Michael Harding: It had been raining in Leitrim for four months
A slanting sun two weeks after All Souls’ Day, in the month of the dead, is one of winter’s most remarkable miracles
Michael Harding: My body had become familiar with the kind of dull grey mornings that transform the woodland into such a wet swamp that I’d expect to meet frogs the size of myself among the trees
Last week the sunlight got me out of bed. I was lying under the duvet, wondering what time it was, because it had been raining in Leitrim for four months, and my body had become familiar with the kind of dull grey mornings that transform the woodland into such a wet swamp that I’d expect to meet frogs the size of myself among the trees.
But one morning I opened my eyes and noticed a glow beyond the curtains, as if Kim Jong-un had just hit Drumshanbo with a nuclear missile and the after shock was shimmering outside the window.
I stretched my arm towards the phone to see what time it was. It was only 8am.
I opened the curtains and saw a strange light in the sky like an apron of luminous blue covering the heavens. After a moment I realised I was actually looking at the sky. This, I remembered, is what the sky looks like, when the rain finally stops. It’s blue.
Seven long miles of Lough Allen’s lovely waters glowed like the Virgin Mary’s blouse, and the mountains beyond were vivid in every fold and crevice
Even the lake was blue. Seven long miles of Lough Allen’s lovely waters glowed like the Virgin Mary’s blouse, and the mountains beyond were vivid in every fold and crevice where the streams cascaded down towards the lake, and the little white houses near Dowra glistened in the distance like a necklace of white pebbles.
To the north the windmills were as small as toothpicks, and the hills of Fermanagh were blurred in a grey haze as lovely as any summer heat wave.
I love the slanting sun in winter. It’s impossible not to embrace it. So I went into the garden, and stood beneath branches of beech leaf, yellow and copper. I was encountering an invisible world that surfaces only occasionally and which makes all the dark days in Leitrim worth while. A slanting sun two weeks after All Souls’ Day, in the month of the dead, is one of winter’s most remarkable miracles.
In that moment the universe embraced me. I surrendered to the possibility of a metaphor, and to what in medieval days might have been called god. The garden was full of debris from the great storm and I dragged a clump of fallen beech tree across the lawn, and then went inside for breakfast.
I was so happy that I even put honey on my porridge.
And Miss Peabody, the black and white cat appeared happy too. I could see her prancing along the top of the wooden fence, with a cocky swagger as if she thought she were invisible to the birds. On days like this I don’t miss the city.
Blue sky and lake
I stood long enough in the garden to allow the blue sky and lake seep into my mind. And then I went into the leisure centre in Carrick-on-Shannon with the blue inside my head.
After slipping into togs and a swimming cap I showered and stood on the tiles, and descended the little ladder into the pool as if I were descending into the lake.
And I swam as if I were swimming in the lake, or flying across the blue sky. Because when I am happy I abandon myself to poetry. Metaphors penetrate me softly like arrows penetrating a cloud.
The pool was almost empty; only me and a lifeguard, who was perched on a high chair at the far end of the space. Over and over I dived into the blue. There was no sign of the ladies who usually come in the morning for aerobics; waving their hands in the air and swivelling around in unison like seals imprisoned in an American aquarium.
An elderly lady dipped her toe into the water before lunging forward into a breast stroke. I wondered was she swimming like me, in the blue, possessed by a metaphor
I sat alone in the cloudy steam room, gazing through the glass door at the pool where an elderly lady dipped her toe delicately into the water before lunging forward into a breast stroke. I wondered was she swimming like me, in the blue, possessed by a metaphor.
She moved up and down the pool for 10 minutes looking from side to side with the gentility of a lazy duck. She too must have been wondering where everybody was.
We met briefly in the sauna.
I was perched on the top bench when she entered. She sat on the lowest bench remote from me. Her head was bowed. The electric stove creaked with heat.
The pool outside had regained its glass surface. The sun slanted through the glass wall.
The old lady didn’t speak. And then she left, and I heard her deck shoes squeaking as she made her way along the tiles to the changing rooms, their flip-flop sound fading eventually into the distance.
And then there was silence.