Lately I find myself obsessed by skies. Skies that are purest blue, or thunderous grey. Pale grey skies with just a hint of sunlight breaking through like mother of pearl. Sunsets that are flame, or coral, or salmon. Skies that are tinged green where blue meets gold. Clouds like flaked fish, or in wave-like formations. Skies that are never the same from one day to the next.
I think it's the flatness of where I live that makes the sky look so vast. Not for nothing was an anthology of Canterbury poems named Big Sky
I try to photograph the sky, but the format isn't right. Sky photographs should be long and thin, and spread right across the room, instead of being confined to a 6 inch by 4 inch frame. And then, there always seem to be buildings and electricity wires in the way.
I look, and try to remember exactly what the sky looked like, but I never do, except in very general terms. We just don't have the memory for clouds in the same way as we do for faces. There are six billion faces on earth, and the human brain is equipped to distinguish each from the others. (Although I have trouble, myself, with twins). It's just as well that we can't do this except for faces. Our brains would be so huge that our necks couldn't hold our heads up. I'm visualising cartoon figures with tiny bodies and enormous heads. Not a pretty sight.
Thinking about clouds reminded me of how a couple of years back, I was pondering similar thoughts about the shapes of leaves, and wrote this poem:
The Shapes of Leaves
Oak I know, and maple,
three or four varieties.
Chestnut, poplar, willow,
the speckled ngaio, waxy taupata,
and kowhai delicate as raindrops.
A dozen or two altogether,
Think of faces – of the six billion
on earth, they say, most of us
can distinguish each one
and name hundreds
Consider how each tree
bears a cast of thousands - each leaf
as individual as a face,
the tip curved more or less,
a nick, a tear, the pattern of veins
as individual as a thumbprint.
Imagine knowing each one –
think of spring, not as the return
of the familiar, but a welcome
to characters entirely new
Imagine the grief each autumn -
the farewell to countless old friends,
the showers of golden tears
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