Poems come not just from poets. You showed me that. Poems will be found if you choose to look in the twists and turns of forest paths and the hard sharp edges of the very smallest of stones. You will find verse and rhyme and melody in the flick and bend of limbs: race and run and dance, you said, and you will make light and heat and sound. You will find beauty in the rivers and the trees, and if you listen you can hear song in the atoms of our bodies; singing too in the earth and sea and sun. Listen, you said, to what life is made of.
You wrote large how things are made; said: ask big questions, and keep asking and do not be satisfied with the ‘this is how it is’ and ‘no one knows’. Be free, my lovely girl, in your imaginings, and above all be interested; above all live deep. Above everything be generous with yourself, your love, your time. Give what you know and listen and learn and think: always think. Be wrong; be right; be happy.
It is because of you that I hear the world so brightly; that I feel its goodness. It is because of you that I expect so much of life.
Yes. I expect so much of you, we said. And in that expectation, sometimes we did not understand. But our sameness is bright in front of me. I am made of you and I take this time to say; even when I’m not as kind as I could be or when I misunderstand, thank you for what you have given me, my father, my friend, thank you for who I am.
When you are sleeping I crouch over you and mark out your body. I mark it like a butcher who will carve an animal, with dotted lines across your chest, and under your ribs; a slice through your thigh, another around the muscles at your calve.
How brutal it looks, you marked up like that, all innocent and written on. Soon you will be blown apart. Soon there will be pieces of you scattered across this floor and that, each shaking with the small last bits of breath you have.
But then, love, I will gather you up. I will find every last piece and lay you out as an archaeologist might on dusty digs, by plastic sheets and the brushes to find the skin and body and bone which remain.
I will put you back together; I will stick you with spit and blood, and my sweat and salt. I will build you back again, because I have marked you, and I know how.
She stood up and turned to look at where she had fallen. A line had been drawn around her body in the time between the blow that knocked her down and the shock that pulled her up. No one else was there. You’d have thought someone would have stayed, but she stood in a space that was something like silence, pushing against a gravelling hum some distance off.
She was in a rough clearing with a bushy forest at her back. She could see the city far away and did not know how she came to be out of it; how did she cross the highway, or even get up the drop between her and the bank of lights marking its shape?
Her memory was sluggish, she dragged up the sensation of her hand squeezed tight ‘round a rock, and some rush of light close to her face, a noise beating with it. There was no more than that. Except, maybe a movement of flesh, loving skin: a man, and there a women. She shook her head: this was not a memory she felt she wanted.
It was time to go back. She’d got there, so it was possible, and she made to begin but stopped, aware suddenly of sharp pains in her arms. She twisted them up and saw two lines sliced into each, halfway between the elbow and wrist. These, the quick rushed back, marked a story out. They were open and she licked them without thinking, tasting the iron of her blood and making them clean.
She walked for three days and finally crossed the edge of the city, back from the dead, back from where she had been left, ready to start again. She did not expect, as she turned through the streets, strangely unfamiliar, the small posters on doors and lampposts with her face shown on them and ‘missing’ scrawled beneath. The posters were everywhere and she followed them on. Each had a different image but not one she remembered. He hadn’t dared to take the photos, of course, but kept them imprinted: these were the moments he remembered and he tore them from his brain, pasting each onto to blank paper, scrawling the word and posting it up.
She found him under a bridge; the one where once they had danced: you ought not to have left me like that, she said. And he, wet eyed, waved his arm at the posters and had nothing to say. They fell down after the dropped pages and pens, lay together tangled and squeezing and scared to let go. His arms, she saw, bore her same bloody lines, but marked a different path that ended here, in the same place.
Night had fallen. She stood at the edge of the water, let it lap over her feet and draw away, leaving the scum and bubbles on darkening sand. They could have been words, those lines of scum and bubbles between, but as each burst or deflated more slowly, her reach for understanding, for being part of a story written down, showed itself fragile and was lost.
There was little light from the moon, quartered and hidden snug under clouds, but light was coming from somewhere; a white glow from beneath the water, and she began to walk forward fast. It seemed to her that she was being drawn in, that she had only one way to walk; her skirt which had hung tight and heavy around her thighs, ballooned suddenly up past her waist, slowing her, exciting her, and she carried on.
Rib deep now she pulled and twisted out of her skirt. She was close to the glow, and she dove deep towards it, keen to touch the light, to be inside it. Oh! It felt like waking up; it was as though, her lungs tight, she had found a way to breathe something in, something more substantial than air, more nourishing. Globes of light rushed about her, she turned in the force, lost her direction, began to sink.
At that moment, in the hug of the tide, she could have stayed. She could have let the water take the weight, stopped forcing her way through, given in to the slip down, but there was a voice. Someone was calling into the water and right to her.
Her body jolted; a decision of flesh, a spark to her heart and electricity in her limbs. She pushed up, surfacing through the water lid, and dragged in a gasp of that other type of air. Through the wheeze of breath she had managed to take she could make out a tiny figure. She lurched forward, straining her eyes, trying to adjust and make out who it could be. She stopped. There at the water’s edge, waiting for her, was a little boy, and in his hand a shell.
When she reached the shore, half crawling, she stopped at his feet. Rocking onto her side she lay to breathe and the boy pressed the shell into her raised and open hand. He lay down in front of her, his back pushed into the curve she had made. Did you enjoy your swimming? For a moment it was just the sound of his voice, the tone, its chime. She could hardly believe it. Yes, she said, but no more swimming now. They closed their green brown eyes – the colour of lakes his father swam in as a child, or so she’d been told – and slept.
I am standing in the clean white sweep of a faraway corridor. It is so quiet you can hear the thud of my blood; it is so quiet I can hear the rage and stretch of your swelled up heart. You are shut behind a door by machines that hiss and wheeze; and you don’t know it but she stands by you, held together somehow in the twice filtered air, stroking the back of her hand over your bare skin and opening her palm and resting it there.
Someone has put a stone in my throat and told me not to cry: Stand close enough to feel but not near enough to touch, and don’t cry. Open your mouth so I can twist the stone. So many of you here and each of you alone.
The colours I knew are washing away, running in rivers down by my feet. Left are muted shades, limp between the lines that separate this thing from that. There is no energy left; the batteries are flat, tight white knuckles begin to give. But they don’t let go; they hold on lightly nonetheless.
If, friend, your dreams may be lighter than the day you wake to: in time imagine yourself away from here. Imagine grass growing fast across these tiles, and the sky rolling glorious and blue out under the rude strip lighting. Imagine the sound of water not far from the bed; your boat knock knocking at the harbour and the wetted wood that will take you there. Imagine the trees growing up around you, and a cool breeze over your skin. Feel her standing next to you, as she stands now, looking out and ahead.
There are a thousand things I wish I could give you.
The wind whips sharp and the snow falls soft and there are foot prints in my path: three tracks; two who have walked ahead, and one who walked back and past. This a path often travelled, everything thing I do done before; each footprint already planted, each kiss twice tasted and taken. There is no place that has not been discovered; no land unnamed or unmapped. But it was not me, Friend, who found them: not me that walked them or saw them or knew. With the same words in infinite orders, and the same tides over each of our lives, we will build new stories.
I fell in love with an artist, new love after loves before. We explored our shape: ran tip over blade, and in the arch and stroke unmade our bodies and turned them and they were rearranged. Locked in stare he opened his mouth, breathed in the air I had inhaled and let out. We made oxygen used a hundred times over taste new in our open fresh mouths.
I nod to the stories behind me: every last thing raised up and down. But this one is my one and my time, and the path swings to my feet from behind me, laid out to beg my new sound.
When she was fifteen she stayed in a campsite in the Alps from which she could see a glacier. She was on holiday with her family and each day they walked out into the mountains, caught lifts over trickier terrain and then hiked in the sun, through a green and icy landscape, strong against the heat. Often she walked apart from her parents and her sister. She found flowers which she twisted into her hair, or followed the sound of crashing water, which pulled her away from the path and to the freezing exodus of melting ice, careering from the glacier and hurtling down to earth. She would scoop up handfuls of water, though the ice stung her skin, and drink it fast and wet her face.
Each night, back in her tent she would lie with her head out of the canvas door and look at the glacier glowing blue in the night. She wanted to go and touch it but the walks never took them there, and she had been warned away because it was dangerous and she didn’t have the equipment or the experience to go. Her father was concerned about crevasses, knowing her tendency to roam. A crevasses, he told her, was a deep crack in the glacier, and each glacier was home to thousands. They were made as the the glacier slipped slowly over uneven terrain and, though some appeared to be tiny; you could step over many, they went down for miles. It would be a deadly fall were you to stumble. Her father didn’t want her to stumble, not ever really on glacier or life, and she promised she wouldn’t go there and he kissed her and left her to look up at it from her safe distance.
One day a father and his son arrived at the campsite. They were climbers and intended to scale Mont Blanc. The boy’s imagination was caught by the girl and one night when she was lying looking up at the glacier he stopped by her tent, bent towards her face and whispered that he would take her up there.
They woke early the next morning when the sky was still orange blue, and crept away from the campsite. They scambled up the mountain as the morning broke across the day and three hours later, having skidded and slipped and with grazed knees and scratches on their arms, they arrived at the edge of the glacier. Out of breath and laughing she was ready to walk across it. He gave her his boots, which were fitted with toothy crampons and far too big for her, so she wore his socks too and then leaped before he could stop her, onto the ice. And then she stopped, her toe at the first crevasse. Looking down she saw its magnetic distance, no end, no bottom, only sides, only a fall. She hopped over it. And the next. Stretched over the third. As she landed half way across the ice there was a growl from somewhere above her and she could hear the boy shouting her name. Turning away from him she looked up, half laughed as a she saw a small goat running from the glacier, and in its wake, stones and ice tumbling towards her. A moment of silence. And then she turned and ran, leaped over the crevasses and towards the edge where the boy was climbing towards her. The rocks were speeding faster and she stumbled and was shouting and he reached and lifted her off the ice, and they fell backwards onto the stony edge, breathing hard. On top of him, she could hear his heart racing.
Thank you, she said.
Jesus. I thought you were going to die.
Years later the girl is no longer a girl but she remembers the glacier. She feels sometimes that she misunderstood what happened and that perhaps she didn’t make one of the crevasses but slipped down. And that she has stayed there, trapped in icy stasis, while around her life went on. When she looks at the people she loves with their families and loves and hopes and houses she knows it could not have been different, because she would always have scrambled from the path, it’s just that when the boy leaves, there’s no one to catch you and you have to get to the edge by yourself.