Tynemouth Beach at dusk - or was it dawn???
My library books were due to go back in January, but this week I received an email saying they have to go back today. I can't bear giving library books back - some of them have been on an extended loan, no-one else has wanted them so I've been able to keep on renewing Philip Larkin, Elizabeth Bishop, Kathleen Jamie, Robert Lowell. No matter that I don't look at them that often, I just like them being there. The empty half shelf where they've lodged makes me sad and excited. Now I'll have a place for the pile beside my bed, and room for some new books to gather. Maybe I'll start writing again.
The process makes me think of the TV programme Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners which I've watched (obsessively) for the last couple of months. The people whose houses need clearing/cleaning inevitably have issues to do with grief and loss. The cleaners whose houses are spotless also have issues around grief/loss. Some days I think I fall in the hoarder category, some days I think I'm a cleaner.
Perhaps the library is doing me a favour recalling those books ... it was never going to be easy ... and now that I've lifted Robert Lowell off the shelf I've discovered this poem, which I'd probably not have found if the library hadn't ordered me to return him ...
The Mermaid Children
In my dream, we drove to Folkestone with the children,
miles of ashflakes safe for their small feet;
most coasts are sand, but this had larger prospects,
the sea drained by the out-tide to dust and dunes
blowing to Norway like brown paper bags.
Goodbye, my Ocean, you were never my white wine.
Only parents with children could go to the beach;
we had ours, and it was a brutal lugging,
stopping, teasing them to walk for themselves.
When they rode our shoulders, we sank to our knees;
later we felt no weight and left no footprints. ...
Where did we leave them behind us so small and black,
their transistors, mermaid fins and tails,
our distant children charcoaled on the sky?
Robert Lowell (The Dolphin)