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.

1999 – One More Gift

If she stared hard for a moment through her kitchen, past the kettle, to the wall, she would dissolve.

And as she breathed out she would see them, out for shopping in the dark. That after-Christmas-travel feel, that tired apprehension of the new and she wore red fleece. 

And she breathed out again, past her kettle to the tiles on the wall, the shadow under the cupboard formed a partition by the toaster and she dropped back. 

The carpark was lit up, late Christmas and busy people buying booze, but not herself. 
And she’d just pop next door first to the pharmacy, she’d catch him up, she said. 

The fittings have all gone now, the aisles and the shelves where she bent down, where she compared the products till she found one. 

And sometimes, even now when she’s in the supermarket by the clothes rails that extended into the place where she had knelt, she sees herself. She feels, she has no separation from that girl. 

And the heating throbs in the present, the radiator warms her where she stands but she’s not there. 

She’s crossing the carpark in tired ‘Christmas lights, and just later, she’s catching him up in the shop. He’s there putting new things in the trolley, treats for New Year’s Eve, though they’d be out.

She hurries up to join him and her hip rubs the inside of her jacket, on the right, where the packet in her pocket makes itself known to her. 

She feels how long her hair was, how dark and not like now and no one knew about the packet in her pocket but she did. 

And shopping would happen and trolleys filled and piled into the car. Then they’d be home. Taking bags in, rustling, planning and while he put the things away she crept upstairs.

And now. Even now. There are no moments in between that one and this and she is quivering and shaking and sees the handle on the door.

She seems to see everything as if for the first time, as if the minutiae of her world stopped by to say hello. To say ‘here we are, this is your life now,’ as if she’d woken from a dark place and now tiptoeing through to the end of the century, she was just coming home.

He was downstairs watching TV and somehow she wandered down their wooden stairs. They opened the shortbread a friend had given them and sat quiet, watching nonsense on the screen.

But she was sparkling on the inside and almost wondered if he could hear it, like a thousand tiny glass bells tinkling through her form. 

She stared out with no focus at the TV and one day later she would give him her perfect gift to end the year.

And now her kitchen lights shone down on her in her aging but she wasn’t there. She was sat next to him, she was shining.

Pen-Gull

It was that, right hand in pocket, kind of day, that finding a piece of the hill and holding it close, deep, tucked away in fluff, kind of day. And they didn’t know, they stood around her, next to her, powdered and small, her red fleece, a contrast to her mother-in-law’s brown coat and she was younger.

Younger than now and the piece of the hill held its secrets, kept her safe. They laughed and grinned into the bluster as they turned to face him by the car. The shutter froze them as the weather did, her hand to her left ear to keep the gusts out of her head, her longer, thicker hair out of her little elfin face.

The hill in her pocket, with them on either side of her, in front and behind and inside. They were with her then, when time was a thing that worked well and now, in the piece of the hill that sits tucked away with her treasures, in the small blue bag from her wedding day, the red fragments of rock at the bottom and they hold onto her tight, still, silent, unseen like the secret inside her back then and, like the hill in her pocket, the moment remains.

Always.

Hush Little Baby, Don’t You Cry

And he was born, imagine that? He was born.

Out and up, into the world of senses where he felt and he saw and he heard. He moved. Limbs wriggled and grasped and neurones leapt and charged and pulsed. And his mind whirred like a great churning machine, like a creature that resonated with the knowledge it consumed and so he grew.

And he grew and expanded until the sphere of his world touched mine and we collided and we merged and we entwined.

And our lives that we lived sparked new life and he was born. And I glow, I reverberate to the beat of his heart. Out there now, seeing and feeling, hearing and moving, making his mark on his world. Neurones firing, ideas churning.

And I think and feel and hear a new born cry. He was born, dear God, he was born.

Without that breath, I would not be here, without his view of the world, I could not dance, without his perception of the world I would not think in these circles, in these layers. Without that life I would not be, I would not be here as I am.

And so his mother lived and she gave birth to him. And he was born and we met and we merged.

And I gave birth because of him, and we lived then and we live still, and we breathe and we thrive.

He was born, dear God, he was born. And on a bright day in March he appeared at my door and we smiled and I welcomed him in.

Under The Circles Falling

She past a new build on the left and brushed against its huge star in the window. She remembered when the trees were there, when animals hid and insects crept in the hollows of branches that had now gone.

Something about the star gave her hope, gave her a lilt, a swell of a young girl’s life and of family filling the rooms.

And she past by. The sky was swollen, saturated with an end of year rain, with a harsh rain that sliced at pavements, that peeled away the last of the year. And in her mind she was younger, she was hope filled like the fields around her. She was surprised by its sudden lush greenness, like the woman she used to be waving to her from back then.

And back then she was packed, a small bag just for one night and they would stay in the hotel that they loved. She was there in the bright white bathroom, hair curled and velvet dress. It clung to the curve of her belly, to the secret kept inside. And when the time came she would tell him, she would sit on the bed and smile. In fact she glowed, she sparkled and trembled as though she were made of the stars themselves and they laughed. After all their moments this one was the purest, the connection and the gift frozen in time, in the warmth of her hand and his lopsided grin – they were there.

She was back in the unfolding of the night, clicking up the high street in her heels. And with flat black pumps for the journey back down, they walked to the restaurant for the meal. Sometimes now when she past by the same place, huddled at the back of a bus, she would look left to the cream tiled floor and remember the DJ in the corner and the song played just for them.

She was there. Dear God, she was there and right now as she bumped along a wet road in the present, she was back there, beaming, like her soul would fly, bursting from her side.

And later she slipped into the flat shoes as they wandered back down town, to the call of the Cathedral bells. How still the night seemed, yet how full of an energy that she could taste. It bristled around them in the gentle rain, before they made phone calls, before their new journey began.

She was there, at the end of the century, slipping into the new day, softened into it like his hand in hers, as though woven into the time. And always, despite the hours, they would be there. It was their moment, in the darkness, smiling under screeching fireworks, white stars just for them.

For the Waiting 

It was silent apart from the ticking of her clock, apart from the ringing in her ears. And in the garden, the edge of Autumn had begun. It crept in on the warmth of the leaves, in the morning sunlight making shadows on the wood. The door to the summerhouse was still open and in the reflection in its windows was the light pushing through her trees, there was a liquid ripple of her home and she was still.
Inside the summerhouse it was quiet, apart from the tick of insect legs, apart from the spinning of webs. Leaves blew in, some crinkled, some dried and dust strings hung over the stiffened window frame. 
It was nearly Autumn, it was silent apart from the tweeping of birds, apart from the twinkled blue sky. The clouds embraced her to the right, brief fluffles and whisps and they whispered. 

It was silent apart from the voices in her head, apart from the trundle of wheels. And as she watched the quiet growing of the weeds up through her patio, she heard people talking low, calling to her, reassuring her and they held her hand as breathed out. Long, deep hope filled air escaped her mouth, as she pulsed, as she pushed. And when evening came she was lying still, watching the ceilings move and everyone wore green. She thought, green like the garden we’ll play in, green like trees that protect our home.

And in the silence of the morning when the tick of the clock knew her name, she listened to her garden, to the warbling throats of the birds and far away the voices called her and from far away they came close.  

Up to her, next to her, beating up and out of her and she lay and tears fell down as they worked at her side. It was green out in her garden, it was on the edge of turning warm.
It was green in her mind as the faces smiled and focussed and looked down. 

It was so quiet. It was silent in her home, apart from the sweetness of birds, apart from the waving of leaves and she opened her eyes as they rummaged inside her. 

‘Do you want to see your baby now?’ they called and she blinked wide, and cried as he was lifted up from her, pink and red and new and there was no silence. There was the sound of lungs filling with air, of his first cry blurring with her own. And they were there, together new and safe, his warmth like the comfort of Autumn, his skin like the softness of hope and she looked up.

It was silent apart from the ticking of the clock, apart from the ringing in her ears. The sun had moved up the summer house, the colours deepened, the memories rich and fresh amongst the fallen leaves.
It was morning on the edge of Autumn and she was wrapped in silence and the weight of him, new in her arms.

It was silent apart from the calling of pigeons. The sunlight lit their breasts and they flew off. It was almost Autumn and she was swaddled in the day, in the moments. She held him warm up to her cheek and they were young.

 

This Woman’s Work

She listened to his breath and watched his hands, they were resting in folded arms across his face and she thought of them fresh from birth, grabbing onto her thumb, wrapping themselves around her finger. And then hot and small as they fumbled with bright bricks on the floor. 

There were hours when she held them on the walks to school, past their familiar way points, the big brick wall and the Spelling Hill, the Opening Trees and then the gates and they held pens. The hands she looked at now, that gripped the pencils, that formed the words, that scribbled and drew mazes then shaped sentences across their days, were the hands in the final playground when they swung from monkey bars, one determined grasp after another, pulling himself along before they left, before the photos at the gate and they left. 

She remembered his hand as it clutched hers, as they sat heads down on the pews, in darkness when the light was sucked out of their world. And how she held tight, how she clung firm to him and him to her as they stumbled forward in an unstable new world and then they looked up. 

To his hands, bigger, lifting heavy bags of books and different walks without her and he grew. He grew in ways and wisdom, in taking on his world and subjects came and subjects went, fingers folded around revision pens, shoving through hair as he leant over exam papers and he thought. His mind whirring and whirling, making links, his fingers fiddling as he waited for results.

And now autumn wakes them up again, to rain washed lanes and leaves. And now the road rushes underneath him as his new day comes into view.  Hands in pockets and a bag full of tricks, the compasses he holds now, he guides now, the calculations that he makes and his hands are strong and firm as they press buttons and follow the sines. Manipulating co-sines and tan in ways she cannot understand and she watches him go striding, preparing with a fistful of ideas, with complex numbers at his fingertips and behind him go the toddlers and the children he used to be, skipping, running in his steps and the hands she used to hold, wave to her and she counts every moment as he plots out his next phase.

How the hours have wrapped around us, she thinks, her baby, their boy and  their joy. And as the sun warms pavements and rain drops lift themselves up from the ground, the man he is becoming makes his way back home.

A Nuestra Aventura

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There goes the sunlight doing its thing, showing me that its still there.  It catches the web from last night’s work outside my window. If I concentrate hard I can see the rainbows in it and beyond the neighbour’s lawn, almost lime in its rays and I imagine how warm the grass must feel.

Since I’ve been sitting here, the shadow has moved up my curtain, it seems so drab now as though the hope that the sun bought has been stripped away to nothing. The walls creak and how a new day is pushing into me and if I don’t move from this spot, the planet will still spin. Even in my stillest form I know my heart pumps blood around my veins, that neurons jump the gaps to make these thoughts and cells renew and die. Its irresistible, a movement despite myself and I wait for the minutes as though there’s something coming, someone coming who will lift me from this place and if I hold out and breathe light small breathes that they will find me, like a crushed flower under foot or the scuttle of a lady bug released from a damp cold stone.

And far away in a place untainted by this morning, I am there. I am dressed in purple and my hair, thicker and darker than now whips and tears around my face in the morning bluster. I am up high and all I can see is the sunlight glinting off the waves and a horizon cluttered with boats. And there was laughter, reverberating in my head, bouncing sound waves around my ears and the anticipate of the moments ahead made me giddy with light and with joy.

My god we were filled with such joy.

***

And a pigeon comes to rest on the car, it pecks and slides down the windscreen, startles itself and flies off again. Today there’s autumn outside, clouds that could carry me far, take me away to Nice, to Cannes where the white sand would seep into my trainers. I’d stand by Matisse’s house and wonder what it would have been like to live there. To get up and paint in that light and the market stalls would be full of fresh loaves and the nectarines would compete with lemons and we’d walk, arm in arm, down cobbled lanes, looking out to where the sea became the sky and then I’d paint. After breakfast, I’d look east and on my dried-out primer I would sketch. I’d use charcoal and notice the boats that bobbed and buffered, there in a light that I remember now, I’d push oil around in swirls, cadmium lemon and scarlet lake up to the edge and no more.

I’d throw the bread crumbs through my window into a warmth welcome of air and pigeons would scuttle and drop down for my gifts out there, back there and not here, there in my South of France on a morning that isn’t this one. Here in the autumn beyond this rain stained glass, by the late wasp that nuzzles at brick and the pigeons peck at the roof of the car, they hop nearer now and look me in the eye. They’re close today, it’s October and they seem to know my name.

And then, there we were, further around the coast, under an untroubled sky, in the back of a cab, to old streets. We wandered lost, we held tight and asked questions.  The sun glared and lit the way as you paused with Guinness while I took our boy’s hand and we explored. Imagine that, far away from this world now, by the fountain that spat out our names and we were there. I wore the cream hat with petals on my tunic and we grinned, young and free into my lens.

That sun which lights the green glass on my windowsill, that burns up hydrogen while I think, is the sun that lit our faces on that day, in those moments that I fold around me now. And I can see the shopkeeper where I bought the sweets for our boy and you were there, sat waiting. We found the bus, we found the docks and the wind whipped around our hair. Then not now, there not here, under Valencian skies.

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Tiny Bells that Jingled

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She wanted to be lying awake in that bed, the one with the candlewick green cover and the white gloss windowsill would shine to her left in the early morning sun. Downstairs she would hear the sounds of breakfast and the stereo system would play something familiar that she hadn’t chosen herself. Its smoked grey plastic lid would be leaning up the honeyed pine wall and its casters would sink deep into the soft pink carpet.

At the end of her bed, the old wardrobe would loom up, so walnut, so dark and full of the things she no longer wore and the toy rabbit her friend bought her when they spent all summer in the town.

And she wanted to get up and reach into her other wardrobe on the right, the one near the old kitchen chair that she kept at the side of the bed. The new wardrobe that was fitted into the wall, which stored the clothes that she wore now and she would think. It was a morning when she’d already decided what she would wear that night and she would look at the crinkled white blouse, how its sleeves scooped out at the cuffs, like a pre Raphaelite, like someone floating down a stream. And the skirt, the full cotton, how it jingled at the waist, how she’d loved it in the shop, and bought it from the place she never visited again. And she wanted to feel its black and white fabric on her nylon coated legs and she would swirl, she would practice her turns for the evening and her smiles as he’d stand at her door.

And here now, under the ceiling light they kept from his old bedroom, coated in the dust she cannot reach, she would lie and recreate her bedroom and the sounds of the morning before that night. The day before her Father’s birthday party, when they sat and ate and laughed around the table she knows well. And only they knew about the night before, when the pub had been quiet and the breeze by the canal had russeled around her long skirt and later in the still of the house they’d hushed upstairs to her room with the green curtains closed and they had talked and whispered in the dark.

And now, for a second, for a single heart beat under the ceiling light that used to hang over his bed, that hangs over their bed now, she took herself back. And she was there, waking up in her old bedroom, brushing back the hair from her younger face and it was the day, the day he turned up in the evening and she smiled in the black and white skirt.

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Still

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The heating would have come on by now, creaking its way under floor. She would have been sat propped up, her head to one side. And she would be tired. It was a tiredness she’d never known before, it was something deeper than her muscles, than her blood. It was a solid mass of weight beyond her core and she pushed hard against it.
The wound across her belly throbbed, an alien ache that spread through her form. She would have fingered it with care, fearful of the change, a gentle pressure on the gauze as she breathed out.

His breaths were small, smaller than his form and she would have heard them beside her. They would drift up to her ear and she would hold each one close, a balm to soothe her gash. She would study his contours while he slept, the folds of skin behind his ears, the creases under his eyes.

And she was age and he was new. She would look beyond the old stereo from the first house, reminded of the way she used to dance and she was fragile, brittle. A calcified clump of herself.
She would have heard relatives downstairs, filling flasks, their time to leave and it was autumn, it was colours through her window out of reach.

And while he slept doors would have closed, the echo of aftershave lingering in the quiet of the house. Quiet apart from his breathing next to her and the soft scuff of fabric against her ankle. She would have rubbed one foot across the other, an attempt to warm up her feet and she was still.

Static.

And if she timed it right she would have made it to the bathroom and back before he woke. She would have taken all her weight, hand pressing down on her dressing table, all along the banisters and in the bathroom the vanity unit was cold and her legs were weak.

And manoeuvring herself back onto the bed she would have propped herself up by the pillow. He would have been warm in his fug and she would have had no sense of him with a back pack, no concept of him in the mist, in the autumn bronze with his blazer morphing into others behind the gate.

All she would have known was the home, empty for the first time in weeks, her limbs that resisted her movements. And the resolve, the saturating need to breathe and hold him.

To not think but hold tight and hold on.

The house would be warm by now. The road outside a clutter of noise as people fell into their day. And he would be stirring and she would be watching.

Her primal surge against the scars.

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