• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 12
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Untitled

She has not forgotten that he has inner organs, blood cells, sweat glands, tear ducts, 206 bones in his skeletal system, elbows – and all the other human apparatus – including a nervous system, a penis and a tongue. It might be true that his belly is emptier than his mind which can walk on water. She tells him that he could test his strength by lifting a fish out of the water by its fins and not harming it. She suggests that it is important to laugh and to sneeze. It might be true that the soles of his feet are not as steady as his gaze. She asks if he has some currency in his pocket?
1

Elemental

Sky so blue it blinds.
Red cloak
bright as blood.

He reminds us we are atoms
and isotopes. Stands on rock,
looks at water.

He is dressed as a volcano,
the wolf skins of his cape,
a snow and ash of furs,
his torso, the lava within.

The swirl of ashy hair around his crown
will fall to the fjord, create the next
layers of basalt.

2

AUT VINCERE AUT MORI

They put a coin in my heart
I exchanged it for riots,
Rosa Luxemburg
Leibknecht
Karl Marx –
all my cloned lapwings –
there's no money in this art
no art in money,
the silver coin is the navel of the dagger
– an exchange rate for malefactors –
the crabs in red amulets, like chief executives,
live on land or sea,
as they pass they execute their bypass with their claws
in swirled pools at my feet,
this body that owns its volta
explodes downwards
– decrowns the earth –
where I found a feather at Tower Bridge :
it was the quil of Sir Walter Raleigh,
I used it to spoil my ballot,
to bait my spooled shoal,
I had a sea-change when all horizons cleared :

the sea-change lapsed when I got to land

3

‘This Mountain’s Mine.’

Burning lungs and cinnamon throat:
he pushes up stones and rocks
and to the top he clambers – high
above the sea and she. He gasps,
the wind dries his salted face,
blows away her venomous words,
her distaste. But now, he’s free.

He fills his lungs with mountain air
and digs his feet into the gravel peak.
He roots into earth and feels
the rock hum, the earth pulse.

He opens his mouth to speak
and feels the weight lift,
stretches his arms out wide.

‘If nothing else, this mountain’s mine.’

4

Walking Out Together

He had given her totality, subsumed his very essence to pander to her every whim. She had taken him, turned him inside out and wrung his last modicum of self into the lake of her selfishness. And yet he continued. Kept kneeling at the foot of her skyward height and cast his grey eyes upon her. Never holding back, never keeping anything in reserve, for himself.
He wouldn’t again be the man he was once, subject of occasional wayward glances. In the end he was so completely hers she hadn’t even noticed he was there. He wore his heart on so much more than just his sleeve.
When she said she was leaving he could think of only a safe journey for her. Why would it even occur to him what he would be losing?
She would never give him a second thought.
And he would wait for her, wait forever if that was what was needed.

Forty years passed. The glances changed like seasons. The budding lust of spring to the summer wind of love. Others autumnal anger to the cruel hatred of a long harsh winter.
But wrapped in a cloak of his love for her he was safe from any element.

He outlived them all, except for her.

She did return, once, by chance, and didn’t even know she had been there before. Stood on the rocks she felt nothing, saw nothing. His bones long mingled with the glacial silt.

5

Mountain Man

I come here every day.
I wrap up in my awesome felt blanket that looks like a volcano, and watch.
Two years ago I saw her. There. In the lake.
Every day I return in the hope that I may see her again.
My heart jumps with each lapping wave, but so far I've had no luck.
Two years ago I was standing here. Right here.
And she came to me, green hair flowing, pale skin glistening.
She wasn't a mermaid, she was the water. A Goddess from the depths, her beauty absolute, her breath as sweet as the breeze.
One beat of my heart and I was in love, but she left as quickly as she appeared.
I come here every day and look at the lake. Wrapped in my awesome felt blanket that looks like a volcano.
My heart bleeding. My love unrequited.
6

The Last of Our Kind

If he could rule the world, surely this rock would be his throne, he becoming the crown which had sunk into his head slowly, blood free flowing and then freezing in the cold air. After this sacrifice, all is possible as far as the eye can see, for that is his whole world. With blood as a blanket one is excused from animal pains, and become hardened. And yet not completely: the soft top of the head can still twitch with incoming images, like walrus stampedes on melting ice-floes. It's better to be the last of your kind, when you rule the world, because your kind is burning it up, even here under the clear blue skies. So he thinks, when I rule the world, I will end all the others first, and then wear this blanket of blood as a reminder of what we were. And I will slowly freeze into place gazing on the lands we melted, slowly hardening, as the lands freeze back in our absence. The last of our kind.
7

Said the Rock

We watched the rest of you evolve
Into fat, furry animals
With feet. You did not wait for us.
We did not mind. We liked it here.
You act, you see. We contemplate:
Eroding into absurd shapes
Beneath abiding silences.
It is such blissful tedium
To hold a snowflake on one's face
And watch the stars in motion. Ah,
How impatient you people are,
In attack and resistance.
Can you tolerate existence?
8

Return from High

I am of the land, the sky, the mountains,
I partly grew from them.
I sit and survey infinitely, serenely.

Yet a mantle of guilt
sits on my shoulders.

The clouds witness my changing head-
mind accepts it must be open
and yet keep a truth for the world.

The guilt is that I cannot accept guilt
for those who would corrupt my ordered thoughts,
the world has corruption,
I have learned to find answers from my holy teachers.

It is a very perilous and winding path,
but I'm ready to leave now.

9

Call

Afar, a vast land sprawls.
Attracts, calls.

Hang tact - cry war!
Plan attacks, grasp arms,
watch man stalk man
and fall hard - crack-crash

As sands wash away,
what was arrays:

Facts.
A black tar stack.
A past map.

Afar, a vast land sprawls.
Ask what, ask why.
Stand tall.

10

Illusion And The Truth

Once on horizon could be seen
The silhouette of a fairy queen
On a solar lit background
Which thus descended on the ground
Lassly hopping low and high
Graceful it came on nigh and nigh
And senses were all expectation
All at halt in reclination

But when it came nigh, more outlined
The figure was a robust male
With tiger's gait of leisurely mind
Which strolled ahead on speed of snail
And once those epic ways were read
All at once the senses said
"Thou a hero must behold
With arms of steel and heart of gold"

But when nigher a Sadhu, whose diabolic brow
Commanded "Come o nigh and bow!"
With looks of omen that may lead
A seven score lively souls to dead
It disillusions all the dreams
Ten thousand smiles in silence melt
When loud the truth through silence screams
And harsh and loud the truth is felt

11

I Am Mountain

The ground begins where I stand
- corrected, humbled.
Landscape spread, ahead and around:
I am mountain.

This river that flows goes much deeper
than all I know -
it is where I've been that shapes
every rock that binds me.

My mantle-heart and its cardinal pulse
caressed by the hands of Time
have succumbed to Openness.
Where I stand,

the landscape ahead and around,
reflects the vastness I breathe -
I had to walk these many miles and years to learn
how to stand tall.

12

Waiting

There he is - the man with the coin slot in the top of his head. They said he’d be here, standing tall and proud, camouflaging himself in the rugged terrain and ocean spray crashing its torment against the rocks, except he’s not doing a great job of it. He sticks out like a sore thumb, his heart steadfast despite its lack of inactivity.
He looks like he’s wearing a pomegranate red cape recalling the original caped crusaders, and wonder if he secretly fights crime at night. I doubt he goes anywhere though, what with his concrete exterior and corpse-like rigidity. Perhaps his eyes are covered with fine thread-like cobwebs masking his glazed and far-away stare, sealing the emptiness within.
He is the only reason I have come here; a flesh-made tourist spot and a legitimate pillar of the community. I love the mechanics of him, how he gives himself to the tourists, showing them how he views this spot.
You place a coin in the slot and are then able to see through his eyes, turning his head to get the best possible view. I have heard such wonderful tales from others about what they have seen and the secrets he conceals beneath his eroded exterior; the time is now or never. He is an enigma, this man with no name, no background, and no past.
But everyone has a past, no matter how mundane.
Looking at him, I’m convinced his name is Alan – a good, strong and honest name for a man whose heart is a chip off the mountainside, a slice of the outdoors residing safely inside.
People are gathering now, more tourists I assume on the lookout for stoical Alan, enduring everything the elements can throw at him. Whispers slip from overworked mouths, passed on to listening ears like Chinese Whispers, hoping to unlock his past and gain an identity.
Read more >
13

Literary Sanctuary

What exactly am I doing up here? This is where I think, where nobody can find me, where I'm not distracted or disturbed. I call this place my literary sanctuary, an exclusive, private paradise where I can just let myself go and be inspired. This is the closest I get to nature, to the elements and I've escaped here, to this exile whenever I've needed to think about stories or poems. I've been a writer for the best part of forty years and on many occasions I've had to return to recharge my batteries and absorb the breath-taking view.

I believe writers are born, not made and I felt the calling at the tender age of thirteen when I used to hide in my bedroom and pretend I was asleep. Dad would come home drunk or in a bad mood and while mum would bear the brunt of his temper I would lie under the bed, pencil in hand, jotting things down.

By fourteen I'd filled up an entire notebook.

By sixteen I was selling stories to the local kids to read; most were legends, tales to tell around the camp fire.

At eighteen adulthood was upon me and I was forced to abandon what some called dreamy nonsense for a living wage. But unbeknown to my teachers, parents, employers and even my wife, I never completely gave up my literary aspirations; on the contrary, I found I needed my craft more and more as I grew older.

My twenties and thirties were taken up with jobs I rarely liked, marriage and raising a family, but I wasn't totally smothered in the daily grind they call life; I had in the background a light, a hope, something else out there that was mine. And it was that something else which kept me going.

Read more >

14

Freeze Frame

This is all I know of myself.

Feet sewn to gravity,
Swept by tickling reminders of time,
Whispering in sweet nothings against my limbs
To tempt them into moving, into being.
My delicious illusion
Renders me striding across the world
Soaking its beauty like the sodden damp
Rivulets around each rocky toe
Until I am drawn outside my mind again
Waiting for the tide,
Unraveling its frieze behind me
(what is left of me)
Animating me into living.

15

Petrifaction

First it is simply air.

It flows over him like a whisper, gentle, barely audible, filling him, though he does not notice it.

What he feels is a tingle upon his skin, the sea, infinitesimal. He takes it deep inside with every breath.

“This is also me” he thinks and the water ripples a response, mineral light glistening on the waves.

“It was always so” it says.

Spray, turquoise and crystalline, hovers in the air then dissipates to nothing. He shivers when he sees it evaporate and pulls his cloak tight.

“I have the certainty of this” he thinks “the certainty of solidity.”

And the sea sighs.

“What is it you know?”

And he could speak of the sky, explain the blue. He could count the striations of rock and mountain and re-tell the history of all things. He could harness the power of wind and wave and throw the miracle of light into the darkness.

“But this is not me” he thinks.

“Then there must be some other truth” says the sea.

So he stands and waits, imagining the things he knows, the things he feels.

Read more >

16

Sea Mark

“Here is my journey’s end, here is my butt,
And very sea-mark of my utmost sail.”


Is this the Moor, steering his vessel North,
a tenured look-out, peering at the sea?

A magus, solemn in his stony skirts,
topped with a priestly cape of sealing-wax?

Has he leaped down from frost and ice
to guide the lonely mariner, or mislead?

A candle with a stubby wick, a firework
or a perfumed bomb, innocently primed?

Or a work of art, the simulacrum
of a seaman’s reference point,

painted as a joke with one or two
unwanted tins of matt and gloss?

17

M A Canter

I grow from the rock
like a stalagmite.
They dress me to
hide their fear.

I grew eternal
they grow mortal.

They dress me
while they are here
to hide their fear.

I am the rock , the sky , the white hills
I accept their fragile benediction of red fox
I do not fear them.

18

He waits

I have watched these many years
for the one who was promised me;
a daughter of the clouds
I know she is out there,
somewhere,
beyond sea and mountains,
finding her way to me.

I have learned patience
and humility,
in the waiting
and my cloak is woven
from the quiet endurance of rock
and the passion of the setting sun.

One day she will arrive,
dancing lightly across the bay
in her feathered shoes
into the circle of my arms...
until then it is enough
that we breathe beneath
the same sky.

19

Stone People

Stone People
let the mists furrow
into their eardrums.
Rivulets pour

and gather momentum–
through valleys, leaping waters
throw rainbow boomerangs
at the sun.

Stone People
hear whales sing in the bowl of seas.
Dark hollows in the hills
breathe quietly,

hide the cold glimmer
of their matrices in vast black mirrors.
Ghosts with leathery wings smoke themselves out.

Stone People
listen for
the infinitesimal
groan of rock,

every shoulder shrug
and grumble
shakes us
in our boots.

Read more >

20

The Glorious Knitted Cape of Jessica Swarfega

Dear Mrs Gwindthrope

I am writing to tell you how much I enjoyed your knitting class last Thursday and the splendid Highland Bakes (who would have known that such salted delights can be cooked up from the Common Herring Gull and Kittiwakes?) So I see you are a master/mistress of many crafts. Although I am very keen to join in with the group effort to macrame Joyces's wedding dress, alas, I must decline. I feel a delicate touch is required, something that my size 15 hands will stumble over.

Best Wishes

Jessica Swarfega

Dear Jessica

How lovely to hear from you. I'm glad you enjoyed the meeting. There are other projects I have in mind, especially for those starting out in art/crafting. I had mentioned these in the group but perhaps you were visiting the toilet at the time.

These include: Kitchen towel/toilet roll holder or music stand (Woven dried dock stems) Car covers (Tesco carrier bag squares) Book shelves (dried mature Lovage stems) and for those simple projects; knitted iPod, iPad cases.

Read more >

21

Kincairn

A goddess kept her silence.
How was I to have known?
I stand here – Kincairn – Head of the Cairn.
Each year, the blood red tidemark creeps
A little further down my back.
Time was I filled the lough with my weeping,
but now fossilised tears drip from my blind eyes.
I do not need be told the mountains are covered in snow –
my lips turn each icy flake to stone.
Blind then, blind now: only at the world’s end
will I see across the waters.
But I can hear the whispers – Cain.
22

The Sentinel

He muttered the blessing that was by now embedded into his mind, soul and heart, wrapped the cloak about him and settled into the position of Watcher. He was of a long tradition of Watchers, the sentinels of the open water that helped guide fishermen and other traveling vessels that sailed on this passage way. Many a misty day did his kindness warn water-travellers of rocky dangers, or of the shallows that occurred far out when the tide became low. As he scanned the horizon, he allowed his mind to wander back to when he reached his manhood ceremony and was selected by the Elders to become a Watcher. The long days of being trained. Learning to remain so still, never moving the his eyes off the water had been tedious and full of strain, but when he was allowed to put on the Watcher cloak for the first time, it was a thankful and joyous anointment.
Stories drifted in from time to time, from fishermen in lands not seen. Of a different kind of Watcher, one that used the red colour from a substance that gave out light and heat. In this frozen precipice of the world, no such thing existed. During the dark evenings he often made suggestions that a group of Watchers go out and search for this new tool, but his ideas were always dismissed as being too dangerous. He was often accused of being foolish for wanting to chase the tales that are of children's fantasies. Deep in his mind he knew that he might well strike out on his own during his time when he rested his eyes. It would give him enough time to cross the water and set out on foot to some other parts to seek this other type of watcher. He shifted his weight slightly, gazed towards the south, his eyes seeking objects upon the low horizon line. He thought of his daughter. Read more >
23

REFLECTION

They stare at each other,
all day, every day, for
billions of years. No wonder
they begin to look alike –
blue sky and blue sea.
Everything mirrors –
white mountains,
white clouds;
rocks on earth,
rocks in space.
So what of that
mysterious old man
in red, what is he reflecting?
24

Untitled

I survey you, oh great mountains,
Snow capped beauties, glistening
against the cerulean blue sky.
I was turned to stone as I stood here
in my red cape,
I rebuked my God.
So here I stand facing you,
my gaze ever constant.
Taking my punishment. Yet,
I never tire of your beauty.
25

I spy with my little eye

Those who knew him before he turned into a watching stone, say he liked long drives on the motorway and older women.

Those who knew him before he became a loveless soul, maintain he had always been a hopeless bore.

Those who got to know him as a hopeless bore, assume he never had any friends.

His friends, if they exist, would tell you that the truth is somewhat different, yet quite simple to understand. He became quite old himself and all the women he would have liked were dead, or as good as dead. His lack of flexibility in matters of love lead him to an increasingly contemplative way of life.

Now all you have to know about him, is: he is the talking head of an absurd pyramid.

I know you may be tempted to go and ask him what he's doing there, but let me save you the trouble, my curiosity precedes yours. He'll say: “you tell me about the mountains, I keep dreaming of the sea”. That's all. Oh, the red paint, yes. Guess what: the kids did that.

26

Enamel Coronation – a tanka

Rooted.
Inverted molar.
Tugging nerve.
Promontory prince.
Awaiting eruption.
27

Sisyphus

Karma is a mountain. Life is an ocean of deeds. 'Forever' has no fate - dead ends rarely do. We might as well give up. But we can't.
Why? Well. See.
Satan fell and took Eve down with him. Adam came tumbling after. With humanity crashing down in his wake, like waves against the shore of shame. The waves keep trying to wash the sand off but the ocean keeps them well supplied. Nothing to be done.
We are Sisyphus, you and I. We love, we can't. We laugh, we can't. We cry, we sob. We live, we must.
It has been 2700 years now. One wonders what became of Sisyphus. He brought humanity what it wanted the most - immortality - against the wish of the Gods. But immortality did not mean the body would freeze in a state of youth. The seasons go billowing by and little bits of the soul depart. The winds won't carry us back to Eden; the seasons keep us where we are. Cosmic cycles thicken the misery of existence. There is a reason why Autumn is also called Fall.
It has been 2700 years now. Sisyphus, preserved in mind and body has escaped cosmic time. After many centuries of rolling the stone up only to follow it down, the boulder became his own rolling head and he was kicking it along - he must. A few more centuries of this and Sisyphus has turned to stone. Camus spoke of that moment of consciousness during the descent of Sisyphus when he becomes bigger than his burden - well, Camus was right. Sisyphus is a man-mountain now.
His body is slowly turning into a mountain from the feet up - the new-born stone crushing the blood out of his body as he helplessly watches, conscious and in pain, the ocean of his life's deeds stilled by grief.
This mountain is the new metaphor for life - of not just suffering but of suffering AND suffering consciously - it does not make one bigger than their burden. It makes one broken, broken beyond belief. Read more >
28

Midlife crisis

He’s finally flipped.
Things were fine for thirty years,
we had a mortgage and five kids.
But once the youngest had left home
he took off to Tibet.
He didn’t take any clothes
just a cloak that he’d designed and made.
He called it mother earth’s bed cover.
Now he spends his days spinning
a prayer wheel and meditating
beside snow-washed mountains.
He says he’s found the meaning of life.
Well, I told him, if he’s not back in six weeks
he can find another bloody wife.
29

Waiting

I am the chess piece that waits for 'checkmate' to be called on the world.
The clouds change into many pictures and the snow on the mountains                                                                                                 comes and goes.
My lonely vigil carries on oblivious.
I am waiting for a signal, I dare not blink for fear I may miss it.
It would be easier if I had a clue.
The soaring white sea eagle torments me with it's effortless flight.
He mocks my inability to move.
On special days the Fin Back Whale passes by close enough to splash my                                                                                                                 face.
In the end our fate is determined and certain.
The strongest will win.
The weak will perish.
I will either sustain or fall.
The decision was never mine to make.
30

Scoria

I can't help if my shoulders are pyroclastic and the rocks seep all upside my back. I can't tell you how long I've stood here neither, but the sky wasn't always so blue. The old explosion's only a brow and a bald and a beard -- I was meant, I suppose, for beheading. But then who will look after the view?
31

line of sight

shields himself with blood-red sightline
bashed into the blue sky doesn't
recognize the rocks around
him sets a glazing eye to think
of cupboards bare at home the
only life he's ever known stares
and sees red in his eyes as
if the sky were left in
place for him alone
32

Guilty

I try to give what I’m carrying to the mountain. Take, take, take, take my feet beg, as they tread the path through the foothills where my pace is quick.

And then begins the climb. The slopes drag me backwards, and I pull and stretch my limbs until they burn with penance.

I try to give what I’m carrying to the mountain. I try to find a fresh start with every breath of sweet fresh air.

I implore the tiny wreaths around my feet to look like yellow mountain flowers, and the rounded, marble headstones to look like flint and mountain rock.

And when I reach the top of the mountain and lay my burden on the ground, I plead with the mountain to show me infinity, and to offer me an endless, rolling landscape of boundless possibility.

But instead the mountain shows me eternity, and the fragile, blue line between heaven and earth.

I can’t give my guilt to the mountain.

The slopes pushed me downward as I make my scrambling, slipping descent. As I reach the foothills where my pace grows slower, I take the guilt that’s still in my arms and place it across my shoulders. I can feel its weight settle quickly around me; heavier, now. Woven thick and strong with my pathetic attempts to avoid it, and as heavily stained as my heart and hands.

And it sinks like rock through my flesh, through my bones, until I am paralysed and powerless. No longer something I am carrying, but something I am. For I am guilty. I am guilt.

33

Distant outlook

The old man took the outlooks cloak and turned to face the sea, pulling the heavy felt garment over his shoulders, each metal clasp making a small clinking noise as he attached them together. His predecessor nodded without a word and turned and walked away.

He shifted his shoulders under the weight, the burden signifying the importance of the role. Standing on the stone broach they had thrown out into the sea, each great volcanic rock lifted into place by a great wooden crane, the remains lying rotting behind him, he stared out across the water.

The land they had crossed to reach here was now deep underwater, in twenty years the rich valley had succumbed as much had to the rising sea. The distant headland their link to anything that reminded them of the past. From there three more islands would need to be crossed before the next remaining land mass was reached.

Were they safe? The looker settled in his role, the felt blocking any wind from reaching him, the material holding in any warmth from his body. Soon the battle was between his mind and soporism would begin. He would start to chant, low slow words repeating messages and stories, ones they still shared and remembered with. Ones they passed around the fires at night.

Behind him all movement receded as his family and friends moved about the days business. Gull egg picking, seaweed foraging, searching the shores from jetsam. The sparse tress on the island were jealously guarded, every seed and fruit found a safe haven in the soil between the rocks, trying to restock the landscape. He heard the two small boats they still had set off away to his left, the mackerel were running, let them be lucky and return with a good catch and the nets intact.

Read more >

34

Summit Stance

Ice-capped, his thoughts pierce the peak
of eyes that forge an ageless landscape.

Limestone flecks reveal his teeth –
a jawline in a rock-face.

Cloaked, his shoulders shelter mountains,
their blood-red plains of boar and bison.

Legs of stone and burrowed lichen,
his feet have rooted, his toes have hardened.

35

Prophet of Mine

He stands there.
Oh Prophet of Mine.

And looks for and remembers,
his long gone comrades.

Where are: Isaiah
        Amos
        Joshua
        Samuel
And lest we forget
        Anna
our beautiful Prophetess.

Oh sad and melancholy Prophet of Mine.

They have left you, my kind one
wrapped in your coat of two colours.

Take heart oh Prophet of Mine.
You will enter Jerusalem
by the Golden Gate.

And the people of Gaza
will follow in your wake.

For you will leave no-one behind.
That is not your way.

Shalom my dear one.

36

Pilgrim in a cloak

You have come too far
we don't make journeys
our home is here.

Stones stay close
nudging elbows
making mountains.

If the pebbles get restless
and slip to the water's edge
we gather them up

point them to the rock face
remind them we keep vigil
on this view.

37

if I have wronged you

turn me into a mountain peak, paint me in shame,
chisel off my feet, dissolve in stone, make my world
stand still, stationery, prone to earthquakes, absolve
the sea instead, let her breathe, let her flow, move
to the hemisphere, but do not turn me into a bird,
a fawn, or a laurel, do not turn me into anything
alive with the life of movement, for I will again
spurn, lie, escape, unmoved still grant me
the unmoving if I have wronged you turn me
into a mountain peak so I can never turn away
38

See view?

Across that firth
and over those hills
another rim of hardbitten rocks
another watcher posted
just like
but not like
me
(could be the cape's green?
could be the he's a she?)
who also faces another firth,
another cold col,
and beyond him/her
the same again
and the same again,
all forgetting
exactly what
it was we are meant
to be waiting for.
39

Identify

Identify

thin ornaments

dangle therapy

(mutual parenthesis equate shape-match exams: remember: no wrong answers: anymore)

all things lean, learn

swarm within the language of silent, onlooking dilemmas—

and to what begins to build atop asymmetry, to what

bargains with reality’s tribute to meditative

examinations . . .

does the he

of hybrid drapery

incline well into the landscape of tonal differences,

or,

does knowledge connect dotted theories

informing the watching

to behave within the causal

pausing of stilled occurrences,

pluralized?

40

IF ONLY

I wish I could inscribe you human.Your stone-cold heart would beat with sudden rush of life and rhythmic pulses begin their ripple and flow.
Your arms would swing, your feet would stride, your chest would swell with manly pride. I would send you on travels far, to let your gaze light on every star. Touch the stones on wind-swept beach, dreams just within your reach. Taste food from any nation, attain powers of observation.Smell the scent of flowers and trees, feel the warmth of Summer breeze. Hear bird-song from every land and feel a loving partners' hand.
All this, and more, I wish for you, yet I know
it cannot come true.
You must remain where you need to be and forever look upon the sea.
41

THE LESSER EVIL

"It'll make a tolerable wicket with a little ironing out."

The First Mate radiated that distracted ease in adversity borne of the public school. His disdain for idleness was a product of the same institution. Mariners are less sure-footed on land both literally and figuratively, so he quickly scouted a spot above the stricken vessel and articulated his peculiar fancy to the dispossessed tars scuffing along the shoreline.

They set to it soon enough, dragging ashore anything bearable to flatten a few square playable yards of the earmarked plateau. Carried along by camaraderie, the task became a quest to recreate the village green on flint and pressed snow. Benches, chairs, even a boundary rope made their way up from the ship and the cook put aside his usual gruff austerity in rationing to cater for the event.

With a ball in his hand and a strong field set, the beaming First Mate looked every part the gentleman amateur. Only now did he call towards the solitary figure sat apart, staring down the placid channel to the mountains beyond.

"A square to rival the Oval's, eh Captain?"

Every man on the plateau had absolute faith that the Captain's long and thoughtful solitude was the key to their recovery. But the Captain, wrapped in the ensign he'd struck from his crippled charge, was adrift in a sea of homely remembrances and the ship and her complement had until now deferred to visions of a distant home and a treasured wife and daughter.

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42

Father

I am the sweetest infidel on earth.
I could never communicate my love
on the stormy roots of the present
achieving only
newer and newer balances,
both adored and questioned.
The severe, vedic garb i live in,
is more important to me than
the cask of mud and water i was borne in.
what i want to create is more brilliant than a
seasons freight of dusky ample cloud,
but my creator does not let me try my hand
at life.
some gods offer me the genteel scorn of
the sky,
mosques of ice below it,
and some the darkness of a water
richer than ebony.
For now my reverence is pagan,
a child's vermilion ague
and dressed up abandon.
I feel the fathering air,
its bloody charcoal stutter
from throat to finger,
my belief is a kind of anarchy.
my eyes accost the porcelain singes
and lulls of the wind around me
i am tearing through his icy splendor to
only, just once
look him in the eye.
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Himemoana

He stares over shivering water.
The island where she waits
hides in snow, pale rainbows
imprison the moon.

He sickens for her forbidden
wild honey, desire’s hot pepper
spicing the salt-bitter tang
of her skin. Almost he can
taste her on his lips.

Wood-smoke from cooking fires
wafts by - he sniffs the fern and manuka
of her hair, her breath’s
kowhai blossom whisper
Come to me!

Ripples lap a background
to her flute’s high haunting notes.
The rocks around him seem to sigh
and murmur in time to her tune.
His pulse drums.

Water so cold it burns
climbs up his legs, scalds
his waist his chest
grips his neck as he swims.

Aching, exhausted,
he strains towards
his waiting lover —
death.

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Narrow Road

His book entitles him to a Booker
but he hardly cares, his is to stare
over sea and mountain
not looking east or west
he does not dare to test
many worlds or compass points

his knowledge is borne on the tight path
of Hinayana, not the plaster and lath
of imperial palaces that slather power
and sense to the four winds
he stands for himself, feeling the breeze
from regions beyond the cold mountains
and the slate-blue sea he may never cross;

to see over and beyond is enough
and so he avoids the mere dross of thinking
about things unknown, or forever stillborn,
he looks north, not to see the road
but to feel it unwinding from him

the long way round, that bodes well
for those who would tell the rarest tale
and take the smallest vehicle
on the path that leads nowhere
but back to himself.

(The Australian Richard Flanagan has won the 2014 Booker Prize for the book The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which is also the title of a book of poems by the Japanese haiku poet Basho, born 1644)

45

Tectonic Love

Dearest Clementine,

I have left France. I am staying in Snowdonia, in a little stone house in the shadow of the mountains. I can’t face going back to our London flat, everything reminds me of Albert. Two months since his death. Here, I have been having the strangest rêves. Albert visits me on a nightly basis, whispers himself into my dreams.

        Last night, I found him settled in the enigmatic mountains, perched in the peaks like an eagle. He was half man, half geological landform; my tectonic love.

        “Darling”, he murmured into the pink of my ear, “It is up here that the birds fly, the kites sing; we seek to meet the gods”.         He carried on explaining about how mountains were born from earthquakes and plate shifts, new earth rising from broken land. I was so happy to see him. But, all the while, blood was flowing from a ruby necklace that was settled on his chest, seeping into the stone. I knew this was Albert dying and I wanted to stop it. I wanted to stop that blood, tear the jewel from around his neck, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t ….

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46

Things to pack

canvas, regular size
      memories
        pain, especially of the nights

brushes, everything i own, and a new pack
    hate
        baggage, especially those i have refused to leave behind.

journal

    urban smells
        home, keys, boxes, et al

music
    pills
          guilt, of all that should have been

camping tent
    insomnia
        family, friends, pets, garden

paint
    colours
                us. most importantly.

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Peace

Sometimes they think he can be caught and conquered. Brought down to street level, placed in war torn towns, sliding a sense of calm through conflict like oil.

Or they think he can be manifested on paper, with contracts and laws, binding vocabulary or even embodied by yoga poses and men wearing robes. Birds and branches. Parted fingers. Meditation.

I want to find him. Snag my nails on his shawl and snatch some fibres. Take a part of him away. Place my hand to his face and feel the steady exhalation of his breath. The thread of warmth. I want to plant my feet beside his and turn my torso south and watch the sun’s journey as he does. Survey the same land. Watch the rocky white world below unfold its glacial edges like a piece of giant origami. Inhale the same oxygen. Listen to the silence.

They say he can be found on the mountain range at the edge of expectation where the clouds meet the sky and the colours divide. Where language fails and philosophy evaporates. Where the air is so thin that you can push holes in it.

There will be challenges along the way. Ice and avalanches. War and fear. Rape and disease. Kidnappings, murder. Forgotten faces and statistics that rocket, plunge and twist. The stony terrain is cast with the spiked edges of unknown viruses. The wind shaking with the urgent panic of six billion beating hearts. Bombings on borders. Ragged youth and ego. Ideology.

To reach him takes determination.

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48

I’ll Be Back Soon

I’ll be back soon, I’d said. And maybe I meant it at the time but I'm not all that sure it meant anything to anyone else. My wife had smiled and said Okay. My friends had cheered me as I left. My brother had winked and put his arm around my wife and said, You be good now, brother. My wife had laughed.

I don't know how long I've been gone. The fire had been on its way out, I remember that. We'd been drinking wine from a box and whiskey from shiny metal coffee flasks. We must have looked and sounded like kids again. My wife was the first to get drunk. She was giddy and silly and struggling to stand on her own two feet. I’d told her to slow down and she’d told me to stop being so boring and old. Sometimes she forgets she's married to me. I'm the socks she picks up in the bedroom before bed, the dishes that need soaking and cleaning twice before the guests arrive. I'm the dustballs on the carpet she spots while we're watching TV, as if she's not really watching at all.

Our friends had suggested this camping trip. I didn't really think it was our thing at first but my wife had said maybe it's what we both need, so we came along. We'd spent the first day fly fishing and reeling in redfish and striped bass. We'd seen salmon runs that changed the colour of the water to oranges, blues and greens. My brother threw a pebble in the river and we watched it vibrate on the surface of the water. Every now and then we’d catch the silvery flick of a tail and it was so beautiful, so small, like seeing the flash of a mermaid and hardly daring to believe it.

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49

The sea, that through which one can see the heavens

my feet bleed red as I chase after
      you; run into the space you have
      been; I step over a waste
      land of rubble, a crumbling
      wall that used to hold out the
      myth of the western self.
the blood rises up

it reaches my neck.
the entrance to the underworld is a
      wound; I must climb down it,
      feet first, like a mineshaft. The sunlight
      will stay with me, swirling, dizzying
like the point of creation.

the sea flows open, the mountains spread

I take a step and the world
opens up

50

The way you returned

When I climbed this peak
I did it for you.
This peg of the earth
Kept me pegged to you.

I wandered alone
Without a thought,
Through pelting rain,
Then hail, then frenzied snow.

As I reached the top
I reflected on you.
I looked out to the lake
And began to see.

How much I'd forgotten,
Pictures hazed by fears,
Dulled as you dulled
From those pocketed pills.

How I wish you could share
This sky, this view.
All I have is a memory
Though it ebbs and it flows

Of us scaling a mountain
In a faraway land;
Far away from life
And its trammelling pains.

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51

Kelpie

When I saw you last it was
on a wall in a backwater that
for a brief moment had been
the apogee of the industrial revolution,
the acme of enlightened humanity,
the promise of a future less fractious

and you were, let us not be coy,
revelling in your nakedness
by the water, clay locks tumbling
only slightly less thunderously
into the loch than the waterfall
upstream, out of painterly reach.

And I thought, ah Lord Lever, how
did you smuggle her past
the good Lady – let alone Venus
waiting for her ravishment and
Salammbo enjoying her punishment?
But you were the one with

all the sunshine. You have it still,
even with your flesh wrapped
in rocks and red rubber. You were
meant to prey for me, then prey on me.
I still wait for it, I still wish for it.
Take me into your depths.

52

Mobilized Clan Stop

The ever mobilized group of wayward visitors, once twice thrice called ogres and trolls, had paused not for respite or sleep, but out of awe. They saw the horizon as a slowly, so slowly, shifting landscape. The clouds seemed to breathe some sort of life elixir from and above the stalwart mountains. Seen from such a distance the perpetual visitors at once saw a mirror. Like a vain tramp avoiding stepping in the puddle that reflected such a good-looking vision for fear of muddling the image.
They saw this mirror and were reminded of, no, introduced to, their own mortality. For generations, so many, had they wandered and lived, they had no mental image of themselves. No recurring flash sight of ego. No inhale exhale of self. They stood at the rocks' edge and simply let the view inform their thoughts. Simple.
Moments passed, many moments, and not one habitually nomadic visitor budged. They sat like passive misanthropes at a boring play. The clouds kept breathing, the waves kept licking, and the mountains kept forming. The collective awe-filled silence was finally broken when an old but sturdy leader collapsed. To put it more elegantly the old but sturdy leader was overwhelmed by beauty, so overwhelmed.
So much so that the old but sturdy leader crumpled over into a formidable heap, not without smashing some skull on a curt stone. The sound amidst the now ancient silence was near reality shattering. Some of the wandering visitors almost thought they were tiny fish swimming among kelp, some even thought they were standing on a polar axis looking at a vast expanse of sand dunes.
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53

I’LL GET BERNARD TO GIVE YOU A CALL

Bernard’s just popped out.
He shouldn’t be long.

Bernard. Come down!
I’m warning you...

You’ve gone too far this time.
I’ll make another appointment. A longer one.

Bernard, it only feels like flying.
Please come home.

I don’t know about Zen. Bernard,
I’ve got the dinner in.

I know, I know.
We all have other dimensions.

Don’t be a fool, Bernard -
We’ve been together twenty-five years.

I just don’t understand.
Have you no feelings.

Bernard - “I have seen the mountain-top”.
Will you listen.

Take one of these -
You’ll feel better in the morning.

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