Weekly Summary or Cambridge Through the Eyes of Children

I finally took a couple of days off work and visited Cambridge with my sons. I suppose somewhere deep inside I was hoping to inspire them. I was inspired to apply to Oxbridge by the sight (when I was visiting England for the first time at the age of 14) of a random girl coming out of a college house in her gown opposite Magdalen College in Oxford and waving to the porter there.

Newnham College – or my favourite shortcut.

We stayed in university rooms (although sadly, not in my college, because it doesn’t allow any under 18s), walked everywhere and chatted about the pros and cons of a Cambridge education. I was very pleased that they fell in love with some of my favourite haunts: Heffers, Grantchester Meadows and The Orchard Tea Gardens, the gardens of Selwyn and Wolfson, even the atmosphere at The Eagle.

The romantic backs, which makes Cambridge feel so much quieter than Oxford.

The tourists were over-abundant and every college seemed to be under construction or renovation. The cakes at Fitzbillies were no longer quite as delicious as those of yore, and the (non-formal hall) food at my old college was still reassuringly bad.

Still my intellectual home, which meant so much to me.

I have talked before about how much Cambridge meant to me at the time: intellectual and physical freedom after being cooped up under the Communist regime; lifelong friends; unforgettable memories. But what did it mean to the boys?

The gardens of Selwyn.

Well, they said they liked it but when asked what they liked about it, they were unable to elaborate. They clearly have not inherited my capacity to gush! Perhaps, as someone once said about the glorious architecture of the colleges, it is all wasted on the youth. After all, the colleges were built initially to accommodate (more mature) fellows.

 

The Barbican Centre, 20 Years On

English: Barbican Arts Centre
English: Barbican Arts Centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

I went to London recently and walked through the Barbican Centre on a balmy evening. All of a sudden, I remembered the first time I had come here, when I was still new to England and to Western ways of being.

Was it November or February?

We were down from Cambridge for the day.

Nights fell early, that I do know.

A few lost flakes of snow found us embracing on terraces

as we meandered through endless walkways.

Twenty years and we still haven’t found the play or entrance to the theatre.

How we giggled as yet another dead end loomed,

never thinking that soon

we would face our own

blocked corridors, no-exit wounds.

London, Barbican Centre at night
London, Barbican Centre at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We practiced our dancing by the lakeside, exulting

in winter dearth of its fountains

no parallels no metaphors

to make our ballroom steps falter.

Twenty years and yet

your hand feels warm

wrapped around mine, safety illusory.

Today the fountains are trumpeting water and sound

to fill hearts with peace, minds with Zen chanting.

There are still summer cadences to this September lull.

My life? Oh, turned out fair to middling,

not as deeply blissful as I once glimpsed

through our entwined limbs on narrow college bed.

So why do I stop to ripple out, retreat,

why allow my heart to drum out aching beats?

Barbican Centre fountains
Barbican Centre fountains

You see, I was hoping

that you too might never have felt such joy since,

such lust-laden satiety.

But now I think it likely

you have, and more than once,

it’s just me

who lingers on borders of might have beens

slurping in nostalgia along with daily bread

destined to mourn not be mourned over

remember rather than be memorable.

When they open me after death

and find the wizened heart of walnut size,

they will see your name folded in tightly

source of all the dry rot

killing belief in mumbo-jumbo of twin souls.

Once, when I was twenty, I was not brave enough

to defy conventions

and go out to meet my turquoise-fired lover.

And I’ve been paying ever since.

[This is very much work in progress, only a rough initial draft of the poem. But the impression of the setting was so immediate, so vivid that it made me cry and I felt compelled to share, especially since we were asked to revisit something painful at dVerse Poets today. I’m off to read what others have written about, why don’t you join me?]