“My mother’s dreams were premonitions… her seeing was not so much visual as inward and imaginary.”
Dad’s bifocal lenses were windows onto a world which he translated as carefully as a lexicographer, syllable by syllable, making sense of it. Each tonal hatch-mark corresponded to a point on an invisible but ever-present grid, a mental facility he carried round with him like perfect pitch. Extending his arm he’d stop us in the street, and squint. How many paces to the lamppost? His shirtsleeves would be wet with turpentine, his jacket pocket spewing paint-stained handkerchiefs.
I do not have his tactile gift, and instead of acute eyes I have ears. I listen on quiet thresholds, and stare into the night, waiting for a line of melody or slice of verse. I metre my life not in paint, but in tune and tone and rhythm, and image it through ideas developed from abstractions in the dark, like photographs – not painted by the human hand. When I extend my arm it is with the horsehair of a pernambuco bow, not a sable paintbrush, and with the years I find that I use a little less vibrato.
My father had a seeing sense. Insight and outsight, sight sensed through the two round lenses of his (old, always old) tortoiseshell spectacles. I may not be a practical person, or good with tools, but now I have the varifocals. Too much monastic stitching by candlelight, and too many hours reading with torches in the dorms. I have the glasses, and the nicotine traces scattered like Dad’s paint dabs in my DNA. Perhaps I will one day acquire the knack of seeing life in all its solid shape and colour, and not just hearing it, a quarter-tonal answer blowing in the wind. Perhaps I will wake at dawn and see the world grown newly gold and green, offered by the eternal alchemist. Perhaps I will even, like my painter father, and against the odds, see sense.
MAY 2019 Catherine Coldstream MONK