In The Dwelling Place

Bird Nightmare

I sit in your mouth and it’s warm, it’s a round pink place which enfolds me. And how the rub of your tongue soothes my back, how I hold onto your teeth to give me structure. The food comes in, it careens around me, over and into my spaces, the familiar battering and I despise every morsel but i know their names. I sit in the corner of your mouth, I live in this dark moist world and then you mash your teeth together and I feel them crush and smear my form, stretched out fibres of myself, wavering and flipping in the cave where I live, where no one can see me, where my voice fades to dust on spittle, my streaks are a lick of taste inside your mouth.

And you swallow

and I glide down and down, tumbling into your chasm until I climb and climb. I dig in with where my nails used to be, I hold myself up in the flush. I recall myself, I wriggle on the place where my belly used to be, up and up and through to your throat, slipping, craving a ledge until I rest. I sit on your tongue, it is warm, the bristles massage where my limbs used to be.

I am still. I curl up in the corner of your mouth and when you yawn, I can see the world I used to live in, outside, over there, sparkling and remote.

I live in the crevices in your mouth, it’s dark and tight and damp. This is my place now.

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The Smallness of Her Feet

 

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There was a time when she first knew him, before the rainbows came. They walked through the seaside villages, buying up lemon ceramics for their new home. But she doesn’t use those jars now. They are filed away on the top shelf that she can just reach with the aid of a stool.

She dusted them with a soft cloth, let her fingers linger around the rim as she brushed and she thought of herself in a dark blue parka, her feet folded away in stiff new trainers. They were blue, the rubber sole had seemed so white but despite their starkness in the sand, they were the right ones for the job. The old grey rubber peeled off some years ago after the saltwater had weakened the bond, after the dried out seaweed had been tugged free and sniffed and thrown out.

She kept the rock from the first beach, where the sand found its way into her soles, she could feel it grumbling under her feet as they climbed the haphazard steps to the teashop. The rock from those days, holding the heat on her windowsill, next to the herbs and green things that she tends.

She was never much of a gardener but the new seeds in thin packets found her leaning into the sink, sleeves shoved up or neatly folded back on themselves, in the way that he would do, and she plants.

She pokes bits down in soil, feeds them and turns to the light. It’s as much as she can manage, tiny things, ceramic pots and the coloured plastic from her youth.

Mother had bought home the bright pots, the dolly mixtured ones when she still lived at home and she imagined a windowsill in her future, lined with fervent things in a spectrum, a rainbow, a nurturing place.

Now the fading plastic sits next the the rocks, the stiffened paint-brushes and chipped cups. The one without a handle that her Mother bought for him, back then, before these plants had grown.

And she preens, she has taken to buying fresh flowers, enjoying the promise, the sense of life in her home and it keeps her focussed on the cycles. She pours out stale water, she pinches off brown petals and she looks.

‘I buy flowers myself,’ she decided. ‘And I will learn – I will learn the latin of this blossom and that and I will find how to care for it well.’

She is often barefoot now around the house. She likes the coldness of the floor, the sense of connection to something underneath. She hasn’t worn trainers for years and the rock still looks the same as when she pulled it from the sand and there are flowers.

She snips off the lost blooms, the crumpled browns making way for new growth underneath. She holds the rock, it’s warm and heavy in her hand, in her day it still smells of the beach.

She can hear herself running towards him, the flump flump flump across wet sand, as grains were displaced by her small feet.

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The Frond in The Forest

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Once upon a time there was a girl. She lived at the edge of a forest where she took care of a young knight. The knight was her world, his travels were all that mattered, all that she could think of, in the peppermint painted shack where they lived.

The King had been taken from them by a dragon. There’d been no sparing, no rolling wars just the sound of its claws in the night, clicking down the pebbled path that they’d built years ago. And it came with its quiet smoke filled breath and its heat and its rage and stole him away in the night. It took him to its lair deep inside the woods, its cave with all its stone cold promises, the moss dripping the names of all the people he’d eaten before.

The girl continued in the shack because that was the path laid in front of her and the young Knight grew. His back grew stronger than hers, his own path flowing out from their home, merging with the girl’s and branching off. They continued to live at the edge of the forest, they collected twigs and rocks and made tiny sculptured shapes in the mud and rain.

In the autumn of the fourth summer the Knight stumbled on a crag, he slipped, twisting his ankle until all he could do was limp to their shack and rest. The girl looked to the books on the shelves, she searched through velvet pages until she found the instruction for The Heal. And there in her small white hands the pages told her to search for the frond that would not age, and to bind it with twine around the injured ankle and then to wait. And she knew and her heart dropped far away as she read to the end of the page. There was only one frond in the forest and it grew at the back of a cave – the dragon’s cave. So she gathered up all of skirts, strapped her tiny feet into the leather boots shed cut and sewed from the King’s clothes and she scooped up the Knight, though he was twice her weight, she heaved him up on her fragile back and though terror charged throughout every vein, she strode out, small painful steps taking herself and the Knight back, towards the lair, deeper into the forest towards the part of their land that they never went near, there in the autumn, walking back right into the dragon’s claws.

And the small girl felt the bile bubble up in her mouth, her ribs pulling tight around her until every breath was an effort and every pulse beat louder than the last but she strode out.
The edge of the forest approached them, the Knight grew heavier but they carried on until the wind sliced across their cheeks, the brambles and spikes fell away and they stood, there, together in the memory of all that had gone before. The cave, the sound of the dragon sleeping and the stench, the saturating smell of yesterday and with stinging eyes and aching ribs, they breathed in.

The dragon was curled at the back of its lair, its scales opening and closing as it slept, its tailed flicked at the tip and its leaden eyelids twitched. The Knight held onto the girl, the girl clung onto the knight but did not speak. They knew there was no option but to walk in and around the stinking beast. They held hands and they walked, the Knight limped, leaning into the girl and the hours passed as they moved. And there came a time when they reached the back of the cave, where familiar sounds chipped into them, where every stone and every clump of moss echoed with the King’s voice and all they could do was sit and wait and watch for the signs to come to them. The Knight fiddled with his armour, the small girl smoothed out the creases in her skirts, they were sodden now, rivulets of moisture chundering down to her feet and they sat. The girl studied the floor of the cave, leaves blew in and out and creatures crawled. The dragon stretched in his sleep, half yawned as his tongue fell from his dripping pink mouth and scooped up a trail of insects that passed by underneath him. They were swirled up on the tiny bristles, scraped back into the hot steam of his jaws before they’d had time to think about it. And he swallowed and he slept.

In the distant corner of the lair they waited, the moss sweated, dust twisted in the last beam of light and the girl looked out. It was time. She didn’t know how she knew but she just did and she took the Knight’s hand led him up to the dragon’s mouth. And he knew too, he blew into its nostrils, disturbing it, rousing it until it sneezed and stood there, rippling fierce, the thunderous chasm of its mouth tearing wide before them.

‘We have to go inside,’ she said, ‘the frond is caught in its teeth.’

And they stepped onto its knuckles and time slowed down. And they clambered onto its jaw bone, dug in deep and hauled themselves up and in. There they sat, panting, breathing out in the rank swimming juice from yesterday’s meal. The small girl knelt up its teeth to catch her breath, they shone despite years of decay, they lit up her face as she paused and bent down to scoop the liquid from around her feet. She moved towards the Knight’s injured ankle and brushed the contents of its mouth around the broken joint and the old beast yawned.

‘I see it – I can see it,’ the Knight called out. ‘There at the back, by its throat.’

And she took his hand and they edged themselves further down his tongue. She tried not to think, she tried not to feel but images severed and lunged. She focussed on why they were there, on the Knight, on his broken ankle, while her heart beat charged with the knowledge of what had gone before. The heat of the the Knight’s hand formed a golden thread inside her, it kept her moving as they inched over the lumpen rancid route.

‘Over there, look!’ said the Knight and they saw, wedged between its molars, a single pale green leaf, battered and torn but still recognisable and they crept. The small girl’s skirts dragged around her, sodden with the moisture from its mouth, the young Knight kept moving forwards, his heavy armour clanking as he shifted behind his Mother and they breathed.

The Knight held on tight around her waist as she reached over, she trembled like their tiny shack shook when the dragon had approached, her heart thudded loud like its feet smashed down their path but she reached out. And with every cell in her ravaged form she stretched out, for her Knight, for their life, and with a surge of energy that welled up from her deepest oldest places, she curled her fingers round the frond and tugged. It was stronger than she’d hoped and the Knight pulled backwards more and the girl dug her nails into the stale flesh of the dragon’s gum. The vast beast winced at the prickle of pain, forming a gush of saliva to swell up pooling around the girl’s skirts, staining the Knight’s armour.

‘Again!’ said the Knight and she knew. And again she stabbed her golden nails into its flesh, and as more gunk swirled up around their limbs she pulled hard, using all the power she could muster in her small white hands.
The frond shifted, unfurled and slipped off the huge tooth, releasing the girl and the Knight. All three of them bounded backwards in a sweated ball, tumbling like the images in their heads, ricocheting off teeth and food as time started up once again. And the dragon finished its yawn. They were catapulted out and away dropping back into the soil of the lair –
with a thump and a cry that echoed through the forest, that shook the tiles on the roof of their home.

The dragon curled up, smacked its lips together and carried on sleeping. The girl pulled her skirts around her and brushed the dust from the Knight’s armour. They looked at the battered plant and as they did, it started to pulse, little sparks of golden green brushed up through it leaves, filling out its form until it sparkled and tingled, it glowed with growth, with force, there in the small girl’s hand.

The girl and the Knight and frond were joined together in the filth of the cave, their strength pulsing from one to the other and the more they looked at where they were the more they saw their journeys. The Knight’s armour began to glow where the patches of rust had slowed him down and he took the hand of the girl and said,

‘This way now, follow me,’ And he limped but less than before and the girl squeezed tight to the frond as the dragon stirred, its belly empty, its need for nourishment never far.

And they left. As quiet as they came, leaving the moments behind them, in the slime and stones of ancient things, carrying on out to the light.

The girl sobbed, the Knight flopped to the floor as she took the pulsing plant and wrapped it with ease around his ankle. The sap seeped into his fracture and over her hands until his limb was bound and secure. She pulled at strands of twine that grew around the trees they sat beneath and plaited them over the smoothed out frond. The colours had faded to a softened soothing pale, a green that formed a balm on their way, to their eyes and aching hearts. The Knight’s ankle started to heal.

Behind them the constant sound of the dragon preparing for his next feast and they left him with his caverns, with his greed and piercing fangs, moved away from the echoing sounds of their fear.

The sun pushed through the night clouds, as it does, casting tiny flecks of tangerine on the dew caked leaves around them. The Knight walked, his ankle stronger than before, the small girl stuck to his side, her skirts drying out in the warmth of the rays and she glowed. Next to her Knight, she walked in the forces that charged from his feet, in her ways, her knowledge, ancient and pure, as they made their journey home.

And through the speckled woods they followed their path, back to their peppermint shack
with its stories and its tales and they couldn’t speak. They had no need for language then, but it was there, in the look they gave to each other back in their darkest world, when they faced the dragon once again. And there, nestling, primed, underneath them was the endless gifts of the King, the murmur of their voices, the in-breath and the start of the roar.

There was a girl who lived at the edge of the forest where she took care of her Knight.
On the windowsill was a small clay vase shaped like double helix and growing up and out from the vessel was a soft green stem, uncurled fronds leaning towards to photons that filled their tiny home.

And they grew.

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Frank and I

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Frank was a subtle storm at the end of my year. He arrived unannounced like an old friend at a party who made their way through the throng, crept up behind you and shoved their knees into the backs of yours, crumbling your stance and pushing you forward into the buffet.

Frank was there when I woke, dancing around the garden, pulling out the saplings that we’d planted in the spring, sending leaves up in eddies that jerked and hurled before they dropped fast, to crash and I thought of the Christmas when my teeth fell out.

All through the night the howling and moaning. Rain smashed the glass, pots scuttled down the drive as you leaned in. You knew my teeth had to go. It was time, you said and I understood. I opened my mouth, a little at first, as you hooked your finger around my gums and wobbled. And then more, more fingers, a thumb in the other side and my mouth ached, the corners of the skin split just enough to catch the salt from your last packet of crisps and they swelled. The cuts puffed out throbbing splinters of white heat, drawing attention to the sides of my face, while you burrowed. And in deeper until I gagged, spitting bits of teeth on to your hoovered carpet, and they crunched up, little pieces of me, little shards, my blistered enamel and I swooned. I wanted to pass out, I wanted the fullness to stop but it didn’t and with your hand inside my mouth you flicked and eased, you twisted them out of my gums.

I can see us now, me retching, a slaver of blood that you’d hurry to scrub from the pile and how you looked after your carpets. How the windowsill was gleaming and the cleaning fluids lined up, parading shades of dolly mixtures when the sun came through. But it didn’t shine that day.

Storm Frank peeled the garden, wrenched the nature from this place, as we stood, you smiling, making little towers with my teeth and me, bent double, heaving, wiping saliva off the back of my hand.

My tongue hurt, my mouth sobbed. It was winter and you were so in love with me.

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Old Long Ago

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Well, she thought, here we go again. Yet another year, they tell me. Everything compartmentalised, broken down into fraction and number and though I understand the truth that number is written into our place, I do question it. I question where it started, who made all the divisions? I question these days, these hours, the minutes that we watch. So they say it’s another year, I don’t worry because it’s just number doing its thing. It had a 5, now it’s a 6 and it’s all so arbitrary. I have to make sense of how I will spend it and spend it is all I can do. What skills am I employing, what messages to our son? And I can move. Remember that, I can still move and while I’m in this machine they call time, I must use it. And use it well.

I have a friend, a good friend who though I’ve never met her, I sense that I know. And I mean I know her from a different place, a different world, long ago or out of time, I can’t be sure. She resonates somehow to my wavelengths, I pulse in time to her dance and the friend turns her ignition key just about now, she has her eyes fixed on the horizon and her small dog curled up to her side. As she eases out of her gateway, bristling with choices and verve, I think of her, of the energy to change, of the irresistible law of movement. And as she forges outwards making new tracks, I remind myself to push up from the bed, to leave this warm bundle of familiar fabric and taking my cold feet to the bathroom floor I will find me there waiting, hand outstretched, urging me to spend my moments well, while we’re here, while we breathe.

This concept, this notion of time still around us and I must take our son’s hand for the dance.
It’s January they tell us, it’s the first yet again, as I write. We are here and we have choices. It’s all there waiting for us, in the turning of hands, in the beating of moments.
Wild, possible, untethered – It’s a only a matter of time.

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More numbers and they keep coming. There’s little I can do but allow their process.

Mother bought me an abacas when I was young, I would sit near their old green settee and push the wooden beads back and forth, enjoying the slam and the click. I made patterns with my small fingers and I learned to count. Everyone learning to count, to add another year, another day, another moment, always looking to the next second, the time ahead, then they will have what they need, then it will all be in place and they will allow themselves to smile and be happy. And I can count backwards too, I remember the bear birthday cake. Mother spent ages on it, icing an upended Swiss roll, making small sponge arms and legs, the thick green icing swirled around its paws in scallops of butter cream sweetness.

I can do backwards. I can do then but all it seems to do is underline now.
Now, and my friend in this moment. Her little dog’s paws scuttering over new lanes, firing up dried out leaves as she runs. Something interests her, she stops, sniffs the ground, turns a circle chasing dust and then she’s off, my friend in striding steps behind her.

They tell me it’s another year, my numbers change but it’s arbitrary.
I am here. I am now. I am this moment.

I want to chase flecks of dust.

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Consumed

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She had a sense of how it would be, how the waiter would have the most beautiful face, soft but still angular and his good nature would spill out over their corner table by the fire, by the old horse brass. And the fire would be warm but not crackling and when the food came it would steam hot, just enough. The beer batter would be popping from the fish, its crumbling whiteness flaking off her fork and they would laugh. The wine would bite the back of her throat leaving plum notes and swirls of dark chocolate in her mouth. She would notice the grain of the table, how the knots in the wood looked like stains of old food and she would scrub at them with her napkin.

But the stains were permanent, the shapes and patterns of age, formed into the its weft and she would look up. The waiter’s face, stubbled and young, said enough but was unable to smile and she tried and she joked but she couldn’t get through and then the food arrived.

Plates that weren’t piping placed down without care, as though they were the final two dishes to leave kitchen, the last two olden fish before the mop down and wash up and she held the cutlery like a man at the gallows and she scooped and she hacked and she fed. The batter fell in flour thick gloops back onto itself,  opening up the greyed out carcass of baked flesh. The vegetables, bright colours offering up a promise that they couldn’t keep, burst to nothing in her mouth and she tried to swallow the resitance of undercooked chips, the fattened fingers of someone else’s failure hung around the sides of her teeth like a creature in the dark, hiding behind dustbins, dislodging food that had gone before and she sat. The wine swirled around the glass, clipping the muck of neglect, leaving its residue on the unclean streaks of a hurried kitchen and she drank.

The smoothness bit the sides, coated her throat in acid and as the heartburn to come rose up from her gut, the potential for pain never far, she looked towards the fireplace, to the embers. A photographic miss match, flicking up, the replica of flames approaching dance, swirling round like she used to, when her skirts were long and thin, her hair thicker against the storms and she would spin and twirl as though she wore no manacles. On sawdust floors under olden lights, cars flashing by in the dark, familiar streets that didn’t scare her and smiling faces. In the days when she could move, when she was lifted in the presence of strangers and the beer batter was golden crisp and melted in her small red mouth.

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Deconstruction

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What if I walked and walked and kept on walking.

Could I move so far that my skin would leave my form, that it would crumble from this shape into the soil? Would that be possible do you imagine? It would be so helpful if it did. If the Earth, this molten ball I stand on, would take my feet from under me with a steady grating rub, so hard that the gnawing pressure would eat up my legs to my knees. And I would scrub along the ground, like a broken toy. The birds would call out to me, the sky would lighten but I would shrink. And from my stumps I’d shuffle forwards not because there was forward momentum of any sort but because it served a purpose, it erased the mass I lived in and from my hips I would waddle.
I would look a strange sight tilting to and fro, unsteady in the morning, pivoting on synovial joints with the light peeping over my shoulders as I rocked along the ground.

And further on, the corners of my ribcage would chip and break but I’d keep moving as the morning sun climbed in the sky. Heat would arrive for the others and people would fling wide their windows, breathe deep and fill their lungs with the chemicals from the fields. They would throw on their lightest rhinestone clothes and guzzle their freshly squeezed orange juice, succulent bits making their way around their pallet and down their throats. These people, lifted by the day I can’t take part in. And as they smile at strangers glinting in the rays I would have worn down my ribs to my armpits. And now with an approaching balm I’d be reduced to arms and a head shoving myself down the lane. My shoulders heaving the weight of my brain, its mind seeping into the soil.

I see it all now from my lowered point of view, the dust and the bugs in my eyes. I see roots of grasses, tiny creatures crawling, foraging for food and the breeze cuts through my hair. My neck rubs along the ground as my arms wear away and the sun, so warm, shining amber lights into distant windows, bounces off the keratin in my hair. It casts a softening glow to my cheeks as my head spins to a stop, to look up at the rainless painless sky;

I roll, at last, to nothing.

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