‘It’s all well and good, this poetry phase you are going through, but please tell me you’re nearly through it. What’s it all about anyway? All that wandering and maundering. And those ghosts? Are they real? –By which I mean, I know they’re not real, but do you think they’re real? When are you going to get this poem business out of your system? How many more of them have we to read? Two more posts. If you must. But could you not go back to the old stuff. To the writing. To sentences. To prose. To something straightforward, something simple. I know it’s your blog, and all that, and I’m not going to tell you what to write, but the state of the country might be a good place to start. Surely there is something to be said about the embarrassing chaos those clowns have made of it all. It’s unbelievable.’
I tell him I don’t do politics and, after he’s gone, I get thinking. Life has been quiet lately, but I could write about my cold sore. That’s something simple. Yes, I could write about that. Poem versus cold sore. Truss versus Johnston. Some choices leave you flummoxed. I could describe how the beginnings of the cold sore felt last weekend before the tingle came to call. First, I felt listless and heavy-lidded, my actual eyeballs ached, as if toxins were leaching from them. It always begins with the eyes; the whites of my eyes look like something that has been put through the wrong wash and have sucked in the leaked colour from, say, a rogue yellow sock. My eyes are a tainted snow-melt white, nicotine-stained white, water-marked white. Travel in behind my eyes, down through all the pipes and pistons and inner workings of my body, and I can imagine that everything in there is struggling.
Then the sluggish, tired feeling deepens, and I notice what I had thought was a spot is actually more of a blister and it dawns on me that the dormant, hateful virus has been aroused. For me (for everyone?), it is germinated by excess physical stress on my body. Others can put themselves through the same physical test, then rest and sleep and steady themselves and be well, but my body is prone to misunderstanding my limits. Frustratingly, it under-estimates and over-reacts to a shot of exercise (in this case, a mildly punishing Pilates session) I should be able to handle. ‘No!’ my body screams. ‘What have you done to me?’ And off it goes like the fan on an old car whose engine over-heats, my immune system working full throttle, my self-regulator shocking itself, eating itself, hating itself, and doing this to me.
It’s not even a particularly large cold sore, yet it feels enormous from the squirming and churning and tickling going on under the surface. I visualise a disgusting image of larvae under my skin, eggs hatching, worms or maggots breaking through, something embryonic bursting out. It is active and alive and, for something so small, it steals every drip and drop of energy for a few days before it appears, and then entirely wipes my battery when it breaks through.
The day it breaks through is the day I break down. It ruptures with the determination (but none of the beauty) of the first winter snowdrops breaching the earth. It seeds sickness in my body, capsizes my spirit, drinks all my power, tranquilizes me, leeches my vitality — all to keep itself alive. I capitulate, climb into bed, lie in the semi-darkness of curtain-drawn daytime and flounder. This is the day I decide I will never have the power or inclination to write again. This is the day my friend calls and asks how my writing is going, and I tell her it is going, going, gone. This is the day I tell her all my energy has vaporised. I tell her I cannot think, never mind write. She quotes Bukowski’s gravestone epitaph: ‘Don’t try’. I don’t even have the energy not to try, I tell her. I don’t have the energy to sleep. I have a cold sore! I say, losing all perspective, all proportion, all measure of my passing predicament.
A blog about my cold sore. Perfect. I hope he’s pleased with it.