In 1999, Stephen Reid was given an eighteen year prison term. His crimes were robbery and unlawful confinement. Sometime prior to this, he became addicted to heroin and cocaine. At some point following his conviction and confinement, Susan Musgrave – Reid’s partner of many years – released Origami Dove. This was her first major collection of poetry in more than a decade.
It’s hard not to discern connections between these events when seeing them laid out on a page such as this. It’s near impossible whilst making one’s way through this slim and affecting volume. “Another Valentine’s Day behind bars,” she writes in Dove’s opening work, “and I bring you light from the stars / that you might find your way back to us”.
Repeatedly Musgrave’s words have a sense of pausing time. Of taking rest from the incessant hurry and worry that too often propels us. Of ceasing for a moment in order to look out over the landscape of her life and welcome – in the terms of our practice, to embody – the fullness of this moment with all its loss, all its grief, all its longing. “I say, nothing / when you ask what’s the matter / later, and then I start weeping / I can’t help it I can’t / stop.”
The beating heart of Origami Dove – for me, at least – is a series of pieces that unfold with haiku-like directness and simplicity. Entitled ‘The Sangan River Meditations’ and named, one assumes, for the Haida Gwaii waterway running through each, running near Musgrave’s new home, these poems seem haunted by Reid’s presence / absence. “The deep muttering of rocks / in the black river. Why am I / ill at ease?”
One could appropriately argue this is the work of poetry. To hold solitary moments in an open palm. To allow said instants an opportunity to unwind and reveal in ways that become near-impossible when burdened by ‘To Do’ lists and such.
This is the work of meditation as well. The unhurried breath, the still posture – these too have the effect of slowing. These too allow the easily overlooked radiance and the swept aside heartache of what Barrack Obama once described as this “terrible…beautiful world” to radiate like winter sun through heavy cloud.
And this is the work of our most challenging practice, our most devoted teacher: life itself. Through its disruptions and upsets, its sudden shifts and subtle adjustments, life is constantly calling us to pause. To draw cool breath and notice the changing weather, the missing partner, the aging body. ”the dark came down,” Musgrave observes in the last of her meditations, “earlier, blowing rain clouds / over the hills. I thought, the going / doesn’t get any easier. We are the broken / heart of this world.”