I walk smiling out of the sunlight into my favorite little cafe, let my eyes (or rather my glasses) adjust to the change in light and look around. There she is, a touch of red in her black hair today, coffee already in front of her, head bent over a book. I grab a coffee myself before I walk over. She looks up when my shadow falls across her book. Then she smiles, puts it aside and says:
“Hello, hello! There you are, Margaret. Sit down.” She waves at the chair across from her, moves her coffee out of my way. “It’s been so long, too long, since we got together – good to see you! How’ve you been?”
I put my cup down quickly – it’s burning my fingers. “Good. And busy! Drawing, painting, writing, boat stuff, book stuff, grandparenting, life… You?”
“Busy too. There’s never enough time, is there?” She looks expectantly at the bag I’ve put on the small table. “Now – what is this book whereof you have been speaking? You’ve been building my expectations…”
I pull my slim volume out, hand it to her. My hand is only shaking a little bit. “Here.” Pause. Deep breath. Quick prayer. “So. What do you think? Islands, ten paintings, ten poems I wrote based on them, paintings and poems printed side by side.” I’m babbling. I shut up and wait.
She opens it, pages through. “It looks beautiful. Such deep colours.” She stops to look and read before she looks up again. “Okay, I’ll bite. Why islands? And why ten?”
She’s always direct. That’s why I trust her. “Something to do with cruising around islands for two years. Small ones in the Bahamas, beautiful Bermuda, volcanic islands in the Azores, the Canaries, the Caribbean. Such remarkable landscapes, cliffs with so many different colours, places where islands seemed to rise straight out of the sea… So much raw beauty to work with. Of course, I injected a touch of imagination here and there.”
She laughs. “Just a touch?”
I smile back. “Maybe more? And ten because it’s a nice, round number to put into a small book. Besides, I already had ten island-themed paintings.”
“Hmm.” She nods. “Because the paintings were from that show you had?”
My turn to nod. “Ah, you remember. Yes, and because Edward Gajdel made me such high quality images of the paintings. He did a remarkable job of capturing the colours and textures, don’t you think?”
She looks again, pauses at a couple of pages. “Yes, he did.” She reads, looks up again. “And these poems? Where did they come from?”
Friends say I’m like an onion. I decide to peel away another layer. “Did I ever tell you I used to write poems when I was a teenager? You know the kind, full of storm and drama. Then when I was about sixteen I decided I didn’t have much to write about. So I stopped. Seemed reasonable. After that, except for the occasional odd – sometimes very odd – explosion of verse, I didn’t write any for years. But a few years ago a friend in a writing group challenged the rest of us to try writing different kinds of verse. How could I resist? I tried.”
“You did, eh? Somehow I don’t think these are the poems you wrote then.”
I smile. “Nope. I wrote some pretty terrible verses, several bad haiku, threw bunches of words together and counted syllables. But the bug was back; next thing I knew I was actually working at it. You know – rewriting, reconsidering, changing things about. I even started reading poems out loud to hear how they sounded, how words and lines fit together. Or didn’t.”
She rests her chin on her hands, considers. “Crazy! But that does sound like you. Never quite satisfied…”
Is that me? In which world? “Maybe… You remember those not-very-good haiku I wrote to go with the paintings in the show? Seemed like a good idea at the time. Then I put them on my blog. Another ‘good idea at the time’. But then I wrote better poems, so I decided to go back and “update” what I had written.” A pause, a sip of lukewarm coffee. Should I confess how much I came to dislike my own words? “Luckily not many people noticed. If anyone. I love being able to update! Don’t you?”
She laughs. “Would be nice if we could just ‘update’ other things in our lives.” She holds her cup in both hands, looks at me consideringly. “Okay, so that’s paintings, prints and poetry. And islands. Now – why a book?”
Should I tell her how often I thought about making this book, how many times I started and stopped? No… “A book felt like a good way to share my work – it’s smaller, less expensive, totally portable and more shareable than paintings or prints, and my poetry can be part of it. I mean, I love those very expensive coffee table art books, but I wanted something smaller, closer to a chapbook. That’s how I came up with ‘For We Are Islands’.”
I point to the book in front of her. “See? A book you can hold, turn the pages, read through, linger here or there. Think you would like one?” I hold my breath; she’d better answer soon or I might faint.
She lets me wait before she smiles, answers. “I do. You’re saying can I actually buy one?”
Sweet relief. I breathe again. “Yup. Online. I’ll send you a link, and before you know it you’ll have your very own copy. So how about we celebrate with a sweet treat? I’ll buy.”
She likes it! She really likes it! (and here it is)
“Thank you. One of those delicious-looking date squares would be nice. And another coffee? Now finish yours before it gets cold.”
I sip. “Oops, too late!”
We laugh. At least our laughter is always warm.
Thank you, Kev, for allowing me to share this little excursion. I really appreciate the opportunity! Maybe you’d like to come along next time?