beside mill wood *

foul papers II

She argued with herself. Poetry or prose? The aim would be for poetry, for the wound rather than the illness. The specifics. Condensed like milk. Sweet as. Reduced like ashes. Dry and ground down. She cried to herself. At many things. The theme tune to Desert Island Discs. The man who lost his house in Aleppo. The people who gave everything and still managed to breathe, to smile in the face of terror. She talked to herself. About the meal she was cooking, about the fat Sun falling into the sea.

What was her love like? She found it incomprehensible. Like an impossible tangle of threads. In the mid of night it overwhelmed her, made her fearful for her own sanity. On bright days when the grass was wet, when the sky blinked with the clear light of an innocent, when the streets were washed clean by a heavy rainfall, when the birds took up their singing again, when the wood smelt of life and decay in equal measure but with the smell of growth always winning, on such days she felt that her love was all that mattered.

The Parkinsons man became some sort of totem. He reappeared after months. His shaking hands, his tight dry skin, the fear behind his eyes. He brought her coffee from the cafe in a special carrier. She made sure his lid was tight and as he drank he held onto the wooden bannister with his other hand. When he held and gripped it he did not shake and she had the urge to take him into her arms. To pull him tight and close,  to embrace this big half broken quivering man and stop his trembling.

And with eyes closed tight the face she saw was always the same. Deft fingers, dipping tongue, an open smile pictured just as she had always described, like the clouds lifting away from the sun. And sometimes she thought, and the thought itself was sudden and shocking and quite violent, that it was as if she were looking at her own face.

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Muses and foul papers

Batten up the hatches
lock the door
make firm each window for 
I am done with Pity-pity
wearing her long face and white dress;
I am grown tired with Remorse and 
her saucer eyes and febrile hands,
instead I want to run with Abandon-
to kiss her smile, to catch her shadow
breath down summer lanes.


Tom texts from Bahrain, miss you, love you. The disembodied words ping into the top right hand corner of my laptop as Peter and I watch something other than this . Peter doesn’t care because Tom loves him too.

Benny phones me. It’s been ages since you came up to the farm, you know Maddy’s died don’t you?  My old friend and his now gone daft old dog. I prick with guilt. Time has cheated me again, it’s been months since I saw him. We arrange a date and I take my mum along with me. Let’s go for a run out, she says once we get up the track to the farm. And so we rush through the spilt sun countryside, Benny in the back, mum in the passenger seat, both windows down. They shoot the breeze with their old style Yorkshire Alan Bennet aphorisms. There is talk of Harold Allsop, of barns and hand bailing, liquorice root, bouncing bombs and reservoirs with a hundred crossed wires and mispronunciations in between. I couldn’t make it up. Benny marvels at the moors and the dry stone walls and the size of the fields. He is thrilled when we dip down off the moors as far as Derbyshire, he sucks his breath in …are we in Derbyshire already ?  his eyes spark,  a bright sharp boy in the body of a bird like ninety two year old man. He is untouched by all these modern ways. I love him. I love them both.

Lisa facetimes me from Hanoi. She is twenty three floors up in some swanky hotel. She shows me the suite, a plate glass panel separates the bedroom from the bathroom which has a huge footed copper bathtub. The window onto the city is a voyeurs dream and the night outside twinkles with a million other lives. Her job now is so far removed from mine, she is corporate and I am homespun,  but we both play the same game. We talk of simpler times and swap injuries like ageing warriors. I have no sisters but she is mine and I love her.

William is silent. The silence is not deafening because he is writing. He is alive. It has to be like this because the way I love is not enough.

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where we’ve left our love

Packaged tight in letters bound and buried in the sandy earth at the bottom of that Scots pine. Silver dripping water nails from hung fingertips in the hot steam of a metal bath. Pressed between tangled hotel sheets. Dirty, under grubby fingernails and the green rush of cut grass. Pumped into feet marking time over and over and over in the run and breeze of the common and across stone held fields. In the ocean breath of asana and the spill and surge of the sea. Held in taut gasps caught on the line between falling and flying, in the dizzying flight of trapeze and tightrope walking. In open mouths, waiting. In the quiet force of magnet eyes and palms held flat. Thick and full in heat boxed attics and raw words poured down telephone lines.

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those little books of heartbreak no.1

The shop was quiet before the Parkinson’s man came in. Quiet in a non populated way as there had been no customers so far that day – but unquiet of sound. She was listening to music while she wrote.  She preferred a lyric-less sound so as not to compete with the words in her head and on this day the music she had chosen was Chopin.  As usual his nocturne in e-flat major, op. 9, no. 2 and quite specifically played by Rachmaninov.  She always listened to this particular recording.  For the sweetness,  or the sadness, for the drawn out end of a thread-ness of it all;  for the non digital sound of a record spinning on a gramophone with a black and white scratch and hiss to remind her of an age she had never been a part of.  The day was hot and the shop was a cool break of shade against the sun metal flash and gear grind of the busy road outside.  The doors and windows rattled to the thrust of passing lorries.  Outside was all thrum and noisy. People going, people coming from the small lopsided town on the hillside which was green and sun bright under the summer sky, heavy and lush from the rains before the run of summer had a chance to fade the grass and dry the fields. Inside was chamber like and the air was still and unhurried.  It was just another day in a line of days she counted until her next chance of escape .

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the air is thick with want

 

four moons have not passed
summer has yet to astound
and still memory
serves to taunt with eyes open - 
heart and limbs fresh solace seek
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how to get home on a saturday night

Wake up earlier than the birds and begin to think straight away. Write inside your head. Press up so close to Peter that your breasts are against his back, that your cheek is at his shoulder. Smell his skin. It is warm and brown and smells of soap and him. Wrap a thigh around his leg and drape your arm over his waist. Feel his cock harden in his sleep. Imagine what it would be like to give yourself fully. To abandon it all inside the height of climax. Imagine not being an outsider looking in on your life. How sweet that would be. Wonder if you are authentic. Wonder if authenticity is all that. Listen to the birds begin their chatter in the still of the morning. Know that today will be a hot day. Make a funny concoction of ginger and apple and kale and laugh at yourself for being a kook. Brew tea. Hang out the washing in Peters old shirt and flip flops and get wet toes and marvel at the grow green thrust of the garden . Its wildness, the bashed red peonies bowed by the rain , their heads kicked in. The eager larkspur waiting for July,  the pink shock of the hawthorn , the mayhem of it all. Three pairs of jeans, T shirts, yoga pants, odd socks. Watch the washing line spring up and feel the dew drips on your face, hear the birds sing and sing. Watch the rooks clamour to leave. They leave every morning, they come back every night. Know that as long as you live they will always do that. They are as constant as the sun, as loyal as the moon.

Texts from young people. A party in a field. Are you coming? A to and fro of slightly ironic texts on the subject of fancy dress. They are giddy for this day . Don’t tell Lisa it’s fancy dress because she hates it. A text from a friend with only twenty five years inside of him. He is tall and handsome and he knows it and yet he does not realise its significance, it’s insignificance, he knows nothing and he knows it all. The beauty of youth with its built in feeling of immortality. Wonder if a fear of death makes us less free. Wonder if the fear of death was sucked from my mothers breast, breathed in alongside my fathers melancholic sighs. If their early disillusionment seeped into my only child pores. Or if my solitude set me apart from the day off.  A ship all at sea from the word go. A party in a field. A field under God skies where the moors make us all secondary. There will be a fire, there is always a fire. Wonder why they love me. Perhaps because they know I have seen it before but I will still play their game. Be curious. Enjoy myself even when I am not enjoying myself. Dance for hours between the fairy lights and the hay bales and the laughter, forget yourself and shine. Walk home at a time when night presses into not quite woken, reluctant day, a no-mans land of nothing really happening but where anything could be possible. How to get home on a Saturday night.

Remember not to read anything into or behind this. This is it. This is all that I have, this is all that I am.

a bird does not sing because it has an answer

not long now, i say to myself. for the brightful air and the clear skies and the heavy rush of the tide. not long until that impossible clarity. that astonishing blue. and wherever i go, i am a mountain girl, a hilltop seeker. i am, always will be, air of air. my home will be at the foot of a mountain which is covered with snow in the winter months and which hides itself in the clouds on some summer days. my knees and feet will be wary but greatfull of the sharp grey volcanic rocks and my skin will thank the shock of the sea that is yet to warm inside hot long days. i have no desire to offend, only a playful desire to shock. and so i shall tell my new, very old neighbour that peter and i have been unmarried for more than half my life and i shall watch her tiny bright brown eyes widen. i shall paint my short nails the deep pink of tongues and hidden places and each day i will walk further, swim longer than the day before.

there is a saying amongst the old folk – a bird does not sing because it has an answer.  and if you ask , they will tell. i listen to their stories and the themes are the same the world over. they are stories of loss, of love, of pain and the smallest sweetest tales are of joy. there is perfection in those simple memories. the smell of pitch, the sudden frosts, the discovery of a new delight. i think to myself, we must chose our memories wisely. we must be curators. we must keep close those days when all that mattered was the day itself- when time strung out like the furthest horizon after the bliss of intimacy. we need to immortalise those moments when everything fell together into the perfect landscape. everybody has them. and it is true, it has always been so –  a bird does not sing because it has an answer – a bird sings because it has a song.

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To be

Despair is bearing witness to an ungodly decent into old age, where the ravages of time and life whittle away at the core of the person you once believed invincible. The injustice of illness, the imparity of disease only strikes another nail into the coffin of my atheism.

Frustration is the jagged rage at my own intolerance, at my inability to accept the inevitable.

Worry is the nagging reproach that joy seems only to manifest itself in the physical. In the sweat and filth of sex, the ethereal aftermath of loving, the muddy, earth thumping runs through wood and field;  in the hungry gasps of air in gaunt open moorland and the measured breath of stretch and pull in asana. To truly enjoy anything I must forget myself – I must learn to free-fall.

Delight is captured in the dart and sudden stillness of a wren. It eyes me from a branch and does not move as I run inches past its tiny form. Silliness is in my sing song whisper troglodytidae troglodytidae and the disbelief that such a stony name has stuck to a bird so wick and small. I am a child again as I pull off my hood to feel the cold rain on my cheeks and my pony tail swinging to the rhythm of my stride.

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the past is never dead. it’s not even past

try as i might, we can never escape those hours and days gone by. i am a map of my experiences. the tiny white scar on my left knee, a remnant from all those years ago, another life and the same life, apple picking in greece. loose branches, sharp breeze blocks, gulping dark coffee and retsina to flood a bleeding wound. concerned fingers  bandaging with an oily rag. gentle smiles in an old man’s face. fine lines on my belly,  the soft stretches of a baby’s limbs, nipples tugged for milk and love. our hearts and minds are hidden but they push forth in other ways. their journeys present in hands and posture- the cadence of a voice. it does not do to forget because forgetting is impossible- that would be akin to asking a stream to stop flowing, the wind to cease, the sun to halt her rise. and so we are amalgams. the past does not flood back or trickle into now, it never left in the first place. as we strain our eyes into the future to grasp for love, to strive for acceptance our backs are bowed with the weight of the things we should have done, or our shoulders heave from what might have been. or we spin in dizzy giddy circles, drunk from the jubilations of our youth, we fling our arms apart in celebration of all those times never to be missed, impossible to repeat precisely because they were born in and of the moment.

my garrulous heart

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summoned by longing
i flip which way and that way 
a sure libertine

remember it all
affinity is binding


The Expositrix

Because you have to *discuss* the reading once you've put the book down.

The endless landscape

The endless landscape

lost gander

stories & texts by s. d. stewart