You and I

I held you in my wallet, to keep you safe from harm
in a dimming store of memory, with our devalued currency
that was a little worn with use and age, but easy to access;

You formed an aperture into a version of our past, beyond revision
once framed by shutter speed, in silver salts or pixels /
or inked in composition, rolled out by the press /
or sketched in oils or charcoal strokes, brushed by human touch;
a fragment apprehended in a narrow view, blurred in shallow field…

At times I saw you looking back at me, caught in the act of looking,
reflecting both a composite (of me and you; of now and yesterday)
and composing a reflection, evoking thoughts and feelings
without asking or concerning how they could be requited;
or if that moment’s image was perfect or a lie, or something in between

Because you are not mine, or ours, or motion catching breath
but a subtle model, to represent reality;  a peeled-back flake of time
torn off the torrent in its flight and left with me to watch
while other things that were once new have aged in turn:
to become part of the fabric, then begin to fade away

While you remain, a tainted arrowhead lodged under my skin and
trapped against a nerve;  both a wound infected by the past
and a seed to germinate belief in never letting go…

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Compass words…

I liked my words piled up like rubble walls
without the glue of mortar, or the craft of dry-stone dikes –
while rhythm, although it was my heartbeat,
sometimes passed me by, or faced-off the wrong way –

for I enquired in alleyways:  wracked like conscience
(a fleeting visitor, discovered in the night)
by a voice, speaking flint-like through the darkness,
sparking words like trust – called truth – from flagstones;

Words which (flaring) vanished… in acrid smoke
clouding across an island packed with attitudes,
broken from the main and skewered on its self-made hook
of certainty (belled, tolled, caged in formal punishment
by flaws of education – and the parts it did not reach)

leaving a residue of loosely bundled letters, peeled raw;
too sharp for some, shot through with veins of mineral
hardened in the air by exposure to the oxygen of life,
served dry and stripped of meaning;

Lacking framework, those words have left me bare;
wondering, what should guide my steps
once obligation has passed by?
Or languishing, in comfort, since my compass failed…

How far we’ve come, how far

Do not forget, we were amazed when it was new.
Now it’s overlooked as everyday: faintly dismissed…
(although when we were young there was no story
unless someone crawled and wept)
Still. We all stand…
The thin and the fat. The healthy and the ill.
In healing or in stasis or decline.
With futures we may get to have: no longer
short and sharp, mostly, but chronically defined.

Dangling in the open, unreconciled –
were we but honest with ourselves –
although we co-exist, in the wake of an identity

A quest. What cause? What caught you up?
Maybe worry has no base, there is no reason for anxiety??!
Only… Why did we come this way? Was it short?
Who has come with us? Who have we left behind?
What if connections mattered less, and failure not at all
while we were still ourselves, and learning, in our rawness…
Skirting years of revolution for longer days of progress,
mercy, and dissent: creating value of our values ~
Forever next. Shared or solitary. We all stand.

drill

Heavy with experience and years, and growing stale
as I’ve grown dark, but not in colour (greying at the edge),
I glower round anxiety and tense the badly printed jaw
forming the overwhelming mouth which infects the skull
of my lopsided skeletal rack;  chaired by my consent
into a passive beast beneath the kick applied by medicine…

Waiting for the finest drill to bite and whine its trace
into the measured root, I pause and hold to join
the lowest outer rank of silent honest fellowship;
I have come sideways to accept my birthright is to swim
among a sea of souls, who all share a trail of sentience
beyond confusions, coincidences and our suffering.

Dazed, upright, I am released to splash my calloused feet,
to paddle in the shallow clear and warm lagoon – before it
opens out beyond the fragile reef to darken with a shock
to indigo;  a border marking the domain
of my acquaintances, those stalked by the white ghost
or hosting their mutated living cells…

Atlas, in parallel

Atlas stretched and flexed, but my brittle shoulders cracked;
which was sadly typical – or ingrained, even entrenched.

Versed in common rhetoric, I had adapted to the sweep of years
but shed a flake of life at each inflection:
~ When I’d learned to feed the looping thread towards the needle’s eye;
~ When I’d traced the whipping cord, recurring through the labyrinth –
pursuing meaning in the tail;
~ When I’d thought the prize to celebrate was learning how
to paper over cracks and fix some bugs – enough, to come again tomorrow;
~ When things I’d feared were inbuilt limitations to the versions that we share –
and the masks we wear, together;
~ When what survived was hidden in exceptions to my flawed pursuits
of mirages, of dreams I’d cared about so much – until I leant on them instead;
~ When (haltingly) I’d left behind those childish things, to find
that hope was badly drawn, and charity was bound, threadbare;
~ When threads were all there was to see.

At least – I think – those threads were real, despite my contemplation;
But did they – could they – lead to grace, or even beauty?

 

weight

There has always been a weight.
Suspended by its cord, it cut through sensitivity
to drive us home
until the weight became the cord, which became the weight:
scythes of productivity,
cutting in their being, preventing equilibrium
without knowing why

It shifts…

Now weight accumulates around my waist
obscuring former forms,
bowing slender limbs already weaker from the fight
against inertia’s burden;
I must bring patience to my scrabble for a hold –
to steady up, to get a grip –
to escape the anxious maw, the slipping precipice of doubt

Coal Mining, 1929

The machine man clocked in for his shift and went down
in the rattling lattice cage, swallowed whole.
He took his pride beside his fate to go down:
Down in darkness on a thin September day
below the gear at Woodhall’s Virtuewell;
Down through the narrow stooping ways of dust
chiselled deep beyond pretence and arrogance;
Down into the shafted maze of galleries
and lamps and damp and fearful gas;
Down to face his fall below a breaking prop.

Part of him resurfaced in the ambulance waggon
that shook a broken pelvis (and shoulder, ribs and legs)
along twelve dreary morphined miles towards the mercy
of the grey and gaunt infirmary… where he went down again:
Down to meet the surgeons in their antiseptic halls;
Down to months of care, preparing for the knife
which clinically killed him by infection.
Down, he left a pregnant widow with ten children
to manage in the hungry years;
Down and gone. But unforgotten in our genes.

river

We settled our agreement,
to release the ties of energy that had bound us in the crowd
and looked around our littoral for purpose;

We were castaways – at home along the riverside, watching for the tide to rise
and ease a passage through the shallow channels of our lives –
who’d reached a low landscape, north-lit by clear light,
a spare light, with beauty in its bleakness,
swept by squalls which brought a thin corrosive rain in from the sea…

So we filtered grains of meaning from the water as we drank
where sediment settled slowly, fouling our drinking water,
thickening against the bank which formerly defined the flow,
its silt erasing every corner ounce by ounce and ton by ton;
rebuilding our eroded land…

While we whiled away our hours considering the exotic:
the intriguing possibilities of amber buried in the flats
that brought to mind and polished memories of memories,
of sunlight trapped in resin, with an insect
or small fragments and some bubbles that had-not-quite-escaped…

Until we found, although the waters rose
and filled inertia’s drowned embrace around us,
that we had made a pilgrimage of sorts, in mud.

HM

I once knew her quite well: she was lively, bright and smart
and a kindred spirit, when we were new and keen and learning every day –
in good times, ten years past – then we were friends
But in time our paths diverged, then somehow reconverged
before a pirouette or three, in the rolling tumbling motion of the waves under our feet
slid them apart again;
Now she is 32 or three, living with a husband and her infant son
and cares that edged around her open face
when I saw her earlier today, by chance.
I’d seen her grow up, she once had said;
yet I was surprised and found I could not speak –
old fractures jarred my mind and stole my words away.

time

I have felt the flighting spirit close,
brought to bay and strapped onto your turning cross
to be filtered clean;
while my simple sequences collapsed
to pass their fitting through your gauge,
flickering expunged…

Although I had been sentenced when times changed,
to official mercy, then also to redemption,
I could still draw breath –
with no direction and no home, only the moment, only measures,
turning notch by notch and prong and hidden tooth by gear – 
but degree upon degree, we spent our seconds chasing minutes
heedless of your basalt face that lowers, hidden
over all our heads…

Meantime: the glass drains empty, batteries fall flat
while inner pressure will increase, inexorably – until
all my dreams are fled
(and hopes and fantasies and otherness)
just as your final persevering chase must find me,
naked and alone