Posts from — January 2011
he bear waved.
Cephony looked up, down, left, right and then – glowering, chin down – sped up a bit …
This was the only scary thing to happen on Saturday.
Three days later, on her way to the big washing machine for people, the bear waved again. It was loitering by a snack machine.
Cephony inched round one of Teresa’s white trouser legs and folded some fingers up and down very slowly. Her one eye stared, the other was pressed into a fold of warm material, crushing her eyelashes. Teresa was sipping from a small paper cup, while bubbles rumbled up in the fish tank. This was all during a detour on the way to the man with the beard and glasses and the little brushes up his nose.
Teresa looked down. “You’re not … wiping your nose on my clean trousers are you, Cephony?”
“Nope. I’m waving to the bear.”
“That’s all right then.” They continued on their way, Teresa clump-thumping along.
The third day the bear waved, Cephony held Teresa’s hand and waved back, big style. She didn’t let go of Teresa’s hand, though she did lean out on it really far like a skydiver. Her smile had at least three teeth in it.
Day four, and she and the bear were on speaking terms. More-or-less. Cephony said: “Hello bear.”
She and Teresa and had been playing slides on the white floor in the white house.
The bear had waved back cheerily.
“That’s a very nice bear,” she said to Teresa, almost twisting her head off to look back.
“Yes, dear,” said Teresa. Teresa was tapping her pen on her armpit board. The paper was crinkled.
“Why do you have a bear?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Why do you think we have a bear?”
Cephony pondered this, finger to her lip, eyes rolling up to the neon lights. “’Cause … um … bears are funny?”
“That must be it then.” Teresa squinted at her watch. “Are you hungry?”
“Maybe bears are funny, or maybe you’re hungry?”
Teresa smiled, though her lips weren’t coloured in. “How about chicken in a box?”
“Can I just has the box?”
“I’m afraid not. No chicken, no box.”
“Oh.” Cephony twisted her lip, then pointed. “Why do my eyes go funny when I look at them? I can see green bits and blue bits.”
“They just do.”
Cephony nodded. A moment or two later, she was holding her arms wide, working out how wide they’d need to go to hug a bear. The answer was, ‘wider than this arm and this arm and another arm’.
They went round the corner and the bear was left behind. It was reading Yoga pamphlets.
The next day, Cephony was playing at being a dolly with the snap-on hair, just like Mindy-Mae. She had a choice, and she wanted pink bunches. Teresa had looked at Gillian, then, but they’d plumped for Golden Corn. Gillian jushed it up a bit and tied on a ribbon. They looked at the packet together. “See, that’s what it says, ‘Golden Corn.’”
Cephony thought Golden Corn sounded mighty fine. She looked in the mirror and saw another little girl, just like her, who looked quite princess-like, except she was dragging around the Pishka Machine. The Pishka machine went Pishka. That’s what it did.
“When you stick the blood out and back in. Where does it go?”
“Into this tube,” said Teresa. “It’s dirty, then it’s clean. Then we pop it back in.”
The bear nodded thoughtfully. It was watching Cephony’s red stuff going round and round.
“Hello bear”, said Cephony.
“Hello Ceph,” said the bear.
Teresa was fiddling with the Pishka machine. It had needles, and tapes, and lots of tubes, and the Pishka bit, of course. Meanwhile, Gillian – wearing blue gloves – spirited away a gauze pad with a spot of blood on it. The blood was all hashed up like a pretty tartan dress.
Cephony was often informed she was a very brave girl when dealing with the Pishka machine, but it was kind of okay, really. And it did mean sweets. Twice a week ‘analyzing’ meant two strawberry pop-pops, in crinkly wrappers with strawberry men on. The strawberry men were smiling – they were giving two thumbs up to all the happy boys and girls. Even so, some of them – like the boy in the bed next to hers – cried quite a bit.
“Um, do you want one?” said Cephony. In truth, she’d kind of gone off strawberry pop-pops.
“No thanks, Cephony. I’m all lollied-out. Thanks, though.”
“Okay.” Cephony didn’t have the heart to say she’d meant it for the bear.
When the big day came, and Cephony’s mummy was crying, Cephony heard it had been ‘a million one ants’.
“It was a million to one chance darling. A million to one!”
Piles of black, red, and wet hankies were gathering around her like multicoloured snowballs.
“What’s a millions one ants?”
The bear hunkered down. “Another little girl had to die, so that you could live, Ceph.”
“She was in a car, and the car crashed.”
“Oh.” She looked in the bear’s huge brown eyes. “Did she know what’s dying?”
“What’s this?” It was the beginning of a familiar game…
“What is it really?”
“It’s your chicken chest bone.”
“Your ankle poppers.”
Cephony laughed and slapped her knee.
“You’re so silly!”
She thought some more. “What’s a kidley? Where’s that?”
“In there,” said the bear, pointing at her pink t-shirt with a claw. “They’re what you’re after. Your old ones are broke.”
Cephony pulled out the pink material and frowned. It had a daisy on it. “Broke?”
“Um, why broke?”
“They just are.”
“And the girl kidley?”
“The other girl? Hers are as good as new.”
“Oh.” Cephony looked around with interest. “Will there be a million one ants, now?”
The bear held out a paw. “We could go see, if you like.”
“Okay.” She took the proffered paw, feeling warm kiwi fruit and blisters.
“Is the man with the brushes –”
“Yes. Does he have the ants?”
“Well, he’s doing his best. Your mother is there, her friend from her poetry night class, and your sister, Claire. That’s the other girl’s mum and dad. They’re all waiting to see.”
“Waiting to see?”
“To see if you have the ants.”
“That’s good,” she nodded. “That’s very good.”
January 29, 2011 12 Comments
ncient glades dappled spirit bound,
Valley clasped amid broad back and rugged beam,
Gnarled way where twig and leaf are found,
Lost where old banks and earthen workings dream.
Arched oaken caverns cold and shadowed still,
Mirrored murmurs break amid moss rounded stone,
Surge and dance the steps to thrill,
Yellowed men unfurled on winnowed throne.
Droplets drift through in glistening tears,
A stone grieved of gargoyle nature tumbled here,
Saffron caps dress musted bark amid its silent leers,
Green faced, alone from ages past – its hollowed eyes bleed fear.
Rocking bows breath honeyed, golden light,
The meadow dew drags empty scamperings near,
An awkward gait is borne as if to tread by night,
Cleaved childer, lost of angles, where sleeping grasses rear.
Rugged face o’er looks the vantaged fall,
A roof-top spire amid green crested waves,
The blackened hearth atop the barrow knoll,
Crow fletched shafts denied to woodland staves.
For this place an army bears a silent care:
Hallowed dreams of untamed wilderness,
Thus crafts a branch from wintered lair,
A bud so bold, yet seen as less.
Mossy’d stone in shady glade,
Ivy o’er runs the tumbled tower,
Spring brings forth spears and sharpened blade,
Of emerald armies aflame with flower.
O’erhead where once fine splendor arched,
Amongst this ruin of rock and hollow,
Where wind and rain have marched,
The siege is sure to follow.
Mistletoe breathes to the oak it embraces,
Mother Nature awakens here,
Her lips bear growth of the wildwood places,
Listen. In faer groves her dread words ring clear:
“Baron rock, stone stalwart king?
Crafter’s caste, false rule proclaimed!
A thousand grasping, twisted fingers bring,
Thy destined stones a’neath my rule, untamed.”
“O’ vain are yea of man’s crafting,
Think thou to stem the tide?
Through fractures everlasting,
My courtesans shall ride.”
“So cast down thy gauntlet knave,
Your challenge shall be heeded,
Trees shall weep on your grassy grave,
And your lands, they shall be seeded.”
The fragile stone unheeds her darkened splendour,
Mocks her rowan laugh and holly temperament,
It quotes founds of living stone, her chances slender,
“Retreat! Lest false words end in thy betterment!”
Autumn conspires against defender,
Safe beneath the earth will hide,
A seed, a knight of splendour,
In honour will he ride.
Spurs bite deep in voracious charge,
Brought forth from Autumn’s legions,
Standards planted firm at large,
Shall claim the barren regions.
Red runs the sunset iron of this age,
A perch to mistress raven’s call,
Gutting folly’s stoney cage,
Death’s downy touch on inner wall.
Wounds wear deep ‘aneath the keeping spans,
Gap toothed stories lean to sliding ruin,
Lofty heights bear down to weathered plans,
Of buckled roots, grown deep, as forest eaves drew in.
The roof – the heavens – it bears no earthly spoil,
The humbled hearth, an empty place, framed high upon the wall,
One step atop another throw off their mortal coil,
Lost, unlimbered, rain-washed in shattered fall.
Where found the well no pleasing wish,
Girded iron and carven hoard forced in,
Choked on the bones of the keep, now brackish,
The keeper of life, dead waters – bored of the depths it sank in sin.
A burnished door, still bolted, bars a breach,
The last to rot and wither,
Held in the way of the dark, cold reach,
Domed underways, where black earth reeks of a musty shiver.
Saplings breach this cavernous hold,
Where sickly fingers fear to pry,
Dungeons fool last autumn’s fold,
Wracked they twist then lightless die.
The forest digs in yet the battle still lingers,
Demoralised walls grow green with mounds of the dead,
Judged by a spike hanging chains of gnarled fingers,
Lodged on the wall, the stonemason’s head.
Outhouse and byre snare stones in the night,
Carrion crows nourished o’er dragon sloughed ember,
Green acres shroud trails from awakening light,
Soft royal shades bloom till there’s naught to remember.
A tree of old England bears apples most splendid,
Bent where it took to the mortuary wall,
The sprawls of an orchard that burgeoned and hid,
The door to the chapel cut down from the hall.
Cold is the tapestry woven from ivy,
Watch lest it shrouds or entangled shall be,
The ruins and escapements where jackdaw’s bear plea,
For twigs to nest so that young they shall see.
Once were people as spirits must pass,
Bright coloured shifts draped in tatters of old,
Wintered fires burn deep for the silent in mass,
Good cheer as must be for those empty and cold.
This is the home of the harlequin magpie,
A coven in colours as night turns to day,
Silver borne up in a beak with sharp eye,
A gleeman to bards, friend of the fey.
He holds the crown that thralls this land,
Which ruler could these others choose?
Where all bear arms and lawful stand,
And none amongst them loose.
Pass on? shall yea head back?
Given council of ancient history,
An orb of ages past thou shall not lack,
A glimpse of nature’s fate for thee.
January 22, 2011 4 Comments
am has to stay at his grandparents. It’s not their fault they smell of nasturtiums and week-old steak.
He arrived at 3:00am, in a dressing gown with twelve pairs of underwear and no socks. Those are his Ben 10 pyjamas, and he’s about six, if he remembers correctly – which he might not.
His bed, in the spare room, has a curiously slick-edged throw on top of the duvet: it’s all plastic and silk, bordering something like a pink, baby’s blanket. The duvet is heavy and lumpy, shedding feathers between stitched diamonds.
There are doilies everywhere on the windowsills and sideboard.
In the morning, a delicious smell of fried breakfast will waft upstairs, suggesting crunchy, smoky bacon – Tulip of course – and fried bread, which his grandparents have every day and which his parents do not.
To eat this heart-clotting feast, will mean stepping out on goose feet; bumping down tall treads and a red stair carpet the colour of raw liver; shuffling past peculiar, Little Lord Fauntleroy paintings and miniature brasses; before squeezing through (under?) the beaded screen hanging over the kitchen door. It will also mean jumping at his grandfather’s explosive tirades about the local neighbourhood cats ‘shitting in his goddamn beech-tubs, again’ – the only earth that hasn’t been concreted-over in four square miles.
At this point, Sam has to ask: is getting a new baby brother or sister worth it?
The room is stiflingly hot. Scared of the dark, Sam would usually put his head under the blankets, breathing through a narrow fold. But it’s too hot to do that right now. In fact, a limb will have to stay outside the covers, at all times, to avoid his nightly claustrophobic sweats. Tonight, the ‘Thing Under the Bed’ may take that arm, but he’d gladly sacrifice his lefty, because the righty is really important for zooming his fire truck around.
Old people like heat and boiled sweets and doilies and fatty, fried bread.
The wallpaper in the room is raised and tactile – a wandering forest of English oak, with interlaced branches in a pattern that’d make you go mad if you followed that branch up and over there, and under that one, and around that one – next to that sprig of spiralling oak leaves – and so on. The forest endlessly repeats.
The radiator is banging and gurgling – presumably shifting in its fittings due to the inferno coaxed from the boiler beneath the stairs. The room is cast to a dappled, forest-floor, where light from the street lamps comes through the emerald curtains. And he’s staring at that wallpaper, trying to work it all out.
When Sam awakes, broiled and sweating, tongue thick, he is not at all surprised to find the forest awake and eager to greet him. There are birds, and squirrels and the great trees arcing overhead, and it’s stifling and damp beneath the endlessly interlocking canopy.
His Pokémon keychain is still in his pyjama pocket, so he knows this cannot be a dream.
“Well, well, well,” says a green figure, whose eyes gleam a peculiar shade of sun-kissed clover – seeming to glow like Spring – while its limbs, and features are of sprouting leaf and gnarled wood, grown up from the forest floor. Indeed, some leaves sprout from its eyes, ears and mouth. “There are not so many as you, m’boy. What brings you to this patterned place, and why?”
“I think I’m lost,” sniffs Sam,
“No need to think it, and it’s no sooner done,” says the figure with an elaborate bow.
“Ha. Ha. Look at your face, kind Sam. No need to worry. Drop that hand. Come, boy.”
And there is a fire, and the smell of charred pig, roasting over the flames, and the pop of ‘crackling’ in the making – something his grandfather would favour, despite dodgy teeth. Sam squeezes beneath the trailing oak leaves that rattle and clatter together, and sits cross-legged, as those others in the camp.
There are various nods in his direction, from a shadow; a boy as blue as the empty sky; a very, very big cat; and, of course, the man in green.
“This is for you,” says the Green Man, sliding a greasy platter his way. The plate is a huge, battered, thing of stone-hammered copper, floppy like a hat. “Aye, that’s it, in with the fingers and teeth. Best way to do the rinds, eh? That pig-flesh was fed only flowers. Now then, let me tell you about the cats. There was this one, big, ginger bugger, a bit like our friend here –”
Oh, great, thinks Sam. He looks down, chin dripping. This is a mighty piece of pork he is faced with: deliciously inviting, but so large as to become slightly sick-making.
“I’m curious,” says The Boy in Blue – who is also a lord, in his own time and place – “Do you remember about the pictures, Sam? About the magic? I mean, you are Britanni? Aren’t you?” His skin is the colour of the sky, the woad etched with spiralling runes of broken charcoal.
“Or is this,” says the shadow – the Thing From Under the Bed, which is as much an absence of light, as it is a sack of joints, and too many long, grasping fingers – “what you would call ‘just folk stories’? Old fogey stories? Stories by old fogies?”
“Or, worse still,” says the ginger cat, staring, “not something to talk about, at all, over a polite piece of pork?” Those eyes are twin Cairngorm’s, each the size of a fist, and the cat, itself, is the size of a small pony.
“Sweet?” inquires the Thing, rustling some paper deep inside its shadows. It produces a ‘Soor Ploom’ clamped between a thumb and fore-claw, like a marble on a skewer.
“Go on, I want you to have it.”
Sam tugs, again. It still doesn’t shift.
The shadow titters.
Sam tugs harder still, and the candy finally scrapes free, leaving curled shavings of sugar between the claw points.
“Nice arm,” says the Thing, thoughtfully. “I may take that later. Ha, don’t worry: you’ve got another for the truck, and all. Besides, I do hope your mother is okay.”
“Thanks,” says Sam, sweet rattling on the back of his teeth. The pork is already turning to clotted grease.
“I’m beginning to think,” says The Boy in Blue, “that you and yours don’t remember this.” He casts a hand around at the lush, paper swards.
“I’d say not,” says the ginger cat.
“Shouldn’t you be ‘tail up’ in a bran-tub, somewhere?” says the Thing.
“Meh,” snorts the cat. There is a pained pause. “Eh… you all for… having that, ah… pork, there, Sammy?”
The Boy in Blue crinkles up with laughter and then turns, once more, to Sam. “Listen Sam, there are things you’ve long forgot. Not just you, but your people. There used to be pictures – pictures on goat skin. There were sweat lodges, and the endless forests betwixt seas, when it was easier, and safer, for a man to travel by coracle – bobbing like a cork around the peninsulas – rather than take the forest ways, and where a man’d know it wasn’t done to stare so intently at the trees.”
“Lords,” said the cat, ears flat, “they’d never do it. Never, ever.”
The Green Man hunkered down and threw a twig on the fire, his face a spreading woodland mask. “And now it’s all gone, eh, kind Sam? Less than folklore: where the men of now talk only of what men once knew, eh? Like those past were naught but ignorant children. Aye, it’s a forgetting is what you’re telling me, eh?”
The cat sighed. “Well, never you mind. Finish your wild berry. The fire is dying and we should be away.”
“Aye,” said The Green Man. “So, we’ll let this be a dream – all things considered, all limbs intact, all things forgotten – and we won’t talk about the Fear Glas, who grows his bones and skin of woodland green; and the Pintealta Duine that once sprang from bloody daubs of ground ochre, and illumed themselves all blue and black with sticks from the fire; and the greedy Purraghlas that’d take the food off your plate as soon as look at you; and the sly Sgàil, skittering through the nettle plants, hanging black and dangerous from the oakland trunks. Aye, these were once fine old stories, and I see from your eyes, now not even that.” He shook his head regretfully. “Aye, well.”
With that, the little group went to their feet – and one to moiling shadow – and bid their fond farewells.
“Your mama is coming home, kind Sam,” said the Fear Glas, stepping once more into bark and tree.
“Aye, tomorrow-a-day,” said the blue boy of the Pintealta Duine, who strode confidently towards the smell of the sea.
“With a fresh little sister, said the Purraghlas, dragging Sam’s cutlet away, with a faint scratch of claw on copper.
“At least tell her all about me,” said the Sgàil, seeping back into the darkness, “though I won’t take her arms. I promise. But maybe, just maybe, tell her my proper name, and describe this giddy vision as something real, so I and she can talk again.”
And the forest leaves crashed together like a wave, slick to its outside and woollen to its centre.
Sam awoke. He was in a fearsome sweat, nose pressed to the endless paper, with a sweet and acid taste in his mouth.
Part to tears of tiredness, he groped for the glass of water on the bedside cabinet. As he did so, his fingernails brushed the tepid glass, ringing a dull ‘ting’, and he was glad that the Sgàil had seemed so reminiscent. So much so, it had forsaken its favoured arm-flesh. At least, for now.
January 8, 2011 14 Comments