My song is perfume

Today, I finished editing and designing my late Mum’s second book called My song is perfume.

This book of poetry is the second volume of writings that I have compiled and edited from the nine-hundred or more (A5) pages of writings that I found on Mum’s laptop after her death in August 2020. The first volume was her autobiography Rosalie: In her own words (2022), the next volume will be a collection of the very many short stories and other creative writings that she penned. Nestled between is this short book of poetry.

While there may be more, undiscovered, handwritten poems among Mum’s journals and other notebooks, I have constrained this anthology to the thirty-two poems written during the 2000s or which she typed, presumably, for a creative writing class.

In a short article Mum wrote about her interest and influences in writing she mentioned how T.S. Eliot, R.S. Thomas, Will H. Ogilvie, and Kahlil Gibran’s poetry spoke to her heart. It was through Mum’s interest in these artists of the written word that my own love of the works of the Lebanese American writer, poet and visual artist Kahlil Gibran (1883–1931) and Welsh priest and poet R.S. Thomas (1913–2000) in particular grew, and her anthologies of their work that I inherited.

The Reverend Ronald Stuart Thomas’s works were rooted deeply in the Welsh landscape and people, often heavy with political and spiritual nuance. In Thomas’s poetry we often find a bleakness and raw emotion that draws us deep into the mystery of what it means to be human. There is something of this honesty and vulnerability that can be found in Mum’s poetry, particularly those that spoke about pain and suffering. She also echoed Thomas’s love of the landscape, although in Mum’s case that of the verdant hills of the Scottish Borders in which she was born (and home too of another favourite poet, Will H. Ogilvie), and which called her back home from the arid foothills of the Western Ghats in India.

Having lived (and nearly died) and worked in India for four years, it is perhaps unsurprising that Mum listed T.S. Eliot among her influences. In her biography of one of the 20th century’s major poets, Cleo McNelly Kearns noted that T.S. Eliot was deeply influenced by both Indic traditions and religion. Hinduism, she claimed, formed the foundation for his philosophy and thought processes and in particular the Upanishads (the late Vedic Sanskrit texts that form the basis of later Hindu philosophy), a copy of which was found among Mum’s books after she died.

Some of Mum’s poems were written as academic exercises for one creative writing course or another, others were written from the heart during some of the most painful moments of Mum’s life, following the loss of her husband to three brain haemorrhages and dementia and the subsequent financial and personal and family crises that followed.

The book’s title also comes from her poem, “My song for My Saviour”. Mum often spoke about how she would experience the presence of God as a scent, particularly in moments of darkness. Many memories of her childhood in Malaya and work in India were wrapped up in the perfumes of native flowers and trees, and one of her great luxuries was the perfume Mitsouko by Guerlain. “My song is perfume” seemed apt.

I have arranged these poems into four sections, each named after lines from the same poem. The first section, “My song is my brokenness”, gathers eight poems where you can almost feel the pain and anguish. This is offset by the second section, “My song is hope in the darkness”, which explores the love of God and faith that sustained and gave hope to Mum throughout her life. In the third section, “My song is blueness, sapphires and the sun”, Mum leads us on a journey through the landscape that helped shape her life, the Border hills and rivers and beyond. The final section, “My song is ribbons of rainbow hue”, contains her remaining poems that draw attention to the ordinary made extraordinary.

My song for My Saviour

by Rosalie J Saunders

“My song is love unknown. My Saviour’s Love to me
Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.”

“All that I have comes from you — of your own I give unto you.”

My song is flowers of every colour,
            harebells, hyacinth, roses, orchids.
My song is perfume, sandalwood, samsara, pine
            green feathers of larch, chestnut candles, lime.
My song is a field mouse, my old cat’s purr,
            parakeets, monkeys, frogs’ eyes of amber.
My song is the sky awash with pink.
My song is dishes piled high in the sink.

My song is tears, raw wounds and pain,
            potatoes, rhubarb, and the thunder of rain.
My song is Kashmir, snow, lotus, chinar
            Jalna wells, bullock carts, saris, sitars.
My song is the city, architecture, the Queen
            cardboard box houses, meths, drugs, the Aids scene.
My song is holding the hand of the dying.
My song is delivering the new-born crying.

My song is bright satin ribbons of rainbow hue
            hope in the darkness, reminiscent of you.
My song is a boy child, died before living.
            a marriage, for better, for worse, loving and giving.
My song is blueness, sapphires, the sun,
            pearls, and pebbles smooth from the burn.
My song is your shield to scoop up abuse.
My song is my brokenness, displayed for your use. My song is washing, fresh in the wind;
            water and lavender; the honeybees’ sound.
My song is bare branches, pruned for fruit,
            heartbreak and anger, volcanic soot.
My song is the clearing of faeces and vomit;
            hugs from our children; I thank you for it.
My song is unpolished, unfinished too
but the essence of it all, is my love for you.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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