The Mind Waiting

We wonder if we are through the worst of the pandemic, but the news of the vaccine was accompanied by news of mutated variants of the covid virus. The times we are living through are difficult, and feel unpredictable and hazardous.

We think of the scope of life, the lives of those who have gone before us, the lives of the young who have almost everything invested in the future. Meaning is what no amount of knowledge is able to provide. There can be, in reaching maturity, a sense of exhilaration, the sense of being self-sufficient, of untold possibilities. Added years can only diminish that sense, so that love and connectedness to others grows in importance. Humour, seems to me, to bridge the gap where understanding fails.

About ten days before my father died, some twenty years ago, I visited him in hospital and left there to have lunch with a friend. As I parked my car the phrase ‘Perhaps it happens like this, the death of the body before the death of the mind’ came into my head unbidden. Over lunch I said to my friend that I felt a poem coming on, and as I drove home I felt as if I was going down with ‘flu. Back at home I wrote the poem in about forty minutes. The final image of a bolt of cloth being unrolled and cut is a childhood memory of my mother buying fabric to make curtains on the top floor of a department store in Richmond, Surrey. I can still picture the brass rule running along the edge of the wide counter, although that didn’t find a place in the poem. Months later I saw that the image contained something elemental, a part of our collective unconscious, if you will. The three fates, one who spins the thread, one who measures its length, and one, Atropos, who cuts it. Here is the poem:-

Perhaps it happens like this: 
the death of the body before the death of the mind
and the mind waiting,

the mind as it were in suspense,
an in-held breath
or longed for meeting postponed,

nothing new -
just the past piling into the present,
a feeling of change which deepens

without change of feeling,
like peering for landmarks in fog
and coming on nothing,

or tunnel vision
where sight doesn't know of itself
its diminishing scope

and only a jolt from outside,
from the world of touch, 
reveals that something is different,

except that there's nothing outside, 
all the tracks lead back to the self
and simplification,

a murmuration of starlings
plunging this way and that towards home
until gathered by dusk,

or an unrolled bolt of cloth
smoothed flat by the sweep of a hand
before being cut.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

One thought on “The Mind Waiting

  1. Dear David I found The Mind Waiting very thought provoking. In particular the way in which tunnel vision, which by definition is unaware of anything outside, it unless the appropriate stimulus occurs. Also ‘an unrolled bolt of cloth, smote flat by the sweep of a hand, before being cut’ —just think of the rhythm and balance here—that’s the poetry.

    Recently I was seduced by hearing Hilary Mantel on the radio saying how every word in her prose is carefully thought through. I’m afraid I have been very disappointed on trying to to read Wolf Hall. I have puzzled repeatedly over the meaning of her text , I think because if its ambiguities and failures to follow meanings through. Though I acknowledge that her preparatory reading into the period of history with she is concerned is very impressive. Why she chose such a grim period on which to write three enormous tomes beats me.

    I too remember standing as child at a counter watching cloth being rolled out and cut, including the careful measurement along the metal edge of the counter. For me it sets off a different sequence of memories, namely the way in which my academic development produced an ever increasing gulf between my parents and myself. Neither had enjoyed the experience of secondary education, and when I won a place into the local grammar school they were overjoyed, yet they had no idea about things like Algebra, French, Latin: I was indeed on my own, no coaching or tutoring (that was unheard of in that community), no bookshop within ten miles and no internet. I think I got my State Scholarship by reading The Listener each week and developing my ideas from that basis!. As time went on they knew nothing about what to expect from Universitty or Medicine. I worked very hard because i didn’t want to fail and perhaps face the fate of some of my friends who had to ‘go down the pit’ when a father became ill or died.—though I think the worst fall -back option for me was to join my father as a self employed electrician. He had been a successful small business man in the 30’s, in spite of the dire deprivation in the local community during the Depression, but he lost his business during World War 2: he rented out radio sets and many people just walked off with them leaving him almost bankrupt. He had to work through a long period of depression and anxiety after the war ended (when I was ten or so and starting grammar school) before improving, but he never regained his previous go- getting and happy self. No salary, no occupational pension for my parents, ever. i suppose this explains why i felt so identified with the workmen who painted my house recently iduring during pouring rain and freezing cold, giving them lots of cups of tea.

    All the Best




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