second child, in her way.

When Ivy was born, so many people said “Congratulations. And condolences.” That was right. I was so so so so happy to have given birth to Ivy. The ones who blurted out “I’m so sorry”, or burst into tears straight away, or said or wrote nothing, just didn’t and couldn’t understand the pride I had of being Ivy’s mother, and that she was here, actually here, in the flesh — in our house! How I wanted to share that! Instead I was constantly reminded that people found our approach morbid, gruesome or creepy somehow.

I remember, as it is in my nature, tiptoeing around other people’s difficulties with our preparation for and the arrival and departure of Ivy. Their grief, their horror, their discomfort; I was even told by people how difficult they found our experience, how hard it was on them, personally. That Edwin and I should not underestimate that Ivy’s life and death was a blow to other people. And I remember feeling really shitty about that. Their need to offload their feelings about how we went about receiving Ivy made me feel like a bit player in the single biggest event of my life, of my family’s life.

And then I remember, people are all only doing their best. They can’t see into the depths of their own joys and sorrows, so how could they possibly know anything about the deepest most intimate web of mine? Monday 19 January 2015 was a day where I felt the angriest, the loneliest, the proudest, the happiest, the saddest, the most outraged, the most blessed in my whole life. I’ll never feel that way again. I may have felt a host of other things too, and I don’t even know. So, how could anyone truly empathise with my experience? Grief is so personal, so unique; it is more isolating than love as it’s so individual a experience. It really is love turned inside out. We shall all feel that sometime, whether we lose a spouse, or parent, sibling, grandparent, other relation, perhaps (god forbid) a child — and our links to that person is so special, that we cannot predict how we go about mourning that loss. Because it’s about travelling that transformation of our connection as living and breathing in the same space, to letting them live (on) in our memory and our words — spoken and unspoken.

I dither. Perhaps you can imagine how it is.

Where listening lives

Prose, The Ritual Atelier

This week I plan to make a listening stick with my children. I don’t mean to only use it with them. It’s something I need for myself, when I need to pray or have some reflective time. What I will do is take the children on a nature walk, and ask them to find the best stick they can. They need to both agree equally that it’s the best stick. They can’t come up to me with two different sticks and put forward a case that theirs is the best and that I must choose. They need to discuss with each other why they think this or that stick is the best, and agree on which one it is and then come back to me with their joint stick. (Hm, I’m curious how this is going to go…) Then we will look for little nuts and leaves and feathers along the way and put them in our nature walk basket, or bucket or pockets. When we get home, we will collect yarn and wool and thread and twine, glue and wire or plastic – whatever we think will look nice, even shells from previous beach visits, or semi-precious stones we have received as gifts or found in our travels. We will decorate our stick. And then I shall tell this story:

Before there were ever stones or sticks, shells or feathers, there was a great power. It came deep from the heart of the world, and it was made up only of one thing. Some call it love, others call it consciousness. There are names like Gaia, Mother Earth, God, the Great Spirit. I call it The Listener. When you or I speak, even if we are on our own, there is always someone who listens. Somewhere deep down inside us, inside the ground beneath our feet or way up above our heads, there is an entity who listens to us. What a comfort this is to know. Well, eventually when stones and sticks, shells and feathers came to be, the Listener found its home in these things. It also found its way in to the hearts of people. As time passed, people grew layers over their hearts. The layers were dampened by sadness, fear, anger, pain. And the layers got thicker and thicker. Until one day, the heart could not feel clearly and it could not hear clearly. So people would shout. They would misunderstand. They would speak and there was nobody listening. And then the people would shut down and be very quiet indeed.

Now, there was a little girl who had a big brother. They loved each other very much, but there were days that they bickered and could not get along. Sometimes the boy would say things that came into his head that were not always kind. Sometimes the girl would pinch her brother without a word. When these things happened, the boy and the girl became very unhappy and could not find a way around it, except to let it pass with time. One day, the little girl was playing by a creek and came across the most incredible stick – the best stick – she had ever seen. It was just perfect. It fit in her hand perfectly, it was balanced and smooth in the right places and rough in the others. She loved that stick. She took it home and she decorated it with lots of stones and shells and feathers. It sat in the corner of her room and waited patiently. Days passed. One evening before she went to bed, the little girl started to tell the stick the stories of her day. She talked about her feelings. Her ideas. The stick started to glow when she spoke. It became as bright as a lamp and the light spread out into the room and flowed into the little girl until she was simply radiant. Her big brother saw the light coming from a crack under her bedroom door. He came into the room and asked what she was doing. The little girl was bathed in a brilliant white light, holding the stick, and so told him all about it. She spoke of how she’d found it, what she loved about it, how she’d adorned it and what sort of things she spoke to it. The brother made no sound. In fact, he could not. His heart had opened and the words of his little sister poured into him and he heard all that she said. He felt the understanding in his body and it made him feel good and very connected to her. The little girl handed the stick to her brother. He began to speak. About everything she had just said. About how he understood perfectly what she meant. As soon as he had finished putting into his own words what she had said, she nodded as though to say ‘yes, that’s exactly what I meant’. Then he went on to say how he felt in his body, and how grateful he was that she had shared the story of the stick with him. Then he told her that he was sorry he said those mean things the other day and that it was because he was feeling lonely, because he was missing a friend who had moved away, and that it really didn’t have anything to do with her. And the little girl nodded. He gave her the stick and she said all that he had told her, in her own words. He nodded back, relieved, because he felt ‘yes, that’s exactly what I meant.’ From that day forward, after any disagreement or unkind exchange, the little girl and her big brother would retrieve the special listening stick; it would quieten one child, while opening the heart of that same child up from the inside, and help the other child to open up their own heart and speak their truth.

To this day, even though they are old and grey, the sister and brother speak regularly, with great attentiveness and appreciation. And their hearts are permanently open. As for the listening stick, its story has been passed down through the generations to help children all over the world to learn the power of listening. The power that lives deep in the stones, sticks, shells and feathers of our great old beautiful world.

Why don’t you try it out for yourself?

On my knees


The voice I say I don’t have
gets too much airplay
The ears I do have?
Just painted on.
Twenty years since I lay in bed
listening. Your mouth moves
but I only hear the track in my head.

My needs scream, my energy penetrates
my desires demand, my desperation radiates.

When I hear you
I forget me.
I fear.
When I pay attention
I lose me.
I don’t want to hear.
I want you
to see me.
I want you to hear.

The tune, the harmony, of yours and of the world
would enthrall me.
If I would only let them in.

Tear the mesh from my face.
Cut the bonds that limit my understanding.

That I should speak,
But also
invite me
– often
not to speak.

Your story, your melody, your song
belongs here too.

I want learn how to surrender to your pretty air.



I built an island from my stuff, and at least once a week I dive under to check that it is all there and in good order.
The ropes are tied, everything is accounted for. I’m rich.
The deeps are intoxicating and sweet even though I am better off with plain old air to breathe.

I wake up one day, my face resting on warm sand, and hear voices in my head.
“I had to hoard, because you never know
if it’s a rescuer or a tsunami that’s around the corner.”
“Those pirates tricked me, said you can’t have too many pairs of shoes
and, girl you look good in the jacket with the epaulettes.”
“You can send me out an SOS, anytime. I sleep with my message bottle under my pillow – you should too.”

It sounds like nonsense. I can’t weigh up any more
whether it’s all worth drowning for.

Terrified, I abandon my island.
With every stroke I try to distance myself from my treasures
but the island threatens to drag me under.

The damn thing is still tied around my waist – by a shoestring.

My stuff can
in the middle of the night
My things
unhinge me
when I try to put things right
My possessions turned into obsessions –
first a chest of sentimental baubles and now a mountain of memories that will not set sail, even if I say I want to cut loose.

Without all this, who’d I be?

I’d be swimming to open sea
I’d be a dolphin,
I’d be free.
I’d be visiting all the four corners of the world, sky and me.

I was a grown woman when I faced my hydrophobia,
so I’m still a novice when I tread water.
I fill my lungs with useless things like:
Ditch the extra anchor, faster, we only need one!
oh no, where is that rope, I really need it now
how will we pay for the island taxes next month?
too busy with hurling sandbags into the ocean, I forget to enjoy my husband and my children.

We can’t be good at everything, and
minimalism can be an addiction.

Someone’s throwing me a life line tonight. A ship’s captain who steers his own vessel on the same course as mine and keeps close watch over me, says:

You know how swim. Go slow. Just throw the ballast overboard bit by bit.
It’s what little you have on your travels that matter,
not how too much you don’t.
Transform that old fear into a rocksteady certainty that you do manage to keep your head above water. You always do.

Help is on its way.

Then, he puts his arm across my chest, I let my head rest on his breast,
and he brings me and my island safely back to shore.

He helps me make a trapdoor.
Stuff and ideas I don’t need anymore
go through that hole in the floor.
I’ve got a telescope
and a periscope
where I search for hope
that I can master both my memories and some things
yet still be free to spread my wings.



It is in our nature
to breathe
So much harder
when you’re trapped inside;
windows closed, shut off,
the only air you share is
with whoever is there.
What if you can’t breathe out?
inhale inhale inhale
until you’re fit to burst
it makes sense to get it all out
I was a natural, once
at this breathing trick
but it seems I’m losing the knack
I’m running low
on expiration
and I can’t handle
How do I unlock
the cage around my heart?
No one said how hard it would be to start


PoemItNote #1


AllbymyselfI was doing a walking meditation, clearly not meditating, after I’d written this piece.

I think I would strike out the first appearance of “the place of”, as I don’t like it popping up twice in such a short poem.

It would then read:

All by myself
with you
As you drift to
your dreaming, your imagines
Each time
one more time less
I cap my wish to disconnect
and instead I rest in your
rhythmic journeying, every night,
to that other place

In my little town


In my little town
you let strangers in
by keeping the curtains drawn wide open
inviting their gaze
into where you live and eat

In my little town
you call it like you see it
by opening your mouth
exhaling all your words
into the face right before you

In my little town
you truly see each other
by looking with open eyes,
cycling by or walking
into the windows of their soul

In my little town
we announce to all who come
by, riding past our curtains – closed or open – of the
loving of our daughter
into existence and without.

Word barren


So you see, I’m at a stage in my life where I want to
Down size
Let go
Live lean
Be mindful
Buy experiences, not things
Remember – there is always just enough
I want to consciously consume
Have a capsule wardrobe
Feel that every little thing I own sparks joy and puts spring in my step
keep one shelf in my house absolutely empty
Remove the junk drawer
Handmake my skincare
Wear no cosmetics
Think nose to tail, organic
Or better, vegetarian
Better still, go vegan
Make from scratch
I’m on a path to minimalism

I stumbled across a barren word desert
I copywrote the fibres out of my song!
When instead I should be indulgent in my poetry
This is the one place in my being where economy should not apply
Words should spill over the edges and fall out of the sky
Letters should clutter and be left out to spoil

or transform

In my mind I can burn my words till they rise to a better place, water them, shed light on them and let them rot to dust where they make rich soil for new ones
Let there be lots of words
Stuff my head with them, until they spew out from my jaws and make my throat ache
Words can tumble and rumble
Coil and untie
Whisper and cry
Appear and multiply
They can pile on each other
Go in weird orders or combinations
And even be obscured
And become monsters or creations

It was a mistake to sweep them away
let them disappear
I cannot let it happen again, for fear

It will close my mind
Silence my voice
Tie my hands
Lock my heart
Block my ears
Dry up my tears

Words are the one currency
That can move
And words are free
I can use them till my very last breath
There are no limitations
When it comes to these monsters or creations
And while they might disappoint, or contradict
Surprise or cause conflict
Maybe reconcile, unhinge, unlock or unite
I can let someone else inside my brain
I can feel interconnected like an intercity train
My words may miss the mark, or hit the nail in the middle of the eyes
Each word has a beginning and each word a last letter
I must let my words be born, breathe life and love into them


Words are my children
Like my genes, I can pass them on – but with one extra quality


A poem from my body


Hey! You fed me a negative thought
But man, I was so hungry for your attention, that
I took it, and I grew it
That’s how you trained me

A catch, a tickle, a thirst
An ahem, a bark
No meditation for you
Cough up, until your lungs flop out and your chest feels raw

Breathe fire, I can make you do anything

No rest for you
I interrupt your air
I make you think about it
I double back on you and let uncertainty creep in

And still, you feed me
You feed me
Every minus, un-, non, and doubt

Wait a minute, the energy here in this room is strong
You feed me a little more
But it’s neutral;
Maybe it’s positive.
Whatever it is, it is still.

We’ve lost our appetite for negativity, and grief.
Together we can lift this up, turn it around,
turn it back outside in.