beside mill wood *

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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forget about

Sunlight fills the room. I trace lightly, fingertips barely touching, from nipple to hip to belly and down. With eyes closed it is easy to remember, I will not forget. And yet the silence is tipping into a permanence which seems shocking if inevitable.

And how to fill the gap, the lack, the spilling tumbling exchange of words? Mainly I have swapped the (w)hole that was you, for breath and movement and thought. It’s a fitting substitution for one who was (is) so light, so gracious, so recondite.

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elective affinities

He held a short cut –
A hidden code to my sex
Where just one small word
Could unfurl time and let loose
This rare and perverse nature.

 

Magdelene practises mindfulness with cock in her mouth. The sun is intense on her back flooding her body with heat, her knees push into the the small white stones on the beach, she looks from cock to ocean. Her tongue explores and she is a sponge to taste, to light, to heat, to pleasure. The thrust of his hips merges with the push of the waves and the pump of her heart. Everything is held in this moment, the rush of heat, the brilliant searing blue of the sky , the hot salted breeze at her cheek. Out of neccessity life has become a series of moments. She has swapped the shortcuts of a language she had created and has stepped inside the present.

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the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes but in having new eyes

My tongue is tied, my hands are preoccupied with manual labour, with asanas – no pen has been held, no keys have been tapped. I wonder what Magdalene would do. She would look me in the eye and laugh in my face. She would rejoice in the hidden soft flesh between her thighs and smile at the burst of colour all around her. In quiet mornings the damp grass would stiffen her toes and she would wait for the sun. Her actions would be an affirmation of everything that is pleasureable, she would thrill at life.

The garden is beautiful right now. Lilac, hawthorn, laburnum. The larkspur is bright green and still waiting for its flowers, the peonies are so top heavy and full they look drunk. There are buds, shoots, tendrils – the eager rush to grow and flourish is everywhere. But I am leaving this abundance for hotter, drier climes. To a place where I feel both at home and detatched. Here the skies will be a never ending blue and at night the stars really are golden. The cyprus trees twist into the light and every day I will take to the sea and become more and more feral. My skin will change colour with the sun and my hair will curl and tangle with the waves.

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Rhodessa holds my hand. Her skin is cool and paper thin. Her body is frail and very still but her eyes are gentle and her smile is light and open.

Σας ευχαριστώ, σας ευχαριστώ για τη θαυμάσια φιλοξενία.

It always helps to know how to thank your host. She hands me a green silk ribbon for my hair and gestures for me to tie it back. Even in the shade the air is close. We eat meatballs and salad on the veranda, the water is ice cold, the wine is warm and the light dapples through the vine overhead.

She is pleased we will be neighbours and I am hungry to clear the little plot beside her own. To dig and plant, to scrub and paint. Already I am imagining a hammock and a small veranda, terracotta pots of herbs and the thick sweet thrum of night scented jasmine. Of swapping life beside the mill wood for a life soaked with thyme and sunlight and skin warmed and salted from the sea.

Khalepà tà kalá.

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in love there is no because, no reason, no explanation, no solutions

In the absence of any signs of life I must write to imagine, to create, to spill out my wonder- ings. There are no words from him. Nothing . Anywhere. And it is understandable. I trampled on his heart and cut out his tongue with my own retreat. And yet the sun still shines and the moon still grows fat in her black bed and the summer is still a long time in coming. The peonies are tight balls of promise. The wisteria is dry and undernourished. I walk the garden and correlate my body parts to plants and trees and earth. Heart like the wisteria. Limbs like the fresh green grass. Lips like the peonies. Fingernails like the earth. Hair like the tangle of brambles running by the stream. If only I could take this fancy one step further and feel no difference between the end of me and the start of everything else. But the world is still Other and Other must be dealt with. And on some days it is a calm and beautiful otherness, one of clear skies and things working out just fine. One of herons above the mill pond and laughter in the kitchen. And then , imperceptibly, without a hint or a reason or a because, the light shifts slightly and the wind changes and the mood tilts downwards. Towards the black and the empty and the unfathomable and the tears come unbidden and there are no answers. Just silence amidst the growing and the pushing and the never ending reach for life.

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D is for divine

Despite her ineptitude and lack of talent, Magdelene wants to craft something so beautiful. For thanks, for forgiveness, for memory, for imagination. Something as beautiful as the boy atop a five bar gate carving out his love. In simple initials beset with acorns and oak leaves and the curlicues of innocence. As elegant as the finest egg. As tender and as grotesque as the pink featherless bird in the palm of a hand. She wants to show and write of  vulnerability and revulsion bound in seconds. She thinks of them all. All those needy men. She remembers in the close hot box room looking out at the sky and the fields and the faraway feel of stolen afternoons. She thinks of him. He stands alone inside the topmost chamber of her wicked dirty heart. In that thick breathed slick way. Everything seems weighted and with her bold eyes and her legs apart she sees him smiling as ever, smiling despite of.

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he said she said , fire for fire

I don’t want calm and calculated approval. I don’t want a steady appraisal fair and true. That is not what I’m about. I write to forget myself. I write to become something other. I write to be aware and to feel alive. I write when I am not writing.  When I see the saddened eyes of the man who crosses the street next to me or catch the smokey scent of the young girl with black hair on the edge of the park or feel the sting of the wind whipping my face when I walk up Wards Bank, I want to create it again in words. I want to play God and imagine everything. Spread me out, pull me apart,  I care that much. Because restraint is the surest way to kill love.

The endless landscape

The endless landscape

lost gander

stories & texts by s. d. stewart