Today I Began My Project to Map the Voices of Moorabool Shire
It is my birthday. My Friday Walking Group is happy to walk with me around by the river and farms and then go for coffee at a local cafe, where we settle down with baklava and rhubarb pie. I announce I have a new project, and let them know that, like the Chinese, I am about to give them each a gift as it is my birthday. I will write each of them a poem on any topic they choose.
Life on Earth, says S. As we have talked all the way around the circuit about reading the sky as her grandparents did in Eastern Europe, and about my father instilling the love of trees, nature, skies in me, and how the living world is The World for us, I find this easy. She has further explained that the Epiphany is not just about Family, as I thought, but about blessing all life on earth. I actually love writing this poem.
Then L. wants a poem about her family and there are tears in her eyes as I read what I've written.
The other L. is celebrating her 22nd Wedding Anniversary this weekend, so I write about what that means. I almost can't believe that for 26 years she has been satisfied in this one relationship. She is so unshakeably certain that life of course goes this way, I am inspired despite myself. Once she has tucked her poem away, she confides that her mother wrote plays as well as part of the history of, I think, Williamstown.
I find out some amazing things when I write for people.
Mona, the cafe proprietor, stands beaming beside me as I write. "Would you like a poem?" I ask. "Yes, yes," she says in what I assume is her Greek accent. So I write about the cafe:
The wind blows umbrellas
like skirts dancing outside ...
E. arrives and when I offer him a poem asks if it's dirty. "But really, what?" "Oh, RAIN," he says, "And that we want it." He is recovering from diabetic setbacks, is pale and thin. He was, not so long ago, robust. I write about rain and manage to fit in notions of dirtiness and cleanliness.
Finally, as I am at the counter to pay off another instalment of the painting I'm buying from Mona, her husband Charlie says, "Coffee!!!" It turns out he wants a POEM about it. I write it, I read it, he grunts at parts that affect him. Then he and Mona excitedly share that in their country, poetry is really big, there are competitions, and hundreds of people attend. They sit in groups of four, one recites ("and it is like song," says Charlie) and the next one has to create something new using the same rhythms and rhymes, and so on. "I'd love to see that," I say. "Yes, yes," they assure me, "There is a you tube!" and they write the name of it. Of course, that poetry is in Arabic. I might love the "song" of it, but miss the meaning. "Oooohhh," says Charlie, "some of them write so beautiful about a woman." Shakes his head. "Oh, so good you can feel it here." Fist on his heart.
It turns out they came from Lebanon, not Greece.
Mona has handed me a box of cherries for my birthday, or as a thank you. When I get it home I weigh it: 1.5 KG! I tell her I LOVE cherries. Because I do. Charlie says he'll give me a free coffee next time I call in.
I leave with the possibility, as yet unspoken, of creating an event in their cafe with them, a workshop where everyone writes for someone else. What fun!