Category Archives: Literature


I’m sometimes asked,’ she said, picking up the biscuit, ‘what it was like marrying an older man. What was it like, they would ask.’ she said with a smile as good as a wink. ‘Well, I always say, he might have been half his age. Here she popped the biscuit into her mouth.’ ‘A New England Affair’, Steven Carroll. Valerie Eliot on meeting Emily Hale.

We snuggled in, this third time. I’d been nervous on the first occasion, but now that I had a hope it could be ongoing, dared to think it could be more, well, I was less so. I reached for her breast. She placed her hand over mine to hold it there. She told me she didn’t need paying. Not this time. I asked with renewed trepidation if this was the last time she would come. She reached down and ever so lightly squeezed. ‘Depends on you.’

In 1914 a young TS Eliot met Vivienne Haig-Wood at Oxford. She was a ‘river-girl’ – young ladies sent to the university city by their parents to disport themselves afore likely candidates for marriage amongst eligible (and gullible?) students. The American poet was smitten by her beauty and her worldliness. After a whirlwind romance they married. The haste, some reckon, is that Tom Eliot wants to dispose of his lingering virginity. The knowing Viv was the quickest way. He being a devout Christian, this required doing so in wedlock. Evidently the wedding night was a disaster, as remained the marriage for the rest of their time together. TS continued to be largely celibate, she quickly commenced a three year affair with noted predator Bertrand Russell. Husband and wife were miserable in each other’s company, but Eliot’s beliefs made him a slave to marriage if not his spouse. They finally parted ways in 1933. He was fed up with her increasing vulgarity, especially in front of his friends, her growing flirtation with British fascism and her diminishing mental state. In 1938 Tom and her own brother had her committed to a mental asylum where she died, aged 58, in 1947. Her husband never visited her there, but now he was a free man.

eliot viveliot

It was part of our bargain, if you like, that I would not enter her. To her that would indicate she was having an affair, committing adultery. I wondered if what we were doing didn’t amount to that in any case, but I didn’t have any qualms about it. I was more than happy to agree. She was, after all, a married woman so I acquiesced. Anything, I thought, to have the joy of human tender-touch again. And besides, she kept reminding me, she was now a grandmother. She had to be responsible. She freely admitted the money would help. Hubby was not in work and her employment was not stable. But, she added, there also had to be more to life than preparing meals for a dispirited man and measuring up kitchens. Thus she was providing me with what I had yearned for.

The movie ‘Tom and Viv’, with Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson in the leads, playing the staid American Britisher and his flighty, boisterous wife, charts the story of Tom’s first marriage. Until much, much later in life, perhaps the greatest verse composer of the century experienced little, if any, personal happiness or sexual activity. That didn’t mean there were no women in his orb. There were. Two examples were Mary Trevelyan and Emily Hale. On Vivienne’s death the former offered to wed him at least three times, but the thought of a marriage so soon seemed toxic to to the recipient of her proposals. And without marriage, of course their dalliances couldn’t proceed very far. Besides, he was perhaps truly in love with another party.

What do you mean it depends on me?’ My hand had been moved to between her legs and I caressed. Hers was still gently pummelling. No erection, but it felt good. Probably better that way.

Well,’ she replied. ‘Can it go one like this? This is fine for me, but will you be satisfied? He’s a good man, is John. He can’t help it that life with him is as boring as bat shit now there’s only the two of us. And running a tape measure around cruddy kitchens. That’s got whiskers on it. I need something else Thomas. This gives me more. Something to look forward to even. But don’t you get all sentimental and lovey-dovey on me, or want to go all the way. If you do, well, that’s it. I’ll find another outlet for my frustration.’ She stopped talking then. Her mind was now on something else. But I got the gist.

Emily Hale figures, for Tom, pre- and post- Vivienne. They met before his move to Britain. They both figured they were in love with the other, but they were repressed, reticent souls. Communicating feelings was not in their make-up, despite both being Americans. It was another era. He made a final visit to her before his departure. If she showed her true colours, he would defer. He knew it was impossible for him to make the first move – and she didn’t, so off he went to the UK and his miserable future in his personal life. But, also, there was fame and relative fortune awaiting. Off and on, though, they kept in touch.

emily hale

I know the feeling about wanting more from life. Cancer saw my Louise go in ‘08. She was my rock, my everything. If there was a perfect marriage, ours was it. I never strayed – never had any need to. Mercifully her demise was quick. I was bereft, though. We were looking forward to retiring together. I took it soon after. All of a sudden I couldn’t cope in the classroom any more. My time was done. Bald, overweight, unfit – what else could life hold for me without her? I tried to escape my fug with a cruise – all those reported single women on the prowl might be the go. I know Louise would not have wanted me to sit at home and stew in my own juices. Once on board I just couldn’t bring myself to make the required and expected approaches – and in any case, they all seemed to be on the lookout for something I was not. To me they just seemed to have the cougar mentality. Perhaps I didn’t give myself a chance. Then, recalling an Asian wife had bought a friend great happiness in his later years, I thought about going down that track. I figured though I’d just look an old fool who was being used as a ticket to a life in an affluent country, so I dismissed it. Too timid. I wished I could have been braver. I needed to be brave. I sold up and moved to Hobart.

Steven Carroll has thrown light on the relationship between Hale and Eliot in his two novels, ‘The Lost Life’ and ‘A New England Affair’. He also features the poet in ‘A World of Other People’. Along with his ‘Glenroy’ series, set over time in suburban Melbourne, they are terrific reads produced by a consummate wordsmith – one of our country’s best. ‘A New England Affair’ takes us, in part, to the thirties when Eliot reconnects with his American muse to continue their friendship, perhaps hoping for a little more. But again, his faith, guilt over Vivienne and distance prove unassailable, but they do make promises that could only reach fruition on the death of his spouse. When it comes, Emily thinks, Tom is finally hers. His view now became that it was all too late. His take prevails. She is shattered. Her life’s been for nothing. She retreats.

It was no great shakes the house I purchased in one of Hobart’s northern suburbs in 2012. Doing it up would be a distraction, I hoped. It was. My funds were not substantial to do it in one hit, but I would take it steady over time. I enjoyed dealing with tradespeople in trying to get the house shipshape enough for my satisfaction and to increase its resale value. I wanted something to pass on now the Burnie residence was gone. I became involved with University of the Third Age, teaching to my own age group. I started to meet people, had a few friends to invite around for a meal and dine out with. With the State Cinema a regular, as well as the art galleries and book shops, life was looking up.

And in ‘A New England Affair’ the reader and Emily briefly encounter Valerie. As a school child the woman who became the poet’s second wife knew what she wanted to be – TS Eliot’s secretary. Her headmaster recalled her telling him this – and that’s exactly what happened. Born in 1926, she was therefore almost forty years the great one’s junior, but she was besotted with his poetry as a schoolgirl. Later she became besotted with the man.

val e

The kitchen was my last challenge; the stove on its last legs, the bench tops and cupboards faded and scratched to buggery. By this stage I knew how to go about stuff of this ilk. Inquiries had informed me prefabricated was the way to go; that Kaboodle was as good as any and Bunnings would help me out. When I called them they let me know that they could send someone around and measure up to prepare a quote. Good-oh, I reckoned. I tidied-it up, waiting for the appointment booked for a few days later. I was expecting a typical tradie. What I got was Lou.

Apart from capturing Eliot’s heart, Valerie’s other great claim to fame was that she gifted the world ‘Cats’. After her husband’s death she became the keeper of the flame, his literary executor. That decision, of course, would prove most lucrative for the estate, allowing Andrew Lloyd Webber to turn the author’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ into a world wide mega-phenomenon. But why on earth would a vibrant, yet to turn thirty year old, take on someone who was 68? It all started with Sir John Gielgud.

I was taken aback when she came to the door, expecting a male in bib‘n’brace overalls, tape measure in hand. Instead I had Lou, a tall slim brunette dressed in skirt and jacket carrying a briefcase. Initially I took her to be in her late twenties, but decided, after she left, that she was more like well into her thirties, given the mature, confident manner and the laugh lines around her eyes. She introduced herself and I remarked on the coincidence that she carried the same name as my late spouse. She chuckled and said that wasn’t the case. She’d been named Lou-belle and loathed it. ‘What were my parents thinking,’ I recall her saying. She’d been known as Lou ever since she was a kid.

The Yorkshire born Valerie first came across TS Eliot when she was fourteen, hearing a recording of his work, ‘Journey of the Magi’, read by one of the nation’s foremost thesps, the great Gielgud. She was entranced, her life’s mission now clear. After her graduation she took a secretarial course and landed a job with another literary figure, novelist Charles Morgan. Knowing her ambition, Morgan helped her apply for a position at Faber and Faber where Eliot was head of poetry. It was the great man himself who conducted her interview.

She inspected my kitchen, took some measurements and then, with a laugh, demanded caffeine. We talked possibilities, reached a conclusion and then put away the brochures. It was her, ‘Tell me something about yourself.’ I guess, that had us started on a certain path. ‘Tell me something about the man who is soon to be cooking up a storm in his brand new revamped kitchen.’

I joked back, ‘Well, you never know. One day I may cook up a storm just for you.’ She seemed a bit taken aback at that, but soon hit back, ‘Well, if you accept this quote I’ll go away and prepare for you, I might just take you up on that.’

On parting she told me she’d ring when said quote was available and I could call into Bunnings and collect it – or she could deliver it here. Was she flirting with me? She at least knew how to get a sale, I thought. Of course I chose the latter alternative.

At the interview Valerie was nervous, but what caught her attention was how edgy her interviewer also seemed. Could he sense something between them even then? But if there was, nothing came of it in the seven years that she was Miss Fletcher to his Mr Eliot, although her fascination with him never diminished. He obviously, in his own buttoned up way, harboured feelings for her too, but the age difference and his lack of bottle precluded any informality. We’ll never know exactly how the man gathered up the courage to propose to her in 1956, but he did. She accepted readily.

Lou was in no hurry that second visit. The first time, in response to her teasing question, I told her a bit of how I came to be in West Moonah, perhaps letting out more information than I should have. It’d been a long time since I had had a sympathetic ear. Although I said life had blossomed somewhat since the move to the south and my dark thoughts after Louise’s death had largely been banished, I had confessed to her I was still achingly lonely. Keeping myself busy helped. I recall, at that point, she reached out and patted me on the arm, then kept it there as I told of what I spent my time doing. ‘Good on you,’ she said after that. I told her quietly how I missed company on a daily basis, but more I missed skin on skin, someone to hold close and love. At that she withdrew her arm, leant over and kissed me on the cheek and prepared to depart. As she did so, she threw at me ‘Be careful what you wish for. You just never know in this world.’

I remembered that.

Valerie set about being the woman the poet had never had in his lifetime up till that point. Obviously she didn’t give one hoot about the gap in their ages.

I was gobsmacked when she told me, during that second most enjoyable and revealing appointment, that she was a grandmother. And as she rose from my bed this third time and dressed, she smirked, ‘I may be a granny these days, but I can still rise to the occasion. God that was good. I haven’t had that in such a long while. That’ll keep me interested till next time. There will be a next time, wont there?’

I assured her I was more than happy with the arrangement.

With marriage to Valerie, TS Eliot was a changed man – calmer, looser. It was noted he held hands with his wife in public, asked for a double bed when booking accommodation and in her later interviews, Valerie hinted at a satisfactory sex life. Till that point sexual activity for the exulted poet had been, please excuse the pun here, a barren wasteland. But in his last years there was bliss.

At the second appointment, after I accepted the quote, Lou was comfortable in opening up to me as well. She explained how she came to be such a young grandmother, saying she was just fifteen when she had her daughter by John. He was 17, but did the right thing and stood by her – and he was and is a great father, she hastened to add. There was to be only one child and after her birth they lived with his parents for a while, with both sets being supportive, before renting, trying to save for their own place. Finally they ended up buying in Claremont. John had an accident a few years back and was now on a disability pension, so financially things were tight – thus my later offer to help out. In these last few years he had become morose, uninterested in sex and uninterested in her. But, since Clare had given them a granddaughter, he had livened up a bit and she was hopeful he had turned the corner. But life at the moment seemed a bit of a never-ending struggle. She tried to be positive, but basically she’d had enough of the grind of her day to day existence. She wanted an outlet. She needed a bit of a spark. I then used the same words back to her – you know, the ‘careful what you wish for’ ones. Little did I know then.

The poet of the century passed away in 1965, just shortly before the couple’s eighth wedding anniversary. He’d been ill for some time. Smoking did its usual foul play on him and at the end he was suffering badly from emphysema. In those last years they escaped the British winter for the West Indies and that helped, but his disease progressed till he needed constant oxygen and then came the inevitable.

I didn’t see Lou for a few weeks after she left that day. The tradesmen, in the meantime, gutted my kitchen to her plan, replacing it with a kit one with a new stove. Then I received a call from her asking if I was satisfied with the job. And that’s when it happened. That’s when I was brave. ‘Why don’t you come around and see for yourself?’

Her reply, ‘I was hoping you’d say that. And I may hold you to that other tempting offer as well.’

Valerie died in 2012. In accordance to her husband’s wishes she was very frugal in allowing others to impinge on his personal history, although she assisted in the editing of several volumes of his letters. Over the last couple of decades of her life, of course, she did have a lucrative income flow to manage for the estate from the revenue provided by ‘Cats’. The stage musical’s popularity remains today. With its proceeds she funded additions to landmark buildings close to Eliot’s heart and set up a poetry award in his name.

She was impressed by the kitchen as I still am, finding it functional and pleasing to the eye. Once she had surveyed the scene she called for coffee to be produced and when we sat down on the sofa to drink it, there came the watershed moment.

Now, Thomas of Burnie, is there any other service I can provide for you? Perhaps there is one of a more personal nature. You’re lonely. You tell me that. You’re still tense and frustrated. I can see that. I’m bored shitless. I’ve told you that. We both need something extra in our lives. Perhaps we can come to some arrangement of mutual benefit. You tell me what you would like. I’ll tell you my terms. How about that? Interested?’ I was. She then brushed aside my reservations about age. ‘Phooey to that,’ I seemed to remember was her reaction. ‘I enjoy your company. I love a chat with you so why not something a little more?’

So there it was – how our bargain came to be.

At first money wasn’t part of the equation, just the boundaries she was prepared to allow me to go. I didn’t have a problem with those. In fact, I couldn’t believe my luck. Still can’t. I insisted on paying her and she, in the end, had no issue with that either. It was a service, after all. We arranged a weekly meeting, the first being rather tentative, just some kissing and fully clothed fondling. Come the second we were both less nervous and she suggested we dispensed with our garments. ‘How about some of that skin on skin you mentioned. You’ve still got some life in you, I bet,’ she said with a twinkle in her eye. Seeing her fully exposed – my, that was a moment. I doubt if I had the same effect but she was too polite to comment on my total lack of tone. As for the third time, well, you have already been privy to that. She’s informed me the next time she’ll bring along some massage oil. Wow!

Lou has been the missing bit to my life and I don’t mind the ‘not going all the way’ part of our bargain one little bit. In fact it’s probably far less stressful for me this way and keeps her happy. How long will it last, our arrangement? I have no way of knowing – but I’m yet to cook her a meal from my new kitchen. We still have that to factor in at least.

I purchased ‘A New England Affair’ on a visit to Fullers. It was the ‘affair’ part of the title that attracted my attention, but that aspect was so sad – so sad for both TS Eliot and Emily Hale. But what intrigued me was Valerie and Tom. Forty years, almost, age difference. With Lou and I, although both grandparents – can’t get over that – the age gap isn’t quite that substantial – but still wide enough. It was no negative for them and touch wood, so far, not for us. And if I get as much time with her as old Tom did with his younger woman, in totally different circumstances I know, that will be a bonus. Perhaps, sometimes, you don’t really have to be too careful what you wish for after all.

The Teeth, Darling


So here it is, just as I explained to and warned you of in my last missive. You agreed to be not only the owner of, but also a conduit for, the information I am about to impart. What happens to it after my demise I’ll leave in your capable hands. It’s not earth-shattering and it is as it was, for better or worse. I fear now I’ve entered my seventies that, well, let’s just say the London winters are not getting any kinder.

I have been thankful to have you by my side through the legal ordeals of these last fraught years. Without you I would have died a pauper – and how dear Bram concerned himself with my future security as he approached his own departure. All through that fearful business over ‘Nosferatu’ with the Germans, then the American studio who thought they could make a movie of his most famous book without any thought to the rights of its writer or descendant. As you are aware, there’s only Noel, but we fought hard for his inhertance. Frightful, just frightful. You stood by me as adviser and friend. In you Anna, although you came along belatedly in my life, I saw the daughter I never had. In truth I didn’t give myself the chance of having one, as you will read. I know I can confide in you with all surety that it’s confidential. In part, thanks to you, my husband’s legacy is secure due to the funds your organisation has secured for me. From their dealings with the film companies, who wanted to use his work as the basis for their projects, I am able to spend what years that remain to me in relative comfort. And now, dearest friend, to my unburdening.


Yes, that a Prime Minister would once say that I was the most beautiful woman in London went straight to my head. He was an old dear, but I took his words to heart and I hasten to add, he was not the only prominent figure to take that view and express it publicly. I became prideful, dare I say it, wholly vain. And Anna, I wish now I could change the person all those compliments made me back then. Maybe, just maybe, Bram would still be alive to share in our successes – for I treated him most abominably. But we can’t go back. Then I placed retaining my youthful, porcelain (as many described them) looks above all else – even my marriage, or at least that part of it that people cannot see. To outward appearances nothing was amiss. I made certain of that. But behind closed doors all was not as it seemed, dearest Anna. He had much to put up with in me. Instead of making his home his safe harbour, I made it something he wished to escape from for as much as propriety would allow. That caused him to garner yet more secrets to the ones he already held. In the end, perhaps my denial of what should have been rightly his for the taking served me well. And we will come to that, but we should start where it all began – with Oscar of course. It is known how I moved on from Mr Wilde to Bram Stoker, what is not known is exactly why. The truth of the matter – it was largely about the teeth, darling.


They were bad from the start and frankly, off putting. He knew, poor fellow. He spent so much time and money trying to fix them, but as the years passed they only became worse. At the time we were together, it wasn’t so dire, but still, the smell! Oscar tried to cover it up with potions or pastes, but nothing seemed to work. I think they only served to hasten their destruction. Back then dentistry wasn’t what it is today. It meant endless, excruciating pain for the poor man – and heavens, it is tedious and taxing enough today in my experience. As well there were all sorts of charlatans around and when it came to his deteriorating teeth, Oscar would believe anyone. He would always try and hide his mouth with his hands when speaking and rarely smiled. Why, the poor man found laughing tortuous, least it exposed the state of what his mouth enclosed. It was a nightmare – the pounds he spent before finally submitting to having them removed and dentures inserted. How he hated them too. Of course, that was well after he had moved on from me. We were courting for only two years. Mostly he was at Oxford with myself either at home in County Down or in Dublin. So the opportunities to be together were fairly rare. Honestly, I think he liked the thought of me more than the actuality and we were never intimate, just kisses and embraces, when I could bear them. So it came as a surprise to me that Christmas when he presented me with that beautiful little cross on a thin chain. You know, in our day, that usually indicated that an engagement was imminent. But his visits across the Irish Sea came less and less as his life more revolved around the university – and rumours were already circulating. He was certainly great fun when he was around, but, to tell the truth, the thought of getting up close and amorous with him frightened me. The smells, despite his scents and pomades, just repulsed me. Knowing what we know about Oscar now, what he was getting up to at Oxford and on his jaunts to London, I suspect, would have made a marriage to him a great mistake. Still, I know that when I announced my betrothal to Bram, it came as a great shock to him. Bram was a friend of his so he felt betrayed by both of us. We continued to remain on harmonious terms, Oscar and I, to keep up appearances, but Bram never felt he could trust him to be in my company without his presence. I suppose that is only as it should be.

Bram was far more solid and reliable. He didn’t shine like Oscar, but he held his own in society and found some degree of fame as well. To start with, my husband’s teeth weren’t an issue, but as time went on they started to go the same way as Oscar’s. But that wasn’t our major issue as it turned out. No, what happened within our marriage, I bought on myself. Some of it occurred when I discovered I wasn’t the love of his life. Possibly I wasn’t even in second place – for there was always Oscar, whether Bram trusted him or not. And then, once we moved to London, there was Henry.


Little Noel was born in ‘79, the year of our move. There were to be, as you are aware, no more children. There couldn’t be Anna. What you didn’t know, nor did anybody else as Bram put such a brave face on it, was that I ceased all close proximities to the poor man, if you know what I mean. He was a dear fellow. Everybody said so, unfailingly polite and courteous to me as to everyone else who crossed his path. We made our marriage work for I had deep affection for him and he for me, despite my silliness – and it was silliness. His health was always delicate, but I cared for him when he was afflicted as I cared for him at the end. It was the least I could do. I was happy to be his nursemaid and house keeper, as well as raising our child. But, as for that other role of a wife, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know if Bram cared so much in the end, in any case. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but his constitution wasn’t strong enough for exertion – and when he felt it was, well, he sought relief outside the home. I pretended I didn’t know – but we both tacitly reached an understanding that I wouldn’t hold it against him. As well, he had Henry. Henry Irving – the foremost actor of his day. Bram, once he had that job in the great man’s theatre, well, he was simply became infatuated. He couldn’t stop talking about him, although the man treated him as a mere lackey and refused to pay him anything like the amount Bram could get elsewhere. But husband wouldn’t hear of it. He was in thrall of the man. If there was anything else involved, I don’t know. I always had my suspicions, as I had of the days when Bram knew Oscar before I wooed him away. I am at a loss over all that. It’s not in the natural way of things, in my view, but then again, could I blame Bram for finding succour in any way he could after the way I treated him? When, on the few occasions I did broach the subject, Bram shrugged it away. He was hiding something, I was certain – and the proof, I believe, finally came in the way he left me. I believe, though, I was very, very blessed to have had Bram for a husband. It’s excruciating to think about what may have occurred had it been Oscar. Friends have imparted that Oscar never forgave Bram for snatching me away from him. It may have been the case that the reverse applied too – that I snatched Bram away from him. I’m told that charming little cross, that I returned to Oscar, remained on his person till the day the Lord took him. I also worried that Bram was frightened that Oscar would attempt vengeance one day by seeking my affections again. But he was never open with me over this, so I couldn’t allay his fears. There was no chance of it. But if he had of asked, could I have mentioned the teeth, darling Anna?


I did wonder if the perfect teeth of Dracula, including those designed for enabling blood-sucking, could have been Bram’s way of getting back at Oscar. I don’t know, but in his later years my poor husband’s were not very attractive either. I wasn’t giving him much attention at all by this stage. No wonder he wandered out to seek comfort and release from the ladies of the night – or, at least, I assumed they were ladies. In truth, I could not blame him and it was convenient for me. And maybe that killed him, as so many of our social set were afflicted with the dreaded syphilis. The doctors would never say as much, despite my pointed questions, but I suspected. So maybe my restraint saved me from that fate as well. Even so, the lack of love, in the true way, that I failed to show this kind and loyal man does weigh on me heavily now that he’s gone.

My beauty didn’t last, of course. It never does. All those years I spent protecting my complexion and making sure I was the most alluring in the room in all our public engagements have come to nought now he is deceased. They all dried up, just like my porcelain skin.

As you are well aware, my dear, these last years have been devoted to Bram’s legacy. ‘Dracula’ has surpassed all our expectations – and to think that odious Irving once shattered our beloved author by telling him he didn’t possess an ounce of literary talent. I wonder who’ll be remembered better as the years roll on – my Bram or that man? But nothing could break his hold. At least Bram outlived his hero and had some freedom from his constant barbs in his last years.

So darling lady, my confession of imperfection is before you. I feel a little more peace in my life now. Is that unfair of me? I have often been touted as the one who won the heart of Oscar when she was a girl and Bram’s when I was a woman, but in truth, despite my limitations as a wife, my heart will always belong to Bram. More so now than ever. I hope history will treat him kindly as it has not for Oscar. They are both brilliant men and I fear, with my vanity and foibles, I served neither well. With your assistance I have tried to make it up to my husband – so thank you dear Anna for your friendship, wise judgement and future discretion


Part of the above is my imagining with a new book on Wilde on the retail shelves and a coming series on ‘Dracula’ destined for our small screens. Her marriage to Bram Stoker allowed the former Irish beauty Florence Balcombe to meet Presidents of the USA and a Prime Minister, Gladstone, became a friend, regaling her as the greatest beauty of the day. The Patti Boyd, perhaps, of her times, her association with two literary icons, as well as her own prominence as a jewel of the London social set, ensures for her a small place in history. In later life she fought tooth and nail (you punster) to protect the inheritance of Stoker. His vampiric tale has generated millions. We have moved on from the primitive dentistry of Victorian times, but with Drac it’s all about the teeth, darling.

More on Florence –


Each morning I read a few lines from ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North.’

It was ‘Prognosis’ I was touched by – battles with cancer have been present in my world of late; affecting family and friends; affecting people I care about. And now, as I scribe this, the end of the year is always the time for looking back, looking forward. I typed in ‘The Best Poetry of 2018’ and there it was on a NY Times site.

There have been significant deaths this past year – Aretha, an ex-President and a US statesman who stood up to Trump. The author of ‘Prognosis’ was born in the same year as I, but did not survive 2018. Food for thought, food for thought.

So I delved deeper to discover more about Meena. Hooked by that first poem I came across, I was scanning to see what else she had to offer – and then that line reeled me in. A further connection to me, my island and my father:-

Each morning I read a few lines from ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North.’


Meena Alexander was Indian, bought up in Kerala and the Sudan, educated in Britain and finding her fame in the US. She wrote award winning books of verse, had publish two novels and numerous academic tomes. She finished her career being Distinguished Professor of English and Women’s Studies at City University, NYC. She helped keeping poetry from becoming a lost art.

The poem is an invention that exists in spite of history.’


You’ll be better tomorrow
And the next and the next.

Our window crammed with bees,
Geese cavorting on the hill

A green pond where we floated
Never dreaming such a fate

Might befall one of us
Mad dance of tumors

This serous thing, spelled differently
But pronounced like the cloud

Cirrus—papa made me see
Lifting me high in afternoon heat

A pallor stroking the inner sky
Ligaments striated

A high interiority picked with ice
Finicky music we dare not hear.

The men with Odysseus
Packed their ears with wax

One or two tore out their tongues
Right there on the Cretan coast.

Morning Ritual

I sit in a patch of shade cast by a pipal tree.
Each morning I read a few lines from The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Where did Basho go?
He entered a cloud, and came out the other side:

Everything is broken and numinous.
Tiled roofs, outcrops of stone, flesh torn from molluscs.

Far away, a flotilla of boats. A child sucking stones.
There is a forked path to this moment.

Trees have no elsewhere.
Leaves very green.


More Poetry by Meena Alexander =