beside mill wood *

shut the door there’s a draught

How strange, how.

She kept the books, of course she did.

It was impossible to listen to music without.

Charlotte had no brothers or sisters. She felt this was a fact deserving of a word.

To fall from one thing to the next, to let the falling and the moving become a flow.

How strange she thought, that there are those who seek and those who choose.

It began on a Monday and was the year William Saroyan wrote his short story, The Daring Young Men on the Flying Trapeze and Stefan Zweig fled from Austria to London.

It’s all about the loss. Of innocence.

There was ice on the inside of the windows the day my mother gave birth and brought me home to a house made of Millstone grit.

Even in the shade the air was close.

He is dressed for a funeral, but not really the funeral. My heart melts a little. He has even ironed a shirt. He never irons a thing.

The sky preferred it.

Archaic northern fish knives and antimaccasars.

She’s so fucking fake. And that’s saying something from a fraud like me. Her voice drips with a faux sincerity.

Old hands throw new corn and the golden grains  arch in the evening light.

God will not attend my funeral.

John likes older women. Women who curate their appearance carefully.

I am rubbish at deconstruction.

The rooks claim back the dusk.

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our steps will always rhyme

Of course lovers everywhere always see themselves in songs. And so I am your Marianne and your Suzanne, and yes, I’ve touched your perfect body with my mind. And the games we play – the word tennis and all those magical signs, the herons and the magpies, the murmurations and the signal box red in the topmost leaves of a certain tree. To me you are the story with a beginning, a middle and no set end, who pockets his silver coin and will forever be gentle as he dips to tie a runner’s lace with a bowed head and deft fingers. And how many times have I wished that I had a man who would sweep the leaves from my path and smooth my unruly hair; who notices the sunlight just so on the brackish estuary and takes comfort in the shift of the shingle, who sees the weather in my eyes and the conflict in my heart.

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just take this longing from my tongue

Our hybrid dream permeates my sadness. It softens the absence of you. I’m never sure which is better, to be almost with or almost without, I guess both are half living.

On this precise day, when the sky plays God and there are tricks in the light, when the catch of a song ( Leonard btw) falls against my raw edges, on such a day , you are a million brilliant memories.

And already I can hear your voice say , it doesn’t have to be this way. But oh it does. Because this is me, this is what I am, this is what I do.

fallen

And always afterwards, everything is sideways 
as I lay like blown barley, storm ravaged and tender
with nothing left to say save the louder pumping 
of my heart against the slant of your smile.



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without hesitation, deviation or repetition

A Freudian loop ? A mildly manic cycle, the ebb and flow of time , my body wired to the moon ? 

Fuck knows, all I really know is it’s the same old same old. 

There’s a snap in the air and that tree is there again, boldly growing red before all the others, proclaiming Autumn in its topmost branches. The fiery red that no one else would notice. Except they probably do. Me and my romantic notions.

This has to stop. I must learn to fill my boots, my mind, my heart with something else. This contrariness, this vanity, this self delusion and conversely this pitiful self appraisal must take flight. There can be no hesitation, deviation , no repetition.  

From now on, this has to be just words. 

zuihitsu , pillow book II

Perhaps I should explain some more. In those times hidden from you, in among those day to days, it is not just the depths and the darkness you do not see. I am thinking more about the mundane, the everyday, the joyful, the beautiful. I will try to describe so you can see what I mean. Perhaps then you will feel differently, think differently, about me, about who I am, about what I am.

Sunday.

It is a Sunday. I’ve been at work most of the day, it’s been busy and I’m on a bit of a high from all the talking and the dealing and the selling, from the blue sky and the warm air as I walk back up the hill to my car. I call Peter to arrange to meet in the pub on my way home, “just for one” I say, “we won’t stop long”. Five hours later we leave amongst laughter and faux recriminations that I am a wrong-un, that I lead people astray. Tinker and Thomas hug me tight,  Thomas hugs Peter too. We have covered all sorts throughout the evening. Brexit, masturbation, Camus, the Universe, racing pigeons, railways, death. Thomas is a huge man, a man mountain. His eyes are very very blue. “You’re obsessed wi’ death” he says. “Or , more like wi’ age, wi’ mortality”. He’s seen through a part of me tonight with his bluest of eyes. And in that moment, in a northern pub, propped at a northern bar full of rich men and working men and old men and poor men and farming men I suddenly feel lost and yet wonderful and I realise that I am the only girl in here and I like being the only girl and I know that yes, I am still running away, always running from something.

Monday.

I feel like shit. That’s it I swear to myself, I’m never drinking again. And even as I swear to myself I know that I’m a fraud.

Tuesday.

I follow up on a house call. In a small house in a grim town there is a life to be emptied and sorted; to be sold, to be binned. The actual end after the mortal end. There were no children to leave things to, just an estate to be sold the proceeds of which will go to kindly neighbours and distant friends. In a dusty bedroom stacked with half used medicines, walking frames, naff John Wayne figurines and unopened packets of incontinence pads, I begin to cry. Her name was Sylvia and this is how her life ended. In these four walls, surrounded with these items. This is the physical sum of a life lived. Nobody wants the photograph albums. There are stacks of them, each one is lovingly documented on the back in a neat and sensible hand. 1972 -Norman , Grand Canyon. 1974 -Norman, Fort William. Year after year they visited the Land of the Free. Picture after picture of Norman in his stetson, Norman at a diner, Norman in New York, Norman on Sunset Boulevard. Sylvia sits uncomfortably in a few, decidedly English in her frumpy floral dresses, handbag clutched tightly to her breast. Decades of holiday snaps which are now destined for the nearest public dump. And I wonder, why do we – they – us bother?  What really is the point. I am just another mote in a dusty bedroom, in this crappy house, with the pathetic yet profound realisation that we are all essentially nothing, that we are meaningless entities or at best sudden, brief sparks from some ancient fire. That if we’re lucky we experience an intense blazing and then burn to nothing.  And so what really is the fucking point ? And then, contrary to the very end, I dry my eyes, stuff heavy-duty bin liners with a lifetime of photographs  and crack on – does there have to be a point? In defiance of myself I rage that we make our own points and reasons.

Thursday.

In the grey half light with the slightest hum of traffic in the distance, Peter curls behind me. His cock is hard against my thighs. I have been awake for a while, a little lost in contemplation but today already feels that it could be, it will be,  a good day. It would be foolish to hope that in a relationship that has lasted over half my lifetime, sex will always be completely abandoned, uncomplicated and stand alone. But there is a form of liberation and comfort in what is essentially familiarity. His skin smells like home. And anyway, perhaps that is my greatest struggle – to take, to make excitement from what I know so well, from what I know I already have.There is no fight for his acceptance, for his love, for his desire because he gives it me all, freely,  openly and without obligation. My own inconstancy reflects my warrior leanings, and with a need for glory I am surely destined for disappointment because everything pales after the rush of battle. There is always magic in the new. The real skill is to find magic in the everyday.  I push back against him.

Friday.

My muscles ache and I have stretched in ways I never thought I could. I can take a perfect joy in that. To revel in oneself as a physical being alone, with no thought for anything other than breath and movement is a beautiful thing.

Sunday.

Another impromptu meet in the pub. We greet each other with a conspiratorial joviality. I can play this game so well, it is second nature, perhaps it is my nature. And so another night of alcoholic liberation. Tinker assesses me like he would his livestock – firm legs, a good breast and I soak it all up and watch as my presence delights him. We are all part of a happy game. But even with talk of politics, literature and the very nature of existence, it’s all essentially surface stuff. For after all, in a pub, in a bar, amongst strangers, companions or friends, who really wants to address, who can address what it all means, what it all comes down to ? I can spread my little knowledge, my tiny intellect a long way and from a young age I learnt that it is a form of self preservation to never quite let on. Always the consummate funambulist I am a mistress of deception. After all, wouldn’t it be madness to reveal the full extent of what you want, what you are., what you really think?

Monday.

I feel like shit. I have been here before.

And although these days follow no real chronological order, they do form part of the  truth, the where’s and the why for’s, the darkness and the lightness. They stand alone as days and events that have really happened. They are part of my story and part of the truth. You always said I played fast and loose with time and while my memory is challenged by order, it is not challenged by sense or observation, and so details etch themselves on my mind as real as any wound or  ink tattoo. That said, the details may be fixed but my mind and my heart change with the wind; what feels so sweet one day could well taste as sour as misery the next.

 

Zuihitsu, another pillow book

Just like you, I’ve the urge to tell this story, the real story. To capture the grit and the beauty, the fucks and the love,  the bizarre incredible mess of what it has been like. The simple truth is that I do not have the vocabulary, the art, the nerve to write it all out. Can you imagine it?  I can and it is a mammoth task. Because in order for it to be true it would have to contain everything – the fakery, the deception, the filth. The absurd, the mundane and yes of course, those breath taking , life affirming moments, the ones that rendered everything else subordinate, the ones that make it all worth while. I don’t think I have it in me. Perhaps if I devoted myself to it – the recording of everything at the expense of everything – it would happen. But really, I am incapable of the task. I am never enough. Especially to myself, I am lacking in wholeness. Does that make sense? Even now, I do not feel fully formed. After all these years, after all this life , I am incomplete, unfinished.  Perhaps it’s my destiny to be forever uncertain and in turn unable to finish a story. 

At night, in those unholy hours between the darkest skies and the worn edgeless light of dawn, ideas drift into my head. Answers to your questions, passages to describe a particular feeling, words to paint love and loss and guilt. Sometimes, in those hours I can glimpse the story in all its beautiful entirety , apart of course, for the ending. On such nights, sometimes I do have the words, I can see the answers, but they are as ephemeral as dreams.  They are never quite enough.

Let’s get together ( in our minds )

“Your past is always with you, always waiting in the future, time is like a boomerang”, these words, or words to that effect – you know what my memory is like – heard on the radio as part of a short story, listened to on an unusually quiet and solitary evening, struck me powerfully. In many ways I’ve always been keen to forget the past. To look ahead or to invoke myself in the here and now. I’ve always been drawn to excess, but never quite succeeded, a sort of part time hedonist, a half assed libertine. Others may disagree, but then they see me at my finest, when I’ve chosen to go out, to play the game, to shine brightly for one night and then take myself back into the shadows until the next time. And so they only ever see the life and soul, the up for it, animated me. The peacock me, posturing and pirouetting , pretending to be the person I’d have them believe I was. But in truth I’d say that was not really what I’m about at all.

Of course you know that, you’ve felt my coldness first hand, you’ve witnessed the downward spiral of remorse and self doubt. It’s a compliment really, in a perverse sort of way, the only other person who gets to see it is Peter and well, perhaps that says it all. It’s all part of the never ending quandary we find ourselves in, the one which , for a myriad of reasons , we are never able to reasonably solve.

Anyway, I found myself half listening to something on the radio while reading your diary. I switched the radio off pretty quickly, it was more than enough to sink into your words and imagine the places you were describing, the sand dunes and the old mill and the hidden from the real world beaches. And instantly, along with being carried into your world I felt suddenly sorry for everything I had kept away from you. That this beautiful stream of words of yours deserved a reply, deserved a similar attention to detail. That actually I was a vain and selfish egotist who merely took and soaked in your experience and offered little back in return. This is by way of an apology. It isn’t calendrical, my head for time and dates is a bit like those caged tombolas, a mix of letters and numbers, nothing will come out in chronological order, I’m no archivist like you. But something is better than nothing and here are a few of the things I have seen.

There’s a girl who works in the local coffee shop. She’s probably about seventeen, still at school, works there in the holidays and at the weekend. I’ve probably watched her for the last five years, walking past my window on her way home from school, or trailing behind her dad as he strides ahead in a camouflage jacket and a scowl. She’s dyed the ends of her hair a light febrile green and when she works at the coffee shop her hair is pulled back into a messy bun and her neck is as slender as her arms and fingers. Her nails are short, her regulatory white blouse is greyish and she has a sort of knowing, detached look about her, as if she’s seen more than her years would allow. I’ve  projected a whole personality onto her when I know nothing about her other than the things I describe now. When the other girls laugh and exchange high giddy tales behind the counter she always seems to to be holding something back. I wish I knew everything about her and I always get a strange urge to take her into my arms and hug her.

Once, quite a long time ago, it was in Guatemala, at the top of a dead volcano, there was a beautiful lake. In the woods around the lake there were the sounds of wailing women. It must have been a special saints day, or a day for the spirits. I walked around the whole of the lake anti clockwise because that felt the correct way to go – towards the sound, towards those tiny Mayan women in their rainbow coloured clothes and black shining hair. At the water’s edge they had made small fires and alters of flowers and the air was thick with incense.  It was a crazy mix of God and forest spirits and old customs and not so old ideas. And all the way around the lake I could hear their songs, like they were being held in a bowl at the very top of the world. It was as if we were touching the bottom of the sky and as I had almost completed my circle a man walked down to the lakes edge, he was as small as the tiny women which made me feel like some strange giant, and he was carrying two long knives which he washed and swished in the water. He sat by the side of the lake for ages and so did I, watching, listening. The singing wailing stopped and everything went eerily quiet, I felt as if even the birds had stopped singing, and over the tops of the trees a light white mist rolled. Beautifully billowed like some serene magical breath, into the lake. It lasted for maybe five minutes, the lake took the mist and then gave back the sky its reflection as if nothing had happened. It really was magical and I wished you could have seen it.

This summer, a rush of goats. I don’t know the collective noun for them but from now on to me it will always be a rush of goats. I heard them before I saw them, the familiar bright yet hollow sound of bells against coarse hair and bone. It was early evening and the sun was still hot but low in what had been a cloudless clear blue sky and I was walking up a steep track from a hidden beach and suddenly there they were, hurtling down the path, jostling and tottering on their strange spindly legs, a mass of brown and black with flashes of white and amber. I had to sink back into the tall grasses at the side of the path to let them pass and even though they obviously belonged to somebody, they were far from what could be described as wild, it felt so good to feel their raw energy, their collective lack of self consciousness, I suppose what could be described as their amorality, as they hurtled past me. It seems pompous to describe it that way, but I feel sure, had you seen it, you’d have felt the same. I think perhaps we notice the same things when it comes to observing nature, we can lose ourselves in the apparent freedom of the falcon or the butterfly or even the goat , a freedom that is somehow beautifully focused and uncomplicated. And by that I mean how easy it is to sigh and wish yourself into a swallow’s flight.

The broken road

To say it was complicated, to describe it as difficult would be a misrepresentation. The road was broken, the road mended, the road broke again. Some days it stretched alongside never ending fields, on others it was potholed and treacherous, in places it even became impassable. Over and over. Through days, into weeks , amongst years.  Throughout it all Magdalene was a mix of remorse and indifference, of teetering high spirits and swampy depths.

She didn’t classify him as a notch on the bedpost, or a brilliantly coloured bead on a string of the same; the truth was her regard for him ebbed and flowed as much as her own self regard. And so at times her love was fierce and all-consuming, at others her love shrank into a cold hard stone and buried itself in the knot inside her. But there were constants. It was impossible not to think of him as she pleasured herself. His gaze, those fingers, each word from his mouth, she imagined and remembered and replayed them all with a filthy greedy relish. Any open, clear smile, be it on the face of an innocent child or a roughened old man and again there he was, smiling and hers and alive in the moment.

Finally, he did what she could never do with any firm conviction. She knew he was right, that to find any sort of happiness he had to be free of her for good or else possess her forever. She could not argue with that but she could not , would not , completely abandon the road they had followed.  Instead she pictured a fork in the road. Each must take their own path. They must make of it what they could and with all her heart she wished his to be a journey of wonder and discovery, of light and light-ness, she wished him to see things and feel things that would make his spirit soar and spark his intellect. She hoped beyond anything else that he would still write about his life, that he would still spin words to record and captivate and explain. Magdalene could not see into the future, no matter how hard she imagined, no matter how far she peered, she could not get any sense of where her road would lead. It was at once a thrilling and horrifying concept, but she could never rule out the possibility that one day their paths would merge again and the one thing she could be sure of , was that if they did, it would be as if a day had never passed since the last day they had been together.

have want exert

Sunlight on the door –
hidden years, a golden sphere –
thoughts of stories no one reads
and a life comprised
of loves in darker places.

All those words, all those everyday sights with their hidden meanings, weighted in the significance we chose so carefully or with such abandon . I still look for them. I still see the world through eyes I think of as yours alone.

I have been seen as beautiful. I have been desired. I have had a way with me. The detached appraisal of a strangers eye is objectifying and exhilarating; to be reduced to the physical brings a carnal simplicity to the world. But now I feel invisible rather than invincible.  Perhaps I am resting or perhaps my day has gone and I am finally in perdue (the romantic notion of fern seeds in my pocket has literally come true). That my appearance should matter affronts my intellect. And yet , I am ashamed of how much I crave the mythology you spun so beautifully about my person. I want back that look in Thomas’s eyes, so full of desire in the pastel room in the Museum D’Orsay, where I was both whore and culprit. I covet the power I once held so gently, so lightly, as I stood before you. I want to see the force of your longing which rendered me powerless and so subtly in control.

We were funambulists you and I, we really did walk that delicious line between the falling and the flying; we were knife-edged and breath-held lovers. Perhaps, above all else, I wonder if it was that tension, that wonderful, tautly wound sexual lunacy which was our downfall ? Such magic, by its very nature is unsustainable. It is greedy, it is insatiable , it is an insane way to exist with all its hungry impatience. Perhaps such a life lived out loud  will finally, inescapably burn itself out.

And yet. In the quiet aftermath I still struggle to contain myself. I am spilled , I am opened, I am raw. It seems I am still a balancing act.

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The endless landscape

The endless landscape

lost gander

stories & texts by s. d. stewart