Monday, November 8, 2010

‘THE SEVEN SISTERS’ by Margaret Drabble

Meet ladylike Candida
with feminine
lace detailing
in soft pinks and dusky blues,
in part one of her diary.
She turns 50 soon
and thinks
of the seedless grapes,
when you taste them.
Her grandparents
brought up in that faith,
temptation is sin.
She inherited their sense of guilt.

She has never lived
in the heart
of a big city before.
Looking from her tiny flat
at a spectacular London view
of motorway
and railway
and distant council high-rise,
she watches
never changing  morning sky,
day after day,
with dim and polluted sunrise,
waiting for a deadly grey
to change
to sunset of orange, purple, yellow
and bloody red.

Although the stars are often obscured,
Candida can see the constellation
of the seven sisters
and wonders,
if true change can still happen
at her age…

Passing a sad and browning
Christmas tree
on her first walk
around her new estate
just like her,
a year or two back.

“Will it outlast my own sojourn?”
She keeps asking herself.

Once upon a time,
she lived in the centre
of England’s first Christian community
in a house of the family of Earl Grey fame.
She drank the bergamot-scented brew,
scoffed scones with the creamy
works and wander
amid wild and lovely grounds.
It seems so empty,
so pretentious now.

Once upon a time,
she was married
to a very good looking Englishman,
correct in every way,
when love has perished,
he has become the most self-satisfied
and self-serving hypocrite in England.

Once upon a time,
she was three times a mother,
and could rule over small lives.
Her three daughters:
Haughty first born,
Candida drove her husband
into adulterly.
The second born
and the least favoured,
has removed herself from the family
and the youngest one
 is full of
‘Darling this and Darling that’
towards her new stepmother.
Candida finds such manners false.

Once upon a time,
she allowed two women
to befriend her,
she has always been a passive person,
so different to Julia from her school days,
who came from somewhere
and was already set on traveling elsewhere.
Julia’s England was a society of citizens
who are upright and self-sufficient,
energetic, adventurous, independent-minded,
loyal to friends and robust against enemies.

Candida has grown accustomed to looking 
to her ex-husband for her wealth fare,
the idea of looking out for herself
seems impossible and frightening.

Fat and noisy Sally visits her,
women’s lives,
how they entwine about one another
and strangle one another.
Sally, like Julia,
likes talking about sex,
although by her own account,
she had no experience of it.
Seeing Candida’s discomfort, she laughs:
“If you just set out to be liked,
you would be prepared to compromise
on anything at any time,
and you would achieve nothing,
not even a good laugh.”

She looks back on her arrival in this strange place.

Pigeon dirt, dog dirt, cat dirt
and human dirt,
in this trap is her freedom
there is no profit in self doubt
and too late for regret and remorse.
Now she lives trapped
an enclosing gloomy and grey
London’s canopy.

The only real security is the security of the opportunity.
Who might she befriend on crowded London’s streets?
People are always banging irritable
and sometimes angrily into one another.
Londoners are not patient people,
they don’t speak to one another much.
is there anyone to meet?

Anais is her first exotic girlfriend
in London,

she has known riches in her time
and she is still by temperament a big spender.
Anais believes that there is creativity in all.
No one should feel guilty about wealth
or being exceptional, but work hard
and exercise humility.”

She bursts out laughing from her carmine lips
and moves lustrously in her dress
in splashes of mango and canary.

All inhabitants in Candida’s building
are foreigners,
they don’t even look at one another
as they pass on the stairs.
There is something liberating about this total indifference.

Mrs Jerrold is in her mid-eighties
and lives in a posh part of the London,
in an overcrowded bohemian little nest.
She looks as though she is looking
into the thereafter.
Perhaps she spends too much time
thinking about the long-dead.
She caught Candida’s glance
and leapt into the present.
To wear your heart on your sleeve
isn’t a very good plan,
you should wear it inside,
where it functions best.

Her third London’s friend,
Cynthia, takes her breath away.

Candida never really had a job
in her real life,
but Cynthia seem to have had dozens
lined up for her.
She has a restless energy,
no skills and isn’t good with money.
She plays life as it comes
and learns as she goes.
I look out at the world with confidence,
 I am used to take responsibility
for myself,
and I am allergic to the culture
of dependency.”

Cynthia waves at her and rush
to another evening class.
“Cynthia is right,”
Candida smiles to herself:
There is a lasting pleasure in the exercise of the mind.”
In the part two in her diary,
they sail homewards
across the Mediterranean Sea,
from Tunis to Italy,
Candida and her friends,
setting off bravely,
as good companions.
“Do she still have it in her to find some happiness?”
She asks in her last entry before the voyage starts.

“That magical land awaits you now.”
They hear the voice of Valeria,
their dusky and musky guide,

that is a fine counterblast
to the pallid English looks of theirs.
These women keep faith with the past,
they keep faith with myth and history.
The seven sisters see the sights.
“How can anyone bear to live in the dark damp streets of London,
beneath an evil sky?”
The travelers of the third age cry out loud.
They gaze, wander and enjoy their free gift of aftertime.

They come across palaces
long since tumbles into ruins.
They walk
long miles on deserted beach.
“The ocean is just like life itself,
so difficult to control.”
Candida thinks,
 submerging herself
into gentle waves:
“So much wind,
so much unpredictability
with swell and tides..”

She gets a phone call from home,
her daughter is in hospital.
Suddenly Candida looks
dim and miserable,
the dimmest of the stars.
At her age and living in solitude,
she is so thinly connected to life.

In part three in her diary,
love for her daughter
has taken her
by the throat
and forced her heart
in chaos
in fear
of falling
in long

She thought
for a moment
that she had died.
She thought
she had passed
from life to death
and into eternal time.

As the ghost of the precious mother
she writes her diary
in her daughter’s tongue.

She has only ever wanted
to by taken by surprise,
to get to where she doesn’t know herself,
to become ‘her no more’.
Self pity is a seductive emotion,
Candida suddenly realizes.

In the last part of her diary,
Candida knows,
she is condemned
to life,
to wearing out her life.
She tries to mend
the gap that had opened up
between herself and her daughter.
She has been lying to herself,
at quite a deep level,
for most of her life.
She must learn to grow old
before she dies.

Daring to fail,
letting go,
listening to her sisters' advice:
You are Londoner now,
you don’t succeed
by having the right ideas.
You need the confidence
to defend those ideas,
and see them through.
Life is not always about compromise.”

                                           MOVING AWAY.................MOVING OUT.........

 She moved to the dark, dirty, menacing area of London.
one of the biggest cities in the world.
Her first solitary months of her new London life.
She wanted to find a friend,
that she would not have known 
in her former life.
She moved to London 
to avoid
the demands 
and pity of those people
she used to know 'once upon a time'.
Life has become sparse 
in her new life,
but she felt a relief
in being so reduced.
We accumulate too many objects
as we grow older.
She has some hope 
that by striping most of hers away,
she might enter a new dimension.
She felt fear
and she felt hope.
She settled down 
in her new flat.
She has done so many things
for the first time
in the last year or two,
like eating a vegetable samosa
in the street on the way back from tube.

She has also been into a pub,
on her own,
she broke the rules.
She looks around
and thinks of many people of the earth...

She realizes 
that all her life
she has been an unthinking racist...

and that she is one 
she simply cannot
get used to
all these foreigners on London streets.

The elegant dark man
with dreadlocks
who lives under the bridge
spoke to her:
"Good evening, Ma'am, 
and how are you today?"
She said,
she was fine
and that she hoped
he was comfortable
on his foam bedding
on the filthy pavement.
The surface of the pavement
was shocking
particularly disgusting
under this part of bridge
where the pidgeon roost
and strange, large items
of rubbish are deliberately dumped.
She used to be afraid
to pass this man,
and she would walk
by on the other side.
She met a crying girl
on the corner of the street.
She was like a poor fledging,
a child really.
The girl has just had a row
with her boyfriend.
Rows can hurt,
but they don't kill you.
We are surrounded by these miseries.
London is suffused with grief.
She goes for a short walk
by the canal
and join the other
killing time before time kills them.
Plodding along
She is no longer
a passive victim of her fate.
That is her proper place.
That is her destiny.
She can't pretend
that she is young any more,
so what is she, after all?
It may well be true
that the human body
wasn't designed
to live as long
as it now does.
The ingenuity of the human mind
and spirit
are the cause of this longevity.
Many-layered London town,
this time,
she has all the time in the world
and she takes it all in.
Portrait of London
the solitary life 
and loneliness
lost in the hustle and bustle of its crowd...
Searching for the meaning of the life,
of friendship
and the sudden transformation
only fate can bring.

Can you tell the muggers from the mad?
Walking on the bridge,
hiding under the motorway,
among the old mattresses and the broken bottles...

People, who lurk
near Thames river banks.
It was one of those dullest evening,
the first evening 
of the rest of her new life.
She told herself
that she would cross off
each day
as it comes.
She is one of the muggers,
she is mad just like others,
lost in the crowd,
she runs 
in order to stand still.

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