White Cloud


It always comes back to blossom, every year no matter what. And her road wound its way, like it did, up from their tiny home and turned left.

The colours started then, the froth and flutter like the taffeta scrunched around her, filling the back seat, like their petals filled the sky.

And turning right around the roundabout where she would take their unmade child, where school walks would be full of leaves and sticks, she saw her village on the right.

It ebbed away like her childhood, tucked safe inside her like the hidden garter on her leg and they drove on. At the junction trees came out to cheer her, smiled and waved in baby pink and candy whites as though they’d been grown just for this day, as though their only purpose was to shine.

And she sat and shimmered. Another roundabout and the hill eased down into her town, traffic lights held them while cherry flowers bobbed and frilled. Down and down, through the sap lined chorus, till a sharp left and squeeze of her hand. A chauffeur’s smile like the morning, as if he were the creatures in the branches turning their gaze towards the car, and calling out ‘look look, the blossom is out, watch her swirling now.’

And she sat. Two turns to go and moments folded round her, people scattered and petals burst, giddy, gleeful as though this was the first day to sing.

A route they’d travelled and planned with care through autumn leaves, but now every branch etched the sky just for her and every blossom swooped like swifts dived and murmured, like swathes of bird’s wings coming home.

Last turn right, until gates framed her, frills and fussing, with flowers in her arms. The tiny church path held her ivory feet and she came out in the blossom, like her day, like her trees, like her moment to stand out in the sun.

Leaves sparkled as she swept, soft pink, white scent before the hush. The cherry trees came out to hold her, to show her how to live. Bursting full, grabbing hours before they ease their colours to the ground.

Every fanciful floating petal was waiting just for her and she brushed towards him like a cherry tree in bloom.

In The Scent of Pine


She listened hard to the sparrow chirp outside her window and if she went deep down inside its beak, she would fall on the sweet sounds and they would propel her up, back out to an earlier day.

There on the notes of a different bird and a distant window, and there she would lie waiting for the day to unfold. And younger, thicker hair would grace her pillow and the old kitchen chair beside her bed, borrowed as a clothes rail would be covered in the bright clothes she used to wear. The leggings and silk shirts, half folded and waiting and there just to the right of her un-stretched womb was the red t-shirt ready for the day.

And sparrows called out from neat gardens, tended, they flitted past the bedroom window, a moment’s shadows where she lay. The candlewick bedspread, a well worn lime green, would be scrumpled at her feet and she’d get up, pull herself to standing, slight and small.

Birds cheeped loud as she smoothed her black waitscoat and somewhere else, unseen by her, somewhere two hours away, he pulled out his best jumper from the drawer.

Birds would have sung over his head as he climbed into the Orion and as they startled up into the air, he drove the distance between them.

Until. Her hand on the brass door handle and he appeared.

And quiet churchyards and pine trees waited and park benches came and went. And in her red t-shirt, in corners of restaurants, the huge salad bowls bought the evening. Till birds slept in trees, huddled and her mind buzzed with the hours, with his words.

The sparrow chirped outside her window and she came up and out, on its song, hung in the air, like its carefree notes and remembered when they were young.

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.

Quayside Keeps

Such a quiet bird, she thought and then a sky song spiralled out. And it sang as though it always had time for feathers, as though this was its home. And she saw herself, ship high and blown, above the docks on rising waves and it was here, next the creaking beasts up top and with blustered hair, that she grew. 

Here, that her sense of wings exploded to the seas, it was here and always would be. Down underneath its hulk, by the menshouts and leaden ropes there would be bicycle wheels. On pavements grey there would be spokes turning rubber, metal rubbing, gears changing and younger than her, his speckled legs would be pushing on the pedals that she couldn’t see. 

And there he was, escaped and expanded, exploring the docks by himself. Whiteout at his side, slabsteel towering high and he looked up. Painted letters sang out her name and he was there, adrenaline pumping, muscles aching, boundless and new on his bike.

And he grinned, up and up, to the top of ship, he squinted in the light, hair with a single curl at the front that zinged up like hope, like irrepressible joy and he was young. 

She looked down, wings nestling in her back, thin greying hair, a testament to travel and as grunts of men hauled ropes and chains released her, she swayed towards him. 

He paused on his bike, so young and persistent, with a button bright mind, sabatier sharp, the boy who took her hand across the years and from the quayside his story burbled into hers, in the churn and spume, in the chaos of waves, his eyes locked onto hers, always and he freed her. 

Wings ruffled bright, as her daysong followed the clouds, she saw him, and because of him  a boy on a bike, she flew.

 

A Certainty Like This

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The hills came back, they wrapped around her like an old friend, like a mother’s arms and she was safe, more than that, she was free.
Iris folded herself into her coat, it was a heavy, twisted wool with a knitted corsage on the left lapel, chocolate brown and as warm as it looked. It would be alright, she insisted to herself.
The platform was cruel. It hollered, ripping bits off people, tearing steel and diesel smashed through air, but she didn’t mind. To be fair, she thought, nothing can get through to me now, nothing can scrape or stab me and she let the trains do their worst. Her hair was thrown upwards like a beacon, her coat billowed out behind, filling her form until she swelled, bigger than her shape, her smallness hidden from the world and then she stepped.

Iris climbed onto the 10:17 to Wolverhampton.

Familiar towns whipped and passed. She watched reflections of people staring into laptops, intent on their day as she gripped the seat beneath her, scrubbed the nap backwards and forwards in her small hand. Yes, she was still there.
And changing for another train she felt the air she needed getting nearer and on and up through cities she used to know, places they’d visited when cars were hired and journeys made. Now it was a screech of a platform and cold strangers looking in beyond her, searching out seats by her side.
Tiredness pulled her down through another change of station and she wondered about her sanity, whether she’d really left home at all and if she had, what would she do when she got there?
She dozed. The weight of the hours closed her eyelids and the rocking of the carriage carried her away. She saw mountains and pine trees, how they framed themselves in one moment. The stream was drawn down through the image like a child’s artwork and it jumbled and glinted over rocks. She was there in the old train. Their train, warmed and wrapped from the Alps, stuffed full of chocolate and memories. The bowl of baked cream, the wicker chickens and the sky. How clear it had been, how far away but its light lit their rooms and their beginnings.

The train shook her awake into the sunlight dropping shadows, streaming out across the land. Iris blinked herself back into the afternoon, ordered a black coffee because she could and sat, mug hugging as she closed in nearer to her old town.

***

And morning came. Morning, after her tired trudge to the B and B, daylight after the restlessness of lumpen foam, of unfamiliar sounds and scented sheets. But morning came as it did back then, when they slept in spontaneous rooms, when owners smiled and gave them a key to the room on the left of the landing and they were there. It wasn’t just the mountain air that filled her lungs, that sparkled her eyes, it was the touch of herself, it was the sound of her laughter and in narrow streets with no plans, they ran.

Iris walked up alleyways, she walked taller than she was, like a bride to an unseen alter, she traced her steps. And there in the light rolling up the mountains, there in the air that she recalled, she found the pub. She pushed the heavy door and turned left by the coat stand and there she was.
Her hair was dark, long across her shoulders, her fleece jacket, the colour of her cheeks and she looked up. She didn’t see Iris, of course because she was laughing with her boyfriend. His back was towards her so Iris couldn’t see his face but she knew it well. She knew every curve and every furrow and she watched. They pushed the plates to one side, knocked back the remains of their drinks and said ‘let’s go.’
There, on an unplanned adventure with few clothes to their names, there, just north of his mother’s home where they’d travelled to because they could, they laughed and they sneaked out. They left the pub without paying, just once – only once because the staff were unresponsive and they, themselves were young. They were away together for one of the first times and they could run.
He took her hand and they walked straight through Iris standing at the door and how they ran, laughing like children down the cobbled lane until they stopped just beyond her sight, bent double and caught their breath.

Iris left the pub, she followed their trail and held them again in the distance. The girl looked back, saw Iris and stopped. She stood there in the crisp clarity of the mountains, she stretched up tall and wide and flung her arms to the sky. There, in a place Iris remembered, there, with him by her side. The girl squealed out, head back eyes tearing, lungs full and she was free. He photographed her and Dear God, she was so free.

Iris ran, she charged towards the girl and the girl knew. She opened wide her arms and called her home.
It’s alright,’ she whispered as Iris sobbed on her shoulder. The girl took her hand and showed her and there in the mountains with the light falling on her greying hair, Iris reached up. She threw her arms up to the clouds and called out his name.
She pulled the air around her, the sense of him, their purpose and how she’d grown. Iris in the mountains, arms wide in celebration of her form. It was yesterday, it was always there. And it was now and freedom was her name.

Lake District 1

For the Soul Dancers

She was wild, she was adventure,

she was passion, she was fun.

She was spirit and compassion.

She was comfort and she was calm.
And when night came, she was star dust

and her breath lit up her road.

And when her tears fell, she was released.

She was freedom and she was whole.
And her wings came and she knew them,

beating out so loud and strong.

And her feet blurred as she took flight,

her heart beat with nature’s song.
And when the dance took its hold of her,

she rippled, she began.

And when its rhythm filled her full, she sang,

‘I am, I am, I am.’