Take a bulb
A tulip say, or a daffodil,
Not quite of this world
Layered, containing all that is needed
For year after year after year of bloom.
The ground is prepared, a niche carved out
And therein the bulb gently placed, covered with hope
Protected from the whim of climate
It nestles into the earth
Roots caressing a darkness more profound than night
And weaving a silky net around flint and earthworm alike.
You and I may walk by this place everyday
But only when these days get longer
Do we see green ruckle the soil to glide up and up
A bud like lips, pointing towards the sky
The twin of the bulb beneath.
The folds of petals unwind their colour-
So vivid: all that is good in life
Finely balanced on this supine bloom, its slender stalk
and the bulb beneath,
A bulb steadfast, discrete.
Given long enough
It could fill a whole field with colour
Year after year after year
It's when you take great care
over making a sandwich
you will not eat
and, impatient for lunchtime,
imagine all the different places
your work will be enjoyed,
all thoughts it might engender.
You walk to work,
passing a crooner in an empty precinct,
his sixty something voice
echoing concretely at 9 a.m.
You think you know why he sings,
it brings thoughts of fruit,
of trees bowing under apricot-amber plums
wishing to reach their red speckled kin
that lie in the grass,
softening under the touch of the Sun.
And from those hundreds of plums
you find two in your lunchbox.
Two plums you did not put there.
Two plums side by side.
Two plums whose union you will complete
by eating the flesh together with alternate bites,
keeping the stones somewhere safe, secret, close.
Teacup white blossoms
Upon dancer's hips.
Amy and I had just carried our bikes up the steps that link the river path to the dual carriageway. Not a single car occupied the four lanes of the road. We commented on this peculiarity but continued. I silently pondered on how one rides through unusual circumstances until they become an obstacle. Sure enough, after a couple of minutes a barrier appeared and it barred every lane. A figure in a day-glo jacket sat on the other side. He stood up as we got closer. After establishing the road was, closed even to us, he answered our query as to why. Climbers were ridding the cliff face of loose rocks thus protecting persons such as myself and Amy from receiving horrific stony injuries. Within this brief exchange an hour had been added to our journey. We turned to begin the cycle diversion. Four empty lanes- what else to do but gently weave across each one?
The mud flats of the river were grotesque but their repugnance was attractive in itself. The brown, wet malleable landscape had something human about it- a flabby power. I glimpsed the fat slicks through the leaves of trees lining the road. The tips of the leaves white green reflected the sun more powerfully than the ones nearer the ground.
Gently curving away from the body of water to its counterpart over the road, one faced wasteland. Unconscious behind a link fence, the wasteland was a thin sibling, unshaven and bedsore. Amy noticed an empty billboard frame I'd looked straight through without noticing. A squat pre-fab building was obstinately rooted in the otherwise empty space. All wastelands seem to have one of these. This had been tagged in large letters which made it a definite part of urbania stranded between developments. It seemed to me an exemplar of the urban pastoral- these patchy green spaces are interrupted by suburban outposts which are never sustained. These pre-fab buildings always get boarded up and thus become places to go for those who wish to get out of sight and do something like spray or destroy. They carry those hours of transgression during the day whilst at school or work, 'troublemakers' sure they won't get caught. And all the time I was thinking the road was mine and Amy's- empty and beautiful under our four ty res. The afternoon light was perfect for a memory such as this.
I used the digital camera my sister leant me to shoot 35 seconds of road and Amy. Amy shot 36 seconds of road and me and her shadow, her cycling up the right lane and me cycling up the left, a raised, paved barrier between us. Soon we reached some orange cones: the other end of the road block. Amy's curiosity was aroused by some red blotches at the side of the road. Earlier when we'd been walking in Blaise I'd noticed a red blotch on a log. When I wondered aloud what it was, Amy gravely informed me, 'That's nature rotting, Hannah.' The blotches we now examined were also on their journey towards mulchy oblivion but they were still recognisable as apples. Looking up we saw a tree bearing small, red fruits. After a few attempts Amy and I each held one. I haven't tasted such sweetness for a long time. Crisp flesh that released juice in an explosion down my jumper. I thought of Kayle and her urban fruit project. She'd given me a pot of plum jam made from fruit picked from public trees. I remembered the packe ts of seedballs she'd made and was selling at Cube. Each muddy ball is packed with all sorts of seeds. You throw them into urban wastelands and then they create flourishing pockets of flora. I'd tell her about this place.
Amy and I stood in one of the four lanes of the dual carriageway. We had reached the plain where the world is the traveller's very own orchard- everything was there for our delight.
Miss Porter noticed that the traffic was very slow. She didn't take much notice because she was thinking about magpies. She was walking to the train station, perhaps to meet a friend there or in another part of England, I don't know. I do know that when she realised all the traffic had stopped she stopped walking and looked at the road. In the middle of the carriageway was a swan, a swan not doing very much, not even looking very lost. It was just there, in the middle of the road stopping cars. Miss Porter examined the scene and decided to take action. From her bag she drew her telescopic umbrella and opened it before slowly approaching the large bird. She knew swans are strong and ill tempered (Leda may have crossed her mind) and an open umbrella seemed to be a good means of self defence. Coming at an angle to the swan she tried to direct it to the side of the road but with little success. Another woman came to her assistance. A male driver clapped his hands whilst making a shoo-ing motion with them. Together they managed to persuade the bird to retire to a one way side road but once there (again in the middle, the animal seemed to possess an innate desire for symmetry) the women, umbrella and clapping man could no longer exert an influence. With reluctance they desisted. Miss Porter felt the time had now come for the RSPB to be called. As she did so two builders, who had been observing the situation, walked into the road the swan was now occupying. They sat on either side of the great white bird and talked to her in soft, masculine voices, edging closer with every sentence. One began to touch the feathers on her left wing and was soon able to stroke her in long, unhurried arcs. Miss Porter had retreated to the pavement. She noticed the builder's hands seemed very large and pink against the swan's body. Fascinated, she watched as one of the builders gently placed his hand at the base of the swan's majestic neck while the other supported her belly and together, after the briefest exchange of looks, they lifted her to the pavement, a few metres from where Miss Porter herself was standing. The swan maintained her indifference, remaining where she had been carefully lowered. The builders stood over her, their uniform of paint spattered and dusty clothes made them strange sentries to this elegant misfit. Miss Porter looked at the scene for a moment more. A half hour had passed; she was late for her friend, but she had been late even before this incident. Nevertheless, it provided her with a noble, incredible excuse.
Although the hands on the clocks tell the same time, Cristina actually
wakes up an hour earlier than the rest of her family. When they wake they
see a bluer sky and the Sun feels warmer. The birds sing slightly differently
and the traffic does not sound the same. Perhaps these subtle differences
alter Cristina, perhaps they make her different from a self who wakes up
at the same time and in the same country as her family, from a self who
had never gone away. But even if she were to return to Spain tonight, in
the morning of her family she would remain altered. She contains more comparisons
now, not just those gained through growing up in the same place where the
childhood riddles of space and time are solved with every year that passes.
The foreign light that has filtered into her has illuminated hidden places
and cast others into deeper shadow. The dissimilarities she has to the people
of England have revealed as many dissimilarities she has to the people of
her own country. And this has bloomed into loneliness, and given strength,
and sometimes transformed the mundane into something sweet and overwhelming.
So, right now she possesses places not to be found in the clocks at home;
but in time these too will be cast into shadow or be so luminous that she
has to look away. ©2005
A curling wave is how the heart feels
on an evening such as this:
strong but powerless to stop itself breaking,
dissipating in the shadow of the next wave,
remembered only in the grain of the pebbles it rustled briefly,
each small stone smooth as a heart softened by glances.
The herring-bone clouds swell to shark ribs
as night collapses over Billericay.
My dog and I meander along the pavement
watching a mid-November night begin
hardly visible in a land which fears the dark
where headlights reflected in a puddle
are the nearest one could hope to get to a shooting star.
The elderly lady cupped the back of my hand in her won as she gave me change from my ten pound note. She was warm and her touch was light. Her face is one I recognise from my Billericay life, I cannot place her exactly though. She apologised for giving me a dirty five pound note and our eyes met for a few seconds. She recognised me too. The smile she gave me was the sort of quiet gesture that only the old can make.
The end of the second week in her new job found Nunu in a room surrounded by expensive furs lining the collapsible clothes rail like a dormant pack. She was so tired. All week the restaurant had been preparing for the special pre-opening night and now it was 11.30pm and guests were still arriving though none had left. She had been employed as a runner transferring food from the kitchen to the customers' tables. However, Nunu had a propensity to be clumsy and if she felt under pressure or nervous this characteristic became very pronounced as the last few days had revealed. Because of this she had been relegated to cloakroom duty and she felt the separation from the other equally inexperienced but more confident staff keenly. So she sat alone in the converted function room. Her task was simple enough, hanging and ticketing coats, but the guests were surprisingly obnoxious and not one had failed to snipe, scowl, sneer or snarl at her. She slouched in the chair feeling tired and dejected and began stroking the sleeve of a nearby coat absentmindedly. She pushed her arm between two thick brown coats and was instantly warmed. It was as if the fur had been waiting for bare skin to protect and heat. Nunu closed her eyes and became aware of nothing save for her arm nestling until a sharp nudge to her thigh made her jump and snatch her arm back. A middle-aged man was glaring at her. He poked her again with his cane. "Take my coat!" he growled. "This is appalling service! What were you doing with those jackets? Put mine over there, away from your chair." Nunu did so, silenced by embarrassment. "Don't touch it until I return," he snapped. Nunu could see the unspoken, "You stupid bitch." in his eyes. She stared at him, unable to speak. He filled her with revulsion, not just for him but for the situation she was in. Why was she sitting in this drafty room hanging up people's coats? What had she become? Could she ever hope to do anything else? She looked out into the restaurant. It was heaving with expensively smeared bodies. Red faces, tottering couples, people grabbing glass after glass of cheap champagne. She shut the door, hesitated and then opened it again. She walked over to the main till and looked at the key hooks that were above it. Under the 'Internal Doors' label hung a bunch of four or five new keys. Nunu removed them, returned to the function room ignoring anyone who tried to get her attention, closed the door and locked it. She took the longest coats from the rails and laid them in an oval shape under the long, oak dining table. Nearly all of them were lined with silk so she placed them lined side up. After arranging seven on top of each other the floor under the table became indiscernible. She then took the furs and carefully piled them around the silky foundation until she had made a thick nest. She untied her laces and slipped off her shoes. She hesitated, but only briefly, before removing the rest of her clothing. Then taking a red-lined, ankle-length mink from the back rail she crawled into the fur nest. The coats seemed to caress her, finding her skin and warming it, making her feel safe. She drew the mink up to her chin, fur side in, and fell fast asleep.