Thursday, 31 January 2013

My January River of Stones

Empty glasses, bottles. Olive stones tumbled on a plate. The remains of crisps crushed underfoot.  Vestiges of a forgotten civilisation.

Nude shoots of rhubarb poke through claggy soil, pink as fingers

Catkins. Nature’s party poppers.

In the still dark
passing the bus stop
a galaxy of spat-out gum
stars wet pavements

My dog is not at my heels. I turn to see tufts of turf flying, 
hobble back over choppy ground, scanning this way and that. 
I cannot see it against the mud.  Then I spot a too dark, too thin coil, 
cold to my touch through the plastic bag.  
It did not emanate from my dog. 
Still, I knot it into a parcel and post it in the bin.  
The balance in the universe is restored. 

I have read them in my head and aloud, considered what each poem is telling me, arranged them and rearranged.  Now the listening to what they’re telling each other.

From my office window, I see the returning children spill from their taxis.  They burst through the main door in silence, hands shaping stories of stockings and laughter in January air.

Between each sweep of the windscreen wipers the world disintegrates, each molecule swelling until all I see is a wash of grey, beaded with the red of tail-lights, the sodium orange of street lamps.  I am underwater and in front of me shine the scales of a strange and massive fish.  Then, briefly, I am back in a queue of traffic and no, I am not jotting this down in my notebook as I drive.

Above us a croaking sound alerts us to the arrival of two ravens.  Although they are high over the valley, we can hear every word they are saying to each other.  Their conversation sounds so interesting, so tender that for a moment I would give almost anything to speak raven.  Then one rolls over on the breeze and they are gone.

Today the city’s a uniform shade of grey. 
The sky grits its teeth. As I circle the park with the dog, 
I take the memory of yesterday from my pocket, 
breathe on it and buff the colours until they glow.  
It will have to last me for a week or two.

My old boots leak.  
When  I peel off my socks, my toes will be white and wrinkly. 
But right now I’m out on Purdown with the dog. 
Each time his ball lands, it sends a spray of droplets into the air.  
So does he as he lunges for it, skidding along the ground on his side like a junior school goalie who’s just made a particularly spectacular save.  
There’s rain and snow forecast. 
It’s difficult to know where more water can go.

I heat the mug of milk in the microwave.  My son drank all the rum at New Year, so I slosh in a hefty measure of Glenfiddich instead and then another before grating nutmeg over the surface. Already a skin is forming which reminds me of custard and childhood.   As I take a sip, buds of warmth blossom in my belly.  No Lem-Sip for our mediaeval ancestors – this is how they saw off a cold, with a posset. And  I know I’ll sleep well tonight.

Caught unawares by the camera, I look each one of my years until more than half of them fall away and I see myself at the back of the bus and a woman paying her fare with creased cheek and my hair. Then my mother, unrecognised; now me.

Tilly the collie is dead.
She spent two years shut up in a shed
in her own excrement.

Was rescued, trained, loved
by a woman the closest thing to a god
in Tilly’s eyes. 

Tilly, who has died
knowing love.  

There’s a tinglng in my nose, 
building in intensity, 
as if each tiny hair is being teased into a frenzy.  
I stop walking, hold my breath.  
All of my attention is focused on the explosion that will come in a moment or two. 
I close my eyes and concentrate, willing the sneeze to happen.  My arm beats the air, as if my brain is struggling to find the right word. 
I wait, poised on the cusp. 

I turn the key in the lock and we step inside. The house smells faintly of urine. I look at Cathy. She calls ‘Pauline? Are you there?’

I’m aware that if she is lying dead somewhere, she’s likely to be in her bedroom, as she’s a late riser, so I look downstairs first and Cathy follows.  Front room, back room, kitchen, conservatory.  As each room yields no sign of her, I start to think that we are putting off the inevitable.  I open the cupboard under the stairs – anything to delay a little longer - and jump as I catch sight of Pauline’s familiar blue checked housecoat. It is hanging on a peg. 

‘PAULEEEEN !’ I bellow. ‘It’s only us!’ calls Cathy.  We look in the back bedroom, bathroom and toilet. Then the box room.  She isn’t there.

I peer through the gap between the half open door of the front bedroom and the architrave.  I can see the shape of a body under the covers.  I push open the door, my heart banging. ‘Pauline?’  There’s no answer.  The corpse is just a ruckle in the eiderdown.

We check the whole house again, more thoroughly this time, searching behind sofas, the other side of the bed in the back room, the garden.  I can hear my telephone ringing the other side of the wall.  That’ll be Meals on Wheels calling back to find out why there was no answer when they tried to deliver lunch.

As we shut the front door, a car pulls up on the drive. Pauline is in the passenger seat next to her step-daughter, who is scowling.

‘Bloody thing!’ she snaps, as my cat saunters round from the back garden. ‘Shitting all over the place.’

There is snow in the aviaries of cloud. Every fifteen seconds a flake drifts to the ground as if somewhere an albatross is shedding breast feathers one by one. Manna for dreamers.

Hound shouts out of the window at bundles of human without legs sliding down the road.

The girl pulling the sledge stops abruptly. 
The sledge does not.  
Instead, it butts her legs and she falls to the ground 
with a shriek as sharp as an icicle. 
Her sister tumbles out onto the snow, 
giggles melting frosty air.

I decide that so long as I stride out purposefully, the thick layer of ice covering the road outside my house won’t present any problems. It’s when you dither that you start to slip.  Anyhow, I have my walking boots on.  No problem.  I step into the road.  One step … two step … waaaaaah! I teeter, flailing, then dive for a tiny patch close to the middle where the ice has worn down to tarmac. For crying out loud, every year I forget how lethal the steep suburban street I live on is. And now what am I going to do?  I can’t stay here balanced on one foot all day. I gaze at the distant kerb ahead of me and strain my ears for the scrape of iron on concrete.  Is my neighbour still clearing his drive?  Is he going to see me go arse-over-tip … again?

I arrive at work in triumph, like Captain Oates taking a lot less time than he’d expected, only to find the building locked and in darkness.  The journey home seems a lot less arduous, my step made surer by the thought of all the things I can do on this unexpected snow day. Until I get to the hill, that is, and my feet slide from under me.  I make a grab for the railings; then, someone seizes my other arm.  It’s a man, not in the first flush of youth but a good few years younger than me all the same.  He escorts me over the road and would whisk me on up the pavement had I not assured him I could manage now thank you.  He strides away, leaving me feeling very old indeed.

Train timetables confuse
but do not bewilder.
Standing on platform eleven
wishing she’d remembered her reading glasses
is not the same as finding herself
in this strange and tangled place
where every movement risks danger,
a breaking of tell-tale twigs

At night the sky is light and orange with the play of ice and sodium streetlights. A 3am dawn at the darkest time of the year. In my kitchen come morning it is dark as snow covers the skylights, blocking out the day. A world in negative. 

Sunshine and whiteness.  I adjust my metaphorical goggles. We are miles from the soft grey sea and the surrounding mountains are like piled clouds on the horizon. I lift my skis onto my shoulder, fill my lungs with icy, rareified air and set off, my boots crumping on crystalline snow. 

Sunshine and whiteness in our municipal park. The snow might be melting fast but today I have travelled. 

on the ice a banana skin
surplus to requirements

Dancing's for starlings and midges
electrons around a nucleus
girls around their handbags

I did my best dancing alone
my arms lifted above my head
in the dead of the night
to the orchestrations of the fridge

Rain. Snow. Mud. Jeans. Dog. Suds. 

I stir and stretch. Faster than the speed of sound, a heat-seeking missile attaches itself to my foot by its claws.  Good morning, Oleander.

We stole Pero's freedom and belatedly gave him a bridge.  It is bright and windy today.  The sharp salt smell of the sea laps up the river.  The same sea that Pero crossed to a cold grey land.  

Up the park a cockerel crowing. 
Wake up. Wake up. 
This is the rest of your life. 

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