Boundary Conditions

It’s so still out there, so waiting. That sense of shh, don’t worry, it will come. It’s there in the way the sunlight holds the branches, in the faint call of a hidden bird.

And I pause, breathe, that’s all. And it passes by my window, up to the left with the sparrow wings and he watches me, watching him, watching them all. We slow down, the birds and I, pause to think of sunlight.

And there they are, my creatures in the trees, pecking and singing, ruffling new feathers in this spring. And I wonder do they sense their descendants, the ones I knew, the ones who gave me feathers years ago.

And while they sang outside that window from back there, in that house then, the hem of the dress caught the light as it lay out on the bed, as if to say look at me, look at me, lift me up into your arms. And later, a little later it would be held up as I clambered inside, as I manoeuvred into my new form, like a butterfly losing meconium, drying out its fresh wet wings.

Until its weight draped round my feet and I breathed out. Birds sang unseen as the hem brushed the dust down the wooden staircase and over new mown grass to rest and pause, where cameras winked and moments froze.

Sparrows darted to the neighbour’s tree, head on one side and down the path the hem of the dress shuffled leaves until it was bundled up into the car. It sat quiet, being, folded in upon itself, cushioned on the plush carpet of the foot-well until blackbirds cut the air, overarching the church gate.

And there with the creak of old hinges, with the warmth of a palm, with the click of heels on old stone, the hem of the dress made its way home. Home, on the short path to the archway, home to the hush of the slate and it dragged feathers and fronds as it swayed, as it made its way past pews to the front.

And there it rested for a while, settled in ivory, calm where it belonged. The hem of the dress over champagne silk boots, near to sharp creases in suits and it paused, waited, just to the left of polished shoes.

And then sunlight came back to stroke it, came to throw light at the door. The hem swept and rippled, caught the coloured flecks, scattered rainbows all around, then hands scooped it back up into soft contours in the car.

Trees moved above it unseen, voices chattered and laughed while it lay crumpled up and then the grass came back, daffodils nodded and bobbed as it moved around. Photons bounced up from the duck pond, white spots and sparkles, before it coated steps and carpet-brushed itself along.

And it swooned, the hem of the dress with the tiny remnants from the day and it danced over polished floors, glided as though it would always flow, would always sway, as though in its moment there was release.

And later it lay, much later it was still, smoothed out again and silent on the protective bag at the bedside, soon to be tucked far away.

And now hydrogen coalesces into helium, firing light and heat, like it did, like it does. How reassuring as it warms up the blackbird’s wings, as it listens to the soil.

And in a different wardrobe now the hem of the the dress sleeps its sleep, cradled and swaddled in plastic, over unused things and bits and bobs. But in its weft and weave it holds the moments when it danced, when it was free, when it could shimmer and it was home.

Sediments

She wondered about the grains of sand, would they still lie there, would they be there, somewhere on the beach where she ran. Or have they been washed out to sea, floating somewhere else or swallowed by fish or washed to a different port, a different country that they visited.

And the steps back up to the top, the winding cliff path with its haphazard stones and rocks. Would they still be in place or would the slate have fallen, helter-skelter down into the heather and gorse. Maybe moss covers it over now so it lies unseen by new passing feet.

And she wondered where the tea cup would be now, the fine bone china with fragile flowers and golden trim and the rose painted plate holding crumbs from the scones.

Were they broken by now, smashed on terracotta tiles, maybe chucked into some landfill. Or chipped and loved, were they cosseted on a shelf somewhere, in a cupboard, unused but cherished even now.

But she knew where the slate slabs were, the ones that smacked into her thigh as she ran, the ones she’d chosen when fluff-deep in parka pockets she charged across the sands.

They were close by even now, catching light despite the bandaged sky, in the basket to her left. And she lived there next to them, on top of them, beside them. There, where the slate remained the same despite the years and if she cradled it in her hand, her hair would whip up in sea gusts and scone crumbs would drop back to the plate. A tea cup would warm her cold hands and grains of sand would scatter and dance delirious as her small feet pushed the beach. The hours washed away, eroded. Rose and fell and rose again and she was running now towards him. Always on this day.

Ps. And she recalled that he rescued a bird.

The Swaddling (87,600 Hours)

Shhh listen, settle down and hug up close, close to your knees, to your heart. Can you feel it beating under your clothes, under your skin? And in this moment you are safe, you are softened, you are small.

I’m trying to catch the thoughts, though they drift, they waver. I watch them rise and fall like my chest as I sit wide eyed but tired, embers crackle in my mind, a dog sniffs the air somewhere, but not here. It’s early, it’s dark although the sun is up.

I feel I’m preparing to hike but I have no thoughts as to where. The best of journeys then, to saunter. Maybe. And there is purpose of course, but I hide it from myself right now.

So huddle up, breathe deep and slow. Shhh, you are warm. Safe. It will be ok. I promise.

I lift the thought up into my vision, turn it around on the tips of my fingers, like a marble, like a jewel and watch it close. But while I study its colours, its form and feel the weight of it in my hand, in my heart, I will be curled up at my feet, I will be held.

So go ahead, choose the marbles, like the little girl with white socks, with battered red Start-Rite shoes and there she goes. She runs down the path at the side of the bungalow. The marbles chink in her small fist, they rub together but in each one a tiny universe turns though she cannot see it yet. She plays with them. Rolls them down the path. They smash and clatter, spin sideways into the hellebore.

The soil gets under her nails as she pulls them out, brushes them off on her red and blue boiled wool coat. She lifts them to her face and peers inside. Blues swirl to eau-de -nil, a smear of burnt umber at the edge, and on the edge, deep inside the marble in her hand, there is a woman. She stands still in a field, ravens circle, cut the air. It is cold. It is February. She is alone.

The little girl squeezes the marble in her hand then opens wide her palm and peers into the glass. There’s a woman deep inside, a woman on her hill. The little girl strokes the marble, brushes off the dried on soil and inside of it, like a fly in amber, frozen cold, the woman on the hill calls out. She calls out to the five year old in the garden, she looks up to the sky, to the dome beyond, to the small girl stroking her through the years and the glass. I’m scared she calls out to the child and the little girl nods and says I know. I understand.

She places the marble in the warm depth of her coat pocket and skips off down the path.

The fire spits. Shh, it’s warm now, breathe and rest and I will plait your hair. A distant dog barks somewhere but not here. The day is grey and leaden but not outside, outside it’s sodden winter, unsafe leaves to pull me down, the ever present threat of concrete and the fall. So we curl up. Sit by the fire. Shh, let the buttered toast soothe and calm.

Choose another marble now.

And through the embers a little girl skips down the path, she kneels on the cold slabs but doesn’t feel their hardness, it scrubs her knees but she is lost in play.

The marbles clatter, scrape and dart off under the carnation bush, its soft blue grey stalks bend over as if to shield, as if to save the day. The little girl shoves her hand in and rummages around. Bugs and worms startle, scatter at her fingers, soil coats her nails, crumbled twigs and leaves are pushed and then she finds it.

Out and up, triumphant and she gives a little dance. Her favourite marble, a fob, her mother calls it, and she looks deep inside. A rollercoaster twists lilac and indigo, like a captured ocean wave. It rises and falls in her hand, sweeps and dips, her face pressed up close to it, its coldness on her cheek. She peers inside and through the blues sits the image of a woman by a hospital bed. Her face folded in on itself and under her raincoat she is being severed from herself. She glances up and out through small side window, past the charts and words she cannot read and out and up and back to girl with the marble. And in her silent voice she screams out loud I cannot do this – help me.

And the little girl kisses the marble and pats it on the top. You’ll be ok she says then places it in her pocket, soft and warm, held and loved and it chinks against the others in the the fluff.

There now, there now, shh, drink this. I hand her a mug of hot orange and she sips and sobs. The broken woman at my feet, heavy from the hike, with leaden legs, looks out. She stares into the fire and through the sparks skips a tiny girl singing.

New shoes, blue shoes, stomp along like that shoes…

She has an old grey cat under her arm, its cream chest of matted fur has been stroked for years. It is battered, it is loved. And in her hand is a bag of marbles. They chink and scrape as she clambers out towards us.

Shh, shh she says. Don’t worry I’ve got you now. And her tiny arms grow wide to encircle us all.

I stoke the fire, flecks of things that used to be rise up and twirl, the heat pushes them, lifts them higher then lets them fall, spinning down, fading.

We curl up tight together, our breath settling through the sobs until we have one rhythm. Our chest rising and falling and we are safe and we are home.

A marble rolls out of the bag across to the hearth where the firelight reflects us back. And through the glass we can be seen in the indigo and violets swirls, a cocoon of us, cradling each other.

Shh, shh. There now.

Schrödinger’s Clock

And so, I watch my finger tap and move across the screen. I count in seconds. And so it goes, one moment merged into the next. I’m trying to find my way through this bracken, through these weeds and thorns. I push ahead. It’s quiet. only the robin knows I’m here and he understands me.

I’m muddled in-between loss and time, in-between memory and now. I try to makes sense of it all.

And here it comes, that sense that the universe reflects me, that mirror outside my door. I’m perched. I’m high up somewhere, somewhere cold yet warm enough for me. My long cape will scrape the earth, disturbing stones as I climb. And yes, my feet bleed into the soil but it’s a good loss, a purging somehow. Giving blood back to the soil. And then I sit.

I’ve been here before, high up overseeing the land, my land, the place we built upon and here and there through the spheres of teardrops I see our world turned upside down. Our boy and I on the hill that we built with our hands.

The clock ticks round. It counts in thousands now, eighty-seven of them and six hundred more but it means nothing. It’s a construct, a passing of weather, of seasons, of my body changing and our boy turning into a man.

The minutes are randomised up here, every possible second remaining on our probabilistic hill. And here we sit on the top looking back, looking down. We Made This. We call out, we shout it out into the clouds. Ravens catch it on their wings and take it higher. Their black rainbows glinting in the sun.

I remember this place, this bench at the start, the dog walkers, the litter eddies fluttering by the bin and pigeon shit on the picnic table. Even that was shaped in black and white, the residue of food, expelled into the air and landed just for me to notice on my own. It had dried to form a Tao symbol and I smiled and wandered on.

And I’m pulled, jostled as though waking from a dream to see our land now and how many losses have been carved out in people since our own? How strange it seems now to have walked and spoken to strangers back then, no masks in sight, no fear of breathing on each other and we could hug and they’d take my hand.

How removed it all seems now, removed from ourselves. That sense of severing. I sit here as vaccines are pumped into muscles, as charts change and people hope. And there’s that sense that we will come through this, that we’ll lift each other up in our arms and twirl around. I can feel it, that craving for how it used to be. To have it all back again.

And yet if there’s one thing this decade has taught me, it’s to let go of the linear and any sense that what we had will phase back in again and return.

Call it a new normal if you choose but like the hundreds of thousands of losses that bind us to each other now, this is not something that fades. It’s etched into who we are, into a generation now, into our psyche, into our souls.

I remember last spring and that sense that maybe, in a month or two, it would be behind us. Like queries from the un-widowed, hoping, questioning and do you feel better now? That sense that this will heal like a break, like the dull ache after the snap of bone. And they’ll say, oh look she walks with a limp now, but they won’t feel it, they can’t feel how the limb has been changed on a molecular level, the scar-knitting-collagen-weaving permanent change to your form.

And I wonder how we’ll move from this? I crave that the sense of solidarity which we felt, that dazed and disoriented need to connect, will remain. Don’t let it seep away, to be forgotten, to just be the Year That We Wore Masks. Let it open us up, break us out of our stale paradigms, our tiny fearful islands. Let this be our chance to focus on the universal self behind the form and the foolish idea that we are separate in any way.

And I pause. A blackbird winks at me, comes close but won’t cross the line. My outstretched palm is a step too far. He’s found a worm, he’ll be just fine.

The hands have moved around while I tap and I come back to time yet again.

I’m left with the sense that nothing is as it seems. That I live on a Mobius strip somehow looping and doubling back on myself. I am inside and outside of time in one breath, I am fluid, I’m here and there. And if I have a point (she often has no point, it’s part of her charm*) it’s this. I used to be time based, I’d be linear and I’d have plans. but then loss swoops in and caws, circles round and says no more. Who wants to be linear anyway, where life is predicable like it used to be? Now we float and flip, thither-zither in the air. Murmurations cut the sky, 87,600 birds, ripple, shimmer, dancing black. I wave to them from the hill that we made, they tip their wings to us in respect.

So I remain in the tangle of my quantum mind, both then and now, a superposition of me. I am Schrödinger’s girl; a wife and widow and it’s not till I notice my thoughts that I find out which one I am.

xxx

*A Few Good Men, 1992

Evening Full of Linnet’s Wings

And soon it would be soon, it would be dark carparks, headlights and rain. And in the reflections at her feet she would be rushing. Same red fleece as two days ago and she’d catch him up later she said as he grabbed a trolley for the after Christmas shop.

And she’d be there crouched down in the chemist, making choices from the bottom shelf. A young girl served her, she had short dark hair she seemed to recall.

And then she hurried to find him in the shop, up and down the aisles till she was there, at his side beside the trolley and nestling, as deep as possible, was the packet, hidden, rustling in a smooth white paper bag.

And she could feel it now. The way the packet tapped her hip as she walked, the way she couldn’t wait to get back home.

And later, sometime later she would pop upstairs while he put the food away.

There were many moments in her life which she cocooned, that she replayed. She viewed them from close up again, as though they were still happening and here in an end of year, it all came back, that end of century moment which defined her.

And despite the present moment that wrapped around her now, she dropped away, dropped into the veil of evening when distance sparrows sang. She saw the moment lapping with soft strokes at her feet.

And later, just a few more minutes later she was by his side, sitting staring out, the TV programme making noise she couldn’t hear, as she sat there, on this evening, on this evening right back then.

And he didn’t know yet but she did. And she sat and sparkled to his left.

Temporal (All that Matters) #1

It’s that been-awake-throughout-the-night-belly-pulsing-tight kind of feeling. That scrawling-numbers-on-a scrap-of-paper-at-your-side kind of thing.

And you clamber and you stagger, grateful for the banisters that hold you up, thankful for the waiting car and helpful hands.

It’s that September-14th-early-morning-neighbours-taking-kids-to-school kind of moment when the spasms send white heat back up your spine. And you note the trees blurred on your journey, on the corner near the lights.

It’s that being-helped-back-out-the-car-and-to-a-wheelchair kind of morning and faces and corridors come and go and then you wait.

Yes, it’s that kind of waiting, kind of morning. That kind of primal knowing through the hours.

It’s a me-on-a-bed kind of feeling, buzzed with cortisol, fuzzed with lack of sleep kind of thing.

It’s a September-14th kind of feeling, that resolve kicking in, that start-of-the-longest-week kind of thing.

Graceful Degradation


Sometimes bird song comes as though I breathe each note, as though they reflect the thoughts that churn and churn. But I can’t quite reach them. I listen hard, listen well, but these sounds, these moments of instinct pulse out. They seem to be my heartbeats, my neurones charging, firing and every second of my life is echoed in their song.
It’s February. It’s always February somewhere in my mind and today, the 10th arrives and though it’s Monday, it is Thursday in my head. The birds silence for a while as I inhabit, as I absorb the date and then they tweet, then they shout out towards each other, triumphant in their beaks spilling notes, their essence, existing in song.

And somewhere they sang on that Thursday, somewhere they clutched at branches and held on and I wonder did they note me rushing, did they feel for me in my chaos as I churned, did they send out their song to soothe me though I couldn’t hear the notes?
And it was there, birdsong, always, even on that day.
And it’s February and I am February, right now and I am the birdsong. I am all of it. I am their voices reaching out to me, to the startling, to my fracturing self. And I am the birdsong that tried to reach me when I couldnt hear their call.
It’s February 10th. I seek out birdsong.

And so I think shhh, don’t go there, don’t allow the thoughts and then they come. Bright faces, flaring and this is the thing you see, I don’t want to look but then I must. I must turn my face into the flutterings, into the scattering moments and down. Down and out, flat out. Careening into the sounds, the words, the mouths that speak as I watch them.
And then sun arrives, and then a bird cheeps as if to throw me a line, as if to say but it’s Now. And yes, the bird song fills me up and yes the light falls up the wall but it feels absent. Today there is a coldness, yet photons push through, resolute in their incessant need to glow, to saturate our room.

But there. Pauses come. Like wilting leaves. Places where the earth has forgotten warmth and I rest. I must do something with the gardens. It’s that thought always. Prising its way back in, that sense of morning, of movement and how stale it all looks, untended, devoid of hands that care. That winter face, that deep back to the soil kind of voice and I go round. Around and around it again, like the sun rising, like the particles colliding, thoughts bursting and forming with little rest. And then it stops.

The sun has taken offence behind thick grey, and I breathe out. That kind of long slow breath that turns down cortisol, that regulates and I return.
The birds are singing, I think they never stopped, not once, not even for a second over these long and rambling years. Sometimes I find that reassuring, sometimes not. And so it goes.
My body tells me it’s the 14th, I feel it in the tightness in my ribs, in the irritations underneath. Round and around with no let up like nature, like my exchange of O2 to CO2.
I tiptoe to the edge of my mind again and peer inside. Things coalesce and break apart, I try to untangle thoughts, to measure and observe them but as I look them in the face they change.
It’s the day before tomorrow, my quantum days. And I must go now, I must feed the birds.

15th: And I’m so grateful for the rain. The storm is tearing up the garden as though I summoned it, as though my friends turned up on cue. The sun still hides and that suits me, it’s so pointless to be a ball of helium today, to spit and churn, no one can see you anyway behind the heft of clouds. I like clouds, they’re almost family. They come and go but when they block out the sun, they seem so welcome.

Today there is a sympathy with the weather, a sense that I control it all. And why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I be able to send my thoughts into the skies and bring about the storm?

The blackbird hops up to the window, despairing, there’s only black leaves on the patio today. Of course I’ll go out later, wrapped a little against the bluster but revelling in the cut of cold across my face, a reminder that I breathe.

Storms have their place and if I were braver than I am, I’d climb the trees, I’d scrape my knees and cut my arms as I pulled up. And from the top, up there on the left by the raven’s nest, I’d hang on and sway in this harshness. I wonder if the sounds would be as loud from deep inside the branches, but how glorious it would feel, to not be the face at the window but to be sodden and ripped, to hang tight and bend as the rain slices round us. Maybe later, I’ll ease out into its din.

I’m grateful for the storm, as though the streets and towns and country I still inhabit can pop into my mind and feel my thoughts.

On days like these, I live for the howling of trees. I resonate. It calms me.

Circle Theorem

These trees know, they seem to swirl today as if to show me. They bend, weighed and twisted but still grow. And the cedar where our small son climbed with friends, (when the children who squeal in the park were not yet cells, when the parents who came to create them had not even met,) and our small son learned to clamber back then.

He climbs now, hour upon hour later and our moon has moved around us many times, stars have imploded and the tree leans in towards our home, its foundation weakened, but it still found a way.

Our son, a man in the mirror that his Father used, negotiating formulas instead of fronds, rearranging coefficients instead of crayons and in the echo of him on the carved out hollows in our tree, I see us all.

I strain my neck to look for seagulls but the sky is quiet, clouds brush away the blue like a hand stroking head, like a comfort to rely on and everything swoons.

Out boy morphs to a man, saturated with number and possibility and we are all in the trees, we are every leaf and rustle of unseen things, we are the fragile wings of the birds, of the things that flit and land and time cannot touch us and we are here, still together.

We are everywhere, integrated and we are strong.

A Rain Song Called Elegance

The rain moved in, like her eyes opening, like seeing the morning for the first time and it was welcomed, like that dawn, like the gratitude of the day, like eyes locked close and knowing, and it rained.

But it didn’t rain back then, it was quiet, warm, a thought nearing the end of summer and in the tail end of the season, the water rippled up the boats on the canal and their faces were reflected in its soft stroking waves.

And evening would have moved in, like it did, like it does, it drapes the coolness, the calm end of day, like an arm around her shoulder, like the footsteps by her side.

And evening drifted up, traffic sounds gave way to birds and she hitched up her skirts, like she did then, when white washed walls were unfamiliar, not the faded grain of now. And they sat.

Birds watched them then and she watches them from back here, folded in the now, in the smell of wet soil, the kiss of lavender scent and the certainty of August.

Time came with her, her companion on the way, tucked in the pocket of her skirt, vivid, like their moment, translucent, like the wings. And her wings beat out in the evening sky, strong, like the bonds that hold her, glorious, like their day.

August had returned and she could fly. A rainbow swaddled her garden and under its hue and shimmer, they were young. And under its song she was old but she had wings.

A Brief History of Us

In a park, somewhere in an old deep green and bristled wood, there was a car. It was an old car, corners had rust and the seats had seen better days but it still worked. And although the miles had built up on the clock, it still drove quite well, well enough to bring him to her door.

They sat in the car, her hair waving and him in the driving seat with his list of objectives and plans. They talked. They always talked and here in the car, near the car park at the swimming baths, they sat and talked about Stephen Hawking.

She didn’t have much time for scientists, not in those days and she listened to him chatter and enthuse. It all seemed so alien to her, so remote from her ways and her thoughts.

There in a park, far from where she was now, they would sit and think about knowledge, argue over the unknowable and as lunchtime turned towards afternoon, she promised to read the book.

A Brief History of Time became their bible and on distant settees far from his, she made notes and she frowned at the pages. And as weeks became months and strangeness seeped into familiarity, she found her way.

Planets crept into her soul and atomic mass with all its inherent uncertainty became the conversations of a Sunday night. How odd it seemed that she grew to follow his ways, his words and yet now, leaning up the kitchen cupboard, how strange it was that there could have been any other way than this one.

This was the way and they knew it at a cellular level, and certainty was woven into every interaction and every dream.

And years later their son was on his way home, top deck, front seat of a double decker. And the trees brushed past the glass that held him and his college bag was heavy with unseen words.

She thought back to first of the parks and his old car and all the talking. There seemed to be no passage of time between now and who they were back then.

Stephen Hawking had bent the fabric of their spacetime and they rolled into each other with a permanece that was unknown to them, back there, back then in the car.

In the now, the bus with their child came nearer and she thought of the worlds that had changed. And in an echo of the car wheels turning was their son playing out all the maths, their boy calculating and rejoicing in calculus and if he could, he’d have sat in the back of the car in the past and shown his parents the workings out. There, on his pure white page was the algebra to the split screen experiment and equations for Schrödinger’s cat.

In a park, in a car many light years away from here they all sat, together. And they were unaware of this day unfolding as they read, as they talked, as they laughed.