For Chelsea Manning

In his letter to the jailed whistleblower Chelsea Manning on her 27 birthday, Alan Moore writes (the rest of his letter and many others here):

Dear Chelsea,

You don’t know me. My name’s Alan Moore and I’m an occult charlatan and writer living in Northampton, England’s furthest inland point. It isn’t what you’d necessarily refer to as a pretty town, but through my window here the slice of it that I can see is looking good this afternoon. The sky is freeze-dried to a perfect powder blue, and the low winter sun ignites the brickwork of the terraced houses as a kind of petrified and stationary orange fire, already blazing for a century by now. What I’m attempting clumsily to get across is that the world’s still here, that it still has its good, clear days, and that those days are better and are clearer thanks to you and what you’ve done.

All letters are heart-wrenching, but Moore’s opening reminded me of the final pages of Jeanette Winterson’s even more heart-wrenching Passion, where the narrator is describing a desolate garden on the prison island in Venice:

I have started work on the garden here. No one has touched it for years, though I am told it once had fine roses of such a scent that you could smell them from St Mark’s when the wind was right. Now it’s a barbed angle of thorns. Now the birds do not nest here. It’s an inhospitable place and the salt makes it difficult to choose what to grow. I dream of dandelions. I dream of a wide field where flowers grow of their own accord. Today I shovelled away the soil from around the rockery then shovelled it back, levelling the ground. Why have a rockery on a rock? We see enough rock.

And then, at the very end:

There is a frost tonight that will brighten the ground and harden the stars. In the morning when I go into the garden I’ll find it webbed with nets of ice and cracked ice where I over-watered today. Only the garden freezes like that, the rest is too salty.

I can see the lights on the boats and Patrick, who is with me, can see into St Mark’s itself. His eye is still marvellous, especially so since walls no longer get in the way. He describes to me the altar boys in red and the Bishop in his crimson and gold and on the roof the perpetual battle between good and evil. The painted roof that I love.

It’s more than twenty years since we went to church at Boulogne. Out now, into the lagoon, the boats with their gilded prows and triumphant lights.A bright ribbon, a talisman for the New Year.

I will have red roses next year. A forest of red roses.

On this rock? In this climate?

Chelsea Manning is a quiet gardener.

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