europe, travel log

nails and armors

after hanging out with so many men our path took a u-turn and we settled into a nest of femininity: we were hosted in a beauty salon. neither of us had ever set foot in one before, and it was delightful : a bunch of women taking care of themselves, making jokes and coffees and chatting, all there to have a good time, to bond and relax and forget their days’ troubles over a foot massage, a manucure, whatever. everybody popping their head in the door, whispering “so what’s up girrrls?”, tiptoeing in and out to check on our progress. candles, music, buddha statues all set and ready before we even arrived, every room vamped up with incense and flowers and attention to the minutest detail. ines, the dazzling owner, telling how women drive one hour to come to her place. that she makes sure her girls are happy, that they can work well and spread the love all around.

we worked intensely on women as family – our customers were mothers and daughters, sisters, and their tattoos were all about each other. the cousins, grandmothers and best friends came in to watch. ines kept joking about her daughter being a mini-ines, and sure enough, they even picked exactly the same tarot card. a mother surprised her daughter by just  coming along, then suddenly getting two big tattoos on her forearms.

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benni

four-hand tattoos

i complete luz’s octopus on andrea’s arm

vivyan and ines

viv and martina

swinging by paris i took part in a little mother-daughter circle myself, cunningly plotting to draw her into experimenting our popular tarot-shiatsu combo. my beloved mother does not believe in cards, or in being taken care of – so it took some plotting to persuade her.

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a pig on a péniche!

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versailles with my mum

i’ve been thinking a lot about armor lately. tarot cards as i read them are forever wary of stagnation and the building of elaborate towers and walls – which shut you in as much as they keep others out. the tower card has kept popping up for men i’ve read for on the road, and one of its meanings is the destruction of old walls that have stood for too long. the line between a castle and a cage, the protective wall and the barrier is always a slippery one.

we build armors from our experiences. from memories of pain and resentment and sadness, we hold onto them to learn, to become tougher. we vow we will never be caught off guard again, be hurt. we establish a security perimeter, where none shall pass, to protect ourselves. we retreat behind a barrier of aggression, silence or the insouciant “i’m fine”. and then we sit there. thinking, safe at last. completely alone.

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pagan otherworlds – a tarot with no armor.

there’s a card called strength. it has no armor, physical or otherwise. while on the battlefield, the vikings had a shield, used both for defense and attack. but no armor. there’s no armor in kung fu either. i was repeatedly taught that for most defenses you only need to move a limb by about 10cm. you deflect the attack, or move yourself out of its way. you use your opponent’s energy, instead of spending a lot of your own trying to block it. 

but armor does use up your energy. it’s complex to make, heavy to carry. it also limits your options. your movements, your angle of vision, your hearing, your power of improvisation – all are limited. armors are crafted for a specific set of circumstances, and if there’s a change, they become dead weight. take one of those fancy full-body medieval tin cans. you’d be baking under the sun and sloshing under the rain, attracting lightning bolts and with frozen articulations in the winter. in these conditions, how good can your response be?

i’ve just watched a great ted talk, where a turkish healer states : “if you want to watch something die, draw a circle around it.” i feel the armor, the walls work in much the same way. you draw a circle around yourself, say this is where you stand, this is your shape, this is what you’re willing to let in – and no more. you close doors. saying no is important, and closing doors too. but just like anything in our funny little cycles, there is a time and a place for that. if you watch life through the narrow slit of an war helmet every day, life can only be perceived as a battlefield.

i feel like our viking friends got it right. if battle you must, what is more efficient than armor is an adequate weapon. wit, empathy, healthy boundaries, communication. and a battleaxe too, why not. a weapon, and flexibility to adapt.

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

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europe, travel log

a month of yang

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life on the road, how i’d missed it. its crazy coincidences and intensified everythings.

the on-the-roadness is a space in which i’d circulated a few years ago -that was the reason i started this blog at all -, and my journey through this space has lately seen of a lot of new parameters. traveling with a steady companion –  and through the pairing of two loners, to boot – is new and surprisingly easier than i might have thought. traveling  with a huge bunch of Things (and in a Car!) is also a huge leap out of my backpacker routine – being able to lug around all of the paper, candles, tattoo equipment, food supplies, herbal medicine books, presents for hosts and musical instruments is a luxury i’m greatly enjoying. the years i’ve spent resolutely not accumulating belongings, which would stay behind at the next move, have honed a great appreciation and reverence for any tool. i’m feeling grateful as hell.

this is also the first time i‘ve worked as a team and the energy is so different to working just for yourself. you fight harder for your partner, you sell with more sass, you regard your  joint forces like a proud mother her baby. your focus is sharper, your boundaries clearer. the difference is palpable for both of us within and in other people‘s reactions as well – every time we leave a host‘s home, we are begged and pleaded with to stay a little more. it‘s interesting to observe another‘s way of communicating who we are and what we do to another fresh batch of strangers – whether this is my colleague luz or whoever happens to be introducing us to their social circle. luz and i have been tattooing and mixing that with seemingly little-related passions for so long that it‘s been a challenge to describe why we do it, how we do it. in the website that we‘ve already redesigned three times, i‘ve sweated and groaned over a way of explaining our path to the three-minute-concentration audience.

it‘s kind of funny explaining my relationship with luz a few times a week. the story starts with “so we met about four years ago”, and because of the number of incredible connections and coincidences involved, people will assume that we‘ve been intensely working together since then. before june, we‘d actually barely spent more than five months in the same city or even country. we seem to swim in and out of each other‘s lives, always popping up a few months later with exciting discoveries to share, amazed to find out we are still walking in the same direction, however different the paths. many people express a sort of envious wonder at how we have found each other. again, i‘m feeling grateful. common interests branch out into each other‘s familiar field and before we know it we‘re practicing group meditations with the moon and our hosts, matching chinese medicine elements with tarot cards and geeking out on herbal legends. i‘m so used to picking up odd bits of information left right and center, then isolating myself to study and delve deeper to work it into my art, just like she does. the sharing is beautiful and nutritive. we can feel our power growing.

so people don‘t want us to leave anymore, and more coincidences come to tug at our skirts. we dreamed of a boat ride in amsterdam, and two hours later we were suddenly in a boat. we got lost in creative ways and confused by absurd bureaucracy. we marveled at the beautiful boat-houses along the canals and wandered inside van gogh‘s paintings in a different way, now that we‘ve breathed under the same intense stormy skies and spent days walking by those pale redhead dutch faces. after a delicious shower of icy rain, we had a cup of tea with a young woman in a spiritual centre, telling her we were only staying a few days, looking for clients.

“but you work with tattoos… doesn‘t it take a while for people to know your work, then trust you, then decide to work with you?
– well no, actually. it‘s a funny thing, but people usually meet us, then we all fall in love, and the next day they get a huge tattoo even though they never felt the need for it before.”

her skepticism was camouflaged by a dazzling smile. ten minutes later a boy walked in, had a cup of tea with us, invited us to stay in his home for a week, and had three huge tattoos – we did him the courtesy of leaving before he got into huge debt to get more, always more.

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eric lived in an appartment squeezed between two blocks, but still had a beautiful view

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four-hand tattoo

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we met sofia back in brasil. little did she imagine we would go all the way back to her home, to tattoo all of her friends

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girls’ quiet sunday drawing session

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“have you ever tried spaghetti ice cream?”

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(by luz)

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adrian

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leon

work in progress snakes int

snakes for daniel

we have been simply swimming in masculine energy. men who suddenly stumble across us in their homes, get their first tarot readings, confess recent spiritual awakenings and dreams of travels to take medicine in exotic landscapes. men running from broken hearts or the mothers of their children. men living in beautifully adorned home-temples and claustrophobic rubbish heaps. men with whom we watch rabbits run around a back yard in the evening. men recovering from depression, artists struggling to make a living, political activists and ex-soldiers, construction workers and students and foreigners. a little boy with a gap in his gums that makes him look like a vampire, a little boy who lost his dad and could‘t stand my presence. a man who loves motorbikes, but doesn‘t “have the patience” to travel without a woman by his side. men madly in love with women living far away. a naked man standing in a lake, doing tai-chi in a golden sunset light. men in positions of spiritual power, not listening. everywhere, the carved face of the green man, the old pagan god of summer, creation, and all things growing – the european ambassador of yang energy, winking from stone walls. so many men! so many men to whom we deliver the messages from the cards and their own bodies. we watched them laugh and cry, stare into empty space and fall asleep and unblock and let go. we are coaxed into inventing a joint therapy marrying tarot and acupuncture which seems to delight our friends, so as the french saying goes, we add this string to our bow. it‘s been touching, swimming this great wave of manliness, and giving them a little care. the tarot kept spitting out apocalypse cards and great big storms of unmerciful change their way. so many people we came across had not had a simple pat on the back, a lovingly-prepared dinner or a kind word in a while, and needed it.

so it‘s been quite a ride. with some spare time to watch black squirrels, bats in waning light, swallows fishing in lakes, going to an earth-sauna looking like the oven from hansel and gretel. watching existential graffitis on the highway saying “i am the gate of the world”. discovering a place i‘d visited in my dreams and gardens full of sculptures and swings. painting bathrooms at two in the morning, drunk on wine and music from our rock‘n roll teens. listening to hang-drum or yiddish gipsy swing in parks, visiting vertical salt-water walls, a main street with house facades drooping like melted candles, a village of container homes and a punk community kitchen.

i‘m having quite the wild love affair with rumi, so i will let him add a last pinch of masculine beauty:

Who gets up early
to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Soloman cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow on drop.
Now there’s a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he’s wealthy.

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
lifting.

The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

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europe, south america, travel log

the not-van trip

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so i have this friend, partner in crime, kindred spirit called luz. luz and i have been dreaming of touring continents in a tattoo truck for the last few years. a home of our own, where we can work our magic on people’s bodies and go explore, accepting all the invitations to “come visit me in my country”. when she told me she was coming to europe i thought, holy cow, it’s really happening, right now.

so i fed this to the social network monster :

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let this be a summer of connection.

i am soon to hit the roads of europe, in search of the magical people. the shamans, the medecines women, the plant people. your grandmother, your childhood friend, that girl you worked with. i am looking for the luminous people you know, the ones that shine, the ones you love.

i am looking for a community i could call a home. a family where people are connected to the earth and sky and make beautiful things with their hands. i am looking for somewhere the plants will teach me about healing and nurture.

so i come to you, my friends, my loves, my family. whisper names in my ear, of places i should see, people i should meet. gather the people who are thirsty for the love and magic i put in my talisman tattoos and call my name. i will appear on your doorstep in portugal or in your cousin’s town in romania. i will paint your walls and faces and read the cards for you by a campfire.

let this be a summer none of us will ever forget.

http://coralcollective.strikingly.com/

 

so to cut a long story short, the gods laughed at the plans of mice and men and me in particular, and instead of a van i set off for germany in a borrowed car and a cheap tent. prior to my departure there was a lot going on : the women in my family went through storms of weeping, yelling and festering silence. i got ripped off a lot of money i didn’t have, and filed my first law suit – against an eighty-year old. found out my dad has lung cancer and needs to be operated fast.

my dad has a habit of saying something tragic to send me off on my long journeys. the first time i set off for south america with no return date, he drove me to the airport. just as i was going out of the car, he casually tossed at me : “if anything happens to me, don’t come back. you just go do your thing.” at the time there was nothing wrong with him. not getting any younger, but peachy. maybe it’s the seaman’s blood talking, getting a kick out of doom and gloom and woes yet to unfold. this time around, he said “just remember the 20 years we’ve spent together”.

so i left behind the family home, its troubled humans and ever-peaceful garden. the highway got greener every hour as i drove. a few hours later i landed in a nest of cristals, incense and beautiful carpets in the square, bare industrial butt-end of a small german town. a few hours after that, we were all on our way to a teepee in the dutch plains. it was an interesting week-end. watching men leave on other planets, burrowed under tons of the hard, uncompromising, earthly embrace of feminine ayahuasca. witnessing examples we will not follow – the best kind of lessons. big words, little action. we take a walk along the surreally straight lines of the dutch countryside, passing by six bambis and a lama in clean little fields.

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who’s about to have fun?

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our four-hand mural painting – can you feel the power?

we leave behind a mural painting for the little german kung-fu pandas, in the children’s training room. our dazed host keeps repeating how all is “so new for him!”. we head off today for amsterdam with no hosts or clients waiting for us, nothing but a very strong gut feeling that we need to go.

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friend map

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travel log

peony secrets

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the peonies are in full bloom, and i watch their petals mercilessly torn off by the rain one morning. the sky is raining down ice and blasting heat and i manage one sketch before the one in my bedroom sheds her own skirts, in sympathy to her sisters. in the woods, i offer the petals to the full moon. on the new moon, in the same woods, the peony falls in love with a girl in need of homage to her softness and femininity.

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the peony petals also manage to blend into this tattoo : a playful otter, to bring lightness, soft fur and water games.

my process of interviewing and producing designs for the tattoos grows new tools and becomes ever more interesting. body scanning unearths hidden scars, and what the proverbial “soft animal of the body loves”, and we then let a night pass, giving the reins over to dreams and daydreaming. i promise them the vision will come, and it does, unfailingly, alighting like a bird on their unsuspecting shoulder. it spins out of our hands, our understanding. clear as a star in the night sky.

maguelonne

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i cook up some designs for the flashday that have been in the back of my mind for a while. these are like herbal remedies for our stories, like folk medecine pouches with a pinch of my experiences : a coquille saint jacques for eternal pilgrims on their way to the light, the spider, sacred web-weaver, connecting dots, the cedar and its gift of expansion, the magnolia, whose magnificent, short-lived bloom reminds us to seize the day’s gifts… night-blooming jasmine, the nettle to infuse movement into what’s stuck, a white oak leaf, which will survive the forest fires… the seashells shamans blow into to call to the four directions…

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marie magdalene shepherd’s elise’s tattoo reading, reminding her of the beautiful arrival of song into her life, attractions to light, awareness of surroundings and boundaries.

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elise

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place de la république : if there’s one thing even cooler than the open sea, it’s the children inventing a beach in the middle of a city square.

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europe, travel log

family time

03

my family indulges me as i turn up all excited, with body paints fresh off their package box, needing volunteers for pictures. the first two grudgingly lend me their skin, and the others then fight to be next in line.

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who says facebook users have no sense of priorities? this photo of my mum is more popular than any of my tattoos. a toast to her.

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some precious family time from the other branches of the tree, to reconnect, tell old stories that aren’t often told, talk about “the ancestors”. i actually have two family names referring to hardness, one translating as “hard head”, the other as “iron”. i meet some family heirlooms : my great-grandfather used this bag to keep his shoes, while he was touring the world in a warship as the valet to a lord. it’s a hundred years old and looking just peachy. i meet the lucky horseshoe that got him through world war 1, just as it sailed his daughter safely across the channel and back into our arms. she and my mother sing church hymns to me, talk about being invited to the queen’s birthday parade and the women of the family who had to go hide unplanned pregnancies in distant towns. the easy livin’ of summers past, gently seeping into the present one.

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giverny is a compulsory pilgrimage with my green-thumbed aunt, and today it’s wildly showing off. “do you remember how beautiful i am?” frogs sing and my aunt refrains from her usual kleptomania – her garden has a whole collection of unknown beauties named after the castle, park or field from which it was nipped and stuffed into a pocket. you’ve got to love an innocent-looking, eighty-year old plant thief.

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europe, travel log

awakening

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the fairies have come to visit, and have taken me to fairyland. i remember daring them to do this a thousand times, darting into the mushroom ring autumn pushed out of the moss every year. i had no idea they would take so long, but come they have. i don’t even know where to start. maybe with dancing the haka on the edge of dusk, with the shadow of a teepee thrust against the horizon. maybe with that first breath of fresh air, coming out of the womb on another special sunset. things seem to have started accelerating and intensifiying at that shamanism festival, where lady chance sent me to sleep under the roof of a dragon keeper.

but no, it has to start with the plant song. some strange contraption connected to root and leaf, a loudspeaker to a rapt audience of thirty disbelieving human ears. their timidity, hesitation and then a tinkling chatter, plantspeak translated into notes. i haven’t yet come down from the high that music gave me.

the festival was like a battery, charged up. medecine women, clever men, mongols and pygmies and celts. i can’t believe my luck at having the opportunity to simply browse and sample the rituals of all continents, breezing through the ceremonies, the healings, the mandalas and offerings and songs. there are great concerts and thanksgivings, generosity warmth and everybody is walking on air. yurts and lizards guarding the sacred fire. all natives are facing the same problems, the land reclamations, the mining, the destroying of the topsoil. somebody leaves a huge sack of blé ancien in the entrance, urging people to take it, plant it, make the earth healthy again.a song summons thunder over our heads and banishes it again. the rainfall is stopped with a didgeridoo. i feel we are one, and have yet no idea how common this feeling is going to become.

on the earth of the temazcal i sit next to a boy with a circle on his chest, the last ray of light falling on my naked skin. i hear the mexican grandmother comment “look at those two, they look like the sun and the moon”. when the darkness fills with smoke and songs the whisper of our breath circles around the abuelitas. des mistrals, des bises, des alizés. round and round the winds swirl, our ghosts traveling in whispers while hot sweat streams into my sex and melts into the earth. i welcome them all into my mother’s womb, it’s my birthday and we are slightly more than we were the first time around, we cheer and clap and sob and convulse, held by the soil’s firm embrace. we sing the soothing chant with which the new zealanders won our hearts. we share our ghosts, our fears. we don’t want to leave anymore.

on other days i share lunch with a clairaudiant girl who knows when people are going to die. i play with a water-loving dog in the stream while a sad boy looking for love is consoled by a woman who shines with that radiant beauty of the ones who have found it. i learn protection charms used by samurais, the definition of the word egregor. time cloaks its minutes in days and the sky is more vast than usual. under their many colours the shamans share the same gentleness and sense of humour, all agreeing that “the spirits love a good laugh”. we become children again, dancing and crying and shouting by the campfire.

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then days go by under the high ceilings of a parisian flat, where faces i glimpsed hundreds of kilometres away welcome me in with a laugh. “you! i dreamt about you this morning!” i ebb and flow between listening to my garden’s trees, watching people move objects without touching them and listening to the didgeridoo. we share wine and stories and tricks, we speak of new zealand and australia and the feminine energy in ibiza. of children and how quick they learn, hawks leaving parting gifts and that strange alleyway accross the street where everybody gets lost. of the shape of words, shaping our minds, of what happens when you just start paying close attention and experimenting. i watch different kinds of love, filling the room with warmth. meditation fills my closed eyelids with lights. in groups i feel locked people slowly open up, the power of the many making us all grow, dare, accelerate. i have stumbled upon a family. i have stumbled across the veil.

life has never been so exciting.

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brice

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europe, travel log

death in the springtime

how do you write about death?    

my fingers pause over the keyboard.    

“she is waltzing with death”.  

how do you translate the waiting, the hoping-without-hope? for the casual inquiry, the person just checking on you, wanting a quick answer to get back to their busy lives.


i’m extracted from my own life with a pair of tweezers, suddenly bolting down from the hills into a van, train wagons, another car, coming to a brutal halt at the foot of her hospital bed. she looks like a flower, the slightest breath or touch might bruise her, might crush her delicate frame.    

unpacking, planning out tactics to bring spring and life into her room : how to bring her flowers when flowers are forbidden. how to paint flowers big enough to be seen from the bed with no glasses, on light enough paper to be stuck on the wall. how to communicate when she can barely articulate. how to interact without straining her attention by reading a story aloud. what might she eat, when she doesn’t want to eat.

   

i’ve heard and witnessed daily pilgrimages to hospital wards before. this is my first time, but i recognize the patterns. i recognize the drugs’ fog, amputating the inhibitions of an ever-timid woman, blasting away her quick wits. she becomes her nickname, the turtle, floating through a different time zone to ours. we all enter a strange rhythm, time turning to cotton-candy floss, its strands sticky and sickly sweet. the body will not rest through the white nights and it bumps and dozes through the sunny days. the moment of waking is easier to notch by the first breath of fresh air when i leave her room again, returning to the noise of traffic, the smell of the pink apple blossoms and the wind. on the other side of her windowpane, a bird nest sways in green branches.

i play the kalimba for her, expecting her to get bored. she doesn’t. her eyes fondly stare at its curves, she nods for me to go on. i play for hour after hour, day after day, watching her breath wheeze as it rasps in and out of her lungs.    

the nurses recognize me when i ask for sellotape, “for the drawings?”. they joke, they cajole, they banter. i fall in love with their impersonal, fireproof cheerfulness as they bustle in and out, tinkering with that faulty machine, her body, feeding it dripping bags, pills, compote, adjusting the angle of the pillows and the bed and her hipbones and the medecine in her chest.    

my godmother. i ponder that lovely word, watching her blue eyes suddenly recognize me in the chair. her broken machine and its decay do not touch me the way i thought it would. the veins on her skull, poking through fallen tufts of hair, the paper-thin hands, the bony angles of her knees under the covers, none of it shocks, wounds, registers. all i can see is her essence, wafting around her like a perfume. her beaming smile when someone unexpected walks through the door, and she croaks a welcome.    

i wait and listen to the garden. the birches have suddenly set loose a shower of seedlings, i paint the tulips for her every day, infusing them in golden light. i hug the tulips and fall asleep in the car, watching toddlers fall over the rows of flowers and make crowns out of buckets. i tell her of the bees and the lavender and listen to soft music to disentangle my brain. i tear away protesting ivy and drag my mother back into the flower shops, we plant strawberries and mugwort, risk an aubergine before the saintes glaces. we watch the squirrels spiral restlessly around the beams and i learn the name of the sycomore, ripping away his million children sprouting from the land. japonica, geranium vivace, grandmother flower, sage, two types of laurel, possibly saint john’s wort and roses trêmières which never grow where you’ve planted them. these plants have watched me grow up – just as she did – and only now do i feel an urgent, burning need to become properly introduced to them, on intimate first-name terms. i let the days pass in the snug isolation of this green womb, listening to its hum and buzz and silence. because how do you talk about death? you don’t. you just swallow it. 

they won’t let her go. her mother sits by her side for a day and night, watching every breath. my mother  drowns her grief in angry phone calls where we sob and tell again the tales of those we have let go.    

when she goes i talk with the trees, who are increasingly talking back. i talk to the cards, and death wants to dance some more. fine.

i am ready for change.

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