“Going Underground” was Telltales’ suggested theme for this session; it was adopted from the theme for the Penzance Literary Festival.  


Daisies [Going Underground]


Every time I walked up to my own front door, I got the same sense of helplessness: the trees were overgrown, the shrubs contorted in their drive to get sunlight, the grass gradually encroaching on the walk. It went on for years. Eventually the daisies became so exuberant as to block access to the house. Something ought to be done, I would say to myself in the passive voice. It fairly screams of indifference, I thought, of brute insensitivity to the place, to the way it looks, to what’s growing, competing, dying, suffering and prospering in it. I’m not indifferent, I protested to no one in particular. It’s just that I can’t do it. I don’t know anything about what grows where, what’s a treasure and what’s a weed. And I’m busy. I’m working, and when I’m not working I’ll be writing. I am writing. Well, a bit of translating, not really writing…oh stop, please, I’m so sick of it!


The pattern — accusation and defence – stopped as soon as I got into the house. It was always the same, until some moment when it wasn’t anymore. Work stopped being full time, then stopped altogether, mercifully. The translation jobs expanded, then turned hard and dry. Time thinned out and speeded up. Domestic tasks multiplied or merged or passed between us. But when, exactly, did anything really change?


It could have been the day I translated a philosopher’s definition of writing as an act of violence, a gesture that forces vague, tangled thoughts into tidy linear sentences and demands their submission to the rules of a conventional language. It could also have been the day I realized that my brothers and I don’t know one another at all, that there is hardly any shared memory and so hardly any grounds for “family” obligations and expectations. But it was probably the moment I attacked the daisies with a garden fork, stepping down hard on the tool and levering up a mound of tangled roots, tearing them free, shaking the dirt off, then doing it again. And again.


I go on digging in various states of frustration, suspense, curiosity—tearing up the surface, exposing things that have been there for a few days or a few decades. I move some, compost some, introduce a few, and leave many as they are, with new associations. Sometimes I know the reasons. I have dug up rocks and published writing, roots and fragments, anger, remorse and joy. Daisies have come up in places that surprise me. I am writing.