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Someone else f(l)ailing rather is Tom, over on The Weirdie-Beardie Chronicles. Apparently his Master is 42 as of last Sunday, and is feeling his age. I say pah! to that as a hardened 44 year old myself — but it’s true that at certain ages certain things seem to turn and turn again.

In response I thought I’d post a poem from How to Be a Dragonfly, about the 42nd prime number. Writing this one just about killed me, for some reason. Well, I know why: the whole book waited on this poem before going to the final edit — the last poem, the 42nd poem, about the 42nd prime number. The confluence of it all just did my head in.

Reading it now, I try to remember the source of all the fuss. I remember that I wanted it to be about (if there is such a thing) the mystery and impermeability of — well, art. Even though all my poems were going into a book, somehow to be ‘understood’ by a larger audience… I wanted nevertheless to hang onto their essential nature, to remind myself anyway of central things that can’t — refuse to be — captured.

Now I see why it was so rough. Trying to capture something I didn’t think could or should be captured. Threw the whole book into question. Ack! Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Here it is, anyway. I hope your Master takes heart, Tom. If nothing else, maybe it says that we are in this for deeper, underwater things, for glimpses. Life out-manoeuvres us and our logic. Which is probably a good thing too.


Prime Number 42

We need to know you’re for real, not just some illusion, but bona fide one of a kind.

After all, almost everything is made up of components, the pieces of our lives:  foundation, construction, selling point.  Everything has angles and fractions.  So it makes sense that we look for second thoughts, for other hands, and even, etc.  First we look for a way to hook you and reel you in.

On screen, your seven point eight million digits snake down in scales, a shimmering skin.  We throw everything at you, all manner of dissection, but the surface holds — it’s not that long before we have to believe what we’ve always known:  that nothing can break you, or make you, for that matter.  Your lowest common denominator is only ever you. 

We get exactly what we came for, and throw the rest back in.  Here, you can pretend:  one swish of your tail, and you’re gone.

For those of you who knew it was going to happen, it happened. For those who didn’t: I threw a surprise party for R last week. 

Oh yes I did.

The children were in on it. It took weeks to plan. On top of everything else. I don’t know what got into me, except this: we have a tendency to be away for his birthday. In fact, we haven’t been home in years  on the actual day. So I wanted to make an effort. I  said I’d cook him dinner. He was panicking (stop laughing). We sent him outside to his shed until we were ready. He was panicking. He thought that the best he could hope for was take-away Chinese.

The children led him in the front door, eyes closed. When he walked in —

18 people were sitting on the floor of our living room.

I’d done it! We’d done it!

He was gob-smacked. The first thing he said was Who thought this would be a good idea? In fact he said this several times in the first two minutes. Which panicked me somewhat.

Then we poured him a glass of bubbly.

Friends had sent cards. Sarah and Mike had sent flowers. Nancy and Hamish had sent a strawberry tart from the Goods Shed. Everyone had brought food. So R’s fears were unfounded. And it was good food. Even better, it was great.

The children popped all the poppers and then watched loads of episodes of the Simpsons with their friends.

We ate and ate. R opened his presents (cookbooks and wine!). 

His brother called. His father called.

He had a birthday. He is Eeyore no more.

(But I hated the white lies. Shiver.)


We are lunging for the finish line that is called our annual holiday — hurray! So will be out of commission on these pages for a coupla weeks….Will return with photos and quite a bit fatter no doubt (though I’ve earned it: gym three times a week, yay!).

Til then: peace. Read a good book.

Tuesday evening saw us round up six of M’s friends for dinner and then a trip to ‘the ballet’: in this case, Ballet Central at the Gulbenkian Theatre. It was a belated birthday celebration for M, and a wonderful time was had by all. We were particularly impressed — not to say gobsmacked — by the table behaviour of the group! To a person, they sat still for maybe 40 minutes, eating and playing self-generated games like Chinese whispers etc. R and I stood in the kitchen next door, gratefully sipping white wine and stuffing in ham sandwiches. Real conversations! True friendship! Great to witness.

This year M has discovered that she’s a Taurus, and has ended up doing some online research into this. So the last couple of weeks we’ve been treated to things like: mummy, when can we plant up the pots outside? Tauruses have green thumbs. And to her brother: If you say that again you’ll make me angry. It takes a lot to make a Taurus angry, but when they go, they really go! This was enough to elicit a rather stunned cessation in the teasing, so I guess it did the job.

She’s pleased to know she’s an Earth sign, like her father. Home-loving, she says. And don’t we know it. She likes her nests, a kitchen full of cooking, and to know where we are at all times. Tauruses are good at the arts, she also informs us. And so she is, of course, even gifted at them.

She doesn’t like, though, the other bits, which she, being honest, dutifully recites to us: tendency to be sulky when crossed, stubborn, slow to change. Saying that, she relishes our stories of her spectacular tantrums: once, on the High Street, I had to hold her in her buggy, while she screamed like I was inflicting the worst punishment in the world and wouldn’t someone come help her please! Strangers stopped and glared at me. Her healthy lungs nearly landed us in a private room from all the noise on the day she was born; so when she uses them, watch out.

And yes, somehow, she often, very often, manages to get her way. This getting of her way is not at all a spoiled thing. She just doesn’t give up. Ever. She knows what she wants, how she wants it, and finds ways to get it. Determined. I’ve always thought, despite the early days of horror at how single-minded she is, that it’s a desirable characteristic in a girl, a woman especially. Less likely to get stomped on. Although fierce loyalty is also in her deck of cards, so it may take her a while to realise if something’s going wrong.

But realise she will. Forget astrology. She’ll believe herself.




From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning


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Who am I?

A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.