Dee and me and some cherries

On Tuesday I drove Dee back home across the hills after her stay in the Highland Hospice, Inverness. She now has weeks or even days to go according to best advice. The best there is. She wanted to spend it with me. Shades of old times, the miles unrolling, swish of tyres, sometimes touching or holding hands, often in a contented silence. But this time we had a passenger, for that bloody pain was ever with us. For ever and ever, amen.

The first of our wintertime snowfalls had occurred the night before. As the empty road wound upwards, me driving with great care and excessive slowness in deference to the lady's wishes, the panorama rolled out and up on all sides black, grey, brown and (mostly) white, over-topped by a pale blue sky. Blue-grey lochsand lochans lay like flat mirrors between the hillsides along the way. I wondered how the maker of this incredibly beautiful part of a speck called Earth, one body amongst the billions that roll through the vastness of space could have been made by the same hand as that tumour now eating the life out of my beautiful girl. 

But home again and all the local kindnesses at once kicked in, both professional and otherwise. The pain is best managed as a result of the Hospice's ministrations. The reverse side of that of course is that she sleeps much more, which is a mercy all by itself.

I have been thinking of all the good times and browsing the hundreds of poems I've written over the years, many of them in celebration of our lives together, Dee's and mine. Poems like this one, composed six months after a certain holiday in France ...


Waking early we look on that Dordogne day
And dress and let ourselves out.
We take the narrow road that curves downhill
Through bursting early summer woods. 
Dense green branches often meeting over our heads.
It is quiet. We talk quietly as we go.
When you talk to each other not at each other
There’s no need for other than quietness.

This seems a bigger place than Hampshire.
As you walk, the hill lasts longer,
Distance across to the next hillside is greater
Trees are crowded together more closely;
Light is lighter; shadows darker hiding more.
The rainstorm when it overtakes is bigger, too.
But we walk on, not bothered by the size
Nor by the drum-intensity of its warm drops.

I can feel the penetration of that place and time
Into senses obfuscated by thirty years of fifty a day
By loud noises in small rooms only some of it music
By seldom being challenged naturally by things natural
(Except by the panic of the natural passing of the years;)
By the senseless cycle of earning and paying
By unnaturalness between all the caught-up people.

Finally at the bottom of this valley
On the outskirts of a village still sleeping
Walking by an ivy covered wall of stone
Overhung by the branches of a cherry tree.
Swollen fruit hangs tempting in front of our eyes.
Bunches of cherries droop, still rain-globulated
Butter into high-lit blue-red into magenta, cerise,
Framed by shining leaves of that life-green.
Tight-smooth the cherries are to my fingers.
I taste the free rain, bite to the stone
And the eye-closing sweetness of this valley
Spurts Into every corner of my mouth .
Floods over me and over my memory.

I remember looking and drinking in the beauty
And the comfort from her rained-on face,
In her straight eyes, reflection of this shared awakening.
In her hand, too, were just some cherries.

Bryan Islip
November 95

He who made the hard high hills also made the fertile, sun-kissed valleys.

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