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Orbit the Sun

A drawing a day for a year and six days
One earth orbit
of the sun

The year dad died


 

Photography by Bernie Carr

The Little White Shift

It is a simple white cotton shift, delicately worked with white embroidery, tied beneath the breasts with a soft sky blue ribbon. Mum gave it to me, her mother gave it to her, but maybe before that it came from her Grandma - Mum’s not sure. 

It's a birthing gown. Mum wore it for the birthing of all five of us. Untie the ribbon and it opens to the lower belly. If you are the doctor, place your hand between shift and skin and her modesty is preserved - feel your way around the belly - it’s an unveiling through touch - feeling for the life inside the vessel that is her. I think of her giving birth - silently, not a squeak - that was the correct way in the 50s. And the man - I know he was impatient and unsympathetic to pain - with all that authority in his white coat. The thought is unpleasant but Mum wouldn't complain - he brought all us kids safely into the world. Thinking of him causes a longing in me for the time of the matriarch. 

 

 

Birthing - it’s a process of shedding really. The snake knows how to do that - shedding its skin at regular intervals when it becomes too small for the body inside. The snake is credited with cosmic abilities of creation and regeneration as a result - along with its capacity to go into and out of the earth - in and out of the Mother - now that's divine. 

But back to birthing. The baby sheds the mother or is it the mother shedding the baby? And in that infinite moment there is the shedding of the skin of self - where all is interconnected. She is shedding like a flower - petals - physical and metaphysical - opening, falling, to reveal the seed. The outer-most petal, the gown... 

And I am to wear the gown next - for the last time. 

When I try it on I feel beautiful - pure - unadulterated. There is a sense of anticipation. It’s the white. Mix all the colours of the spectrum together in light and you get white - mix them in matter and you get black. It’s the colour of a rite of passage - the colour of death. The bride wears white at weddings to denote the death of her old life, but an understanding of the reasons why we have traditions is no longer part of our tradition. 

White - love - life - death - illumination. Or is it the white light of oblivion? 

The gown is simple - a white cotton shift over a naked body - the body has to be naked beneath the shift. It's patterned with tiny white embroidered flowers so reduced in form they could be stars. I like this - we are all made of stardust, scientists tell us - everything is - including the earth itself, or herself depending on your perspective. All - everything - forged in the furnaces of collapsing stars - matter transformed then drawn together again through gravitational force. It's wondrous. 

So, this little white shift - my mother’s - patterned with star flowers: her birthing gown - my burial garment. From dust to dust. 

In 1943, T.S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding: 

We shall not cease from exploration 

And the end of all our exploring


Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time. 

 

I wonder ... will this be the experience of death - to know our beginning anew at the moment life is extinguished? ❖ 

 

 janelle mendham WRITING + DRAWING  an Anthology of Artists writing 

Photography by Simon Cuthbert

Threnody

 

He looks like a bird of prey – sharp features in profile. Lips

and eyes shut unnaturally tight. Skin shrunken over form.

There is nothing of my dad here. It takes me a long time to

find the courage to touch him – to stroke his brow how I

imagined I would – I know he will be cold – I am afraid.

He is cold – ice cold – no softness in the skin – it feels like

marble – clean, polished, cold, hard stone – and damp.

Tentatively I check his hand – maybe I could curl my finger

beneath his – no – this entire body is carved from one slab.

This isn't rigor mortis – that should have passed by now – I

think it’s because he's been frozen like meat in a freezer.

They’ve closed his jaw – tight – maybe they tied a ribbon

beneath his jaw and over the top of his head – and how come

his eyes and lips seem to turn inward? What pressure did

that? Internal – external? Bushy eyebrows – I remember hair

grows after you die – ahh – but his hair – it's so soft and I love

its whiteness.

my god this music is awful                                   

turn it off                                   

ignore it                                   

Mum said when she saw Aunty Dell's body she looked like an

angel. Dad doesn’t look like an angel – even with his own

face he doesn't look like himself. I am reminded of a portrait

of his grandfather – also Frederick – his face was like Dad’s

only his eyes were hard, severe – maybe this corpse could

pass for Dad’s granddad.

So this 'magnificent man' (I loved Paddy for calling him that)

was mortal. It seems unreal that I thought he wouldn't die –

of course I knew he would – but I'm still shocked. Before this

he was beautiful – very handsome once – but always

beautiful. There is none of that beauty here. This is an

epiphany for me – the beauty that was/is my dad was that

lovely spirit that brought his lu to life. This is the most

important thing and I'm not sure what it means and I don't

know the words or how to name it – but I feel warmed,

reassured – caressed into the fold

into the fold

And I'm using the word 'lu' for the first time. It's someone

else's word – The Tibetan Buddhists call their body lu – the

package that you leave behind. I remember the first time I

read this I laughed, imagining how differently we would view

existence if we referred to our body as baggage.

And now I stroke his hair and brow – I say my words to him

that I have said every time I see him – even though he isn't

there/here. I kiss his lu goodbye.

When I walk outside, the day is warm – still lu dreaming I get

into the car and see in my mind’s eye the Tibetan monks

dismembering a body – burning juniper on the side of a

mountain and laughing together. They are preparing to take

it to a place to feed the birds. Apparently this practice is

declining, and as a result the vulture population is also

declining. I once wondered how they could detach

themselves from the body they were dismembering – but

after seeing Dad’s corpse this is no longer a mystery to me. I

admire them for so generously feeding the birds and helping

the body re-enter the food chain.

Driving home – the sky is so big – I love it here – feel the pull

of this land that made me.

All bathed in a warm glow – even the landscape is golden.

Nine windmills – one of them is working.

Through Millthorpe – the road is patterned with shadows of

the grand old trees arching over the road. Graveyard and

church on the left, the fields where mum’s great aunts once

ran a dairy on the right. Mum’s childhood school on the

corner. On my last trip through that wise young boy told me

that unlike his place, this place feels like it’s morning all day

until it’s evening and then the sun sets.

I notice it feels like morning.

It’s un –

unreal – unnatural – uncharacteristically mild, warm and dry

every day – no rain. There’s another drought meeting next

week.

This place –

Where do you go after you die? Where were you before you

were born? Where is he?

The trees on the hill on the other side of the valley cast a

shadow that is exactly the same height and shape as the

trees themselves – a reflection – all in silhouette. Do their

roots have the same shape as this shadow drawing? The

invisible made visible – its roots exposed – our roots

exposed. And then I drive past that point and the perfect

symmetry is destroyed – the magic gone.

In the centre of the dining table – a pile of rose petals at the

base of an arrangement

little shell shaped cups fallen into – onto – each other

deepest red with the tiniest dash of yellow and white

at the throat of each petal.

The promise of a velvety touch –

delicate

so easily bruised.

Rose petals showering over skin

flowing in cascades

silk rippling

a kiss

a feather brush

pink and red from inside darkness

their scent

beautiful

sweet and sad

his colour

red.

janelle mendham DARK CAVE #2

many thanks


Exhibition
Schoolhouse Gallery, Rosny 
Exhibition colleagues -
 Drawn into the Unknown


WRITING + DRAWING - an anthology of artists writing
(limited edition)
editors Ruth Hadlow and Marinelle Basson
desktop publishing - Diane Perndt and Penny Carey Wells 


In-situ performative reading. writing & drawing
a collaboration with Christl Berg and Ruth Hadlow

 
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