I, The Stranger

 

Someone found me, at last.  He seemed a little older than me, maybe twenty five.  His forehead was more domineering, less delicately lined; his eyes were a colder blue.

He sat me down, and offered me another glass of wine.  As he did so, he brought to mind a memory of a peaceful, avuncular presence I once knew.  I couldn’t place it: and for the briefest moment I felt entirely at home with him.  I sipped from my glass, the wine as rich as it was red, deeper than sound and more patient than silence.

He listened to me.  More so than any man I have ever met, he listened.  Such artful reciprocity I had never known.  His every mannerism pleased me, so that as I talked to him I faced a tranquillity which beautifully engendered in me that same quality of calm.  His very person seemed as a response to mine.

Indeed, whenever I stole a glimpse of him, his eyes stared directly back at me as though he had been waiting for it.  He tilted his head to meet mine; he read my body language perfectly, adopting my mannerisms with a steady ease and effortlessness.  Rather, his every motion seemed not to be dictated by force or intention but a graceful poise, as though directed by some finely-balanced thought.

We talked of many things.  I confessed that I had of late nurtured dark thoughts, doubts and restless uncertainties which sank gorgeously through me as cold descends from a distant sunset; I confessed that I had grown fond of wine, and the fake company of late evenings spent alone.  I confessed that I had become a stranger to my former self, could barely read the entries in my journal from mere months before.  The very language had shifted in my mouth.  The lines were no longer parallel, the sounds were in counterpoint.  Whereas once a landscape was a vision of delights, now I found that a painting was a painting was a painting.

Yet here he was, sat before me with such sweet simplicity.  Though I spoke entirely for myself, all the while I dwelt upon a mutuality which eddied and drifted between us.

And as I brought wine to my lips, so did he.

And as I raised a hand to my brow, in uneasy contemplation, so did he.

Before me was a painting was a painting was a painting.  It moved, as I.  And so we spoke into mirrors together and at last, someone found me.

 

 

I wrote this immediately upon reading Gary Holdaway’s most recent post as part of our Theme Exchange, The Shaman. Be sure to read it now: though short-and-sweet, its nuances and suggestions are well worth investigating and it’s a thoroughly enlightening read: http://garyholdaway.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/the-shaman/

Within seconds of reading this I had decided exactly what to write. It seemed to me that although Gary’s central focus was on “Bonds”, in particular between different persons, I found the shaman personified a quite different type of familiar-stranger. 

We needn’t tread too far into the realms of mental illness, detachment, disassociation or other troubles of the mind. A past self to a future self; one disposition to another; mirrors, shadows, reflections, dreams: all of these could symbolised in this way. 

I read into the shaman a personification of the narrator, or at least an aspect of the narrator. The story is one of self-discovery: either because the shaman shows the narrator a new perspective, or more succinctly, because the narrator finds the shaman at all.

Inspired in part by Camus, Sartre and so many other existential writers, I do have to concede a fair amount of the style of this is in fact drawn from Horror. Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson are the key ones to read here.   

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Cat Feelings

 

Cats cuddling

 

To write my thoughts on your love, as you ask: it

Is like forcing cats into a basket.

They thrash at the unnatural position

Of any bid for human composition.

Regardless bowls of water, cuddles, pills,

The little monsters vary in their wills.

Some will hiss, some pounce, and some obey,

And all the wisest creatures shy away.

Murmuring their names and playing coy

And delicately taunting with their toy,

Playing dead or tickling their tums

Or giving them some most perplexing sums

Will not put cat-like feelings into prose –

The proverb, “herding cats,” of nothing knows.

 

 

My partner once asked me to put my love for them into a poem. It was impossible. Instead I tried to convey this difficulty through the idiom of “trying to herd cats.” A sneaky benefit of this, of course, is that it brings to the imagery the idea of lots of cuddles, softness, idleness and playfulness which is present in both my relationship with my fiancé and in the very nature of my feline friends. It is itself a playful little thing, with the knowingly-silly opening rhyme and the continuing whimsy of the piece.

Also inspired in part by The Cure’s Lovecats and T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

04:13 Spider

 

Return, return to the reverend night:

I know you’re there, and still I see you not.

 

Such dreams you make, like a memory from home,

Silk-borne descending, a waking thought of harm.

 

Return, return to the reverend night:

I know you’re there, and still I see you not.

 

 

I awoke to find the curious form, directly above me and maybe an inch from my nose, a spider dangling like the sword of Damocles overhead. It seemed to notice I had stirred: it promptly began to make a retreat back up the silk, becoming infinitesimally small as it made for the vanishing point. It reminded me firstly of “dreamcatchers”; and then of that marvelous scene in Macbeth where the eponymous, mind-addled thane imagines he sees a dagger before his eyes. I felt at once a sort of peace, but also a real threat in what might have happened during my sleep. 


I will one day get over using half-rhymes. But it is not this day.  

The Eternal Joy of Mischief

 

I

 

Face puckered by screaming and babbling, the twins thrashed in their buggy – a peculiar contraption, whereby Charles was sat behind Thomas, and so could kick his brother’s back with gleeful, innocent malice – attracting the attention of passers-by on the walk through the Seven Acres Park. Such joyful, careless innocents they were. Their mother propelled them as serenely as she could: infrequently challenging Charles or Thomas after a particularly nasty thumping had caused one or the other to cry out at an especially disruptive volume; picking up soft toys, discarded by the twins with fiendish whimsy. She was sure they were doing it on purpose, almost in collusion, conspiratorial and with playful abandon. Such mischief is the secret language of twins, even before spoken words are known to them.

The pleasant weather demanded an outing, demanded some gesture to the outside world and would, eventually, demand that the boys be thrust reluctantly into the daylight. The sun-bleached keepsakes of memory and nostalgia demand such ventures into normalcy, and their mother believed sentimentally in the nurturing effect of sunlight, and the sensation of grass underfoot. Some of their first photographs together would be taken that day.

Naturally Charles took the opportunity of being sat in Thomas’ blind spot to tug at his soft, wispy hair and to pat his head from behind, as aggressively as one too young to truly understand aggression could. He slapped Thomas’ head and bellowed in glee, a noise quite difficult to distinguish from Thomas’ bellow of indignation. The promenade had, predictably, degenerated: but the mother trusted her sons to behave when released, when the picnic mat had been laid and the juice poured into cool cups.

 

II

 

By this age their differences were unnoticeable, their charms indistinguishable and their properties shared. Aunts and uncles could not refer to the one without acknowledging the reciprocity inherent in the other: “But of course, Charles also has a boyish streak,” Aunt Patricia might say, after Thomas had been scolded for upturning a vase, yoghurt pot or cat. The actions and descriptions of one reflected as soundly and as clearly with the other as an echo.

And should one of the boys discover a new, rich vein of mischief, the other would invariably pursue with just and equal pleasure. The day Charles discovered the explosive quality of cherry tomatoes was one such occasion. Once Charles had uncovered the curious physics of the stuff – the outer casing or pressure chamber, containing the crucible of red flesh and volatile fluid, all designed for the purposes of one solid, glorious splat – Thomas complemented the find with the further addition of the flower pot. With this tool it was possible to detonate as many at twenty fleshy, delicious pellets, merely by placing them all underneath and jumping into the pot in unison. A major breakthrough in their quest to find the ultimate annoyance for their long-suffering mother was achieved this way: Watson and Crick, the Wright brothers, shattered flower pot and gory floor beneath them.

 

III

 

Those days were galore: when insects scurried like summer’s ghosts right over the water, and the two boys’ weight on a willow branch would dip her leaves through the soft, cold surface, causing the noontide sun to shimmer differently out of the dark ripples. Neon dragonflies flared and growled but meant no harm, and could convey no meaning of harm: it was possible to capture a butterfly in cupped hands, and show it to each other with a mystic delight.

Their mother, of course, knew that the summer was revealing itself to them there, but ultimately the boys were out of her house and that was the end of the matter. Love was tempered by their troublesome boisterousness, the practicalities of wear and tear, and the permanent tiredness of motherhood.

 

IV

 

“I can’t believe you managed to get such a cheap fare,” Thomas said.

“Always book online, always.”

Charles sat down and removed his jacket onerously. Thomas ordered a coffee with milk; Charles, black.

“How are things going in Bristol?” Thomas asked, stirring sugar around the bottom of his cup with a wooden splint.

Charles felt his mouth tug itself tight. “Bloody hard work. Often they just leave me with five or six accounts to finish, no instruction, no guidance or anything. I am getting the hang of it, though.”

Sat outside the Café Blanc, the wind leafed through their newspapers and played with their hair. Occasional sunbursts sank through the back of their shirts and filled them with a heavy warmth; and then, just as suddenly, the cloud would cross over and seem to pour cold air down their collars.

“I haven’t seen mother for some time,” Charles said, “probably ought to pop up soon, and give her someone to fuss over for a few days. Besides which, there’s the matter of that, whatsit, overhanging beech she wants help with?”

Thomas was still stirring his coffee, as much out of distraction as anything else. He hadn’t spoken to their mother for some time, and didn’t particularly want to go out of his way in order to do so. He decided to keep silent.

“Julie next door has apparently been fixating upon it for some time,” Charles continued, “mortified about how her lawn isn’t getting the light it needs. The wrong type of grass, you see, can’t do with the shade. A frightful bore, but we probably ought to sort it out. Next time we’re up.”

Thomas nodded, much in the same way he would to a salesman. The idea was reasonable enough. It wasn’t particularly attractive to him, though.

 

V

 

The tie knot had been pulled too tight: it felt like a compact, unripe fruit; it strangled the fabric and looked careless. Charles fed the end out to undo the knot, before beginning again. Melisa flitted back in to bemoan the delay he was causing, then disppeared from his line of vision once more.

In the mirror he caught sight of himself, as spruce as ever. Some salt-and-pepper effect on the temples, his forehead perhaps slightly taller than it once was, but a well-groomed gentleman he nevertheless was. Men do look better in suits, he said to himself. That is their design.

Melisa’s red dress re-entered the mirror’s scope. Charles recognised the urgency, the tug of being late, and repeated his spiel about it being crucial to turn up “properly”, even to the detriment of punctuality.

 

At that same time, Thomas was returning to his flat. He removed his uniform in the familiar, unthinking manner he would put it on, make coffee, or vacuum the floor: a blinking, sighing reluctance.

Newspapers from the previous few days lay on the table. A lamp in the corner left elliptical patterns on the low ceiling, perched as it was on the overflowing bookcase. Crockery punctuated the floor space and a long, unwelcoming tobacco smell clung to the air, from where the clouds had sank into the wallpaper over untold years. There was not a photograph to be seen.

This was the late hour when true silence began. In relief of this, Thomas plucked a packet of crisps from the kitchen cupboard, split it open and relinquished himself to the sofa.

He still hadn’t telephoned Charles about that holiday they were planning. Not so much planning, perhaps – they certainly thought of Sienna more as an aspiration than a destination – and no sustained contact had been made by either party. There was the very real possibility of this idea dissolving into utter insubstantiality: it usually begins with “We really ought to,” through to “Wouldn’t it be nice?”, before inevitably, “We did once talk about.” And then, it would no longer be talked about, neither party willing to accept their belief in the initial urge to try.

 

VI

 

Face puckered by screaming and babbling, the old men quivered in their wheelchairs – a peculiar arrangement, whereby Charles was sat right next to Thomas, and so would strike his brother’s head with gleeful, innocent malice – attracting the attention of passers-by on the walk through the Seven Acres Park. Such joyful, carefree innocents they had become. Their carers propelled them as serenely as they could: infrequently challenging Charles or Thomas after a particularly nasty thumping had caused one or the other to cry out at an especially disruptive volume; picking up medication discarded by the twins with fiendish whimsy. The nurses were sure that the brothers were doing it on purpose, almost in collusion, conspiratorial and with playful abandon. Such mischief is the secret language of twins, even after so many years, and so much distance.

The pleasant weather demanded an outing, demanded some gesture to the outside world and would, eventually, demand that the brothers be thrust reluctantly into the daylight. The sun-bleached keepsakes of memory and nostalgia demand such ventures into normalcy, and the Local Authority agreed with their nurses’ sentimentality in the nurturing effect of sunlight, and the sensation of grass underfoot. Some of their final photographs together would be taken that day.

Naturally Charles took the opportunity of being sat in one of Thomas’ many blind spots to tug at his soft, wispy hair and to pat his head from behind, as aggressively as one no longer mindful of aggression could. He slapped Thomas’ head and cackled in glee, a noise quite difficult to distinguish from Thomas’ bellow of indignation. And yet, there was a tacit agreement between them: even now, they were as thick as thieves, as close as any two persons could ever be.

The promenade had, predictably, degenerated into naughtiness and babble: but the weary carers trusted the old boys to behave when released, when the picnic mat had been laid and the juice poured into cool cups.

 

 

This piece is written in response to my friend and partner-in-theme-exchange, Gary Holdaway’s recent post, “The Wedding”, which you should probably read now because there is no point reading any other literature for the rest of your life until you do: https://garyholdaway.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/the-wedding/ 

It’s a phenomenal read, The Wedding. If you read only one blog post before May, read this one. I really cannot emphasise enough how much the narrative twist in this tiny, brilliant piece of fiction just killed me. Stone dead. See for yourself, I’m giving away no spoilers. But I will say: it’s worth it. A thousand times, it’s worth it.

As for this response: apart from the masterly plot device, what really struck me in Gary’s last piece was the sense of loss, but also the acceptance of change, however reluctant. Without giving away too much (READ IT NOW), we look on and see a difficult but insuperable shift. It is neither good nor bad: but it is a fact of life. I took from this sensation the theme of “Natural Cycles,” which hopefully comes across fairly demonstrably in this piece. 

Echoes and repetition are prominent signifiers in this, as are guilt and self-reproach in the more burdened adult mind. But I cannot help but smile at the final scene: it is so joyful, and so funny, to think of the two brothers being together and emotionally free once more.  

Final point: I am a twin. Over the last couple of years, I have seen less and less of my brother – a boy (now man) who has always been my best friend. I hope that when we are being wheeled about by our keepers, we will still be as insufferable and bothersome as always. In fact, I’m rather looking forward to it. 

“Long Dark Moon” – song lyrics

The first poetry I ever read came from song lyrics: and yes, though pop/rock, it was poetry. R.E.M., Morrissey, The Cure, David Bowie, Genesis, all of the tapes in my dad’s car. The 6-year-old J R H Greenwood leafed through the lyric booklets and was astonished. The first poems I wrote were alternative song lyrics to Imitation of Life. I still get up and sing whenever I can. Music is at the heart of traditional poetry anyway, of course, and we’re still haunted by rhythm and rhyme even in modern forms. 

I will soon be collaborating with a musician friend on a couple of pieces. Hopefully some bluesy, R&B feel will keep this piece together. 

 

 

Long Dark Moon – lyrics

 

Verse 1

She had no name.

She stood on clouds, and she drank in skies.

She grew pale

And you laid back and watched catastrophe fly by.

In her sleek shade

You took the shape and form and shadow of delight

And the next day

You’d gone, and left her on the shipwreck of the night

 

Bridge 1

Somehow, sometimes, she still brings light

 

Chorus 1

(She just wanted) Your gratitude and your lost affection

You were the answer to her loving question

You took no more, and you gave her less, then

She became her Long Dark Moon.

Down a long dark room, leading from her past

She walked on through her own disaster

And you never would have reached out to ask her

So she remains a Long Dark Moon.

 

Verse 2

Outcast by fate

She was drenched in cloud, and she was swathed in time

You returned too late

By the time you kicked yourself to do what you knew was right

(You’d never think) She could be brave

(You’d never dream) She had the grace and strength to get back up again and fight

For her new name

You made the most beautiful mistake of your whole life.

 

Bridge 2

Somehow, despite you, she is light.

 

Chorus 2

Oh, I know you: and you won’t respect her

And what you couldn’t allow, I’ll let her

And I can tell you now, she’s feeling better,

Sky’s heartache blue but she’s so much better: so much better

 

Bridge / Interlude

 

Chorus 3

(She just wanted) Your gratitude, and your lost affection

You were the answer to her onetime question

You took much more, and you left her less, then

She became her Long Dark Moon

Down a long black room, leading from her past

She walked on through her own disaster

If you want to know, maybe one day I’ll ask her

But she remains a Long Dark Moon.

“Speak to me in wonders”

glowing marco suarez

 

Speak to me in Wonders: Plea for a Lullaby

 

Speak to me in wonders. Please.

Talk miracles. I’ve seen you say

Strange weather forms, unseen before,

Strange coloured omens formed of sky.

 

Talk impossibilities,

Violet rains, streams ran uphill;

Unusual creatures, gifts from nature

I remember from childhood.

 

Whisper me improbable truths:

Vast caverns of rubies, of riddle games;

Of Amazons, fleet of fearless foot,

And talk softly these impossible dreams.

 

Remember to me tales of Furies

Overhead, and the fearful Roc:

These flighted stories in their curious

Way are daydreams for my sake.

 

Kiss rumours into life, I pray:

I shall forget them when I wake

And you have like the waking day

So softly gone, and wonder’s weak;

 

With music, pray, your wonders make;

Dance for me words of lullaby.

 

I love to write, of course: but I also have a passion for understanding how verse works. Any decent artist knows the tools she or he is using, knows the history of their art. Poets should be no different. 

This is an ode / extended sonnet form which comes into its own with mystical imagery. Half rhymes and internal rhyming keep a musicality running throughout; the simple rhythm keeps its own sing-song, lullaby pace, yet some of the syntax is quite archaic. Also, though a lullaby in itself, the narrative voice is asking for a lullaby, to be inspired, enchanted, and sent gently to sleep. End result is something almost-Romantic, and rather haunting. In substance, I could be asking many things: for beauty, for mystery, for stories; or for a wish to come true, and for a hopeless notion to be kissed “into life”. I am a soppy, sentimental creature at heart. I do apologise, ladies and gentlemen. 

Holmes’ Irregulars: lyrics

 

Disclaimer: These were lyrics written at university especially for a comic song based on a given theme, namely “The Obvious Tension Between Dr Watson and Mr Holmes.” They represent no great insight in A. C. Doyle’s characters and are, crucially, harmless fun. 

 

Dear Watson, Oh Watson, I read on your face

That this is becoming a two-pipe case.

 

I observed with delight how you’d linger around

With all the restraint of a Baskerville hound.

Dear Watson, I don’t suppose we’ve ever talked

At great length about other old dears I have stalked?

I know when we painted the study so scarlet

That you were a military man and a harlot.

 

Dear Watson, Oh Watson, I read on your face

That this is becoming a two-pipe case.

 

Dear Watson, I don’t think we’ve ever discussed

Those two or three days you were really concussed.

I knew at the scene of the Reichenbach Fall

How well you perform when you’re pressed to the wall.

One hundred and forty odd classes of ashes

Couldn’t tickle me more than your manly moustaches.

Dear Watson, please reason: observe if you please

How I rip off your waistcoat and get on my knees.

 

Dear Watson, Oh Watson, it’s all over your face

That this is becoming a two-pipe case.

 

You’ve been such a help through all of our cases:

Now, as for that corset, help me out with the laces.

I was taken aback with the Sign of Four:

I’d asked for two rentboys, you gave me two more.

And hand me the case of the silvery stocking:

I’ll show you an outcome that’s utterly shocking.

 

Dear Watson, Oh Watson, I’ve read every trace,

And this truly is an irregular case.