This is the night for the bones to rise
and cartwheel across the darkening skies,
for wind-blown ashes from years ago
to gather again like driven snow,
to dance with their clanking limbs on fire
with partners they drag from the funeral pyre.
This is the night the lovers wed
then sleep for a year on a thistle bed.
The dead and the undead welcome here;
the living may come in mortal fear.
Consume your partners, one and all,
then step it out at The Pox-Trot Ball.
This is the night the rivers flood
and boil and bubble with human blood.
The priest stands waiting to plunge you in,
then lift you up to a life of sin.
From his censer the smell of putrid meat -
a promise of death at The Judgement Seat.
This is the night they rattle their chains
who will suck the mind from a vicar's brains
and strip the flesh from his stinking corpse
for a stew to enjoy when your sane mind warps --
as it will when you taste in his body's juice
the heart of a long dead, mouldering goose.
This is the night when a million eyes
replace the stars in the furry skies,
and snouts and ears shake out as well
and all the creatures from every hell
appear as shadows with blazing trails
on birds of prey with monster scales.
This is the night when mice eat owls
and the woods are full of hoots and howls
the night for a visit to do you no good --
(If you haven't been, you bloody-well should!)
This is the night to impale the flesh,
and the careless to end in a spider's mesh.
This is the night of the cancelled wake,
the coffins will empty, the churchyards quake;
the spirits are leaving before their time,
the souls of the holy are smeared with grime;
an innocent's head goes by on a stick --
for some it's a treat, for others a trick.
A safety curtain like the Berlin Wall
confronts me. Flux and change
mark this strange world of drifting scenes.
They blur and merge; the house lights dim;
the stage lights blaze;
the knives are out; a cast of shades
is waiting in the wings.
A disembodied voice, the leading man's,
its aim to reassure, proclaims:
"Low blood loss operation, this."
No one replies.
Half-seen (more ghost-like than I'd thought),
they glide on stage. Or do they?
In this topsy-turvy world, they have encircled me.
Theatre in the round. Or is it? Am I not
the one on stage! I look up to the lamp,
the nearest, largest lamp, almost above my head.
Its polished rim is mirror-like, gives sight
beyond the wall. Chief ghost
is cutting something - and the cut is long and thin,
its ends and middle decorated with
three glistening beads, tiny and bright red.
Unpacking something - me - as from
a bag, he finds his role
and slips into his second skin,
becomes the master craftsman, and begins.
He rummages a bit, then grunts -
he's found the hernia.
A head is laid alongside mine. I do not see it,
quite so much as feel it there. "Hey,
you can see, can't you?" she says,
and looking where I am looking, asks
if I am watching what she sees. I own up,
wondering if I have broken any laws...
Perhaps it's criminal stupidity... Indecency...
Am I a spy? A Peeping Tom? Ostensibly,
her role is pump attendant at the cannula
in my left hand. In fact, I am convinced
she's there to keep my spirits buoyed.
So well she does it that, distracted, I
come close to missing what I sense to be
the highlight of the enterprise: a length
of mesh becomes a part of me.
That which was torn was fixed and now is fortified.
Chief ghost regains his former role, adjusts the lamp -
and by so doing has removed my view.
Above the wall, just heads and faces, masks and shrouds -
and now and then, a blood-stained something on a stick.
You could go to Mars
They will be pleased to take you -
but not to bring you back
Metres from the wall on which it hung
fallen on the unmade bed -
having flown around the room -
reflecting nothing human
inviting you to look.
But if you look, my friend, look in
with fear and shuddering
lest you should see yourself.
Your true world waits to claim you as its own.
Two and a half grand
their disposable income -
that's eighteen year olds.
The cemetery wall is topped with slates
like headstones, leaning.
How many sorrows can a wall contain?
Shapes that we associate
with death enclose the burial ground.
Mourning encloses mourning.
Beyond the wall the graveyard stones are white,
here they are blue and turning black.
Grief, too, has found its flavours,
each flavour finds its addicts.
Someone has scribbled "Mummy" on a slate.
I wonder when she died - or if she died.
If so, of what? And when? How old?
The wall is border, demarcation:
dead and living must not mix or be confused.
Inside are other borders, other demarcations.
A cortege has appeared, from nowhere it would seem.
Ghosts. People-shapes of mourners,
a black regatta
flowing first towards me, then away,
unsure of form, unsure of what to say
and stripped of all those age-old consolations,
as am I.
Only the cemetery has that sureness,
the quiet certainty we've lost.
The rest is faithless, featureless:
the wilderness, allotments
and the garden bordering.
The dust of those traditions,
those muddled certainties.
So many lonely people.
People lonely in their different ways.
The coffin like a landscape,
sparkles in the rain.
Sparkles into life, you might say.
Almost. Beyond it,
stone steps to where the landscapes meet.
Collide and run together.
If only we could map all our
internal rifts and all our roots,
have nothing strange or mindless left
to throw us off the scent.
The dust requires some structure to be put in place.
We think a wilderness of thoughts
and try our best to bring them all together.
This place is part of that.
The rain is setting in more solidly.
I watch the wasteland and the garden edge together,
blur, and penetrate each other, pinch
each other’s frontiers further back.
Man and nature alternate
in tiny triumphs and disasters
where neither stands supreme.
Between this lost domain and that
the words that carry visions fall as dust.
A bit of bramble here,
a slither of herbaceous border,
clump of nettles... Near at hand
a coffin stacked with flowers.
The Cemetery was written and waiting in the wings for a launch date when first Magpie Tales and then Writers Island came up with these two prompts which suggested what follows:
As clear a mark of spring as daffodils,
the house flung open to the fields that wait,
and out all dust and winter festerings,
then in sweet floral scents, the mind to breathe
and make of this dark cell a forest glade.
No winter is more dour nor has more weight
than shuttered minds routinely looking in.
It's in the looking out, beyond, behind
we see the colours that are there to find.
The world is black and white or it is grey
(a veil as false as shadows on a wall
that fogs the mind as cataracts blur sight)
until the veil is lifted, bolts are drawn.
If transience intensifies the hues
it's grief that renders them in black and white.
In the bedroom once,
one thing led to another
now it's in the bathroom.
Was it welcome, the intrusion? A relief perhaps
from boredom? Or a son-and-father moment
interrupted, lost for ever? A blip, they thought,
but no great deal. A thing with heft,
metallic - obviously that, for interrupting
the magnetic field of their detector.
They'd visited the field so often in the past,
had swept it side-to-side and up and down
and long ago convinced themselves that it was bare
of artefacts worth finding. But still they'd gone
on sweeping, since they liked the view.
A small disturbance to a Cumbrian field.
No more than that. A head. Victorian, they'd thought.
Well, no. As it turned out, First Century - perhaps.
A Roman bronze, a mask, a helmet for the cavalry.
And beautiful, complete and haunting. Certainly,
a face to reckon with. One to disturb the status quo.
Two thousand years entombed in local soil, they graced it with
a local name. Their hope, that it would bring in visitors.
They raised the cash in bucketsfull. More than enough.
Way, way beyond the likely price. But it had powers
beyond their dreams, that ancient head disturbing,
mesmerising, gripping man across the globe. Outbid,
the soil of Cumbria not rich enough... the last
disturbance..? That will be abroad - maybe.
Your love is sunlight,
transcends prison walls and bars,
strokes each pore of my skin
Part of a letter from Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese activist serving 11 years in prison to his wife Liu Xia.
This was the fine prompt offered at Magpie Tales earlier this week. Alas, I was late in coming across it.
lamp-lit and dying,
old men enjoying
not expecting tomorrow.
Laughing, they hang there,
fondling their age-old loved ones
under the branches,
hushing their rustling into the silent, cold morning.
brighter they shine there than lanterns burning
under the branches. Entangled.
Leaves, bright-eyed and yearning,
yearning to shake themselves free of the tree,
to fall at last, to frolic and be
free to explore this moonlit wonder,
free to flee to be trodden under.
Conference on Boring
will look for excitement in Dust's History and such
This was one of those should-never-happen occasions when I found myself in woods without a camera. I came upon these fantastic fungi and made black and white sketches with colour notes. The painting was produced from the sketches and notes a week or two later, as faithfully as they and my memory would allow.
Gormley, Hirst and co
are the new custodians -
of our Manor Houses
The chalk path like an old scar
ran jagged through the hills. On either side
the rivulets made suture marks where flesh,
millennia ago, was torn aside.
At least, that’s how I saw it then. Now looking back,
I see a living thing, a serpent
writhing in the clutch of stunning views.
That day, a dozen goddesses invited me
to walk their breasts, to fill my eyes
from skirts they’d spread a hundred feet
or more below my feet, skirts laid
with fruit and cereals of every hue:
ochres, greens and oranges, deep wells of blue,
impenetrable blacknesses and reds
as fresh and vivid as new wounds, I saw.
Silvers were there where sequined rivers ran
between deep banks of pewter, apricot and tan.
On days like that, one’s more alone
the nearer one approaches bliss.
And so, my loneliness was like a moorland fire:
slowly it had smouldered in the grass,
caressed the air - and seemed no more
than if a furtive lad had lit
a fag behind the woodhouse door.
A backpacker, she’d packed a punch
to spread the flames across a continent.
Our bodies, tinder dry, ignited in our bed.
The landscape changed as if to mourn the deed.
Dead trees became the norm. For days
they lined our path like flightless arrows
fallen from oppugnant skies. If they
were Cupid’s, they had missed their mark.
But we strode on, took all the mountains in our stride,
then strode on down to where
a cowpat landscape lay with dunghills at its back -
And there we whispered our goodbyes.
Alone again, I came upon the lake by night,
looked down upon it from The Devil’s Tooth,
saw charcoal waters imaging a mouth
that feasted on the sky.
Regulus, I saw, Denebola, both bright in Leo,
and the moon. Beyond them, wet with rain,
a glass town shimmered from a distant shore.
She called my name.
How had she come to know it?
Who was she? – And from where?
M87 is a black hole, man, three billion times
as heavy as our sun. The beetles rule the world:
two hundred families, each one
with thirty thousand species to its name!
Did you know that?
She kept it up
until we walked into the glass town hand in hand,
our bodies then a strange irrelevance. We overcame
their gravity. The lake - its lightness -
gave new meaning to our lives. Inevitable then,
that we should overstay its welcome.
As love gained strength the great lake shrank
and took on the dimensions of a glove.
But still I pulled it on each morning and gave thanks.
It had become for me what life had always been:
a detail etched upon a detail, a patch of light,
a soft complexion borrowed from a bank,
a ripple or the movement of a fish.
The lake no longer held the universe; Denebola
and Leo and the moon were gone.
Just one small detail (in her kidney) grew;
just one much larger detail died…
and all the skies that ever were came down into the lake,
and the lake dried.
Death a major theme
Seamus Heaney's Human Chain.
It was news to him.