…you pack me away into the hollow of a tree, the hull of a rudderless boat, and cast me adrift; you thread me into a blade of grass with your needle; I sew.
My breasts became two little animals before I slept. They were longing to be touched, to be stroked, and also to suckle. They were brown and furry, quite small, rounded noses, gentle; they kept me company when I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to find you,have you stroke my animals. I was wondering before sleep which animal would consume me tonight, would take me inside for safety.
I’m awake again at 5 am thinking of you.
Then I sleep, and in a dream I’m a little dog, you’re painting the top of my head with a large, pointed-tipped soft brush. You’re painting my crown with generous sweeps of the brush; you’re gathering up all my dryness, catching all the dust with the brush; you make my crown glisten and shine. My head is a flower, you’re pollinating it, the fruit will swell, become a sun.
I lie here and I can feel you shape the contours with the brush, you’re enjoying the marriage of paint and oil, the way the paint comes to your rescue, the form you thought lost arrives. You’re shown something beyond thinking.
The tall dusky stems of the belladonna gather twilight. I’m in a garden, far away. I’m young again. The air is scented with datura, vast cups of moonlight hanging down pendulously, nipples sucked by pale stems. I brush past them, and their haloes of moths. The cups of scent are miraculous, and poisonous.
When you arrive at Clos du Peyronnet the first thing you notice is the smell – of generations of pine, cypress, ash, smoke, and tree resins.
I sit beneath the pergola and tree rats rustle the leaves above.
You bring bread, cheese and cool red wine. In the pool lotus flowers sway on their tall stems. Their seed heads showing green still, the heart of the flowers. Their curious shape, like some magician’s rattle, fascinate me. Their holes must surely be for the sprinkling of love dust….
Terrapins and kingfishers keep me company. I am fascinated beyond words by this paradise, this garden made by sad people to heal themselves.
Inside the house it is cool. Stone floors and heavy wooden doors. Old undulating dusty mirrors, shutters, huge fireplaces full of ash from olive trees. The tiny dark kitchen is scented with oil and garlic. The cool green tiles of the windowless bathroom. Outside the countless terracotta pots filled with bulbs. Lemon trees and avocados. Great boughs hanging with round orange kaki – so many summer suns! – we gather into baskets; I learn to eat the luscious fleshy fruit soft, with a spoon…the evening with the fireflies, years later…the walks into the mountains with the dogs and seeing eagles; drinking beer and water from streams. I heard the call of the eagle for the first time.
One evening you take me into the garden. We go to an arching cuypressus avenue. Nearby stands of pink flowers sway on stems of livid purple, which look wet and dusty at the same time. With the knife you carefully cut the stems of the belladonna, warning me not to touch the stems, or I will mark them. You take them to the terrace and place them into a glass jug on the table where we’ll sit.
I’m young. My legs are bare. There’s a photo of me sitting there, beside the huge stone pillars, with the sun behind me. I was in love with the garden, with the scented air, the pools tumbling into the sea, the lotus plants, the dusty paths, and above all the scent of the union of trees. I’m always arriving there, with the crunch of the dry stones, and the jumping onto me of little dogs.
The belladonna are flowering in my garden here. Like evening primrose, rosemary, arum lilies and Florentine tomatoes they accompany me through my life. Like sisters they arrive each year with their gifts. And the others whose names I can’t remember. Those little dry bundles of root I planted in the cold spring, into cool damp compost. Here they are, tall and triumphant, with their crowns of white or deep pink starry flowers. I’d stood alone by the compost bins with my pots, seeds and bulbs arrayed around me. I was planting summer.
I’m calling back my heart, she is pulling her head out of the lion’s gape, his mane is not the sun rays, she is not the centre of the sun hurtling towards you. In you I became something unwanted, like a stone thrown into soft flesh. A peach perhaps. You hold me in your hand. My skin is furry, pink, fragrant. You peel away my skin, we’re on a balcony in France, with shiny silver knives; my hair is cut short, we eat the hearts of trees. I swim in a pool of frogs, my hand is cut, there’s a storm; I make a friend of a young goat in the wood of yellow mushrooms.
I go to sleep with a warm stone in my hand. I found it in Shetland. It is like a heart, it glitters and feels good, filling my palm. I sleep with it to help me dream. In my painting yesterday I held the leather in my mouth, the stirrup around my foot. The sun spins above my head, unwrapping my crown.
Yellow, inner gold
I realised that I’d been taking buckets of liquid gold, scooping it out of myself, and tipping it all over your head. I’ve poured it all over you.
I gather gold from all the yellow things I see around me : from countless eggs, the clear white dribbled off into bowls made of skulls; the yolk I store, wrapping it around pebbles I heap into cairns; or glueing it to animals’ scent I’ve gathered from trails. The sun yellow I take from my outstretched palm, roll it into my mouth, curling my tongue around it, feeling it between my lips hard and shiny, hot.
The yellow from the corner of the fledgling bird’s beak, who gave it to me in the garden, after I called to him, when he’d learned to fly alone; the yellow remembered from early spring, the narcissus, the jonquil, the reflexive petals peeling back in a yellow smile from their waists. The leaf who finished early, full of regret, but happy nevertheless; the yellow pony, the one from the high northern moor, the colour of winter sun, the dun, with the black stripe I rode as a girl….the yellow light of winter dusk: foggy, thick as cream;
There’s the Indian yellow paint I smooth down limbs in my paintings, transparent, shining; and the pale yellow butter I melt when I cook eggs and tomatoes. The yellow light of this lamp beside me, the Italian lamp from my grandmother, with its faded, torn shade. And the legs of alpine choughs which flew around me in the Dolomiti, yellow shanks and bright sunshine feet on white snow, black rock. The bright golden halo around the head of Madonna della Salute, on the print which I look at each morning, shining over my bed. The pale yellow pillowcase beneath my head or between my legs; looking at my books now, rarely are they yellow, except for the old french ones I remember, with their pale yellow paper covers – volumes of poetry?
In my late summer garden a few faded lilies recall yellow, their golden shining centres and deep yellow pollen, almost brown; the sunflowers drooping, their morning petals shining with promise, already curled in August; and of course the evening primrose, stately chaotic moth-bearing flowers, the genus I’ve carried from home to home, the gift from Dorset and a country woman who taught me about plants. Pregnant then, I’d gone into the darkening evening to stand near the budding flowers, and listen to the not-quite-silent unfurling of the petals, the crisp, sudden revelation of lemon against dusk, the hand opening, the smile pinned like a moth on a violet parchment; the petalled dance embraced by arms of night. The point would hold erect in the night, a lemon pen or tapered bud, and then in seconds, the form would be released, twirling into a wide open ecstasy, shivering with delight, dancing with herself. Each night a few flowers would greet the night, be initiated.
Very young I’d loved the story of the tiger who ran around a tree until he melted into butter…
There are yellow threads sewn into darns over worn-out skin: mine, and my horses’.
There was a dream of meeting my animus who is golden yellow in the alpine meadows with the holy cows, my mother, and the spirit cakes.
I lie awake curled in your large hands which I saw today for the first time. With blunt rounded ends, they’re like beaver paddles or belladonna stems emerging from their sleep: a ruddy brown, comforting. I see them wrap themselves around my fruiting parts; you hold them all so gently, you hold my fruits as they ripen, and softly open. You carry my fruits to your mouth and breathe deeply, enjoying their perfume. (I know you are a sensuous man, I can just glimpse him). You caress the silky skin of the fruits with your lips, then using your tongue and your teeth you gently nibble away the top layer of pink skin and scoop out the soft yielding flesh.
Your tongue is a petal
Your navel has a petal planted,
It’s the showing tip of the garden within you.
In another picture I sit on your broad palm: you have just hatched me. I ask: Are you the big father bird, the deep dark feathered one of story, of my bones, my spirit-blood family? Are you both father and lover? Did you sit over me in some starry nest, lined with deep sea-dark, iron-scented leaves gathered from the deepest sea? Did you wait for me to hatch, as you incubated me so patiently?
I’m pale, feathery, round, and I gaze into your face with silent joy. You look at me with a fierce love; my wings are yet to fill with sap, they fold awkwardly into the blue. Your wings are deep brown, they merge with the trees of the forest where you are home. The bones of your wings are tree limbs, roots both water-net and a skein of shadow dropping from some celestial weaver. I see you as eagle-man, with your dark brown feathers and your knowing of the high places.
I wanted to say how good it was to see you, but I didn’t.
In the night after seeing you I woke with my right eye wet with tears. This involuntary weeping of my eye, usually the right one, happens quite often. My cheek is wet, and my eyes are swollen with tiny sacs of unshed tears, carried like ballast in my face. Three days ago a caterpillar squirted green sap into this eye; I’m reminded of the time I bit into a tomato and sent a jet of pink fluid into another’s eye, some cold time ago in Denmark. There were dancers; I liked the Spanish dance, it was erotic and we’d lain back in space, tipped into eternity for an hour or two.
In the garden as I gathered berries, my eyes went green from the caterpillar’s ejaculation. A bird inhabited my hand and its beak closed around the grub as it curled on the leaf. As I move about the garden you do not completely fill my thoughts. In the studio though: you and the act of painting seem almost to be one. As I paint your face moving closer to kiss my mouth, my pulse races and my belly churns. My hands become urgent as they seek to call you to be present, your lips to animate, to send your tongue to meet mine.
The wet black confined creature hatching from my dream, I see now is desire sleeping, curled up. It’s the thought of the dark wet phallus confined in me, the creature of desire resting between thrusts. Alive, life force strong, indestructible even, but not fully conscious. Waiting to be brought to temperature, to be cooked, made edible, palatable. ‘Eat’ he’d said in the piazza, in San Giovanni di Val d’Arno, as he held out the pomodoro di Fiorentino, all of which I’d forgotten until I saw you plunge your face into the brown bag full of tomatoes I’d grown. I fertilised each flower by hand, with a soft paint brush, almost painting each fruit into round, red being. Your face I glimpse in its response; I can hardly allow myself time to fully inhale the picture of you receiving what I’ve brought you. I skate away, I fizz into tiny bubbles which burst at my edges: I can’t contain myself.
I’ve stopped tipping my gold all over your head, now it washes all over the floor around us; it seeps from my pores, it drips from my words, it rises as an incoming tide from the sheepfold of my lap and the meadow between my legs. The perfume of your sweet chant brings the gold to the surface of me, like fish to the surface of the lagoon in Venice when the drummer comes. I cannot contain it.