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MY BLOG. Stars

The Circuitry of the Stars by Matt Licata

"The tragedy of relational trauma presents itself as a cellular fragmenting, more primordial than a mere cognitive dissonance, neurally-encoded and rooted in the soul.

In these fields of disorganization, we simultaneously long for and are terrified of “the Other,” not knowing whether to move toward or step away. This sort of essence-disorientation runs through the entire psychic and bodily circuitry.

For a young child, the attachment figure is God or Goddess, magician, and seer - without them the end is near. But when this figure is also the very source of terror for the little one – or are shocked and traumatized themselves – we find ourselves in uncharted waters.

It takes everything to sit in this field with a brother or sister who has been touched in this way, who has come to organize their experience around this sort of rupture and betrayal. At times, our hearts shatter and break in grief with them.

In addition to the chronic empathic failure and narcissistic injury which goes to the very core of our sense of self, what can be even more devastating is a deep knowing that “I’m alone in this.” The absence of companionship, of feeling felt and understood, is at the heart of trauma and devastating to a human being wired to rest within a relational field.

To provide even a sliver of hope, a moment of safety, where they can feel felt and understood, just one moment where they can re-link, re-associate, re-embody, and know a new world is possible.

To look up at you and see and feel and sense that you are there with them, that you honor who and what they are and the coherence and validity of their experience. That you will not demand they urgently transform or heal or be different in order for you to stay near.

Never underestimate the power of love and what we can do to help. A few kind words, listening to another and their story, holding them, offering shelter and refuge, helping them to feel safe, even if for only a few seconds.

To do this with just one person, one microsecond at a time, and then, together, allow this felt sense and knowing of safety to ripple out into the neural circuity of the stars. Always together."

Matt Licata website here

Sick System Not Sick People

“Almost 150,000 nursing and midwifery days lost due to mental ill health” is the headline from today’s Independent News (28/12/21).

Apart from Covid isolation, NHS staffing is being decimated by the increasing number of staff being booked off work due to stress. But their overwhelming anxiety and depression that prevents them from getting out of bed in the morning and facing another shift in the frontline of an NHS hospital is not because they have a mental illness. They do not have a chemical imbalance in their brain. They are not weak; they do not lack resilience. They are not to be shamed because they lack the moral fibre of their stoic colleagues who fight on and take everything in their stride. No, their anxiety and depression is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, a healthy reaction in order to escape a sick system, a national healthcare system that is deliberately being depleted of resources in order to usher in profitable privatised healthcare.

This is not a conspiracy theory. One quick look at the current state of the NHS quickly reveals how far down the road it is towards mimicking the two-tier health system in the US where people die if they cannot afford to pay for the healthcare they require. The government, backed by vested interested corporations, has deliberately pulled the plug on social healthcare, just has it has done with other essential services like teaching and policing. Resources are cut but staff are still expected to deliver the same level of service. Those who fall by the wayside leave their wounded comrades to try and limp on and pick up the pieces. There is funding available but the government will not provide it. It is applying a slow deliberate chokehold and those who are struggling to take in air are gaslighted into believing that are dying because they are too lazy or uncaring to breathe. People are not sick, the system is. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff are not mentally ill, the forces that control the healthcare system are dangerously psychotic.

Anyone who knows anything about research will acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that the majority of emotional distress that is described as ‘mental illness’ is directly related to environmental, social, economic and political factors. Much of ‘mental illness’ is an increasing failure of human beings to fit in to a greedy consumerist society that expects working human beings to behave like robots with no time or place to process their emotions. Those who temporarily collapse are prescribed medication and a few sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy and are then quickly ushered back to the production line.

But medication and therapy are not going to solve the problem or ‘cure’ healthcare staff. They are mere window dressing plasters trying to hide the ugly wound of the system. During this time of crisis and Covid epidemic, we need to wake up and look at the bigger epidemic of anxiety and crippling emotional distress that is now infecting our land. More importantly, we need to look to its source. It is the system not people that is sick.

How Strange It Is

"How strange it is. We have these deep terrible lingering fears about ourselves and the people we love. Yet we walk around, talk to people, eat and drink. We manage to function. The feelings are deep and real. Shouldn't they paralyze us? How is it we can survive them, at least for a little while? We drive a car, we teach a class. How is it no one sees how deeply afraid we were, last night, this morning? Is it something we all hide from each other, by mutual consent? Or do we share the same secret without knowing it? Wear the same disguise?"

Don DeLillo - American Novelist

Memories of an Irish Mother

This is an article I wrote and had published in a local magazine after moving to Ireland in 2000.

Kathleen O'Brien Clement lies buried on a hill, high above the city of Durban in South Africa, far from where she was born in Dunmanway, County Cork. My mother had a hard life and a short life but it was a good life. The measure of a person's life is not in their length of days or their failings but in what they give to others. I have come to treasure what my mother gave to me - the memories, values and identity of her country.

She grew up amidst the poverty and superstition of Ireland in the 1930's.When she was only nine, together with her four sisters and one brother, Kathleen's own mother died tragically of cancer at the age of 39. The children were left by their grieving father to fend for themselves whilst he, a poor simple farmer, spent his days weeping in the fields of Shiplake.

Kathleen gave up school to stay at home with her family. When she was seventeen she left home and went to work in the city of Cork. Eventually she travelled to Greenwich in England where she began nursing. This was to remain her lifelong vocation, alongside being a wife and mother. Once qualified she sailed to South Africa and nursed at a hospital in Johannesburg. There she met my father, George Clement, and in 1957 they were married. I was born a year later; my brother - twelve years after that.

As a young boy growing up in South Africa in the 1960’s, she told me of her land far away- primitive and beautiful. Her spirit instilled in me a passion for green fields, for trees and rocks, for the simplicity of country life, so far from the urban city living that I knew. She told me of her childhood; of the piglets that would chase her through the woods on her way to school; of her father who put food out for the leprechauns. Remembering her days of poverty, she taught me never to waste, to eat all the food on my plate. She taught me to consider the underprivileged, those less fortunate than myself. She never refused to help the hungry who came begging at our door.

At the age of 52 she was suddenly widowed. Left with two sons but without a husband, she suddenly seemed alone in a far away land. She planned to returned to Ireland to see her family but was never to see the woods of Shiplake again. She died tragically, by her own hand. Her mind had been tortured by grief and pain and loneliness, which she tried to hide from even those close to her. Silent, strong-lipped and proud, she carried in her heart all the hurts and bitterness of her years. She was soft and hard, loving and fierce, tender and unforgiving. She was a woman of duty, hardness and strength.

Now that she has gone, there is still a part of her that is in me that I have passed on to my own children. I have taught them never to waste food. I have taught them to consider the feelings of others and love all living things. And now I have brought them to Ireland, a far away land that I loved and longed for as a child, long before I ever came here. Now I can experience and appreciate the beauty of this land and her people for myself. In my grief and my memories, I look back to my mother to learn from her life and her death. Sadly it is only now, long after she has gone that I have to come to know and understand her. For so long the pain of her death had clouded the happy memories of her life and what she has meant to me.

To come to Ireland, from far away South Africa, was a coming home, returning to my roots. I came to seek not the Celtic tiger but the simplicity of the country life, to seek that which has become a part of me. I came to give to my children a future where they can play in the green fields, amidst the trees and stones of their grandmother.

My Father Loved Pigeons

My father loved pigeons.
He kept them and bred them
ever since he was a child.

He built his own cages
from wooden packing cases,
black creosote poles
and silver wire mesh.

We always had a pigeon loft in our garden.
My father would spent hours
sitting in a chair, smoking
and looking at his pigeons.

Then one day
he gave away all his precious pigeons
until he was the only pigeon left all alone.

He dismantled his loft
dismembering plank and pole and wire.

Then he perched upon an apartment roof
and launched himself into wingless flight.

Weary from too much flying
he fixed his navigating heart
upon the guiding stars
and let instinct and gravity
take him home.

My Father Crying

"In the porch I met my father crying—
He had always taken funerals in his stride" Seamus Heaney - Mid-Term Break

I never saw my father crying.
Not even in the bedroom
standing in his dark blue suit,
smart and silent, staring
dry eyed into the mirror
on the day his father died.

When I was two
I saw my father in the hall
perching on a ladder,
cursing through his gritted teeth
the grey glistening globs of plaster
that plopped onto his upturned squinting face.

When I was seven
I saw my father in the living room.
sitting on the yellow easy chair,
clasping his knee with both hands
throwing back his head,
as he laughed at my silly schoolboy joke.

When I was fourteen
I saw my father in the dining room
sitting at the wooden table
with clenched fist and twisted mouth
because I, a stubborn teen,
refused to give my mother a goodnight kiss.

When I was eighteen
I saw my father in the kitchen
tearing pages with despairing Christian hands
from my saffron Buddhist book
casting them into the purging fire
that he hoped would bring us both back to God.

When I was twenty one
I saw my father in another room
lying still within a box of glass,
his pale body with dented head
wrapped in a white mortuary sheet.
He had never even left a note.

When I was twenty one
I held my father in a plastic flowered room.
Cradling in my weeping arms
his heavy cardboard urn of ash,
suddenly, I saw that my father had been crying,
all his desperate silent years.

A Meaningful Poem About Grief

ADRIFT by Mark Nepo

Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of
wonder and grief. The light spraying
through the lace of the fern is as delicate
as the fibers of memory forming their web
around the knot in my throat. The breeze
makes the birds move from branch to branch
as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost
in the next room, in the next song, in the laugh
of the next stranger. In the very center, under
it all, what we have that no one can take
away and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured
by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.

Graffiti - Poem for Wayne 2003

We pinted one-two-three and four-five-six
until we stumbled barman-shunned from the pub
out into the warm embrace of a Cape Town summer night.

While we walked our weaving way with shoulders wrapped with each other’s arms
we laughed and screamed and shouted songs we hardly knew.
It was then that you told me that you were bored
with studying shitty social anthropology
and that you dreamed of driving up the Drakensburg in a four-wheel drive.

After pissing, splashing high and wild on a sleeping suburban wall
we stole, from outside a silent supermarket, a gleaming silver shopping trolley
and rode it, wide-eyed and wobble-wheeled down a dangerous dipping hill
landing in a tangled body heap of groans and grazes and wild whoops
before the pristine smooth white wall of the State President’s Official Residence.

“If I had a Koki pen”, you said in slurs as you stood and swayed,
pointing a pickled finger in blurred defiance at the wall, “I’d write
‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and ‘Fuck the President’ and ‘and ‘Kilroy was Here’
all over this bugger’s wall.”

You loved graffiti so much that you had papered your bedroom wall
with a pattern of brick and, with a black Koki pen,
had written down all the words of wisdom and wit
that you had gleaned from books and friends
and academic lavatory walls,
inviting us to do the same.

You never did get to write ‘Fuck the President’ on the wall.

Remembering your return by rum-soaked boat from the Seycelles
unvirgined by a pretty whore, and with a gold ring through your ear,
you left the papered plains of the university
and moved to the rocky mountains of the Drakensburg.
where you lived on tins of baked beans and the fireside stories
of tourists and the local blacks, living out your social anthropology,
until one icy night your Land Rover rolled from the rocky ribbon road
of the plunging Sani Pass where gravity married you to a bride of death.

Now like Nelson Mandela you are free.

I too hope one day to paper my wall with smooth red brick.
On it I will write all the memories of my life, and in the centre
I will draw a heart with an arrow saying,
“Wayne was here”.

I Shot a Man

I shot a man with a gun in 1978 but I did not kill him

but I know that I crippled him for I saw his arm

hanging like the broken wing of a broken bird

when he stood in the dock of the court

for dropping a rock onto the head of a policeman.

He cut my head but I shot him through the arm and neck

as well as the lung for I saw the blood bubble like froth

from the angry mouth of the wound on the side of his neck

as he lay on the stretcher in the clinic of the sugar mill

after they found him lying on the railway track

where he fell from pain and the loss of blood.

For the first time in my life I stood up close

and looked into the horror of a bullet wound

that looked nothing like the bullet wounds

of the cowboys of the silver screen.

It was a miracle that he still lived

and they took him in the wailing ambulance to the hospital

and put him in the ICU where I phoned every hour

and prayed all night that he would not die

and I thank God that he heard my prayer.

They tried to make me sign a statement of lies

but I would not for violence of the tongue

is the same as violence of the hands.

They took me that same night to the district surgeon

who shaved my scalp and stitched my head with black nylon

and dressed my wound with cotton wool and iodine

so that I could still remember that night in the smell of povidone.

Then I went home but could not sleep so I drove like hell

on my motorbike for two hours be with the woman

who is now my wife to show her my wound

and hold her hand and shed my tears and tell my fears.

The name of Khumalo and Buthelezi comes to mind

I don’t know his name but when the time is right

his name will come to me in a dream.

Is not strange that I broke his life like a red clay pot

but they put him in jail for twelve cruel months?

Many a time I have wept and wondered what became of him?

I have prayed to be forgiven for crippling a man

who had no idea who I was and was probably drunk.

I wonder now after twenty years is he still alive

or what became of him for he could not work?

Did he have a wife or child or more than one?

Did he and them lie awake hating me and my kind

of white skin and blue uniform?

I can see him now

Was he waiting for salvation’s day

but after the elections and the ANC sat in the power seat

having promised health and houses and a better life

but they did not give him a better arm.

He was left in poverty’s pain and squalid hope in a dirty hut

of wet cardboard and corrugated iron with a muddy floor

and newspapers for windows in the flickering candlelight

that’s yellow like the teeth of the mangy dogs

that prowl through the camp by night

to scavenge for rotting food.

In the hut of damp that smells of lifebuoy soap

and body sweat and paraffin and baby shit

the Primus stove quietly roars while the old mielie meel porridge

lies caked and crusted white in the corner

of the dull aluminium pot

he sits on the bed on bricks

and smokes a thick cigarette with his good arm

that rolled himself from the Sunday Times.

watching his wife with the big fat bum

and curly hair tied humbly up in a scarf of blue

and wrap the fat brown baby sleepy from the milk of her breast

onto her back with the shawl of soft yellow wool.

Does he wonder why was he ever born black in a land of gold

at a time like this and if heaven is a preacher’s dream

and Jesus Christ is a white man’s scheme.

After all these years what has changed in a land

where there is no more penicillin at the clinic

and AK47s cough in the township night

and his brother lies staring like a wasted stick

on a bed of Aids.

While all the time I sit and write in a brand-new bed

Under a duvet of 15 tog in a cottage that’s almost new

that costs me £90 per week with two cars parked

outside my door just below the tennis court

and yesterday I spent nearly £45 at the health shop

and I look down at the white of my hand and think

I have no idea what it’s really like.

A Sense of Humour

The psychiatrist Victor Frankyl
tells a story of how prisoners at Auschwitz
were moved by train to Dachau.

The journey took three days,
during which time they were frozen
and half-starved.

At Dachau they had to stand
in the freezing rain all night
because someone had missed the roll call

and yet , Frankyl said,
they were all relaxed and happy,
laughing and joking because
Dachau had no incinerator chimney.


The empty church was a weekday ghost.
There was a silence in the pews, a dim distance
between door and altar, a vast void of light
between the groaning wooden porch and humming altar flame,
no holy hands turning pious pages,
making signs of the cross, and the airy
vestibules without whispered prayers.

When and women fled the vaulted halls
of the cathedral when they closed
the virgin’s eyes, so that she would no longer
bleed miracles, and covered up the tabernacle
in dusty burlap cloth, the gleaming
rainbow light cupped in leaded panes
died, the eyes of apostles and saints
no longer gazed down their prayers
on the ghostly congregation.
What remained was the thick brown backs of idle wooden pews
kneeling before the whispering altar, the silent white marble
and the crackle of candle fat.

Nothing existed without the intoning
benediction of Father Paul,
without the man in weary collared cloth
Nothing was left but the empty belly collection box
and the stone font gone dry, unfingered,
like a smooth and thirsty rock
too weak to cry for water,
a far-flung frozen fossil
under the loneliness of deep desert rock.

4 April 2003

Blue Lagoon 1965

On Sunday afternoon
down by the Blue Lagoon
you could buy go-kart ride
or a take-away of curry and rice
and watch dark-skinned fishermen
catch wriggling silver shad
on bending bamboo rods
in the muddy turbulence
of the brown Umgeni River
as it surged into the sea.

Within the gaping river’s mouth,
ancient sharks with razor teeth
fed on the offal tide of Africa
a few feet from the children playing
on the asphalt quay amongst
the crumpled scraps of newspaper
and bloodied scraps of sardine bait.

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