Falling Teacup White Robe

Cushion pushing tight into the twists,

the rumbles. Shh, time to sleep

I said before ears came.

The night, perched on the bed edge,

minutes like breaths, squeezing me.

My foreign body. Pulsing.

Weight of silence, an endless open mouth.

Yawning, howling.

Wait in darkness.

Shoe-horned into the car

under my tree, its soft reassurance,

resolve. Battered power

of an injured tiger.

Here, take my body,

it’s yours now.

Pummel me with

your ice cold faceless faces.

Watch me like a cat pawing bird

as I jolt, ricochets up my spine.

I don’t recognise myself

as they trolley me to the new room

with endless breasts which smother me.

Suffocate me in starched white.

I lay still in-between judders

with their walls and wires, lights that beep.

Daylight, hopeful smile on a wheeled-in tray.

Entonox is my friend, it brings me echoes,

fractured words and giggles

as her fingers inch.

Searching for news

but there is none.

Try again tomorrow, they say.

And I search the ceiling for a way out.

I’ve grown used to their window

though I cannot see outside.

One day there’ll be flowers on that table.

Another face on the end of the nth syringe.

I laugh and cry at the same time.

My turquoise bag reminds me of home,

it jars me.

She’ll be back later

and she drops a smile by the door.

Later the ceiling mocks me,

while they swab me clean

and tidy me away to nothing.

I may watch these walls

for the rest of my life.

You know night, that space

where everything sinks?

It takes me, leaves me shaking

in their hard backed chair,

drunk on spasms, they roll me over

strip me bare.

There, they lock the medicine away.

Tight lipped, they make me wait

till morning.

In daylight, pethidine is my best friend.

I call for surgeons,

but their absent hands upset me.

They sip tea on Sundays

while I rock, ridiculous,

a wretched remnant desperate for a gown.

Somewhere a woman wails,

disembodied hollering.

I wonder if she has flowers in her room.

I have no limbs now,

no head to call my own.

My pupa waits, watches the clock

push the hours, breath by breath,

my shadow up their wall.

Till everything bustles, they rush and prod,

watch over me in their Petri dish.

They tut-tut and poke.

Their needles search and pierce,

severing my pain.

I am numbness on plastic sheets,

chrome glints at my feet,

lights wink at me.

They concentrate and congregate,

explore me until teatime.

I give it my best shot.

Then I concede, consent to them,

give up, give out and give in.

I am aware of my breath,

my lungs expanding and contracting

by their green scrubs.

Their scorching lights and tinkering.

Brush the hair out of my eyes.

And where my abdomen used to be

the world opens, lilies start to bloom.

Loud and excitable, like a new heart beat.

Ceilings come and go under the sheer love.

Percolations

Maybe it would be on a Saturday and the pavements would shine dark, of course it didn’t matter and we’d cut through from the car park somewhere, turn left by The Baguette Shop and try to find the last remaining seats.

Jazz played, of course and the mothering comfort of coffee making sounds hissed and chinked and steamed up the view. And if we were lucky, we’d get the seats by the window and watch the humans go by. My earl grey was hot and I’d watch their disposable gloved hands load up the French bread with chicken salad, of course. And with a choice of six toppings I’d be reckless and wild and choose red pepper and grapes.

And we’d sit not too far down the road from Tyrell & Green, in the days before it became a nightclub, in the days before I waddled in there in my lilac ditsy print, to choose the rocking chair that held me while my back ached, which cocooned me while my tummy lurched.

We bought the footstool to go with it and somehow the print on the champagne fabric reminded me of a painting by Jean Miro from the days when I spiked my hair in orange mousse, when I pulled away from home and looked for myself in northern streets, in clanking lifts, in old buildings, with the smell of stretched calico on canvas.

There was something reassuring about the Jean Miro print underneath my swelling ankles as I rocked, as I soothed and it soothed me in the memory of when I wore zebra print, but not then. Then I held tight and held on as the spasms charged up my spine, as I took on my new form.

I liked Tyrell & Green and waddling in late summer, stacking up on the things we’d need for the journey ahead and while I twinged and swayed, somewhere just down the road in the steamed up Baguette Shop we sat looking out, Waterstones bags to our right, of course. And you ate prawns and I ate grapes and our Saturdays unfurled with raindrops down the window and the splintering shapes of humans doing their thing.

I always found it hard to hitch myself up on the high stools but once there I was content. Baguettes and books, wet streets which shimmered with the people that we’d become. On a Saturday through the filters of back then.

Appears A Prayer

I was never one to recognise events as they were unfolding and every time they came to a breach, to a gash, they surprised me, they gave themselves a shape, a moment in time rather than a seamless continuation.

And this morning I was taken to one side by the day and told to stop and look. But before I was forced to pause, I opened the day, in my usual way, with my identity intact, my sense of where I fit into the world and I sat.

The garden was doing its thing, as it did, as it does, growing and decaying despite me while I watched and let the heat of my mug wake my hands. Two, or maybe three mint leaves pushed against the surface tension of my tea. And I sipped. I sat and I sipped in my quiet certainty and watched the surface of my drink.

And now I take hold of my thoughts and pull them apart, now I question why it’s taken me so long to reach this place. This need to draw attention to the quality of my drink. It could be fear. It’s often fear. And now it’s marching up the path towards me, through the weeds and places where the stones are loose and broken, where small things live without my intervention. And it’s here and it smacks up against my door. I let it in of course, I have no option. Not that I can recall.

Life and death belonged. And was I monstrous? The words rolled around my head, poking and prickling, nagging me into a place where I could form the thoughts and they are these.

I sipped. I sat. And then a tiny flower floated over the surface of my drink. I was prompted to remember lotus flowers, delicate edges, beauty in their fragility as they bloomed despite the mud. Or water lilies, fragrant and glorious, spread out petals, preening over algae on my pond.

And this smallness, this clump of petals moved towards me. I studied it for a second, held it in my mind and then it changed. Its image became clear. There were no flowers in my mug, just a fly. A dead fly. Its fine filigree wings reaching out as though it wished to be remembered for the way that it could move, as though in death it was captured, it was held, as a testament to its life.

And I sat back. I placed the mug down, my favourite mug that held the shell of the insect, scalded with my boiling water, the water I boiled to bring me peace and calm had killed, in a second, the living thing in my mug. I wondered how it held onto the mint as I plucked it from the plant, as I rinsed it under the tap. But it clung on until I scalded it.

And I had drunk for while before it appeared, what if I had swallowed it, but I would not have known. And worse, as it drifted loose from beneath the leaf, in its first silent moments, when its body had ceased its purpose, what if I drank from its form, if some escaping essence of the fly had been consumed? And I, responsible for its death, or at the very least, a co-creator, now held, now owned a part of the fly in my mouth.

And I swallowed and I hoped. I hoped that death was in an instant, that there was a split second when its identity was whole and then the water came, the heat appeared like a thought, it drenched and saturated its tiny form before he could react. And that is all.

But then my drink changed, no longer warm ceramic to settle nerves but now it was a resting place, an in-between place and the weight of responsibility came. I left the mug and walked away to contemplate my options.

My friend Jenny jumped into my mind, Jenny with her backpack and packed up tent and her wheels spinning, biking and hiking to Wales. And I wondered how many insects her tyres had taken down, how many smears on concrete she’d created and as her hiking boots stomped and trampled the dirt down did creatures search for shelter from her feet?

But nothing helped the thoughts because Jenny wasn’t still and contemplating, Jenny was full of pumping blood, of sweat and motion, Jenny could never be pinned down. But I could. I was used to being calcified and my reward was the remains of a fly.

And so I needed to be exempt from myself, to make the best of decisions. And if I think the thoughts with the sound turned down I can admit I considered drinking up, to paying tribute to the fly with the act of consuming, to complete the job I had started and allow its carcass to rest deep within my own.

And hope maybe in death, it could step out of the shadows and see that it had lived. And I would know and I would make its essence subsume into my form.

And I yet I couldn’t and I didn’t, I couldn’t cross the line. Although I studied it floating for some time, I wondered would I taste it at all, as it slid down. But it wasn’t the tasting that prevented my mouth from its work, it was the need to honour, to live by a code that would bring structure to my chaos. And so I let the tea cool down. I left it for hours alone and silent, the mint leaves disintegrated around my fly and I noticed that he had become mine. Not an it anymore, not now. Now he belonged to me and I must do him proud.

And later when the chattering of children in the park has seeped away and the garden has regained a sense of ease, I will go out.

I will take my mug, my favourite mug and the body of my fly and I will tip out tea. I will find a quiet corner and a plant it may have liked and I will pour. My morning tea will soak the soil and if I focus I may just see the body of the fly fall into the ground.

But if he’d left the mint leaf before I plucked it from the plant, then we wouldn’t be in this place now and my eyes would not have seen the things they did not want to. But the fly hung onto the mint leaf and I scalded it into the void. Everything is relational.

Still, the sun will set over the plants soon, over what remains of my drink and my fly upturned in the soil. And as it sets there will appear a prayer in the photons, in the dust and the muck in the air.

It’s been a long day. I apologised to the fly and at the edges where our lives merged, we took responsibility, we impacted each other’s lives. It was a difficult joy.

Cradled

This, this right here, right now.

This face on the concrete, cool and rough, this tucked away under dried leaves, this attempt at shelter.

And yes the woodlice come but they don’t mind, they’ve seen me here before. Ants carry on regardless, always did, always will, while I curl up tight.

It’s ok, they nod as they pass by, shifting crumbs and sticks and broken things. But I can’t answer, not right now. I watch the woodlice trundle, legs rippling as if to say, there is movement, there is flow, although I can’t feel it.

And if I keep still long enough, my breathing will settle, will slow and the leaves will tremble on my back, will shudder just enough to show someone that I’m there.

And if I hold on, they might find me and lift me up and know I still belong. They might pluck me from the cracks in the patio and take me home, take me back indoors again.

And I would give my blessings to the woodlice as I leave them. And in someone’s hands I would be whole.

Place Value

Of course, if it were nearing the end of April she couldn’t be anywhere else but striding out towards the gate, at the end of the path, at the top of their alpine village. And her arms flew wide and wild, hair at every corner as the shutter smiled and caught her.

It held her face through the years, such that in times when she reduced in size, she would recall herself and the way she beamed. Trees blurred out behind her and his SLR bounced alongside them like a giddy Jack Russell, sniffing and rooting around for the next great shot. And they walked, for the rest of their lives it seemed, they walked up the winding path away from their alpine village which only existed for them.

It didn’t matter that her kitchen was still somewhat cold and although she seemed to sit on a hard wooden chair, she wasn’t there. She was upright on a plush train seat, looking right, as the mountains softened and the land lapped up to the side of them, in their double-deckered, pristine ride. And it would be the Wednesday, maybe Thursday but she’d be beaming, heading south, face up against the window like a child as the fields fled, as they sat side by side.

And it didn’t matter that her heating had just creaked on or the scarf around her shoulders kept her warm. She wasn’t there. She was, of course, on the low wall by the lakeside, kicking her feet and grinning, one hand holding the sunhat to her head, the other on the ubiquitous Diet Coke, in the days when all she needed was her small red rucksack and a first-aid kit to make her day. And if she paused, her wooden kitchen chair gave way to stone and the welcome seep of coolness reached her thighs despite her jeans.

Someone painted the lake for them, or so it seemed and everything was tinged azure and cobalt and they wandered. And the town was deserted or maybe not, maybe all she could see was their feet in unison, climbing the stairs up the tower and round and around and round and around to a platform where they peered out. The more she travelled the younger she became somehow as she clambered up the short steps to the very top, while he humoured her and waved from the opposite window. And she was there clutching the cobbled wall, perched on the window ledge looking down and her white cotton shirt billowed out like her hair.

And her heating rattled and complained, she needed to get the boiler serviced but not right now, now she was counting turrets and burnt sienna tiles and he was helping her back down the staircase in the secret places that they’d found.

Then the pier rose up, lakeside and people bustled but she didn’t care, she wanted to call home. And from a phone box (imagine that, a phone box) she pressed in the coins and waited for connection. Distant sounds came and crackled and then her voice burst out, like a child, like the youngest of girls. I’m in Italy, I’m in Italy and she laughed and gushed while they stood there. Cloudless, edgeless, sun waving streaks of speckled white on a lake to call their own.

And was it later or the next day, she wasn’t sure but the end of April held her close. She borrowed his shirt to protect her from the sun and while he packed or read or slept, she felt it flap around, over her t-shirt as she walked by herself in Zermatt. Not far but far enough, back up the winding path and out of town and every hanging basket sang out and called her name, colours cranked to full saturation, people on bikes and she strode. She walked out and up and away for a while, exploring by herself (a skill that would become vital years from then) but then there was no weight, no weight at all. Just herself and the village path and the drifts of snow, six-cornered starlets melting in the warmth. And could it be real, was it possible at all, that there she was, the smallest of creatures on the planet, yet her tiny frame expanded in the sun and the more she walked, the more she grew and she swung her arms and smiled, smiled liked she did on their first holiday, smiled as though there could be no pain.

She learnt to walk by herself, in his shirt to protect her and every snowflake saw her joy, every flower waved and cheered her on. It would always be the end of April and they walked the winding paths that led to now. At the start, at their start and Murano glass beads jingled round her wrist, throwing rainbows of Millefiori round her heart.

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

Lullaby

Close the door now, close it well and she soothed herself with its sound. It slammed out the outside and she crept upstairs. And back downstairs, lifting blankets from the beds, taking unused towels from cupboards.

There now, there now, she whispered to the door. Smothered it under fabric now, shoved and draped and stuck with gaffer tape, up to the architrave and over hinges. Push it away. And hide.

Windows next, she rushed. Hurried-scurried against the clock.

Tick loud, tock loud, pulsing, beating at her temples as she climbed. Teetering on kitchen chairs to reach and hang, to black out outside with cardboard torn, with paper. Newspapers empty threats, silenced bleating little black, little shapes shouting Doom but not for her.

She was safe if she rushed, if she scurried far away. And tucked up small and slight behind her fabric plastered doors, behind her tattered papered windows. She was safe.

She stroked the walls and thanked them. Gave a blessing to their strength.

Keep it out, keep it all away now.

And if she slept, her barricades against the clock would calm her, her cardboard shields and curtains would sing her deep to sleep.

There now, there now, stop the hands from turning. And she whispered to the house.

Keep February from my door.

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) #4

It’s morning for others.

It has become day 4.

.And you you know you’re not one to give up, to give in, you know you’re known for soldering on but last night was one of surrender.

Last night was sitting in their hard seated, hard backed chair watching the line of light down the side of the door where the night shift staff moved and soft shoed. And you pressed the buzzer as you rocked.

It was Delise, you’re sure even now, she said her name was Delise, not Denise or Louise but Delise. But she was the one who took your hand when white shards shot up your spine and round your front, when the night pulsed in and found you sleepless, twitching, in the chair.

Delise was sorry that the medicines were locked away till morning.

.Morning happened for others.

Even now through the hours since that moment, you can feel it. And He was called in, rung early from his bed to stand there helpless.

So somehow day 4 had emerged but not for you, for you there was no break, no rest no sleep, just a string of moments, holding tight and holding on.

Morning.

Day 4

Drunk on lightning strikes around your form, and you let go, 

It’s that Sunday feeling, that not really having slept all week kind of time. And faces came, agreed to surgery but it was Sunday and no one was around.

Tomorrow though, they told you.

Tomorrow they’d prepare you, break some water for you, tomorrow they would scrub up and take you down.

Temporal (All that Matters)#3

And then it becomes the Saturday in your head, new nurse, new name, new plan and you try to see her face. Her hair, it’s dark, short and you find glimpses of her by the door, by the bed.

She prepares and you brace. And there’s a sense of being tethered somehow, like a child’s eager grasp on a balloon string. (The balloon is red) and somehow you float above your morning day-lit room, right now. Bobbing, weaving, deep inside the balloon, you live, young with spasms, tired with hope.

It plays out, looping like it did, like it will, shafts of light flicking up the dust particles and in each one you exist.

So you take a deep breath and they try again. It was morning, they were early, they will try two times today. Your balloon bobs, the spasms make their way around your body and it is Saturday there, on that bed, in room 3.