Saturday, October 16

seeing from Böll's window on Achill Island

Beverly was painting the same scene I could see from my window. When I walked back to the studio to visit with her, I knew she was working on the same scene because the shapes she'd painted matched the shapes I had been seeing ... But otherwise, what she saw was nothing like what I saw.

To Beverly the mountain's crest was cobalt green, as though all this rain had spread joy instead of gloom. Personally, I was with [Heinrich] Böll, who wrote about "the mountains dark brown like mahogany." If they'd even been that bright. All I saw was murk, a surreal invasion of bog seeping into every form of life and staining it the way it stained the creeks. The fuschia offered the only color I noticed, an obscene red amidst all the raw umber and gray. Beverly was seeing the foothills grin purple, with scattered folds of alizarin crimson, and she spotted dozens of zinc-white sheep and bog cotton bursting with light.

Back in my room, seated again at the desk by the window, I looked beyond the elderflower and hawthorn and now found calm seas flashing in ultramarine where a moment before all I could find was fog. Just over the top of the sheared fuschia I noticed a movement that must be wheatear. Then there was a sudden lemon-yellow cascade of sunlight, maybe the first I'd seen since we arrived.

Without a word, she was helping me to see what was right before my eyes, lifting me out of the bog of self-absorption that illness so easily becomes. I am often turned inward by the very nature of the damage to my brain, checking systems, working at remembering, thinking about where I walk, looking hard at the obstacles in my path so they will register and be avoided, reminding myself to breathe. When I listen to people speak, I have to alert myself to block out competing stimuli -- here on Achill the raucous call of a corncrake or cattle lowing on Krinnuck, rain against the windows, the movement of hedge or heather in wind. Each slight peculiarity of sensation, however normal, raises an alarm for someone who is chronically ill ... We become obsessed with the inner world.

So it is good to be brought out of symptom mania, to be brought back to outer life. I realized how much richer Beverly's experience of this place was, how much richer her experience generally was, how open she was ... I realized how much I might be missing.

-- Floyd Skloot In the Shadow of Memory


The sesame oil
you brought for me
to knead into your skin
makes it glisten
in the firelight.

I want to be chaste
and slow with you
now, touching circles
from your pulse points,
calling the blood up
to your surface,
using my hands to bring
ease to your body

hidden here
and there by
a vermilion edge
of quilt.

The sound you make
is new to me and I
think of the sound high
tide makes at the moment
it yields to the ebb
current, a sighing of sea
water under the tug
of a quarter moon.

I do not break
pouring more oil
into the cup
of my palm, knuckles
still to your spine

and realize
it is you
who touches me,

who anoints the dry
places, touching somewhere
has touched before.

-- Floyd Skloot