I wasn’t allowed to touch you.
Yet, you played my heartstrings
like a maestro making love
to his cherished violin.
Mesmerised by your song,
I swooped deep into your soul,
forgetting even how to fly
because we were one.
You and I connected through
a love far deeper than touch
our spirits knitting together,
stitch by stitch, into one.
You spoke my language.
Sang my song.
How could I ever grasp
why our love was so wrong?
That when spirits knit,
man and woman always risk
flying into the flame.
A flame which can burn!
That two should never
blur into one.
We each need to walk
in our own pair of shoes.
I was but young
you were not.
You should have known!
After playing on my heartstrings,
finding my song,
you cut me off with a knife.
Threw me back in the pond.
Alone, late at night
on the banks of the Seine,
La Belle Dame Sans Merci,
I am haunting this city of pain.
Yet, soft in the distance,
a violinist plays Vivaldi’s Spring.
A bud of hope in the darkness,
I now hear the baby birds sing.
Rowena Curtin Written 8th November, 2015 reflecting back on Paris July-August, 1992.
I know most poems are meant to stand alone and not come with some sort of dictionary or encyclopaedia attached but since when have I followed convention and why should I start now.
Here’s a bit of a backstory to Maestro.
It is very exceptional for me to write a poem and put it out there in any way, shape or form, on the day I wrote it. I am a great believer in stewing the words and making sure there’s a well-developed sense of flavour and complexity expressed as simply as possible. My Dad would say that I treat my writing like a fine wine. It needs to mature.
However, this is an old story so it’s been stewing long enough. Although, I could probably tweak it a little more here or there, this poem also tells a story and I don’t want to change that story just to produce a perfectly structured poem with perfect rhythm. It’s a very intense poem and intense emotions are jerky, uncooperative and don’t just flow. They’re awkward.
In this instance I am writing about a terrible heartache I experienced as a naive 21 year old in Paris when I was backpacking through Europe. I spent much of the trip actually living in Heidelberg, Germany and through Church I made an incredible soul mate who was never going to be more than a friend and yet I guess it’s almost inevitable that one of both of us was going to get burned. Not in the usual sense of a romantic involvement but while I still believe men and women can be friends without things crossing the line, there’s a difference between being friends and sharing each others’ intimate thoughts and feelings. Perhaps, you are made of tougher stuff than I. HOwever, in my experience, somebody usually gets burnt to an absolute charcoaled crisp.
At 21, I didn’t understand all of this and just bounded in where angels feared to tread.
I haven’t thought very much about this situation for a very long time. Now, happily married with two kids and two dogs, it’s a very long time ago. It’s only because I’ve been researching my time in Paris that I’ve been revisiting this very closed book.
Poets have a reputation for being a bit “emotional”, “intense”. I was all this and more in Paris. Leaving our hotel very late at night and writing beside the Seine til something like two in morning as orange reflections danced along the river near Pont Neuf, I was so out of my mind with grief that I perceived the dangers but was somehow detached from my self, almost an observer. Fortunately, I was staying with friends, who helped patch me up a bit but also realised I wasn’t good. They put me on the train back to Heidelberg. It was either that or go home. I was fortunate and very blessed to be welcomed into quite an expansive Church community there and lived with a German family I had stayed with before. All these people really were angels in disguise.They took me in as a stranger and brought me back from the brink.
It took quite awhile to find my feet and over time, I came to understand that another force was at work. That my desperate need to be understood and connect were borne out of an undiagnosed medical condition. That I actually had a harbour in my head, which was placing pressure on all sorts of areas of my brain, with, in many ways, quite intriguing results.
This harbour is known medically as hydrocephalus or fluid in the brain and was possibly caused by my very difficult birth. When I was 25 and had moved to Geraldton in Western Australia thinking I was “stressed” and once again was pursuing “love”. I was having trouble with this spinning sensation. Feeling dizzy. When I flew home for Christmas and visited my GP, I couldn’t touch my nose and this was just the beginning of my rapid descent into neurological chaos. I ended up having brain surgery where they inserted a shunt to drain away the fluid and to manage the pressure. It took over a year to recover but the surgery made an incredible improvement.
When I look back on this brain of mine, it really was a ticking bomb and I had no idea what was going on in between my ears. I know I often say that about my kids but in my case, it was incredibly true.
I have wondered how different my life would have been if I’d been diagnosed when I was younger. While it might have made many things easier, I have no doubt that my parents would NOT have given me that ticket to Europe for my 21st. That I would have been wrapped in cotton wool and been considered “special”. Potentially too special to really live. I am really glad that I was able to experience independence and stretch my wings, even though I had a few more crashes than most but at least I saw the world.
By the way, just a point on the violin references, I have been learning the violin for the last 3 years and I’m currently learning to play Vivaldi’s Spring. There are a few tricky bits and my teacher beautifully explained how Vivaldi was trying to mimic the sound of the baby birds…the sounds of Spring. So, not unsurprisingly, these images have entered my verse.
I don’t always like a happy ending and perhaps prefer something more realistic. However, considering the anguish in these Paris poems (yes, there are a few), I also like to offer a bit of hope because I didn’t stay stuck in that very bleak pit of despair. Although it took awhile and a lot of support, I did get through.
I am hoping that by sharing this experience, that perhaps I can encourage people to hang in there through the valley and hope and pray that the light will return. That things will improve.
Anyway, if I don’t get to bed soon, a different light will be appearing…the sun.
Thank you so much for sharing this journey with me. It means the world.