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January 2014, vol 9, no 4

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Claire Everett


messages in a bottle, this gift from my daughter.

Not least that she had the notion, an old jar – the kind that might once have contained a souvenir selection of handcrafted sweets or lavender bath salts – cram-full with miniature notes of appreciation, her own carefully-worded matters-of-fact; not least that she found the time to pursue her inclination, but also the necessary patience (I am all fingers and thumbs just thinking about it) to painstakingly write, then roll, each missive into a scroll before tying it with scarlet thread. I figure that if I unwrap one every three or four days, they should see me through an entire year.

sycamore seeds . . .
the Buddha touches

Her younger brother regales us with some history: that fragile as it may seem, a well-stoppered bottle is one of the most seaworthy vessels; that the first recorded message was dispatched by the philosopher Theophrastus in around 310 BC; that, in Elizabethan times, no one but the official Uncorker of Ocean Bottles was permitted to open one; that an S.O.S. of this kind, cast into the waves, was more often than not only recovered many years, perhaps centuries, too late.

There are days when I sorely need my cursive pick-me-up, when the jar on my windowsill glints like the Last Hope elixir on the apothecary’s shelf. Then there are the days of new light when her half-dozen words are brightly coloured beads falling into place as the kaleidoscope is turned by one or two degrees. But nothing prepares me for

your Dad
would be so proud of you –
red saffron

In an instant a still, small voice exclaims that not once have I considered this might be the case, while another voice, smaller still, confesses that I have often longed to put these words in my mother’s mouth. Strange that this grand-daughter he never knew should pen such a thing; strange, that whether or not her statement rings true, its effect is unequivocal. It lifts my chin and pulls my shoulders back. It becomes a mantra. My breast swells to accommodate it. And soon there’s another voice, subliminal, reading her words; it is not mine, nor is it hers. In fact, I swear I catch the phrase “I am . . .”, and so the conversation continues, contrapuntal style.

the scent of a time
before I could talk . . .
damson flowers

where the deer path
enters the thick of the pines . . .
my name on your lips

Another sweet-savour on the tip of memory’s tongue. I’m mindful of this growing stack of half-remembered things: a yellowed letter I hold to the light now bears only its watermark; a swatch of fabric, milled like moths’ wings by a single caress. Oh, the kid gloves of hindsight!

For that, there are the ones that endure, the privileged, threadbare few that have let me nurse them. One-eyed, saggy at the seams, of no value perhaps, to anyone but me. (After all, there’s no yard sale for memories). But today, my faith is restored, that a couple of hand-me-downs might survive me, by a generation at least.

eight minutes
and a gilding of dust . . .
all that we are