This September

Through the Downs, 7 September 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I took this photograph whilst out among the hills, late in the afternoon.

I was transported to my childhood

“A Dream of Summertime” began as two stanzas, originally titled “Verses”. They were inspired by recollections from my childhood when (between the ages of eight and nine) I lived with my family in the great valley between the Babilonstoringberge1 and Kleinriviersberge2. There my mother taught at a small primary school for the children of farmworkers. I was one of her students in Grades Three and Four3, which she instructed together in one class.

The school was housed in two buildings. My mother and a second teacher shared a modest two-classroom building on one part of the farm, and the headmaster and a fourth teacher, one on another. Once a week, we would walk from one building to the other for subjects my mother did not present in Grade Four. On our way, we would pass through a forest with brambles and dandelions. These brambles and dandelions appear in the poem.

During that time, surely the happiest of my life, we stayed through the week in a farmworker’s cottage. It had two rooms, one door, a wood stove and four tiny windows overlooking the surrounding hills and valleys. Behind it was a ditch carrying water between a series of dams. It flowed fast in winter and hardly moved in summer. There I would marvel at dragonflies cavorting above the stream. The ditch and its dragonflies also appear in the poem.

I shared how my poetry comes about

Whilst “A Dream of Summertime” recalls images from the past, the majority of my poems are responses to the rural landscape about me now. Early in the month, I shared photographs of sights and the free verse they inspired in a set of five social media posts to demonstrate how my poems begin4. Were these lines to become a poem, they would undergo a significant transformation, since my ultimate goal is the composition of traditional verse.

Free verse is a powerful form of poetry, used to great effect by Richard Adams in the verses he conceived for Silverweed in chapter sixteen of Watership Down. Though his verses are a great inspiration to me, in the poems for this collection, I want to evoke the innocence and charm of simple rhyme on simple subjects—to hearken back to childhood, when poetry is uncomplicated, joyful, memorable and in its own way, profound.

Footnotes

  1. Babilonstoringberge (pronounced “bah-bee-lons-twuh-Ruh-ng-beR-guh” with the “o” in “or”, the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s) is Afrikaans for “Tower of Babel Mountains”. The range is named after its most notable feature: a great peak resembling (from some viewpoints) the Biblical tower as depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Lucas van Valckenborch in their paintings.
  2. Kleinriviersberge (pronounced “clayn-Ruh-fee-Rs-beR-guh” with the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s) is Afrikaans for “Small River’s Mountains”. The range often appears in my photographs, since I live near its eastern extension now. Indeed, it is one of its rugged spines you see in the photograph above.
  3. At the time (the mid 1980s), these were known in South Africa as Standard One (Grade Three) and Standard Two (Grade Four).
  4. The first of which can be viewed on Facebook here, Twitter here and Google+ here.

Boy in the field

Illustration of a boy and his dog resting in a field
When I was a boy, this illustration made me fall in love with fields. (Illustration by Russell Harlan for The Bible Story: The Book of Beginnings, Volume One)

Memories

To me, fields are places of quiet reflection. Some time ago, I wrote about the origin of that association, in my childhood. I mentioned a children’s book with an illustration of a boy in a field. I discovered the book online and ordered a copy. It arrived, today.

Distorted by time

Paging through it, I remembered every illustration. But, there were differences in the details. I remember the boy lying in an open field of tall, golden grass, but as you see, the grass is short and the landscape domesticated and green. (On top of this, I somehow added a straw hat, whilst completely forgetting the sleeping German shepherd!) How memories are distorted by time!

Through grown-up eyes

I see why the illustration made such an impression on me, in my youth. It has an idyllic Norman Rockwell quality. Even though it’s just an average children’s book illustration, I’ve become instantly sentimental about it. So, it feels strangely sacrilegious to analyse it, too much. I am just happy I get to see the image, once again.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

There are some things you can only learn in a storm

Clouds photographed by Kien Do
Image in the public domain by Kien Do

Flying the storm

The title of this post is a paraphrase of a quote by author Willa Carter: “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” I read a popular version of this quote on Minds and it resonated with me. When I looked it up, I discovered it was by Carter and it got me thinking about my own storm and its influence on my life and music. I see Forgotten Fields as a way of learning how to navigate that storm. I cast my journey through the tempest in music. I make music to help me exorcise childhood demons, to restore my soul as it heads for the mooring mast of forgiveness and healing.

My music has a melancholy feel. After listening to my most recent mixes, someone described it as “atmospheric and ominous”. It’s true. The music relives my dysfunctional upbringing, a period when there was literally an atmosphere of the ominous. For a child, feeling unloved is a frightening reality. Today, as all my coping mechanisms fail, I’m discovering that making sense of what happened to me, as a child, and expressing the emotions connected with it, help me work through the devastation, the longing, the loneliness, the darkness and the fear.

The value of the storm

Forgiveness and healing is a journey some are ready to take, sooner than others. We don’t always see the value of the storm when we’re in it. For a long time, I know I didn’t. All I wanted was deliverance, but tragically, merely wanting deliverance is not enough motivation to pursue it. You have to hurt so badly for so long—the pain must devour you—before you finally face the music.

The Willa Carter quote reminded me of a post on the subject of forgiveness by Dr. Andrea Brandt, on Psychology Today. In the post, titled “How Do You Forgive Even When It Feels Impossible? (Part 1)”, she offers four steps to help us forgive others. The post is practical and sincere, but one of her readers scorned her advice.

An anonymous commenter, going by Unnecessary, finding himself in the depths of the storm, poured out his anger in an intense response to her suggestions. (I think of the commenter as male because I see much of my own struggle in what he wrote). Dr. Brandt, cognisant of the fact that her post was not intended to deal with severe trauma, made a sensible reply, but sadly, Unnecessary never responded. Here are his comments, as he wrote them; he responds directly to Dr. Brandt’s four steps, in the post:

NO!

Submitted by Unnecessary on February 9, 2016 – 5:01pm

Think about the incident that angered you. The problem is I CAN’T just accept it, if I could I would, but their crimes were too terrible. I know what happened to me and I’m angry, and justly so.

Acknowledge the growth you experienced as a result of what happened. I’ll tell you what it made me, it shattered my self esteem and any chance of leading a balanced life. They destroyed me both physically and mentally. What good does knowing my boundaries now??? They went on to lead their lives completely oblivious to the suffering they caused.

Now think about the other person. He or she is flawed because all human beings are flawed. Yes but some are waaay more flawed than others, I don’t care why they did it, I don’t care if they were abused as kids themselves, you think that makes it ok to do it to someone else??? They knew EXACTLY what they were doing and they enjoyed it. I don’t care what their needs are, wtf??? Why should I?

Finally, decide whether or not you want to tell the other person that you have forgiven him or her. I would rather die via the most painful death imaginable than ever forgive them. Forgiveness is the weakness of humans that allow evil to thrive, if you don’t seek justice or revenge, then you have just allowed criminals to walk free and do it again and again.

The ghosts in the storm

Unnecessary’s agony, anger and bitterness are palpable. For him, forgiveness is a byword for those who condone evil. It’s going to be immeasurably difficult for him to confront the fear of vanquishing his ghosts. It may sound strange, but when ghosts haunt you long enough, no matter how terrifying they are, they become your friends—and it’s hard to let old friends go. For some, it may even be impossible. My own ghosts are still unvanquished. Like the billowing tempest, they have an unsettling ability to bewilder and enchant. They continue to call from the darkness and I answer, almost instinctively. Will I ever turn a deaf ear?

It’s easy for someone to judge Unnecessary (and indeed myself) as immature and self-indulgent (and they’re not wrong), but it’s important to be patient. The pain is crippling. It erodes the soul. It is cyclical and cruel. It infects even our finest moments. We have so much anger towards our abusers, years after the fact that, at times, the very thought of them destroys us. We have this sense of people who crashed into our childhood and happily leaves us to pick up the pieces. We have decades of repressed anger, hurt and frustration. And no matter how much we dissect and make sense of our experiences, an irrational, emotional part of us revolts, calling out for justice!

I cannot begin to imagine the severity of the abuse Unnecessary and others like him must have suffered, and I have no doubt that my own experiences would pale in comparison. But, this does nothing to lessen the pain. The abuse a child suffers in a dysfunctional family is subtle and insidious, it is difficult to decipher its effects, to explain why one’s seemingly normal childhood leaves one feeling so devastated.

I hope we find some way of starting the journey towards recovery. Making music is my way of edging closer to the point of departure. I hope we all find our music.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS