Passing through

She tries to walk ‘slow slow’ like he taught her, connecting to the weight of her body as it rolls through her heel, urged forward along the edges, deep into the balls of the foot then radiating out into the toes, pushing off. There’s an almost devotional order, a security in the pattern of steps. She fights the ever-present desire to rush, to press herself insistently into the future, heart first. ‘Slow down’, he would scold, looking into her eyes. ‘Slower. It is only once you know the heaviness of the body’, he would say, ‘once you intuitively consider the placement of each foot, that you can flow’. 

Despite these strictures, he walked the route languidly; appearing, to her, like a tributary tracing time to the sea. As she retraces the path in this heat, a bead of sweat slips down the valley of her back. She wants to slow down time, as if by lingering so long in the memory, she could conjure up the ghost. But he is already history. As if he’d walked the path so slowly that he passed into the unseeable. 

 That last time they walked together it was like a dance. ‘Slowly’, he kept saying, as he led her round. ‘Slower, slower’, standing so close that the urge to touch him swept her up like a flood. She understood then that the honeying of time was the sweetest gift he could give her. They stood still, drawing out those last few moments, his conspiratorial whispers pressing into her ears like hot tongues.

resolutions

It’s New Year when she finally comes out with it. They’re part of a giddy circle of uplit bodies huddled close on mismatched wooden chairs and logs in the cold clear night and oh god someone’s just got a guitar out and they’ve both had a lot to drink, but he still hears her when she says, ‘Tell her. Tell that girl about me. Just tell her you have a girlfriend’.

He knows he should, should’ve long ago, but he didn’t want to presume, for even though it’s obvious enough, there’s been comfort in the constancy of her affection. Anyway, he thinks, it’s not really the way his girlfriend is imagining it. In fact, he’s sure that if she really knew him — well, he doubts she would really want him at all.

‘Okay,’ he concedes, pushing the smoke out of his throat up to the pinprick sky–his frigid fingers quickening as he rolls what he worries could be his last cigarettes one after another before any further commitments.

sea velvet

dear you,

I’m thinking of you today when i pick stones up off the beach– soft like sea velvet. It’s funny how you sneaked into the earth of me like small concretions. Pepper flecks.

‘Sure you’ve got enough stones there?’ they tease– but the more i think about you, the heavier my pockets get. When i get home i order the stones on the windowsill like a love letter only i can understand. Erractics, syllabics, this one your laugh, this, your lips. This, the iron pyrite, the tiny flecks of gold in the blue ground of your eyes. Fool’s gold.

m

departure

dear you,

i should know by now that this is what happens but somehow i was still surprised to find that you vanished overnight.  As if, by sleeping in this hotel room, i’d dropped my guard, unwittingly returned you to the world of dreams. On edge for all the sudden space, I nervously rearranged my shoes. I made the bed three times. I couldn’t find you. Just like that, my head was unoccupied again. And now it’s back to this, and that, and the nothings and the somethings to be done.

I took you with me, I’m sure, we talked on the plane–but the very first morning of my trip i woke up and your absence was immediate. you were just, gone. as though you had never existed. it didn’t even hurt. i walked down to the beach and tried to long for you, tried to claw back the pleasure of it, but the stretching sands and the flat grey sky seemed so much bigger. it all felt a bit ridiculous.

so, that’s it. you’re free, but i really miss you.  no longer a living breathing man, turned to stone by the witch.

m x

 

 

 

rosehips

dear you,

the roses next to the path have turned to rosehips. These last weeks they’ve dropped their perfumed petals one by one. It’s seemed so careless. In the building works, the berms that were freshly bulldozed before you left are now reclaimed by weeds and tiny flowers. Nature is taking over. Dry seed heads tremble with bellies full of new life. I’m collecting tiny black poppyseeds in tidy rows in the lines on my palms.

You won’t smell summer here. You won’t see the mirror surface of the canal in this particular light on this particular day. The curved brick on the bridge is warm to the touch today like a lover’s back. You won’t touch it. And by the time you come back the beech leaves in the hedge will be fallen and the hawthorn will be black bare. Now as I walk past in short sleeves, I brush too close against its thick greenery, daring it to draw blood.

And when I get back to the space where my car is parked I feel exhausted by living.

I decide to lie down on the parched grass and wait the remaining weeks for the blackberries to ripen.

double take

dear you,

we wouldn’t have got along if we’d met years ago you say. it’s in the middle of a story you’re telling me about your mother’s house and how, as a young man,  you were left there for long periods alone. the grass would grow, you say. the grass would grow so high, it went to seed, and the tall stalks struck the windows at night and disturbed your sleep. i was stuck, you say. stuck in a kind of inertia. i wasn’t working and i would just sit on the carpet with my back against the living room wall and look up at the grass, waving in the windows.

you smoked then — but not in your mum’s house, not officially — so you would lean out of your bedroom window drawing deeply on your cigarette and looking down at the street below. sometimes, you’d see someone you knew passing and you’d turn away, and after a while you moved your bed nearer the window so you could just lie, letting the draw from the window pull the smoke out into the vastness of outside, as though you yourself were slipping away.

when she came home she’d be angry of course. dad had looked after the garden so well, you see. he took real pride in it. i think it hurt her what i did. i was burying him again.

months later, you tell me the same story. I was left on my own for months, you know — you say. you’d have fucking loved it. parties, orgies, you name it. it was a crazy time.

m x

visitation

dear you,

there was this thing that happened today. i was standing on the street waiting for someone when you arrived instead. i was looking down at my foot as the toe of my shoe nudged the slight softness of an old piece of gum on the pavement, when out of the corner of my eye i could see your sneakers next to mine. my stomach turned over with the same thrill i’d get when you would walk, cocksure, into work and the winds would change. i smiled, big, and looked up. only my reflection in the cafe windows.

i spent a lot of time looking at you in secret. although i was rather partial to the guy who borrowed a dozen jazz cd’s every Tuesday and keen on the older Irish guy who had written a book about fairies and who insisted i had ‘the sight’, i couldn’t now tell you what they looked like. but i remember the curve of your nostrils with a strange accuracy. i had ways of knowing– ways of making sure i was where you were.

and there was this thing that happened then. we were both shut in a small storage cupboard at work and told to remainder books. we’d never talked much, only vaguely been introduced (though of course i’d gathered more than a necessary amount of information about you though measured and casual enquiry)  — and now here we were in a badly lit room the size of a double bed with towers of fusty paperbacks and out of date reference books. rip– off with the cover and the first two pages. rip–off with introductions and into the thick of things. i don’t remember us speaking. but i remember you rolling a number of cigarettes. and i remember the room feeling very hot.

but then, the next thing happened.  there’s shouting for help and the door is flung open. an old man, a regular, caught shoplifting at the local store, has collapsed and i am asked to drag him into the little cupboard. you’ve gone and this is me, alone, loosening the collar and belt of a man who is blue/ turning him onto his side / oh fuck am i gonna have to do this / he’s blue! so blue! is he dead? / i’m leaning in for the kiss of life when he’s violently sick and gasps back to life. small mercies. ‘You’re the wrong man, you bastard’ i whisper to him.

That was that then. A few weeks later you moved on. I heard they moved you to a tiny branch library. I waited for someone to come and replace you. Nobody could.

Thanks for the visit

m x

 

 

swiftlets

dear you,

what i remembered was not a heron, but swiftlets — or swifts (i just liked the sound of swiftlets) curling in the sky like joyous swimmers. It was the high ache of summer — heat and long days. To cheat the sun, we had come to where the forest, the land of vulpes velox – the swift fox, met the water. The forest had quietened us and now, we sat side by side watching water curl round our bare feet. Our closeness was suddenly laid bare. I could only look at your feet, white under the water as though they were lit from inside.

You reminded me of a man i’d met once on a plane. He was an astronomer. On a layover at Toronto airport he’d taken me up onto the roof of the carpark and we’d sat for hours looking over the city — feet dangling into space — arms lolled over the concrete barrier which warmed us from bellybutton to armpit. It had been that same kind of heat. Inanimate things radiated rays, were hot to the touch, heaved, moaned, split. He talked of the origins of the universe and i listened, smiling. The tarmac was chewing-gum.

But now, the forest cool erased airports. You stood, and shallow dived into the water with an arrogant confidence. You knew this lake and it knew you. I watched your body moving with the freedom of experience. The water rolled but it was so incredibly quiet.

Then, drawn to follow, i dived in. The velvet warmth of the lake stroked me from head to feet. I opened my eyes underwater and followed you — your legs froglike in the greygreen murk ahead. Below us, fields of marshy grasses waved and shifted in patterns.

In the middle of the lake, I pulled myself up onto the pontoon. You’d left a towel from your morning swim and we lay there – silent. There was, simply, nothing to say. I watched the swifts.

After a while, i woke up and you watched you sleep. It was dusk now and the sky was slightly pink. The trees on the edge of the lake waved like they were underwater too. We had agreed to wait for the sunrise. I wrapped a towel round my shoulders. You were awake then too and began to tell me a fable about a heron.

Morning, we knew, would come. Then, our bellies would be growling and the spell would be broken.

m

crushes

dear you,

last night i lay in bed and thought about the apple man who used to come to the market when i lived in Joliette.  he was calm and quiet with grey eyes. every week i would bring him my heart, and every week i would go home having left a bit of it with him–and burdened also with several apples which would need eating before the next market!

i get crushes. i blame the likes of the Chet Baker documentary ‘Let’s Get Lost’ — the grainy black and white film of life — i look at you, and you, and you, from a distance and write you into a life i’ll never have. you’ll never know.

at times, just lately, i’ll turn my back and look out the window and i see you standing at the bottom of the garden beckoning to me. it’s a warm evening and you’re taking me through the trees at the bottom of the garden to the lake. the world is strangely silent. the intensity of your presence is overwhelming–the interior is bulging, hemorrhaging into that world we call ‘real’.

i think it’s lack of time to write but these ‘presences’ are overtaking me. i’m thinking of preparing a few basic tools. a pitchfork, perhaps — and some fire. i can’t explain to anyone else that the grief, or happiness i feel is because of some elaborate fiction i’ve overcooked in my head.

a real person has weight. yes. i feel the heaviness of you like a coming home. grounded by the basic laws of physics. i can no longer walk through walls — i can only try to unpick the incredible complexity — to observe the day unfolding like the seasons and to vow to be there in the moment, and to write more.

m

minus

dear you,

it can be hard to explain the difference in two such similar cultures.when asked, i usually say that the differences are subtle and can be hard to articulate. partly that shows that i am more British than i once was as the Canadian in me would have answered honestly that we are friendlier, cleaner and more laid back. I’ve learned to temper that response.

but this week, when i saw the picture of the garden at home which has become only whiteness and trees bent low under the weight of snow, i realised that missing home can be about so much more than missing family or familiar senses of humour — it can be about missing a particular acoustic.

once, as a keen MA student, i talked my way into the anechoic chamber at Leeds Met Uni. I was writing a paper about ‘bodies inside out’ and wanted to experience it for myself. standing, and then sitting inside the heavily padded cell of a room i waited and slowly experienced the unravelling of myself as heart, lungs and finally the sound of electricity in the nerves came to the fore as a kind of high pitched hum. It was an astounding experience. I had a terrible chest cold at the time and hearing my lungs rasping away in such.an intimate way had me convinced i was at death’s door. 

before England, was home. and much of home was studying or cafes. A winter evening in the Sugarbowl is giddy. The darkness reflects us all back at ourselves as though we are in a train tunnel — people emerge through the door and yipes and giddy laughs ring out to close the goddam door if they’re too slow. The bell on the door clatters against the glass, the coffee grinder roars, laughter echoes, music plays, cups and saucers clatter and we sit and drink refill after refill after refill as the space gets closer, more dizzy, more electric till the caffeine itself is like a high pitched hum.

Then, it’s my turn, and coat on i suddenly cross the threshold into the deep silence of a northern Canadian winter. I suck the cold into my lungs like a child with a mint. I’m alone now, in the dark on a small suburban street. Looking in from the dark, i can make out the shapes of people through the steamed up windows of the cafe. The world has fallen utterly silent. I turn inwards and listen for a moment. No birdsong, no cars, just my own breath this beautiful plaything which rises and stretches and disperses up up under the clear night and its many stars. My feet begin to crunch and squeak through the snow. There are deep ruts here from cars, black ice and a kind of grey mushy powder on top. Those who know it, will know. There’s a way of walking the winter and she leads you, not the other way around.

One night, walking home, i see a deer. She’s nuzzling the snow looking for greenery somewhere under there. She’s only yards from my house. I stop, still and silent. Her breath rises straight up. I stand and watch and wait till my toes are on fire with cold and then, at the slightest movement she skitters away like a disappearing breath.

That night, in bed, i open the window and let the ice fog come rolling in. Frost forms on the walls and the room is a crystalline burrow.

These things are not for forgetting.

But i couldn’t really tell you this when you said it’s not so bad here, is it? No, it’s not. Just different.

 

m x