Saturday, February 12, 2011


This is a picture of my brother Alan and I sitting on the top step of my maternal grandparent's swimming pool, c. 1963. When we were little, he and I went everywhere, did everything together; I adored him.

Alan died twenty-seven years ago today. I was at Art School in London when the phone call came. My first words to my father when I picked up the receiver in old Ms. Turner's bedroom were "Dad. It's Alan, isn't it?" For the two weeks preceding his death, I was dogged by a sense of unease, of premonitory knowing; I slept turbulently and dreamed nightly of fires and fireplaces. The day before I'd left Johannesburg for the UK, I'd spent a couple of hours with Alan in his furniture-renovation workshop; I'd taken my camera along with me but he didn't want to be photographed, so I took a series of images of the windows and skylights in his space instead. In the days before he died, I felt a burning need to place these photographs up on the wall in the little alcove next to my bed; each morning and before turning my light out at night, I would kiss the middle and index fingers on my right hand, then transfer the kiss to each of these images in turn. In the printmaking studio at Art School, I began work on a lithograph of one of Alan's skylights. I had a strange and strong sense of him being 'around' - so much so that one late afternoon, certain I'd seen him on the other side of The King's Road, I waved my arms about and called out his name before weaving myself through the peak hour traffic to reach him. Of course, it was not Alan I had seen but a young man surprised by a stranger's impulse to lay her hand on his shoulder.




You warmed my blood
for years I kept an eye 
on you. Now I tell myself
Death at least is
an honest continent
a simple compost
of history and bones. 


Chisel an altar 
out of mourning.

When stone thaws 
and herons dream

unbind your feet 
and sign yourself.  

CB 2006

Ali-B  - we remember. 


  1. I feel some anxiety about posting this - am in two minds about whether to leave it here or disappear it. I'm aware that our real-life stories can be discomforting to others and I so don't want to unsettle any of my loving readers. But then I tell myself that loss is a part of life we have in common; it is as much a part of our shared journey as our joys, wonderings and small observations. I guess I just want to let you know that I'm not asking for anything here; I think I'm just needing to give myself permission to speak about this - to uncover this part of my relationship with my brother. He was born without a carapace and life asked much of him. Often it seemed to ask way too much of him.

    To remember Alan is to honour him, I know. My own family is going through a difficult, 'weight-bearing' period right now and in my bid to understand myself and my loved ones better, I am endeavoring to not leave any old stones unturned. But, ouch - - - real-life material such as this can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable. Your loving pebbles would be much appreciated )o( . Thank you - C xo

  2. dear claire,
    i had to respond right away. this is the subject matter that lies in the very center of my own heart, and i urge you to sit easy, or if not easy, at least without regret with posting it. so many of us share this: love and loss, and the gift and sorrow of being the one left behind to tell the story.
    you were his sister for his whole life; and he will be your brother for your whole life.
    (i apologize for deleting and reposting. too many typos)

  3. There is no void to hang your heart except the void within. If you've demonstrated anything it's that you bring the absolute fullness of life with you everywhere you go: those who know you know this and they will rally.

  4. Claire, your story of intense love and loss is heart-wrenching. You have honored him beautifully. To speak of Alan is to still cherish him but it is the beginning of true healing for you. Not the same as forgetting. And perhaps like leavening in bread, his life and death and your telling of it will lighten your suffering. We will sit by and hold your hand when you wish it. )0(

  5. Hello claire... this is a beautiful post. I feel it keeps me close to my sister when I write about her.. and so I do unabashedly..if that's a word.. may the force be with you..

  6. Deeply honouring, deeply loving, Claire. We are soul-linked to our brothers, wherever they are. XXX

  7. A courageous post, Claire, and a beautifully moving one.

    Poets bare our very making and, necessarily so, we expose those who made us in the process. Don't feel anxious for that. There is no shame in remembering.

  8. Thank you for your tender ache posting claire. I have loved meeting more of Alan again as your share him with us. I love the photo of the two of you together. Pam xo

  9. Dear Susan
    I wish I had been back here earlier and had seen that you'd been here not long after I added my little addendum comment. . . your response was - is - so immediate and loving. I know you know what it is to lose a brother. I felt the same when I saw your photograph of Mark beaming beside his bicycle. I love what you say about us being their sisters as long as they live, and they being our brothers as long as we do. Their memory is not to carried as a heavy weight but set free to fly - and sometimes, walk quietly alongside.
    Thank you for your encouragement to 'speak'; no regrets. Love, C xo

  10. Dear John - being part of this circle makes most things seem possible, valid, safe - the group nudges us forwards, towards fullness. I know you know this. Thank you.
    Sala Kahle, John ('stay well' - Zulu).

  11. Dear Melissa
    Part of the healing journey needs to be made in silence, in one's private room and part of it needs to be spoken, I agree. I have written poems to Alan at irregular intervals (perhaps twelve) since 1984. Each one has a different weight and tone; together they make a fairly full portrait, I think. The one I have posted here today is the last one. When I reached the end of it, it felt as though something had come full circle, as though a chapter was complete and all concerned, at peace. I have been a slow learner, but perhaps not too slow? A moment or two's hand-holding would be lovely, thank you. xo

  12. Striking imagery here especially the second half of the first stanza. Very effective.

    A lot of people are wary about publishing stuff they think too personal but there's nothing that's happened to any of us that someone out there (probably more than we imagine or are comfortable with) will understand.

  13. I like how it placed me within the perspective you offered. I could feel the traffic before going across the street and sensed the love and compassion when you touched your photos with a kiss.Very nicely done Claire.

    I posted one about how I get called after a death by family I have offered extended care to. I wasn't sure how to share, should I remember the deceased or the imagery I recieved from the family?

  14. Claire, thank you for sharing this with us in such a poetic form. It takes courage to do so.
    No one escapes loss.

    Pebbles on water and increasing concentric circles rippling outward...

  15. The picture is so poignant. Your love and obvious compassion for your brother is the stuff of life. I'm sorry he is gone.

  16. Hello, Jane - welcome! And thank you, for your response here and because your arrival here meant a link to the wonderful site you have created in honour of your sister, Pam. . . your conversations with her, alive and resonant. L, C

  17. Pen - yes, the links remain - no matter all the conventional time/space restrains. Love and thanks, Claire x

  18. Dear Rachel
    I appreciate how you've expressed this. . . we bare our making and in the process bare those who were instrumental in our making? You are right, there is no need to be anxious. It is as it is. Thank you.

  19. Dear Pam - there's a labyrinth of rooms, isn't there? Some we visit easily and often, some have open doors all the time, others we have to prize open with a sledgehammer? This one - the 'brother' one - opens and closes more easily than once upon a time.
    This photo is one of my favourites of the two of us as carefree kids. I love the energy in it, the sweet spark of innocence and uncomplicated connection. I can still feel that sun-warmed water on my skin. Love, C xo

  20. Claire,
    I think our real-life stories are all we have. We are all friends here at heart. What better place to remember your loving brother than in a room full of beautiful hearts. I am very touched by this. I've been closed off and uncomfortable in my own skin the past week for reasons that are so much a part of my history and so much not a part of me; I've been avoiding letting anything come right in to the core of me.
    And now I'm crying because this post just went right under any gate I'd put up. I didn't even feel like stopping it.
    I think you have a beautiful heart. And I wish you comfort and warm tea and the most beautiful sunset over your waters.
    love, love and more love

    w.v. allin (close isn't it?)

  21. xxoo, from the other side of the earth.

  22. This is haunting and so beautiful. I am wondering whether you know of Anne Carson's book/poetry/piece of art about her own brother's death.

  23. I am glad you left the post for us to read, to know Alan and what he continues to mean to you. The mind is too frequently busy with its editor's pencil, little clucks of disapproval, cautions about stepping over some imagined line. Love and loss will not discomfort us. We will grieve or celebrate with you.

    The presence so real you hurried across the road, how that touched me. Exposed and vulnerable is the only way we can share ourselves with each other. Anything else is just dry toast. )O( xo

  24. Hi Jim - I think what you say is true; there's nothing we can write about that someone else out here has not experienced or been in contact with. The wellspring that's available to us as source, inspiration, origin of dreams, contains gnarlier realities, too - disfunction, suffering, death. Our lives are in many ways uncommonly common - or commonly, uncommon?

    'Death at least is an honest continent, a simple compost of history and bones?' It's all part of life, the big picture, not so. . .

    Sending warmth your way, Jim. I hope all is well with you and Carrie.

  25. Hi Steve - I went over to your blog to read your post about the loss you've mention here. What touched me (and I will say this again there) is the way you described the journey, the simple-yet-urgent business of leaving home to be there. No matter the weather or what you were doing at the time the call came. Your response was blessedly right, I think.

    Thanks for your full response here. L, C

  26. Dear Splendid Constellation (AC for short)

    I appreciate your pebbles and the concentric circles, emanating outwards - thank you.

    No one escapes loss. One of life's truths, yet somehow one that's hard to grasp. Perhaps the trick/the solution is not to try and grasp it, but more simply 'just' know it? (Like so many of these things, easier said than done, but def. worth practicing?).

    A pebble with ripples for you, too - (((((((O))))))) L, C

  27. Dear Maggie May - there is such potency in your words, I am sorry he is gone'. Me, too. And thank you.

    Hugs to you, beautiful Ever and fam. oo

  28. Dear RachelvB - I love what you say about us all being friends here in the heart. This is true. It is how and why we found each other.
    I have been aware of you wrestling in past days - was talking with my daughter about therapy last night and we agreed that we can sometimes be like a cow with four stomachs. We chew and swallow, pass the chaff to the next chamber where it gets processed a little further before being passed into the next where it gets broken down a little more, then further fermented in the fourth stomach. The miraculous thing (or so it seems to me) is that by the time it's reached a stage where we can easily metabolize it, it is expelled, returned to earth in the form of grass. And then we cart it off to out garden to fertilize the plants that are springing up to meet the sunshine. Rain comes and before we know it we are looking at a verdant landscape. What. Miracles surround us and are in us.
    Take heart, dear Rachel - there is time and pace for everything. (Yes, pace - and space). Much love, Claire xo

  29. Dear T. - xxoo to you on your side of your planet, too. A steady stream, a stepping stone bridge, a rainbow ; )

  30. Hello Elizabeth (lovely to find you here - thanks for coming. We have met before, in other places). I haven't read Anne Carson's work before, no - but I will! I've just Googled her; riches await. . . Thank you for the introduction.

    Here's a good link for anyone interested in finding out more about Anne Carson and her work -

  31. Dear Marylinn - ah, yes, our inner critics too often subdue us, don't they? I like your (much) more expressive description - our 'editor's pencil, little clucks of disapproval, cautions about stepping over some imagined line. . .'

    Heaven forbid we offer each other burnt toast. You are so right, Marylinn - to stick with husks, crumbs and cinders would be to praise limitation, deficit and paucity, when what we continue to choose each and every day is in celebration of capacity, heart, fullness.

    Thank you, as always. Love, Claire xo

  32. addendum: i ordered and just received the anne carson book, NOX, about her brother.
    made me want to do, or collaborate on, a book about
    lost brothers.
    (maybe it's because of the lost brother that makes me yearn for collaborative work. you've got that inclination, too, claire, i think.)

    (tenting under the stars)


  33. Dear Susan, tenting beneath the stars - wow. You just turned a torch light on. . . lost brothers + a pull towards collaboration. I have never thought of it in this way before, but what perfect sense this makes. I feel lit up by the gift of this new insight. Thank you, thank you. (And I'm sorry I've only just found your later comment here.x).

    A book on Lost Brothers would be fascinating indeed - I think we keep finding/meeting our brothers in various ways and via different encounters as we journey through life. Would you agree? Such a defining relationship it was. It still is.

    Much love, C xx