Pretty Words

We were sitting in the window, and the sun filled the room. You looked so serious, so sad.

‘I don’t want any more pretty words,’ you said. And you watched me, waiting.

Then I remembered how much I had loved you: so intensely, with such intensity, that it was unreal, or misplaced. I thought there must be something wrong with me, to love so much.

I wanted to tell you, over and over. But you had the laundry to do. I had to take out the bins.

But then I realised it was not that my love was too intense, or some form of projection: it was just love, and I had never felt so much love.

In those early days I wrote you texts, emails, letters, poems, songs. I wanted to sing my love to world.

But you sat down and looked at me and said enough is enough. I don’t want any more pretty words.

So I leant forward and held you, and I held you as tight as I could.  I think that’s what you wanted.


Moth Island 1967

I’ve just read Tomas Transtromer’s poem ‘Breathing Space July’. It’s a beautiful, unfathomable poem. And there is one line I particularly like: ‘as the islands crawl like huge moths over the globe.’ Moths the size of islands.

I have a cold so am lying in bed coughing and spluttering. The moths crawl into the poem, huge, ponderous, almost mechanical. And they clatter over the surface of the globe, but they are islands.

When we lived on the island of Moth, back in the nineteen sixties, we used to think it had the most wonderful climate. It was only later we discovered the island was a huge mechanical moth operated by the poet Tomas Transtromer. He had several of them crawling across the globe. If he liked you he’d position your island so it enjoyed the sun and a breeze, maybe even a shower at night to keep the land fresh, and your coffee pot topped up.

If he didn’t like you, I imagine he situated your island in the Antarctic, or the Atacama Desert. I don’t know, I’m guessing.

We used to listen to the music of the islanders, they sang sitting up on the huge antennae, as if these were limbs of a tree, and sing their gentle songs, strumming instruments that looked like tiny harps, occasionally looking out to sea or closing their eyes to express some particular emotion.

Winter Solstice

The longest night of the year, and I haven’t slept. I haven’t slept because there is too much in my head. All that stuff, whatever it is, the labyrinths of cells and axions, of synapses busy talking about themselves, as they are now.  The cerebral cortex, with its billions of neurons, snapping away, all the stuff, popping and fizzing like a soluble aspirin. Plop. This is all part of the fizz. This. This. This. And so I can’t sleep. A silent voice, an array of images, endless activity that is neither of these, something kinaesthetic or nebulous, but I can’t sleep, and it’s the longest night of the year.

Fragments #2

You probably drink too much black coffee. You don’t smoke. You keep fit by taking the dog for long walks.

When you were small you saw a shooting star and were convinced it was for you. You tried to imagine where it landed. In a pond with a hiss. Or clattering down a rooftop a few streets away.

People never took you seriously, or seriously enough. You had the big secret and you weren’t going to tell anyone. You used to write messages in your food.

You prefer Wednesdays to Thursdays. The clouds gather over the sea. Someone has left a teabag in the sink.

I saw you in the supermarket. You seemed to be taking your time. You stopped suddenly and gazed into the middle distance, it looked as if you were concentrating on something. Perhaps you had forgotten your list.

You’re walking the dog along the front. The sea crashes against the cliffs, several homes are perilously close to the edge, a couple of bungalows and a large white detached house. They’ll have to move out soon, lose everything. Can you imagine that? You go into the kitchen to put the kettle on and there’s nothing, just the sea, and everything inside starts to slide, you try clinging on to something, a cupboard door, a table, but it’s all moving inexorably into the huge, wild, hungry, grey waves.

It was rosemary. You need to remember rosemary.

Fragments #1

There was a picture on that wall. At least I thought there was. It was a photograph of a silent movie star. I’m sure it was there, above the fireplace. Clara Bow?

Or was it an art print? A Dutch still life?

Do you think Rembrandt will be remembered in five hundred years? Or Shakespeare in  a thousand?

I haven’t been in this room for years. The sofa was there, the bookshelves along that wall.

You could hear the cathedral bells. And on summer mornings voices from the cafe, newpapers folded against the breeze.

It was a big city: Paris, or Berlin, maybe Brussels.

I can’t remember. I get so many places, voices, names muddled up. Not that they matter now.

I bought this jacket then, I still wear it. I’ve never had it cleaned. It’s stained with the juice of a prawn that exploded as I pulled it apart. Ten, fifteen years ago?

That prawn left its mark.

Binary Stars

Binary stars, forever spinning around each other. But now almost silent. Silent, but forever spinning around each other.

In orbit, we are forever falling, forever moving apart.

We fall, but we are pulled apart.

Without gravity, we would fly off into space along a straight line. With gravity we fall into each other. We are caught in a tug of war between these two states. Twin stars.

In each other’s light, never without the other, but still, so silent.

Lonely, but the other star is still here, still so present it burns a white radiance. It is impossible to see anything but the other. Everywhere the other.

In every face and in every street. In every step. In every room. In every book and every breath. In every word. Every fizzing atom.

Twin stars desperate to meet, to touch, to find each other again, to become one star.

A dance that goes on for eternity.  But it must end. It must end soon. The dance must end. And the stars, eventually, collapse, either into themselves, or into each other’s arms.

I will hold out my arms.

I will catch you.



Life is Too Long

Where are you? I cannot find you. I look for you in the kitchen, in the bathroom. Maybe you’re at work. No, this is not a house we ever shared.

Where are you? Why have you gone? Now that you are no longer here does it mean everything is lost?

Minutes ago you were here, just across the table, we were playing cards. You were drinking tea and complaining how terrible your hand was. But you are not there, and never were.

You are far away in space and already moving away from me in time. Your messages slip down my phone. You are gone.

You are still here. I am talking to you, telling you this, my idea for a story.

You are gone. ‘Life is so short,’ you would say, ‘why are we wasting it?’

But you were wrong.

Life is too long.

What the Children Want to Know

They ask: ‘Will you tell us a story? Instead of reading one to us. Will you make one up?’

I answer: ‘I don’t know. I like reading stories. I love stories.’

They ask: ‘Please tell us a story of your own. Please.’

I answer; ‘I’d rather read someone else’s story than make up my own.’

They ask: ‘Please, will you? Please? We love those stories! Please make one up!’

I answer: ‘What about?’

They ask: ‘Could you tell us a story about what you did when you were a boy?’

I answer: ‘No. It wouldn’t be a story. It would be just a load of disconnected memories. I’d tell you about my dog, or mackerel fishing, or climbing on to the roof of the water tower. Or breaking into an abandoned house to find a set of false teeth in a jam jar. Those teeth were the most frightening thing I ever saw.’

They ask: ‘You broke into a house?’

I answer: ‘Well, not really. It was abandoned. The people had left. It was falling apart. The windows were all smashed. The doors were left open. We just walked in.’

They ask: ‘Why were they so frightening? Those teeth? What’s frightening about teeth in a jar? We’d find that funny. Wouldn’t we?’

I answer: ‘I don’t think I want to talk about that now. It’s time to go to sleep.’

They ask: ‘Will you teach us something then? Teach us something useful. Teach us something so we don’t have to learn it ourselves.’

I answer: ‘Maybe. Close your eyes. Settle down. Let me think.’

They ask: ‘Will this take long?’

I answer: ‘No, just give me a few seconds.’

They ask: ‘Are you hoping we go to sleep so you don’t have to tell us a story?’

I answer: ‘No, I’m really thinking.’

They ask: ‘Will you hurry up?’

I answer: ‘Ok. I’ll teach you about the way the world is wide open, how the future is all yours. Your lives could take you anywhere. You are at the bottom of a great tree and any one of those branches, twigs, leaves, could be yours. There is so much wonder. And look through the leaves and you’ll see the sky. And at night, the stars. Breathe in the air, it’s so beautiful. Listen to the tiny creatures scurrying to their hiding places. Wait for the dawn. Hear the birdsong, feel the first rays of morning sun on your face.’

They ask: ‘Is that something you’ve learnt?’

‘I suppose so,’ I answer.

‘What was that all about?’ they ask. ‘We don’t understand.’

Satisfying the System

The System requested that she enter the details. All details were entered into the System. The System expected that all details, including dates of birth, date of entry, initial base line tests and medical records be included. These were added. The System demanded she test all those whose details were entered to ensure they were operating at the acceptable level. The tests had to be objective and quantitative. The System abhorred qualitative judgements.  Quantitative, objective tests were conducted, the results entered. The System confirmed that as only 82% and not the required 85% reached the acceptable level that an Action Plan be drawn up and logged into the System within ten working days. The System stipulated that if this was not done measures would be taken to reprimand, discipline, even replace the personnel responsible. An Action Plan was drawn up, specifying the process whereby improvement would be achieved: those who failed the test were deleted from the System. Those who failed the test were deleted. Failure was deleted. The System was satisfied.

The Surgeon

The surgeon looks inside with a device similar to a microscope, a fibre optic thread. He sees the brain of his patient like another world. He enters that world. He knows a mistake could leave her paralysed, or worse. He delves through the plumbing of arteries, through networks of nerves, like the cables in his home. This is his home, he belongs in the patient’s brain. He knows his way through the folds and fissures to the stem. But there’s no one here. And there are no ghosts, no spirits, no soul. The lights are not on. He senses the electricity that surrounds him, the power supply to each cable, and the fizz and pop of synapses. But here, when he looks, he cannot see life, or consciousness. And he knows, as he burrows, that were he to look in his own brain, even as he looks into another now, he would see nothing of what he is so vitally aware right now. The quality of his own experience, and the knowledge that here, in this blancmange, is another’s character, desires, beliefs, memories. The surgeon is held in high esteem, but he thinks of what he does as a primitive science.  He is, at the same time, proud and humble. He senses this, but is aware that, were he to look into his own skull, these very attributes of his character would never be found. He is a stone age man attempting to understand relativity.