Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grave Secrets

Love is an ambivalent emotion. There are times when the elixir of being in love is a powerful force that creates a sense of bliss, of well-being, of wonder and delight in everything around. The body in rapture, the soul feels liberated. For a while every waking moment is filled with the incandescent awareness of the other person’s existence. And there are times when love is not blissful. As an emotion it can also be disconcerting, baffling, indeed hurtful. Many of us have felt that misery when our obsession becomes dominant and we know the world will never, ever be right again.

Love is more than sex but arises from and is based around it. The contemporary world tends to trivialise the ancient Greek concept of mighty Eros into mild Cupid. Be that as it may, poets down the ages have sung about love in all its aspects. Relatively unknown New Zealand poet Helen Bascand’s poem Grave Secrets sums up that lovers’ moment of fusion – gigantic in itself, but a brief fleeting episode in the vast duration of time. Nevertheless it is a moment when the universe appears to fulfil its purpose. It’s an old theme well-told.

An aside but relevant. Every now and then there is an announcement of the discovery of more dinosaur fossils here. At one stage scientists thought there were none in New Zealand. When I first heard that claim I felt uneasy. Tuatara are remnants from that age. If they survived here others of the same species must have been around at the same stage. Interesting, though they have now found dinosaur fossils here they’ve never found fossilised tuatara illustrating just how random is the preservation of remnants. There’s a strange comfort in these huge stretches of time. They put love into perspective.


If you should bury me,
as I have requested
with my hands clasped,
bury me wearing this bird
on a fine chain,

if my grave
should be uncovered
in a thousand years
a wise man might say

Here we have
the bones of an elderly woman,
well, she would have been elderly
in her day.

From the evidence
of the spinal column, we can deduce
she carried heavy loads & the bones
of the hands indicate hard labour.

There is advanced
degeneration of the phalanges.
Early writings suggest
this was a common affliction.

But what is
of peculiar interest in this grave
is the small wrought bird.
It is silver and beautifully worked.

It has fallen into the chest cavity
but I think we can safely imagine
it was placed between her hands –
wings to carry a soul to eternity.

* * *

My gap eyes and unhinged jaw
will not reveal the day we bought it;
the way you wrapped it in my hand
& kissed my fingers closed;
the way we made love
with the silver chain around my neck

Wings pressed between us.

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