Archive for the ‘Common Ground’ Category

by Fiona Lovatt

That bare stump of the neem tree, left in the open this past rainy season, put forth its shoots afresh. Remembering, perhaps, the pull toward the sunshine up there where this roof inclines towards the neighbour’s house. Remembering the suck of roots that still stretch beneath concrete paving and under the porous earth, a network to draw upon when the clouds open beneath the mounting clouds.
And there, the fresh young seed must wait for the bursting explosion of life we call germination. Inexperienced, it puts down one single tendril, exploring the structure of this rich earth. One tender shoot, fine as a twist of hair in a plait pulled across the scalp of a young child, pokes two unfurling leaves into the open world above. Rain is a new experience. Soil and sunlight are new too, yet the DNA carries the instructions for growth. Without any further stimulus the new plant takes hold. These delicate leaves. This fragile stalk.
And the rainy season brings its blessing to old and new alike. One drinks in with confidence. The other is almost drowned in the quagmire, or trampled underfoot in these precious months, but both grow.
That seemingly barren stump. This juvenile. Their duty is to grow. Sunlight, soil, rain and the miracle of their purpose in this season of the rain.
We know the science. We eat the produce, burn the wood, take our medicine, make our furniture but have we learned our lesson in the reading of the trees?

Fiona Lovatt, Photo Courtesy of Facebook Fiona Lovatt's image

Fiona Lovatt, Photo Courtesy of Facebook Fiona Lovatt’s image

Fiona Lovatt is the Columnist for Common Ground, here on Lyriversity.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

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by Fiona Lovatt

This time now – when the rain falls and closes my day early, as my body checks off each muscle, joint and ligament – this time is a sweet reminder of the labours all over the world this day.
My feet, fresh from a shower, give thanks for soap and water. They throb with the weight they have carried (me and the load). They tingle in the ecstasy of movement and contortion. They have served me well this day. Through the tracks and paths across some distant forest, other feet have walked their path and borne their load.
My legs pulse with life as if there was some more energy I could expend. Elsewhere, thinner legs laboured on.
My belly is satisfied and rounds itself with warmth. Some other stomachs knot themselves at the end of the day and beg, “O tie a stone against me.” For some, just the long draw of water will swell the stomach for the night.
These shoulders heat the space between me and the chair. (I have a chair). Arms, hands, fingers, thumbs recall the day like sleeping dogs in the hot sun.
The labours of this day have been recorded in the flesh and sinew of bodies with far less, and bodies with far more.
And in that distant forest the hundreds of young hearts beat while fifty-four inches of plasma screens focus on able-bodied men playing games.
My labour becomes a prayer, “O Lord, accept my toiling and my effort. Accept my day. #bringbackourgirls.”

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Fiona Lovatt

Vapour rising, falling as it cools, heated by baked earth beneath, ascending with fresh heat, rubbing against the descending droplets in the mountain of an anvil cloud… this is the delicate pelting friction that erupts as lightning and the thunder clap that follows. It is only water acting in the laws of gravity and thermodynamics.
Endless flowering of charged electrons making a blaze in a moment.
The harbinger of the storm or the storm passing.
Our faces lift to the cooling wind. This is the natural order of things and we are prepared, or not prepared for the inundation. Could we not learn from the cloud when the storm clouds gather across history and current events?
These signs of turmoil we read in the headlines are no more than the weather forecast.
The same water in the clouds is water that has been drawn or sprung from the earth to water crops. We ate the fruits, quenching our thirst, urinating, sweating, crying, copulating, bleeding in the way of humans. Water has tumbled and ambled in river beds. The tomatoes and pepi drying on the clay roofs and the road berms, baked into crispy discs and pellets, they gave up their water. Trees reaching into the earth, responded to the solar pull by releasing, through the leaves, the water that rose metres high in capillaries that throb and hum in unheard rhythms of life. All this movement, from aquifers and veins, from pores and stomata, from earth to sky and back again… all of this is the journey of water and we know the benefits of water to quench a thirst, to wash and cleanse, to freshen, nourish and revitalise. We know this all as weather and weather takes care of itself, obeying those laws of gravity, motion and thermodynamics.
Each day we can see meteorological predictions based on the highs and lows of air pressure and yet we have not yet found the way to map human sentiment day by day: the pockets of hysteria, the winds of change, the increased economic pressures, the fluctuating prices, the influence of violence or generosity…
Mapping the social change would help us see history as an unfolding certainty as certain as the rainstorm across a land crying out for rain and the season of new growth. The parched soil open at last to the renaissance and the healing we desire.

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Fiona Lovatt

The battered truck brought a mountain of wood, generally cut to length so we could bag it. We worked. Selecting the lengths that could lay horizontally in the sacks, filling them without gaps so that every customer could be satisfied with the measure.
We tapped the sticks together to send spiders and insects on their way, about our feet, and we worked with just these sounds and the lifting and plonking of the wood. We sorted as we went, tossing short cuts over the mountain, hefting the larger ones to the side. All muscles working in a steady kind of rhythm.
Hands working in the clutching and the grasping. Legs bending, straightening, backs lowered and raised like cranes. And so, in rhythm, one reflects upon the toil of all those who bring wood for fires. One thinks of those who cook or heat their homes. Who buys these sacks of wood in a land still blessed with trees?
A woman perhaps with no one to help in the labour. An elderly soul, warming aching joints, a mother…
And then the wood itself, storing the sunlight of thirty or forty years, here in my hand, a battery containing heat and light yet to be ignited.
And sometimes these lengths make a song together as they are dropped and handled. Just a note or maybe two, but definitely a song.
A song of the bush, another life with arms stretched wide to the heavens and roots deep into the earth, a song of winds and storms and summer days, a witnessing of birds, a cycle of blossoms and of seedings.
We stacked, we sorted, we waded our way through that mountain as if it was all commodity. Today that labour has a price. Our sacks will pay for travel, food, school fees… all this from the gift of trees.

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Fiona Lovatt

Missing.
We are given pause for thought.
In the spaces and times when the missing are missing; we are given pause for thought.
Like that bit in the day when a mother has the meal ready and she counts her children at the door: this one back from selling apples, polished, stacked and arranged in pretty pyramids of green and red at the junction; this one from secondary school with books under the arm; another home now, bringing water from the bore to pour into the clay pots; this one bringing a greeting from the tailor’s shop and the empty midday bowl, ready for a new serving; this one from the court with the fine leather satchel for the case notes and yellow pads; this one on the small board, wheeled by hands wearing slippers for those polio legs are knotted up.
The mother is counting her brood. She counts six. Six are home.
She hears them move into the rhythm of meal time preparations but her ear is on the footfall on the threshhold.
The two small ones come from the street, one skipping and clapping still with a song, the other with the kite now modified for the tenth time – the pride and joy of the child.
Eight now, eight are home. One more waits for his dinner as he turns yards into garments, treadling his way in the mosquito hours.
This day there is excitement. Not every mother has a child who can write in clear block letters, the English words to fill the forms out. Not every mother has two university graduates from her back, her arms, her breasts, her womb. Not every household can spare those years of study. She has her trader and the tailor too and all the rest in school. In the absence of their daddy now, her house has kept the count each day. Eight are home. One is sewing still.
What of the last?
Gone to the stadium this morning. Gone to the muster of applicants. Gone with the prayers and hopes of the family. Gone as the food begins to stick in the pot. Gone as the little ones look up, showing their open clean palms ready for dinner.
And the news floods down the street, like a trickle reaching up and over the step and down through all the rooms. The thousands who went with their papers this morning, sixty thousand households wait for sons and daughters. Missing sons and daughters. The news washes around this house. Nine counted.
Planes can disappear off the face of the earth. Seventy two planes in 68 years if she believes that map on her eldest’s phone. O she has felt for those mothers too. All week she has prayed for their hearts to find ease. A plane is a big thing to lose. Almost as big as a husband. Almost as big as a child.
She slumps into the news, gulping what air she can find on the cool floor. Her child is missing. Some dreams went out the door this morning and now, as the pot comes off the fire, she knows again that she must pay in flesh and blood. She pays with her child for the bureaucratic fumbling, greed and incompetence that sucked her child into the crush of that stadium.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Fiona Lovatt

From that single cell, from that union of egg and swimming DNA, comes this folding of exquisite perfection. The you and the me. That halving and halving, soon gave way to multiplication. We barely comprehend and thus those cells, once mere replicas of each other, became distinguished in their own right. Skin became skin. Bone became bone. Hair became hair. They took their place.
Organs formed, each having its own task and the task of working in balance with every other organ. Kidneys did not rebel nor seek to replace the liver. Spleen did not cry out for the role of heart.
The glands, humble and hidden, took on the assigned duties as a diligent and responsive chemists. Eyes saw, Ears heard, Tongue tasted first and then began to speak. Fingernails were not confused with eyebrows or arteries.
The formation of the body is an everyday wonder. The biology is a wonder.
We take all this for granted. We take our hands and use them as we choose. We direct our eyes to gaze at this and turn from that. Our legs we direct from here to there. We take the flesh and blood for our own purposes and believe we are in charge. Imagine!
Imagine what the human form would look like if we were personally in charge of all the changes that need to take place during puberty. Imagine if we had to concentrate to get that much right.
So people pump iron, diet or indulge, people push the body to extremes of action and inaction, to extremes of endurance. Yet the splinter beneath­ the nail may go septic and from the septic wound the entire body is infected. Do we ponder this?
Do we ask what it really means when we say that all of mankind is like one body? Are we conscious of the suffering and the sacrifice that goes on as each part of our human community plays their role in the universal family of man?
Every cell of the physical body requires water and the brain is greedy for it. Other cells will close down a little to ensure the heart keeps pumping. There is a level of reciproci­ty that we can learn from and to learn we should spend less time with opinions and heresy and more. And spend more time with information. Being informed may be the kindest thing we can do for each other in a world dominated by gossip and opinions.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

photo by yavorskiy_photo

photo by yavorskiy_photo

by Fiona Lovatt

“We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person –unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land –it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”
—-Cf. Qur’an 5:32

It has been suggested that I write about the connection between Islam and violence. This is like being asked to write about the link between pornography and Christianity, where one could at least quote the passages of the Bible that deal with prostitutes and unequivocally prove that Jesus, peace and blessings be upon Him, socialised with women in that profession.
It is like being asked to expose the butterfly in the Amazon; who flapped his wings and re-ordered the entire meteorological pattern of the planet in chaos theory.
It is a link as tenuous as suggesting that Tony Blair has any credentials as a peacemaker, a man who could have made peace when he was in charge of a nation hosting an arms fair on 9th September, 2001, and didn’t even cancel any of those orders or tax breaks.

The dominant narrative is freely available almost anywhere you look. Television streams it in a continuous loop, fanatical haters repeat it, Facebook is awash with it. Yet, in the silence, in between the visions of carnage, we find that there are about 2 billion Muslims in the world and many more in their graves who have not lived violent lives. If their religion (and we know they are passionate about their religion) dictated violence then we could rightly expect violence from more of them. We could expect that their moral bankruptcy would ensure no one wanted to trade with them, marry them, join them, live with them. We could expect the annual hajj to be a scene of debauchery at least equal to a soccer world cup. We’d expect far more aggression so that instead of so many of them tolerating oppression in their own lands that they would have taken on the role of oppressors with huge munitions factories, massive military forces, and some serious land grabbing. Wouldn’t they manage more than one international television channel and produce movies of hate and carnage, fill childhoods with games and toys to desensitise children and train them in killing and premature sexuality (for the denigration of women surely goes hand in hand with the killing of sensitive, compassionate, humane hearts)?

We are meant to believe that there is a link between Islam and violence.
Let us translate “Islam” and use the English words “peace”.
What is the link between peace and violence? Peace is not just the absence of violence but the presence of justice, security, mercy and dignity.

Indeed, in reading the books of the people of peace, this is the message. The whole of their legal system is built on six principles or rights: the right to life, to family, to knowledge and education, to property, to conscience and freedom of thought, and to dignity. These rights are so deeply a part of the religion of peace that they extend to plants, animals and the earth itself.

Those who wish to pervert this rational and life-affirming institution fall in to two groups: the terrorists who are a threat to us all in their blood-lust and ignorance, and those who affirm their ignorance by repeating that Islam is a violent religion. The dominant narrative affirms, almost daily, what the terrorists say about themselves.
We should all start correcting them by repeating quotes that will correct them from the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, Peace Be Upon Him. To kill one person is like killing the whole of mankind. The ink of the scholars is more beloved to God than the blood of the martyrs.
And for the love of God and Peace, let us make sure we are not among their enabling accomplices. Let the rest of us stand in unity, not just as the opposite of violence but as operatives of peace, security, knowledge and mercy.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Lyriversity.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Fiona Lovatt

The village hen disappeared. We thought she had flown over the wall. We had seen her plotting her escape. She had practised the flutter on to the water barrel, from there to the bicycle, from the bicycle to the thin cross bars holding the water tank that holds no water, but stands as a sentinel beside the broken glass of the wall. We were sure that was her route. We had not clipped her wings for months, thinking that she would stay with us out of love. Thinking that she would not wish to be an alley hen, a bird of the lanes. She could not have squeezed out the drain that takes our washing water out and down the bank. She disappeared. We missed her.

The village hen had been the first creature we brought here, not to eat but to keep for her steady gift of eggs and the ant snacking that relieved us of ant bites in the evenings. She had settled here. Gentle scratchings, a softening of the earth, a recycling of skins, and peels and pickings left over from the kitchen. No more, for us, the swept smooth earth in our yard. She would fluff it up and take her dust bath, scatter whatever we swept, peck through the mango leaves, hide beneath the garden. We missed her.

The village hen ruled the domain when we brought in the black-legged red-eyed companion with russet feathers and bold orange spots. The body language of poultry became captivating for there was no warm welcome as sisters. The village hen took on postures of authority – the outstretched neck, the head on an angle, the deft swipe at the tail of the cowering newcomer but they settled into an agreement of sorts, and O! we have missed her.

The village hen did not welcome the clutch of chicks we brought in next. She wanted their mash, their water, their bed. They had the advantage of numbers and in their trekking and scurrying they escaped her wrath. She ruled the roost. They, of course, we destined for the pot. We waited for laying that never began and when they commenced the rivalry and the pecking; it was too much. A league of nations without a security council to broker peace among them. They made a banquet for us when the nights turned cold. We have not missed them quite as much as we missed her.

The village hen returned today. No great announcement. Just the deference of the black-legged one, shifting back into second place, and an argument they had near the kitchen door. The sleuths in the house ran their minds back over her disappearance and duly took a look inside the couch that has been on the verandah since the rain stopped. Eight eggs. Eight eggs and some close to hatching… no cock in sight.

Did our good lady run off to find love? Has she been entertaining guests in secret and returning with the good stuff to lay this nest full in our couch? And how often did we sit there and she, silent, sat beneath us? She’s back to her tricks. She’s in charge once again. She rules the roost, and like any poet I have to wonder what lesson I can draw from this bird making her remarkable comeback.

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Fiona Lovatt

From the air this continent is marked with the trails of human purposes: a journey to the water, to the market, to the field; a following of cattle and the cattle spread as they moved on; a tending of the sheep; a need of one sort or another.

These trails contrast with ring roads and railways and suburbs laid out in grids.

There is barely a right angle anywhere in the walking of the people. Coming from one place, heading to another, the paths intersect like star bursts: five or more trails converge on a market place and disperse to clusters of circular thatched roofs. Wandering and meandering as liquid as a river, the people have taken routes, shaped routes as if the soles of feet had kissed the earth and carved these gentle undulations.

And the land, the land is marked by farmers who turned a row on the barely perceived fall of the land, and ran it back around, until all the yams had been used in the planting, or the sugar cane was finished. An arc, a segment, a portion. In shapes that survey the length of a day’s planting or a bounty of seeds, the hunger of a fire, the space between… shapes that English can only call polygons for there is no heed for Euclid here.

The height of trees becomes the third dimension, lifted higher by the flight of birds who carve through the sky the same paths and journeys that make a path into a kind of reconnaissance that confirms the boundaries have been checked, the borders are secure, and the space in between is known in the planting, in the harvest, in the heat and in the wet vast tracts where another century has scoured out a course for vehicles, held together with wire or wealth, a prayer or a purse, and the passengers within report that all this land lies fallow, how lazy the people are, say the riders riding through from one commercial hub to another.

Hubbed and knotted, theodolited in vertical, horizontal, almost perpendicular lives where the doors don’t quite shut, where the gaps are not quite closed, where the third storey leans a little into the car park, the passengers have lost an aesthetic that matched human industry with natural order in the purposeful trails of foot-falling journeys. One wonders who bears the loss: the blind or those who do not see the trails of human purposes written on this land.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Fiona Lovatt

My cousin had the broadest smile, the freest, most open laughter of anyone I have known. As children peeling oranges and writing next to the radio, she would burst into song and name the artist. I saw it as a feat of audio perception that was almost supernatural. I did not know that she would marry a man who would be a tyrant in her life and knock that laughter out of her, and fair few teeth as well.
I did not know the vicar’s daughter would face three days of torture at the hands of a stranger in her own flat in London when she returned from the women’s anti-nuclear protests on Greenham Common. I remember her voice in song, filling the high rafters of the Gothic architecture where the Bible rode on the wooden wings of an eagle and a brass cross was carried ahead of the choir, each in various lengths of lace with colour coded ribbons to mark how many years of service they had filled of those dark pews. She also sang.
I could not know these things.
I remember the small child in the left front of a welcoming assembly when I took up a new position at a school. A hundred small voices sang that day, but Courtneay sang louder, sweeter ,stronger than all of them. She sells books now. I hope she has not been violated in any way. She fumbles a little at the cash register. She is nervous with the plastic bags and her speech is slurred. She knows the books well. She can point you to every avenue of escape. Print has taken her from the weekly routine of the minimum wage where she hawks best sellers and bodice rippers along with the finest of literature. All equal in her eyes.
The happy strains and the open sweetness of all those voices mark the passage now of many years. Each voice, like a bird in childhood lifting those precious young lives of someone’s daughter, someone’s sister into the open space above the temporal zone we inhabit. Who would take these birds and crush them with their bare hands?
What was the story those men brought with them? What children were they, that they have now grown into violence and cruelty and degradation? I have to ask.
I have to ask why women in one part of the world might be stripped naked by a mob in any given moment if someone wishes to call out that fifty naira is missing. I have to ask why school girls on buses are not safe.
Was the song and the purity of a child not enough protection?
Smile-robbers, song-thieves must have a cavern somewhere, a pit, a stinking pit where they collect the torn ribbons from children’s hair. They must have rows of bottles where they shove songs down through the neck of the glass. They must keep torn pages from scripture to plug the gaps where fresh air might blow in through the cracks of the open oil drums they have flattened for their murky lives. Let them be monsters like this rather than our brothers, our fathers, our sons… we ask instead for lives where the heart is open and has reason to lift and be uplifting, ever, always, safe.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the written permission of the publishers.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity