The Story Behind the Poem by Emma Blas
i don't have to believe in jesus
to know that i will be saved
it is a thousand miles of sky
from night, to cool white, then grey,
black to night, and into blue.
the whole damn way the trees are breathing
into the space beneath the clouds;
and if they keep breathing
all hot, eggs-boiling-dry
in the pan hot, all sandpaper stripping
at the walls hot, all shower turned up to max
can’t open the windows, -hot,
if they keep breathing that throaty deep
gravel up from a chest that can’t get enough
air, - deep, and a back of the mouth that’s gone dry
wanting to do that old type
of easy, naive breathing
we used to do, before we started holding
in our breath when the phone rang,
when clouds had the depth to hold a daydream,
when they weren’t just a wallpapered sky;
then, finally, the walls will sweat
instead of me,
something will break free
and someone will call my name,
i will turn and i will smile,
for i will know i am named.
Spain was just emerging from a particularly strict house arrest form of lockdown, in the middle of June 2020, where it had locked all its residents in their houses for 6 weeks. Not even allowed out for exercise, even Dog walkers were fined for being found more than 100 metres away from their homes. I was so grateful for the garden and the small paddock next to the house. I could walk around and around it, stick in hand, avoiding the ram who went from being a scared and meek, very un-ram like thing, to a dominating and aggressive one. One time he came at me whilst I walked the perimeter and rammed me on the thigh. I later learned, rubbing the tender bruise on my leg, that it’s OK to chatter away at female sheep, to feed them by the hand, but never to do this with a ram. And if, like me, you have a tendency to witter away to yourself, and the flora and the fauna, whilst gardening, - then whatever you do, don’t look a ram in the eyes.
Going into town was like emerging from a particularly uncomfortable cocoon, part liberation, part still feeling strange and peculiar. The eyes conveying so much more than they had to before, I realized how much I relied on the mouth for social and interpersonal cues, let alone understanding a foreign language. The sun was shining, the water in the harbour shimmering hypnotically and then a text message from my mother in the family chat. “Are you both free in 5 mins for a chat.” Innocuous on the surface, we are not a group chat family and my stomach lurched a little.
So, it was I found myself driving 1,000 miles through Spain and France, as the only way to get back to the UK, whilst the majority of borders were closed for all but the most essential travel. So it was I found myself a highly concentrated bags of nerves, focused entirely on one thing. Keep driving. Get back to the UK. See Dad. It was 3 days / nights of straight driving in my little old camper van. The whole way the sky was strange. Or maybe it was normal and I was strange. Everything was different.
On the last night, I pulled up to the car park of a beautiful public walking site as sunset was arriving. There was this space between the tree line and the bottom of the clouds. I could almost see the trees breathing out into the atmosphere. Because now breathing had stopped being this automatic, unconscious thing we all did, to become something very front of mind, something my Dad was struggling to do. My mind was casting about for something to pin the blame for the cancer on. It was pulling images out from my childhood and throwing them up on the walls of my memories, like spaghetti to see if anything would stick. The smoking, the sanding down and painting cars, all the things I didn’t know from his life before me. Sifting through the scenes of family life. There were always eggs boiling in the pan, the cats running down the back garden at dinner time, my parents always redecorating, - trying to steam off the old woodchip wallpaper I would find patterns in; - me sticking my thumbnail into the middle of the chips because it was soft and welcoming, and it felt good to cut into that.
It was seven months after that phone call when we lost him. Three months since I had that last chance to tell him I love him. I still feel like I’m holding my breath. Still someone is squeezing my own chest. I can’t say I’m not waiting to hear him say my name one more time. I can’t say once would be enough. I can’t say I even know who I am any more without being his daughter.
Maybe because this is about losing a father, losing the one who knew how to (literally) fix everything, this was also about coming into my own sovereignty, and my own faith, in something greater than me, and also in myself. I am stepping into being my own saviour, and it started by tackling a thousand miles of sky.
Written by Emma Blas