It was a hot day of clashing. My daughter is rounding the corner from childhood to adolescence; the interior struggles in her body often come out fully armed against me. We had spent the day cleaning her room. I had hoped the promise of the swim in the Pond would push her along, would give speed to her careful rearrangement of dried-out markers and scattered beads in one of her desk drawers before she even contemplated the mounds of dirty clothes, school papers, partially read books and flotsam that provide a nesting ground for the clothes moths. Every time I went up to help, the frustration escalated to a metallic simmer – cartoon samurai warriors floated in the air between us, clashing their swords together, as I struggled not to scream at the glacial pace of progress. I was hot and sticky from cleaning the rest of the house and scratching at being inside on one of the first (perhaps the only) warm and thick day of June. Showers came and went all day but the hot density of the air taunted, begged to be plunged through towards the waters of the Pond so close.
7.30… Almost too late to go, my unbelievably patient husband holding off dinner, both of us trying to help her along but wanting her to make the project her own… finally she comes to me in tears and I realise again I can no longer scoop her up off the ground; her body has grown too long and gangly for me to gather her as I once did in my arms – an embrace or containment that made me feel as though I could hold her in, make it better, cleanse her in my holding before returning her to the rough ground. Now when I try to pick her up, her feet scrape the floor and she is already moving away when I let her go. All together we make a last assault on the room – and miraculously the floor is clean, the clothes put away… so on the bike.
As we push up Highgate Hill, I welcome the sweat that stings my eyes; with each pump of the pedal the conversation between us eases in confrontation, relaxes into reflection. The air is thick with humidity and evening bugs, scent of roses and lilacs and grasses, the green of
the Heath swarms us as we get closer to the Pond. The air feels like warm cloud around us – saturated with the evening sun and heavy with humidity – if it were actually raining it would not feel so different.
Into the changing room at the Women’s Pond, we peel off sweaty clothes and our angers and finally… the velvet thickness of the water is just sharper than the air – I push away from the roped ladder and merge every fragmented piece of me with the tangy pond. I watch my daughter collapse into the water, and see her smile just for herself as she too relaxes, shudders, elongates. The thickness of the air, the hushed voices of the other swimmers, the call of the mother ducks, the color and calm of the lifeguards – all combines into one gorgeous fluid moment on this Saturday evening in early summer when the velvet air prologues the water and the Pond gives my daughter the clean embrace I wished for her.
Poems from Answering Back ed. by Carol Ann Duffy
Answering Back: Living poets reply to the poetry of the past, edited by Carol Ann Duffy : Classic poems chosen by contemporary poets who then write a poem ‘back’. Here are two poems that I found to articulate the tension between the painful nostalgia of home as idea up against the vibrancy of home as lived.
Home is So Sad
Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
the music in the piano stool. That vase.
by Philip Larkin, chosen by Vicki Feaver
Home is Here Now
Home is here, now
at this table with its gouged
and scratched wood
where I peel an orange,
the spray from the zest
sending shivers up my nose.
I can see my hands’ blue veins
and swollen red knuckles,
and the diamond highlight
on the blade of my knife,
and bright rind falling
in a long curl.
It’s the quiet time
at the end of the day:
no birdsong, no wind;
just my in and out breaths
and the faint tearing
of pith parting from flesh.