Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns

Letter to Aurora

September7

Dear Aurora

There is one of your play block’s sitting on my writing desk.I found it under the couch in the T.V room the day after you left.

It was lying there with a lonely sheep piece from your farmyard puzzle. Both sheep and block, separated from their respective toy flocks, forgotten amongst tumble weed clumps of dog hair and half chewed hooves. Poor things.

I rescued them both, found them a home on a shelf filled with similar precious oddities: a Saint Christopher that my grandmother kissed before dying, two clay hearts, a collection of wind- up tin toys and a picture of Jill, your great grandmother, grinning with a ciggie and glass of white wine.

It’s been a while since we saw each other. Did I tell you that I started to go a little mad after you left? That I convinced myself that the wooden play- block (the one from under the couch) was a key of some sort. Its letters, numbers and illustrations all signs, parts of a complex riddle.

I thought that if I could solve the riddle, crack the code, a portal might open up and bring us closer. I have had no luck yet, have tried every possible combination, stared long and hard at the sides: the letter O, a picture of an orange, the number 2, the letter B then a picture of a bee and the letter K. What does it mean Aurora? I’m sure the answer is simpler than I make it.

Did I tell you that your Gogo and pop- pop also went a little loopy after you left. Gogo scoured the house and filled your mosaic christening vase with mementos of your stay with us: dominoes, squashed flowers, half- bitten berries, threads of hair, lavender stems, dinosaur shaped pasta shells (wedged and fossilising between lounge pillows) and cryptic doodles left on office paper scraps.

It was, I believe, an attempt to preserve the little you we had come to know. She wanted you, one day (when the vase was broken and its contents spilt) to be reminded of a brief yet formative time when language eluded you and curiosity was your only vice..

There are still times, when sitting on my veranda, that I glance up with the hope to see your dimpled bum darting in and out of the garden sprinkler. I will never forget the sight: the podginess of you, shrieking and glistening in the early morning sunshine

Or you with your mom, small hand in big hand, coming down the path that connects my house to your grandparents.

Spring arrived a few days ago and your favourite tree full of butterflies has come fluttering back to life. Each day it blossoms with more and more animated flowers, so eager to greet the season that they can’t help but flap their pretty petals in unison.

The night nunu’s have also begun singing in the garden again, their orchestra precedes the rain and each evening is suffused with an ancient earthy aroma that sends me off to sleep.

Did I mention yet that Mango the cat misses you too? During your stay here you made him to feel like a tiger, indulged his delusions of grandeur by treating him with a flattering (and only occasionally exasperating) awe. You were his biggest fan who, like him, refused to see the garden as a contrived arrangement of shrubs and trees, vegetation kept tidy by Jackson’s tenacious shears.

Together, in your games you transformed this landscape into a jungle, thickets teeming with terrifying possibility. Your determination to spot him, to pin him down was an attempt, I believe, to situate him as an object outside your own imagination. Your patience ,squatting on chubby haunches and peering into the ferns, was rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of ginger.

As a child, I mythologized the freshwater crabs in my grandmother’s back garden on the south- coast in a similar way. Though they might have only been the size of my palm, I can’t help but remember them as something monstrous and prehistoric. Crustaceans with pincers that, given the chance, could sever a limb.

Childhood, you will be dismayed to discover sweet Aurora, plays tricks on real-life proportions. Rooms, beasts, cupboards and tables all tend to shrink as you grow.

Right now I miss you the most when I walk the dogs at the park (unable to pronounce an S and F you dubbed them Dofie and Din.) Do you remember how I would fly you in my arms down the terrace or put you on my shoulders to form the upper-half of a loping giraffe. How I once knocked your forehead on a low hanging branch and we quickly made a game out of reprimanding the trees to absolve me from all blame.

The park is certainly a sadder place without you. These days it’s a reminder of folks growing old in the suburbs. Elderly ladies and little dogs, the loss of mobility and mortality on their lips, nattering about the things they nattered about yesterday.

I often think life would be easier as a dog. Humans, Aurora, especially adult ones, are in the habit of thinking too much, either obsessing about the past or anxious for the future. Dogs (and people of your age) know or care little for a beginning or an end, they have not learnt the meaning of regret. Their needs are elementary and joy immediate (registered by a barometer of tail wags or shrieks of delight.)

My favourite elderly couple still stroll in the park twilight. They must be in their late seventies and I have never once seen them stand alone or walk separate of the other. They pace arm in arm, an elaborate knot of hands and fingers which makes it seem as if they are holding each other up and that if the one were to ever step away, the other would simply keel over. Their gnarly Ridgeback is never far off. He trots ahead, clearing the path, and like his owners, mostly keeps to his contemplative self.

I have to go now but before I do I wanted to say that you parents asked me on the night before you left to be your godfather, a duty I am more than thrilled to accept.

That is partly the purpose of this letter. To sign the dotted line of loving you for eternity and to record a few of my impressions of our time spent together over the winter of 2010.

Though you are far away– and I am yet to tap into the communicative possibilities of your alphabet block– I did manufacture a special thread to keep us joined over time and space. Well, I didn’t personally make it but rather commissioned an eensy- weensy spider friend who lives above my medicine cabinet to spin me an indestructible string.

On the night before you left, and while you slept, I crept into your room and tied this thread (all several hundred, thousand, million kilometres of it) to your baby toe.

For two days, I watched it unravel. Whizz it went, the ball on my side shrinking. Up it shot with you on the aeroplane, out over the oceans, the continents , deserts, forests, temples and tundra’s– surviving an early tangle with the horn of Africa– before finally touching down with you in Northern America.

On my side, I have tied the thread to a little bell which i have installed just above my bed. It tinkles at night with you activities. Time, you see Aurora, keeps us conscious at different hours which means when you are awake I am mostly asleep and when I am awake you are asleep.

So it’s mostly in the evenings that your bell rings into my dreams, tinkling as you go about your business of chasing bunnies and swinging yourself to sleep in Edmonton parks.

Often I wake and wiggle it back. I hope you feel it. My love and thoughts– in morse–tugging persistently at your baby toe.

Laugh at those Northern lights for me and never forget that my love for you is more infinite than the stars in Mrs Borealis misty green cloak.

Love uncle Neil or Neo

7 Comments to

“Letter to Aurora”

  1. On September 8th, 2010 at 9:37 am Steven Stead Says:

    Absolutely, heartbreaking lovely. You are a beautiful man, Neil. And obviously a wonderful uncle.

  2. On September 9th, 2010 at 9:08 am Bruce Robertson Says:

    You made me cry you bastard!

  3. On October 3rd, 2010 at 10:28 pm Jonathan Wagener Says:

    Very beautiful :).

  4. On October 28th, 2010 at 8:49 am Lara Mellon Says:

    … exquisite.

  5. On November 8th, 2010 at 5:43 am admin Says:

    Thank you Godfather, this is a beautiful letter.

  6. On August 31st, 2011 at 10:49 pm kate Says:

    How wonderful you two lovely souls found one another! The child is the father of the man…

  7. On June 8th, 2012 at 8:37 am Sithembile Shabangu Says:

    What a beautiful piece. You inspire me. would love to haveyou as my mentor.

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