Sunflowers

August 29th, 2013

It’s the time of year when I recall the sunflowers, standing strong and true and blazing. When the outside does call and oh my, the sunshine.

It’s bright and hot and the heat will sink deeply into your skin, warming you through like the best of fires in winter. It relaxes, too – eases the muscles, softens our skin. That’s part of what I like. That and the smells the sun brings forth, so different to the cooler and damper days. Which very much have their own distinct array – of wet leaf and rainwater, of damp stone and cool, pine-laden airs. This is spice and salt though, this sun-bright day. Warm pepperyness mingling with the heavy earth, hints of oil and bitumen amongst the faintest overlay of garden rose and
musk.

The sunflowers tower above them all. The scents, our heads, the waves of heat rippling from midday ’til night. Then cast in their fringed shadow and for a moment not seeing them at all, I wonder of if. If this should be said, or if this is repeated. If I’ve already spoken of the rainwater scents and the hoot of an owl, of the deep blue shadows of the night. If I’ve told before of the overhead starring that takes us up and out of ourselves, our land, our world. Of whether in repetition there will be weariness, and that it would be better to lie quietly in awe. To say little at all – but as if differing moments were ever the same, as if their true descriptions might ever weary!

Ifs and whethers are shaken away. Gleaming canary-gold petals catch my eye again. The air is stirring here under a near-blinding midday brightness. There’s a flourish of branches from some silver-tinged tree that hints of willow, but grows like apple. It is duly hacked and shortened each year, only to bounce back with a mop of leafy springing shoots each Spring. It’s often home to the songbirds in the area, who chirp even as our saws and grinders whine into the summer air with a hint of nostalgia.

Grass mowers, woodcutters and rotary timber saws are the sounds of a summer childhood. My summer childhood. A continuous thrum of machinery noise in the background makes a welcome accompaniment to warmth and light. Crushed slate pressing into my shoulder blades, the bitumen softening under my fingertips. Smelling pine sap, finding dried old cherry stones.

Funny, the things that can make up a pleasure and a memory. Peeling blue paint and staring at the tips of white shoes. Girlish smiles and sudden laughter. The sunflower nods and the summer ticks on, the delight of life unutterably precious.

The majesty of film

February 23rd, 2013

That moment when the music descends and there – all of a sudden you’re in the life of a film, however fleeting, and reality contracts around your vision. You don’t understand why the music does what it does, or quite where you’ve gone, but you crave it all the same.

There’s a hole in the sky, it’s shifting and you’re the only one looking for it, seeing it. There’s an avenue of trees, and an old lady passing by with her history hanging over her shoulders. Worn stones lie before your feet, warmed by the sun. A flicker of light on the water – shouting louder than the babble of sudden street voices that bind you in to their story nonetheless. It all says nothing about you, but feels so buoyant, so grand.

Yet this time will pass, and that one, and another. You slip from one delicious fiction to another. Until you reach the one that doesn’t reward you, the one that stands still and unveiled in mystery. Where you are no more than you are, and you’ll scream at the indignity of it. Feel little, and bared, as if some sort of magic has fallen away.

Where we will all be children again, as small and as sacred to each other as we ever were.

Back to the forest

August 14th, 2012

I’ll go back to the forest, back to where it all began. Amidst the leaf mould vapours and the crackle of the tan. It gives, it crumbles, it slides beneath our feet – the earthen forest floor that embraces all it meets. Rot clutches wood and seed settles soil, and so renewal’s sown when time’s given toil.

A dewpoint held still by the smother of branches. A cool stream slipping by, and it rattles, it’s choked; flat pebbles and needles and twigs all amok. Fine tendrils of mist gracing the quieter pools. Glassy reflections of vast, cloud-scudded halls.

Down under the canopy, deep under the canopy, we can rest, we can sigh. Sounds captured in strands, passed by limbs to the floor – where wood rots to earth, in fragments, no more. A fern will unfurl, seen by unknowing eyes, and the breath from a pelt will puff out as it cries.

Along this rough bark in this deep fragrant mire, we’ll toss out our worries, we’ll wrestle and cry. It takes off our feathers, one piece by one. Then we’ll fall down, and we’ll shiver, and we’ll sob for the sun.

Yet the forest is quiet, and it’ll shelter us still. It’ll give naught more than impressions, take less than we will. For the forest is busy, feeding its cubs – the wood, and the water, and the crumbling muds.

Man and a rock

August 12th, 2012

Make art, they told us. Don’t think, just do! Our little group – all of us deemed malfunctioning in some manner – had looked on blankly. Some in defiance, most in actual blankness. Chosen mindlessness, that is. It’s possible here to immerse yourself in dream while appearing to otherwise function normally. Shift your mind to its chosen dreamstate and you’ll still blink, breathe, move and nod or shake your head as needed. When you’re being shuffled from room to room to do little more than sleep and eat and defecate, it’s a good way out. No thinking, no wondering. No remembering the doors we cannot pass, the world we cannot reach. Yet I refuse to do it. Apparently this is a manifestation of my reluctance to deny or accept reality as it is. Their reality, I would add. That’s how I’ve always thought of it.

My name is Martin. I’ve been a little unusual for as long as people have been pointing it out to me. Apparently I see things a little differently, but it makes people, other people, uncomfortable. They twitch and mumble, apologise and wander away. We don’t quite see each other, and that’s how it’s always been.

Our art class, then. A once-a-week, Thursday afternoon slot where we were led by the hand to a room of tables and paper, pencils and inks, paint pots and modelling clay. No chairs, though. There is a theory that seating leads to indolence, and they think that all aspects of our awareness need rekindling to their level of perception. Their limited, unseeing perception – but on such a mass scale that it’s normality. Trauma has upset how we see the world, they claim. And there’s more of them than us so they’re the law. The odds are stacked against us however you look at it – we’re a few, and no-one quite likes us or what we can say, or think. I’ve been slowly becoming more interested in what that means we can do differently, though. It’s a little explored area. I’m about to embark on a bit of discovery in this art class, sloughing the more habitual indifference. Indolence.

We’ve shuffled into a circle about the tables, a small deep-grained wooden surface in front of each of us and materials to hand. It’s another white room with softly curving walls, but this one has windows. Near the ceiling they’re open, letting in some air. I stare for a little while at the untouchable outdoors, assuming we’re not being shown projections. If it’s truly what’s out there then it looks as if there’s just ocean and sky. Flat grey ocean, faintly rippled grey sky. No rocks, no sunbeams, no buildings, no sign of anyone else. I’m not sure there are even many others holed up in this tall old building. Maybe it’s just us, forming a circle in this room.

One or two are so shifted out to dreamstate that they’ve had pencils placed in their hands, and they’re just doodling. It’s near automatic movement, just lines and spirals that curl off the page. Sometimes these are analysed or played back to the artiste Rorschach style, to see what they think of them. They’re just involuntary twitches though. The hand jerks one way or another because they thought of ice cream, of the grit in their shoe or of when a grasshopper chirped. Dreamstate isn’t complex or else the other functioning doesn’t happen. Just simple moments strung together, unchallenging and unchallenged. You can see why it’s attractive when you’re in a place like this. We’re held in a web of monotony, and seemingly if we even made it outside there’d be nowhere for us to go.

There’s only really two of us in the room, then, along with the tutor. My companion, a beetle-browed mutterer called John, has found some chalks. He doesn’t shift to dream much, just carries on as he is and mutters to himself. It never makes sense to the rest of us. There again that’s why we’re here – not one of us makes sense to anyone else.

John is blending tones in endless stripes across the page. He likes lines. He told me once that he likes it best when the lines merge and fade in and out of one another. Then he’d said that he’d told them this once and that they hadn’t liked it at all. I guessed I was missing some context, because that seemed a bit strange even for their minds. Nonetheless they let him work on these endless striped pages, and so he continued. Muttering. Unsettling our watchers, but only a little.

Some modelling clay lay on my table. I thought about it for a bit. What do they expect? I wondered. What can I make that’ll really put the cat amongst the stuffy ol’ pigeons?

The pigeons have some rather detailed tomes on how the world works, although they’re always revising it. Delving deeper, as far as I can tell – subdividing to an ever smaller scale and apparently never seeing the gelling whole. It struck me, at that moment, that perhaps they didn’t know about that. How everything came together, to my mind. It seemed like the kind of thing that would blur the lines, ruffle some feathers. I mentally shrugged. Might as well give it a try, I thought. They didn’t seem to have any idea of letting us out any time soon, and I wasn’t giving in to the dreamstate. Not yet, not until I had to.

Black and grey clays. I worked them with my fingers and palms, moulding pieces and blending them a little in places. Shades of grey. Formed curving shapes and little bent sticks. Sticks that became branches, worked onto fine strips of bark and a trunk. A tree was forming under my hands without my quite realising it. Small, stubby, looked as if it had grown up on the shore – weathered and beaten and saltstruck. I let the branches feather out, working steadily and surely. The tree spanned the space of a small globe with its outreaching limbs and roots. As if it were trying to take a breath, breathing, taking in one air and expelling another. Shifting nutrients and water and gas, only it was all clay. Tiny little particles of clay. So small they almost weren’t there.

Breathe! I thought suddenly. Under my fingers this little ensemble had come together and now – I felt it come alive. An extraordinary sensation ran through me. I could see it moving. It was shifting gently in the breeze that crossed the room, a current that blew right to the feet of the tutor. Just at that moment she looked up. She saw me, and my tree, and its soft impossible undulations. She saw us, and for the first time I’d ever known someone saw me.

This didn’t make them very happy though. They took me, and my tree, away. Left John to his muttering and the rest to their mind-numbed sketches. The tomes I told you about, they don’t say anything about letting clay trees work like that. Don’t allow them a little cycle of their own going on because it’s not something that already exists. To them it’s new – it’s just subdividing though. Break it down and I can see the same things moving around. If you can see how they all stick together you can turn them about a bit. Make clay breathe and maybe have the air fall down as tiny little motes of solid dust.

They put me in a new room. I couldn’t keep the tree – although I took a tiny half handful of clay while they weren’t looking, hid it in a pocket. Later I made a small model. Just a pebble, looks like a simple rock. Only it shifts ever so slightly if you watch it carefully and I know it’s breathing. Breathing, like me. In my new room, with air that fits the descriptions in their tomes. Most of the time. I think I can make this air into dust, too – they won’t notice. They’re still unsettled by the tree.

They keep asking me questions, and once they brought the tutor in. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t say anything that time. They later told me she was finding it hard, especially dealing with the hypnosis. Apparently I’d hypnotised her. I asked them about the tree, then. They didn’t say anything about that. Asked me if I’d like to shift to dreamstate and draw them some theories they could take a look at. I told them what to do with the pen and paper, and they left. Guess they didn’t like what I had to say then, not at all.

So now I’m waiting. Something is going to change, and soon – they’ve told me some other people are coming. I might get to leave this room. Me and my rock – they still haven’t seen it. The last time they came for one of their chats I left it in the middle of the bare floor, and not one of them saw it right there. Inhaling quietly when they breathed out. What it takes and what it keeps is its own business – I like it though. It’s kind of a pet. An unusual pet – malfunctioning in just a perfect way. I think it sees me, in its own manner. It feels as if I have a connection. Not as brilliant nor as fleeting as that moment with the tutor, but a link nonetheless. What the pigeons don’t know is how searingly, blindingly wonderful that feels.

Now – if only I could make all of them see. All of them. Just a matter of time, I figure. So I wait, I wait and I will see. We breathe.

A scene

February 17th, 2012

The air was cold and smelt of smoke. Time wove by us as we breathed in. Taking hands and dashing forth, the rushes broke our falls. It was a time of serendipity – it was a time delicious, chance hung on each note. Mud clinging to hand and hem, we forged our wandering path. In the caves we sought, our echoes crowed; bats flickered by, the sunset rose. For all of time from then ’til now, our shadows grew and days filled us out. Our hands passed from one to another, and as we followed on we smote our footsteps as they lay. In the echoes now I hear the crows, the beating wings where the water flows. Time tells us nothing and is our all; we clamber up and strive to fall.

- I was listening to Holocene

Sweet dreams

September 8th, 2011

Sometimes you look around, at the heaps you’ve built around your life. It’s the backpiling that occurs as you gaze at the floor and wonder if, maybe, you can still do a handstand. Sweet summer memories of daisy chains, leapfrog and rolling down a hillside, mouths full of laughter shrieks and the fresh cut grass. Time rolls by and on and shall ever do so, but you’ll trail a stick in the sand and forget about that. You’ll poke at the seaweed and push away fronds to find a crab, sea snails and a curious anenome gazing from its rockpool perch. You look up at a sun that keeps returning with every blink. Seagull cries barely heeded, we’ll skip through the pebbles of every beach we find. There’ll be a race, to a rock and then jubilant shouts and salt water splashes on your face and mine. It’s cold and salt-sharp, and it’ll spatter the sand that flickers under the rush of our passing shadows. Cliff grasses shiver, footsteps disappear up the path and sunset falls on gently waving campion, pink and white. A small birdnest cradled in our hands, returned; nettle stings, briar scratches and scraped knees are soothed and mended. By evening light the fragments of twigs are pulled from our hair, smudges of dirt washed from our faces, tumbled clothes folded away. Stars are on the drift, the fade settles in and we sleep. Sweet dreams, of summer daydreams.

Water

May 5th, 2011

I thought of swimming, and I thought of you. My fascination is your fascination – of your love of swimming, of your ease with it, and the play of body in water in body of water.

You frequent the local pool, for it’s all we can reach on an ordinary day. It’s not the same, of course, bar in essence. The water there is abrupt and one sense is reduced to the cling of chlorine. Bright blue sways in a neon glow before our eyes, dancing in a false parody of its ancestor. There is light, but it’s fluorescent and too white, splintering on the little jittering waves that lap over faceless, pale tiles. There are no smooth currents, no dark depths. No life in this water, no living breathing organisms and no evolving world barely hidden from the naked eye. It is a water pulled away from the earth, away from mingling with its sister elements. No sun warms it, no ice chills it. No rock strata or tumbling stones are smoothed by its passing. No verdant shoots brim at its edge, sending thirsty roots down into the coolness.

Slick swells of spring water entice my feet; grit and grubs between my toes. I forget, though, that it is not so for you. Open air, open skies, and velvety ancient depths pull your skin into the water. Brine splashes your lips, salt foam flecks your shoulders. Sand whorls in the trail of your silhouette, delicate webbed fronds curl in the wake of your Atlantic drift. Bullish breezes and hidden horizons, you’d float on out to the infinite. A mote lost and made whole in the shifting, endless, all powerful ocean that you readily relinquish yourself to.

Quite different, these other worlds, from our local pools – in all save the elemental essence. The local pool, with its plastic front and punkish vibrancy, choking odours and sterile brightness. Shut our eyes and we’re a step away from what it could be, though. Open our mind and we drift further – along the streams and the rivers, to be cast out to sea. Where velvet skies meet velvet waters, and the stars shine bright from both. Answers above and below, and for a little while our questions leave us.

Shut your eyes when you swim next, and think of that – the stars, hiding just beneath your surface.

Quiet of the night

March 5th, 2011

The nodding of the first few silken buds of the willow caught my eye first. They were just above my head, and when I looked straight up at them they seemed to smile and know I was there. Then the faintest scattering of drizzle falls on your face, finally upturned to what is beyond the eye. Cool and mischievous this light rain as it flicks against the skin, yet it’s deft and gentle in its prank. Falls through a string of orange lights that draw a new horizon, providing all the light there is. Above them just the blackness of the unseen and below them just the faint ground-held reflections. The drizzle has made the earth and road gleam a little, a fuzzy glow of an outline to the that familiar lamp post, that old red postbox.

A newly bloomed daffodil across the way catches my eye, bobbing in a brief quickening of the breeze. It nods at me and at what lies between us, though – the quiet of the night. Shared still, ever waiting if you’ll just go and see it. I think and fear I’ll miss it, as if it could ever go away. As if it could leave me or I depart from it. There in the middle of the night waits the quiet of you and I, following my footsteps that pad unheard back up the stairs.

Fireside shadows

October 28th, 2010

[Needs a touch or three of re-drafting]

There were four figures sat close around the fire. It was small, burning hard and with a sour smell. Just bright enough to keep the flickering shadows at bay. Shadows that seemed to reach out to them with eager, grasping fingers, and then flit purposefully away.

The four had spent the day travelling through the city, picking their way across street and square towards the heart of it. Still distant, yet sparkling with the only power seemingly left in the land. The four now gathered to await the morning – not that a one of them would sleep. So it was that they smoked and spat, mumbled and muttered, sharing notes of their journeys thus far. They’d happened to meet at the outskirts, driven out of the wilds by unknown forces. Forces that now reached out from the shadows to pursue every man, woman and child. There was much to speak of, though nothing to tell. None knew what had changed, only that it had.

From amongst the chatter one of the younger two sat up. He’d been perched atop a palisade when they’d found him, balancing in the dawning sun and every muscle a-trembling. He’d been with others until that night, but he never spoke of them. He preferred to talk of the times before, hiding in them as a child might its mother’s skirts. Upon that whim he spoke now.

“And you, kindred,” he said to the eldest of the four, “What of the place you came from? How is it that your travels began?”

They were sharing tales of their journey beginnings. Some were true and some less so. They were, after all, the oldest stories – the tales of the traveller.

The eldest looked up and for a moment they thought he would simply look away again, quietly. He had little to say, on the whole, his sparse form seeming to fit his sparse speech. When he did converse it was with a murmuring voice, one that seemed to muse to itself more than to those who might listen to it. But this time he lifted his chin to the firelight, and began to speak.

“Can I tell you, of what I found? Of what I saw, from the hour when it all began. When…” He faltered, and paused. Drawing a deep breath, he appeared to make up his mind, and he continued.

“It was such a clear night. I was up above the pass, standing upon the hardened high ground. I’d found an old outpost, aged wooden buildings that stood tall and narrow. They were graced by leaf fall here, and night dew there. A sharp scent rose and lingered, the sort that catches your nose and its bright musk clears your senses.” He paused, nodding in the moment of reverie. His voice had taken on a clear, singsong tone, and it carried on.

“I remember looking up at a wall of weathered white boarding. There were silhouettes, fragmented and soft in cast and colour. Faintly they patterned the façade with their shifting star-shapes – the last of the season. This decorated wall holding in one corner my darker figure, then scattered about it a number of empty, black, unseeing windows – all bar one. At the very top in a corner, against the still cooling night sky, a single amber square held clear against the rest. An eye out of the storm, a light out to the sea. “Come here,” it seemed to whisper, “Come here when you tire, and wish to sleep, and the patterns have faded from your eyes.” I stood there and wondered what this place might be. I seemed half-lulled by the light, and by the quickening shadows on the wall. It seemed almost as if they were awakening, even as I slipped towards dream.”

“I turned about, the shadows all about now fascinating me. Furtive whispers came from the treetops, ever heaving in their breezy rustlings. To this incessant chant I fell as if charmed, seeing the world now in only shadows and light. I called it light in my mind that was no longer quite my mind, gazing as it flowed and split about a tree. But there its usual semblance ended, as it merged into glows and half-tricks that catch our sight but are not really there at all. They seemed as a new being, sprung up between fire and the very absence of it.”

They moved closer then, to the fire, looking about at the edge where its radiance ended. The elder continued.

“A brief place where every shape lives as two, in form and as its own shadow, true light having no place. The world was changing swiftly around me, this outpost transforming into something that had me in its thrall. On the short sward before me a hundred tiny little blades stood stiffly, and each one carried with it a dark counterpart that crept up from underneath. Stripes coursed over the ground and curved away, flowing to corners that lay only in my memory. It was growing darker.”

“There was a sudden clatter, and I spun around. It came from the shadows deep, and remained undiscerned. This night-time world was awakening, but not in any way I’d seen before. There was a hunger to it. In the shiver of leaves ever sounding I recalled the amber haven that lay not too many steps away. Upwards and inwards, but not yet – not yet! Whatever was happening, I was drawn to watch it – compelled to take it in. Overhead there were a few scant fronds catching a brightness from source unseen, and they trembled and danced in this, their final time. A sharper gloss to the laurel leaf, standing wet and proud as it would try to bear the winter where its comrades could not. Through the beech leaves then, where among their crisp angled poises flowing with shadow form lay glimpses of a warmer-toned sky.”

“My city. My city lay beyond these shadows, far away from that little whispering corner caught between the dark and the half-light. Then it was I ran for the amber light, a lone refuge from the suddenly wild night. Undershadows and overshadows mingled to forms and tones that would bewitch, but they held no friendliness in their grasp.”

“Yet even now, when I’ve ventured far from there, to this city and its lights, these shadows do not leave me. They do not leave you, and slide between the partitions in your mind. Only our will keeps them from us, out in the wilds and the dark corners from whence they first arose. But all it might take is one power flux, one outage, one small lapse of concentration, and they will swarm to the forefront – like so!”

The elder suddenly, loudly, snapped his fingers. One of the two younger ones shrieked, and then threw her hands to her face. The younger boy, who’d asked for the tale, looked a little frightened and turned his attentions to comforting her.

“A pretty tale,” drily remarked the fourth of their group – a tall, wiry man of few words. “I see you favour fancy over fact.” Drawing his cloak close, he settled back. The elder man smiled a little, but not with much humour.

“They’ve awoken,” he answered a little cryptically. “They’ve awoken but none can seem to see them, hear them.” The other three were no longer listening to him, though. One reclining and appearing to be at least resting his eyes, and the younger two were carefully conversing in short, earnest tones. They didn’t look to the elder man for more of the tale, nor refutation of it so far. So it was that they did not hear the voice whisper out of the dark,

“We were waiting, to form the world anew. We were waiting and now we’re here!”

Shadows rise and writhe, the elder man adds more wood and blocks to the fire. They’re kept at bay, for now. But these dark counterparts have awoken, and they are hungry.

The Gatekeeper waits

September 29th, 2010

It had been a long while. The butterflies had risen and settled many a time, the winds tossed and turned the ways of the paths to the gate. Paths that wound through the fallen spindled timber of ages past. Cut and tumbled edges crumbled, becoming indiscernable from one another in the thickness of the past. The construed and the natural fell together and it was there that the Gatekeeper sat.

The Gatekeeper rested with his staff across his knees, and he hummed an idle tune to the hilltop air. Once in a while a butterfly would drift nonchalantly over to him; settle on a reddened knuckle, a stiffened shoulder. A moment or two later it would fly up into the air and twist and turn in the light, an aerial acrobat taking its thoughts from them to him and back again.

In the passing of the years the Gatekeeper wondered how the boy might have fared. There had been many a moment since that could have seen the change he might bring. Might bring, might bring. The Gatekeeper hoped for it, yet bided his time. He had enough of it, after all.

The maker of patterns, the creature of the clouds and the woman of the dance had all stopped by of late, asking hopeful questions with their eyes. Yet they were given to longing for days of old, ways of old. Times that were for tales, and not the making of the future. Patterns might repeat but their forms would take on senses anew. It would be a better time for it, whenever that might be. The Gatekeeper nodded to the morning sun. For now their world was held in the breath of a madman, in his craven claw that grabbed only at the air and his maddened fancies. All around them shook, but it would not fall down. It waited with the Gatekeeper, his gate, and the butterflies.

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