Photo by Cecilia Lee

“Soul is to be found in the vicinity of taboo.” ~ Thomas Moore


Two evocative syllables.

A powerful noun, verb and adjective.

For me, the word elicits hushed tones, noir images and blurred boundaries.

It can be seductive and scary.  And no matter how much we try to avoid it, we eventually collide.  As Benjamin Franklin reminds us, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

Death is the great leveller.

But we don’t honour it as in times past.  Even our language conspires to ‘soften’ the blow.  But when my mother died, the phrase “passed away” fucking pissed me off.

And still does.

The platitudes - “she’s in a better place; be strong” - made me positively homicidal.

And yet we happily experience the taboo vicariously through popular culture.

I loved the show “Dexter”.  A close friend and I would often discuss this phenomenon: the protagonist is a serial killer but he manages to endear himself to us.  Why?  Perhaps we glimpse his humanity as he questions his psychopathology:

“Light cannot exist without darkness. Each has its purpose. And if there's a purpose to my darkness, maybe it's to bring some ... balance to the world.”

This is reminiscent of “Star Wars” mythology, which has left an indelible impression on me since age 11.  The struggle between light and dark; good and evil; sacred and forbidden has been with us since time immemorial.

Anakin Skywalker is lauded as the one that will bring “balance” to the Force … the saviour of an ancient prophecy.  Of course, we know his redemption is not linear: “I do not fear the dark side as you do.”  His decision to kill the Emperor - as Darth Vader - his dying son crying out for mercy, touches something deep.

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We all have a dark side. 

Carl Jung observes: “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”  As a writer, I can’t not talk about the taboo.  It permeates our lives on a fundamental level: grief, sex, death.  My mother disliked lillies due to their association with death.  If I cast my mind back to her funeral, I can still smell their hideous stench.

My poem, “Fear” explores the realms of sex and death - Eros and Thanatos.  It was inspired by a favourite short story “The Bloody Chamber”, written by Angela Carter.  Carter’s story is a modern re-working of the fairytale “Bluebeard” and is set in Mont St Michel, France.  What struck me the first time I read it, were the myriad references to lillies.  I could see them.  I could smell them.  And death hung in the air.

The female protagonist is whisked away by her new husband, the Marquis, to an unknown future, which soon reveals its horrors as she disobeys her husband’s command to stay away from “a little room at the foot of the west tower”.

But, like Persephone who ate the pomegranate; and Lot’s Wife who turned to “see” the truth, our heroine’s innate curiosity compels her exploration of dark recesses - a darkness she sees reflected in the mirror: “I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away”.

Acknowledgement of that potentiality - of our potentiality - is the beginning of transformation and rebirth.