Saturday, July 29, 2006

CAT by Nelma Ward

Paws precisely placed

Arrogant slitted stare.

I've seen him done in alabaster

Tucked into the foot of an

Egyptian throne.

Regally dismissing me with a downward flick

and sinuous coiling of the tail.

Nelma Ward ©


In the old wash house there was
begrimed glass with red crossbarsand spiderwebs
Where we could trace our initials and drawlittle hanged men
Pieces of creamy soap shaped like boneslay on the edges
Under the floor boards was a dark powdery space
and we lay with our eyes to the cracks
expecting snakes
(I lost a red pencil down there once)
On the back of the door we marked our slow
growth with little cotton bags of blue
(we dabbed it on for Indians and ants)
The tall brass tap had to be turned three times
before the water ran into the cool deep
cement tub
We hung over the edge hurting our ribs and
watching it flow down the dark hole
It gushed out a battered spout near
geraniums with purple and green ringed leaves
and dried umbrella frames that were seeds
or something.

That was a long time ago
We were different people then
But that was how it was

Nelma Ward ©

TIME by Nelma Ward

You ask me to write about time and my mind goes off at dozens of tangents. What a subject, I think. What a large, indescribable thing. I won’t even let my mind head off into the direction of black holes – time warps, time standing still, parallel universes and other such phenomena.

I’ll keep it simple. I think of the time when I’m sitting here at my computer trying to put this piece together, and then I think of the time when you will read it – a totally unknown thing to me at this very minute. Who says that time will ever come?

A woman in the process of giving birth – say for four hours – would have a very different perception of her experience of her passage of time to that of a woman laying beside a pool on a sunlounge at a luxurious resort for four hours. Its such a strange thing. Standing beside a microwave waiting for thirty seconds to pass can take ages; becoming caught up in a book, and hours can fly by before we swim up out of the pages.

We invest in time, don’t we? We spend time learning, making friends, dreaming, in years of marriage, in the nine months of pregnancy. We lose time too –we idle away a day, we worry, we are depressed. The millisecond gone can never be recovered.

But what is wasted time? Perhaps the time that passes when we idle a day away, sitting, doing nothing, fiddling around is absolutely essential to our calmness and wellbeing. If we tried to use every minute of time we’d go mad.

‘Don’t waste a minute – make every minute count’. What rot! We need time to ruminate, to come to terms with things, to plan ahead, and to remember the past. A constant New Years resolution is to utilise our time better. How many of us ever do that? We just keep plodding along, and suddenly we find a day has passed, years have passed, whole decades have slipped by. Our allotted time is disappearing right before our eyes.

‘Live us each day as if it was your last’, they exhort us. God grief, if I lived each day as if it were my last I’d have spent all our money, and flung around a few home truths that probably wouldn’t have been received very well by those around me. Best I live each day as if I have another coming up!

We count the passage of time by milestones – minutes – ‘oh look, its sixteen minutes past six’; weeks - ‘I went to town last Wednesday’; years - ‘I’m eighty today – how about that!’ Seasons mark time passing. We can keep tabs on the passage of time in history books. We keep a strict eye on time – most of us know what day it is, month and year, morning or night, the hour and sometimes the minute – how out of control would we feel if we didn’t!

Its absolutely inexorable – time just slips away and slips away. The one thing that we cannot do is turn time back.

It would be easy to say time is wasted having, say, acrylic fingernails fitted, and time is well spent researching, say, a cure for cancer. Its all relative, isn’t it? The person with the acrylic fingernails probably loves them, and the person researching cancer probably hasn’t made any headway.

Time spent in anticipation is delicious I think. We count down the days until some event. I remember counting down days to a trip we were to take many years ago, and inadvertently counting down the last few months of days of a very good friend’s life. My friend died of cancer. So young. Did she fill every minute of her short life? She didn’t know she was going to die, so I’m sure she went along like the rest of us – frantically busy one minute, appreciating something the next, and later wasting hours and hours just doing nothing.

That’s the thing, isn’t it, we are each isolated in time. What we each do at each second is what we do. How much time has passed since I sat down to write this – fifteen minutes, perhaps. The sunset outside has been changing all through that time. I should go out and look at sunsets more often. I always think, ‘Oh, I’ll go another night – it’s a bit chilly, I want to make a phone call, I should start to prepare dinner’. How many more sunsets will I see? Time….an absolutely undefinable quantity.

The time past is what we can remember, and we can only aspire to the time ahead. Now is the only real time – the second I typed the last ‘e’ in that word time, just before the dash, is now gone – I didn’t really experience it – just yet another keystroke, my feet are a little cold, I’m aware the news is on tv. I really believe that we strongly experience time which has passed and become a memory, and the time that we use anticipating future events is more real than the minute we are living in now.

Now I’ve used up some of your valuable time while you’ve read this – and time is valuable, don’t you agree? Our most elusive and unappreciated asset.

© Nelma Ward


You’d like to know my favourite place – I can’t tell you one. For me, its places. And times. They are linked somehow, to make a place a favourite. Some of them are geographically impossible to locate. I could not take you to them and say ‘This is it’ – all I could do is say ‘Somewhere around here, on a special day, at a particular moment, when I was feeling this certain way, this was a favourite place of mine’. The ones I could take you too are fragile things too – who said they can’t be burned down or collapse? But all are very real, very precious to me. I’ll tell you about them.

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, England. I stood in that soaring, beautiful, ethereal place, overcome by the history, by the light, by the fact that I was there. Pale stonework, impossibly light and floating.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France. I stood in front of the rose window, a page from my high school art book come to life. Stillness, hush, candles burning in a row. Tears running down my face. And I have not got one religious bone in my body.

Red Fox Inn, countryside, Ireland. Mist, light drizzling rain. Wet landscape, peat smoke, cocoa coloured whippets laying by a fireplace, a cup of rich coffee, well laced with whiskey in my cold hands, all of Ireland before me to explore.

The Globe Theatre, London, England. Standing for two and half hours, feet numb in the cold, the actors almost within hands reach, Shakespeare’s words, the sense of history overwhelming. The best, the most unforgettable, theatrical experience of my life.

Cable Beach Resort, Broome, West Australia. A real Kimberly moon reflected in to the black sea. Sitting on cushions on a wide expanse of lawn, a glass of red wine in my hand, the air warm and soft. The beautiful Latin music of Jane Rutter’s flute and Slava Giorgorian’s guitar enveloping me.

A hillside, Tamborine Mountain, Queensland. A freezing cold night, just having had a beautiful meal in a cosy restaurant, sharing a bottle of champagne whilst standing in the dark beside our friend’s luxurious Mercedes Benz, the car sound system playing an operatic tape. The whole of the Gold Coast stretched out before us, golden twinkling lights weaving a glorious lacy tracery, and the moon, full and pale, making the true postcard perfect path across the sea. Good, good friends to share this with.

French ‘palace’, hillside, Chau Doc, Vietnam. Late afternoon, standing with my son, who I had not seen for a year before this trip, and our lovely young Vietnamese guide, on the terrace of a ‘palace’, on a hillside outside the Mekong Delta township of Chau Doc. A red disk of sun, vivid wild red, through the grey clouds, and haze from the burning rice fields. As the sun fell like a stone to the horizon the sky was infused with a mystical golden light, turning to a luminous pink, which reflected onto the canals crisscrossing the lush green landscape. There are tigers in the hills here.

Outside Boulia, Queensland. Late afternoon, rushing to make Boulia which is almost on the Northern Territory border, before dark. Stopping at the top of a hill, standing in the soft gold light, the sun sending its last rays horizontally across the miles of miles of red and gold landscape stretched in front of us. Silvery grey low vegetation, absolute quietness, grey-mauve dry fluffy wildflowers at our feet. Unlimitless space.

The sky, Massey, Darling Downs, Queensland. Gliding in a thermal, round and round in the blue intoxicating air, surrounded by circling ibises – flying with the birds.
A certain spot on the road between Greenmount and Nobby, Darling Downs, Queensland. Every different time of the day, every different season, the colours of this magnificent valley are transformed. Every time it takes my breath away.

I could go on and on. I won’t. These are just a few of the places that I hold in my heart.

© Nelma Ward