winter solstice, greenwich park

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rain. the kind that feels like it will never let up, except it does and then starts again in another bucketing shower that sounds like someone put their thumb over the end of the garden hose and pointed it at at the roof. it’s been raining, mostly, since i arrived back from the desert a week ago – a fitting gush of englishness to counter-end a short new mexico stint, where every day was lizard-dry skin and ice-blue skies.

the shortest day of the longest year of the decade, and waking alone in a welcome sadness – polishing off bits of work, then nothing to do. christmas looms.

the rain is in fits and starts. sometimes it really gushes for awhile; a pool forms at my door and – oh those nights spent in the mudhouse last week remind me how possible a leak could be, but one does not spring forth and i marvel still at a roof which holds sway against this kind of downpour.

anyway, the rain is in fits and starts. in one of the starts, which i guess is when it’s not raining, i toss on a pair of gola trainers (remarkable shoes in water – i’ll always own a pair), an olive-green scarf and a corduroy coat and make for greenwich, not really aware of what is taking me there.

a pass through waterstones on greenwich church street yields a haul of books on nordic myth, darkness and the history of mysticism entirely appropriate for the winter solstice, which is lately my favourite day of the year.

it’s only just past one but the air is darkening like a dying candle – big grey clouds tell the weak, faraway sun where to go, and the wet, shiny street is full of people carrying overloaded shopping bags and unhinged umbrellas, rushing to get into the pub before another downpour.

i’m going uphill, into greenwich park, where a sandwich board reminds tourists the park closes at 6pm, though whole crowds are already descending the path from the observatory now under the dimming sky, as the sun inches toward 2pm. it will properly set at 3:53 today.

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i pause to let the lingering feverish sweat of a recent cold level off next to the meridian line at the top of the hill, under the statue of general james wolfe. an odd icon here, i always thought. the 1930s gift of the canadians to commemorate wolfe’s victory against the french at quebec stands a sentinel overlooking the park, the stately royal naval college and all a moment from the home of time, navigation, astronomy, the grave of edmund halley. weird.

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rain picks up. the view is immense – visitors here reap, after a little steep climb, an expanse of river thames and skyscraper, but i turn my back on all that and walk deeper into the park, bracing my umbrella up against another sideways rain starting to fall fast out of pink and orange cloudburst signalling the lingering rays of this abbreviated day.

it doesn’t last long. the rain. i cut across a small patch of grass, past a man walking a whippet in a puffy coat (the dog not the man) and onto a walkway away from tourists and baby buggies with their plastic partitions pulled down against the rain, which has already stopped again.

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clouds move fast. the sun cuts in a slice of yellow across a path leading to the park’s west exit, in the direction of the last light. it’s lined with ancient, gnarled, horny oak trees, whose black bulbous trunks rise to block the salmon sky into a mosaic of branches that resemble witches fingers.

i walk slow. let my umbrella drag a little on the ground. take pictures of piles of wet leaves and loiter while a couple passes loudly discussing what wine to buy at marks & spencer for a christmas party tomorrow. then the park gate is before me, and afterwards a small laneway where puddles reflect the pink sky.

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i duck down wellington grove and continue west, chasing the thin last sunlight through an unmarked footpath that leads steeply toward the georgian mansions on hyde vale, decorated for the season in pine wreaths and already lit for the evening by the warm amber glow of victorian porch lights.

this is how winter night falls on a solstice afternoon.

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monsoon

what am i going to write
about this far-flung evening
not so quiet
not so normal
not so
anything
seated alone on a south-facing porch
rain dripping off every surface
patter of droplets
chirp of frogs
everything is
damp
three hundred twenty tree species thrive
in the high western ghats
which one’s in shadow
which one’s towering above
are there cobras
are there macaques
sheltering the
downpour
what comes next on this journey
switch off the lights now
wait in the dark
let your eyes adjust
chirp, plink, splatter
croak, plonk, splash
i’ll go
tomorrow

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chang’e

is she still waiting there?

on a hot october evening in a hong kong park in 2006, little groups of friends hover around colourful lanterns. tiny bonfires are lit. there are candles and incense. people are stretched out on blankets. it’s night, but there is an odd feeling of day in the air because of the all the light. the candles and the lanterns and the fires and the incense. and the moon.

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chang’e went to the moon by tragic accident. she was married to her guy. houyi, a terrifically brave archer whose soul purpose was to shoot down the extra nine suns that at the time were scorching the world. the divine king yao was so pleased with houyi’s mad bow-and-arrow skills and grateful to hou for saving the world from climate change that he gifted him the elixir of life. but houyi didn’t drink it right away – he wanted to become immortal, but only with his beloved by his side.

houyi was great at archery but not so great at choosing the people in his life, and his apprentice was this greedy twat by the name of feng meng. feng wanted the elixir, duh, and one day when houyi was out hunting, feng broke into their home. but chang’e was wise and ran to her husband’s defence, drinking the elixir to keep it falling into destructive hands.

as soon as she drank it, chang’e became immortal. you might think that was a good thing but she was distressed at having to leave her beloved behind on earth, so she flew away to the closest place she could find – the moon – hoping he might join her someday.

on mid-autumn festival, we celebrate the moon. we being anyone who follows the lunar calendar and anyone who loves the moon, and me. mid-autumn festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. the farmer’s almanac calls it the harvest moon; it’s one of the brightest moons of the year, and the perfect culmination of summer’s end and the crisping of air under a night sky. or a too-warm night sky, like that october night in hong kong 13 years ago.

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maybe the spirits of those that came before become our guides. maybe they live in some dimension between here and the beyond, in the meaning we ascribe to a sneeze or a toad, in synchronicities, in our weird dripping faucets, on the moon. maybe they guide us, maybe they whisper stories for us to learn and unlearn. maybe it is up to us to see these old scars and tend to them, and in that way. maybe it’s up to us to make the world new.

whatever you believe, it’s nice to think chang’e will be lighting my path up blythe hill with her moonlight tonight.

chang’e is pronounced like chahng-uh. she donated her name to the chinese lunar rover program, so now you know.

separation

how long will i
sit in silence
while this cord stretches out
far, far, far
you in the space beyond
denying – trying – what’s
ours from forever
wait, wait, wait
a universe of
expectancy, patient
unconditional
love, love, love
for the
ages
keep on walking
into fog thick
trust, trust, trust
and i can hear your thoughts
and i can cry your tears
from across the globe
from south of the river

roads

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exhale. what is there to say about the roads we drove in the middle of the world?

i remember the bumps less, it’s always the way with hindsight. the discomforts, the lack, the pain. these evaporate quickly, though they take up our whole field of vision at the time.

bumps, bumps, bumpy, i thought maybe there was whiplash coming, and then we stopped to wait for the other jeeps. we were a day and a half from mobile signal, and we didn’t have walkie talkies or a satellite phone. we should have had both, but we didn’t, and so we stopped, waited, looked back – west – for plumes of dust. were they behind? anywhere? no sign of tyres kicking up dirt miles back. where are they?

instead, we walked to the edge of zorkul, no wind, no sound, no eagles flying overhead. nothing, well except afghanistan is there, like a portrait in a frame, mountains heralding the pamir and the headwaters of the amu darya. we walk, leaving bootprints in the soft dusty mounds, down a hill and over forgotten phone lines. in this part of the world, they feel harmless and terrifying, like anything out here could be a mine. the lake is glassy and the blue of some sky not from here. how do rivers come rushing from nothing here?

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we walk, we are quiet. then, plumes of dust.

these are not roads, but we take them anyway.

records

amazing how it fades in.

on vinyl, you can’t rewind, and the main point of the listening is not so much even the music, but the journey. there is no backtracking to the nostalgic songs. no skipping the ones you don’t prefer. no pause button.

writing, i want to put a song on repeat, because it gives me feelings that help me put words onto digital paper, and i go to hit the repeat button and remember this is a record. even if i wanted a do-over, all i could do is pick up the needle and rest it gently back down somewhere slightly external of where it was, hoping for the best. this simply does not work.

in life, like on a vinyl record, there is no pause button. no rewind to try to figure out the meaning of the second just gone. no repeat function for the beautiful moments. and when a side is over, it’s time to flip and see what’s coming next.

most enjoyment of anything comes from anticipation, someone told me once. but these days i disagree. i don’t want to think about buying a record. i want to grab it from its basement bin, thrust some money at a dishevelled snob behind the counter, cradle it in my lap inside a tote bag on the bus home. and then i want to hold it round the edges in my fingers gingerly (sans latex gloves), slide it onto the peg and feel a small rush as i lift the needle and the disc starts to spin, then lower it and hope for not much of a scratch.

then i want to sit and listen. all the way through. side A, flip, side B. the songs i dislike, the ones that bore me, and the ones that give me all the butterflies, the buzzing speakers and all the pops and crackles in between. and when it’s over, i’ll reach into the wedge on the shelf for whatever album’s next.