Last summer we spent a week in France with a couple who had spent a long time trying to get pregnant. It is something I come across on a professional basis all the time, reading how prospective adopters have had to come to terms with their multiple losses through miscarriages, failed IVF and still births until they reach a place where they are able to welcome a new child into their family with no unresolved grief. This is a grief I think we have been too slow to recognise as a society, but at last things are starting to change. I wrestle with its implications in A Child in the Middle. So to know people intimately who have been on this journey brought home to me how exhausting the struggle to conceive can be. And then to spend time with them in the last trimester of their pregnancy, to share the waiting and the hoping and the fear, that was a privilege. I don’t know why that experience was the first thing to emerge out of looking at this painting, six months later, but it was: a strong recollection of the pool beneath us, the rocks behind us and the beautiful village waiting just the other side of the lavender field.
View of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la -Mer by Van Gogh
It seems to me now that you stood at the edge of this field,
The chill deep still blue pool at your feet,
fortresses of impenetrable rock at your back,
black, because the light had left them lifeless.
It seems to me now that you stood at the edge of a field,
your rented house a halfway sort of place,
some shutters open, glasses half full on the terrace,
on the table an unlit candle and a box of matches.
You stood at the edge of a field of impossible beauty.
Did the artist know that lavender is the flower
of healing? Did you? Each immaculate row
a promise of serenity, an offer of a kinder future.
It seems to me now that you stood at the edge of a field
and caught a glimpse of a mythical city, an Ithaca,
where after such long isolation, the men in the square
were building a bandstand, ready for the dancing.
It seems to me now that you have a view of this field
from your home, with its warm red roof
and smells of cooking, and your baby’s cries
mingling with the clattering of pans and parents
summoning their children from the streets to the table,
and bells chiming the call to mass and dusk dogs barking.
Now, you lie awake at night just to listen to him breathing.