The Joke - Karl Dallas by ghkgkyyt

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									The Joke
                                    Love stories by
                                    Karl Dallas


                                 Interspersed with a
                                     few poems and
                                              songs
October Press, Bradford   2006
Sitting here in the shade, eating
     grapes and shortcakes, writing
     love poems. Is this what I came
     here for? For love? Perhaps it is
     exactly what I came here for.
                       –SMS text message
                   sent from mobile phone
                      in Nablus, Palestine,
                              July 4, 2002
      Click here for guidance on reading articles


                            Contents                                             A dance of death .................................................... 80
Songs of a wanderer ................................................ 4           That woman ........................................................... 80
The haiku lady ......................................................... 6       Cante Hondo .......................................................... 83
The joke ................................................................... 6   The goodbye .......................................................... 85
Song: A blessing .................................................... 19         Song parody: Dolly the Sheep ............................... 94
Tobe not ................................................................. 20    The return .............................................................. 95
Song: The Lady from the West ............................... 22                  One Love ............................................................... 98
Songs from the mountains ..................................... 23                Notes .................................................................... 101
Magdala ................................................................. 26     Who is the man who has written
“Why not?” ............................................................ 34       all this stuff? ........................................................ 105
Moonshadow ......................................................... 40
The wedding picture .............................................. 41                                Acknowledgements
                                                                                 Obviously, my thanks must go out to all those, past, present and future, who live
Ballad: Fair Annie and Lovely Johnny .................. 48                       in these pages, and also many who are not to be found within them. I have been
A Death .................................................................. 50    enriched by them all, even (or perhaps especially) those who have not accepted, or
                                                                                 have turned away from my love. (See Tobe not, p. 20.) I must mention particularly
A sad dance ............................................................ 54      my wife, Gloria, who has been more understanding of my wayward ways, and my
The heart songs ...................................................... 54        sometimes obsessive need to sing the songs of this particular wanderer, than any
                                                                                 man has the right to expect.
Song: On the banks of the moorlands ................... 56
                                                                                 Most of the work has been created on the pocket computer which never leaves my
Magdalene ............................................................. 57       breast pocket, originally a rather bricklike Nokia Communicator (the first of that
The Thirteenth Hour .............................................. 62            ilk), and currently a Handspring Treo 600, bought on eBay.
                                                                                 After uploading to my desktop PC, I have fine-tuned and tweaked the texts within
The wedding at Cana ............................................. 62             Microsoft Word, and assembled the PDF file using Adobe Pagemaker 6.5 and
Into the War Zone .................................................. 64          Adobe Acrobat 8. The sound samples were recorded at various studios, though
                                                                                 mainly at Bradford Community Broadcasting, edited in Sony SoundForge, and
Born to live ............................................................ 66     turned into web-compatible Flash files using the MP3SoundStream program. The
Crushed by a wheel ............................................... 68            eventual web pages were edited using Macromedia Dreamweaver.
A funeral ................................................................ 69    The DVD was created using Ashampoo Burning Studio, and its label created using
                                                                                 Epson Print CD and printed direct on to the media on an Epson Stylus Photo R220
Funeral song .......................................................... 79       printer.
                              Songs of a wanderer                    Play entire song


Play first section                             I
               My love’s a warm jewel with flame at the heart                     We lived through the hard times, the good and the bad,
               And laughter as light as the rise of the lark.                     The pleasure and pain, the happy and sad,
               Her presence is pleasing in times grave or gay                     We raised up our kids to stand straight and strong
               At the break of the dawn or the end of the day:                    But lately our lives have been going wrong:
                    And I’m glad that my wandering’s all done.                         And it seems like I’m wandering again.

               True love’s like the moon as it shines in a stream:
                                                                                  I found me a new love, more precious than gold,
               Dip down for its light and it’s gone like a dream,
                                                                                  To rest my head when I was lonely and cold.
               A will o’ the wisp that eludes you and then
                                                                                  Both new love and old have a place in my heart
               Confronts you with joy to revive you again:
                                                                                  And no power on earth can drive them apart:
                    And I’m glad that my wandering’s all done.
                                                                                       And it seems like I’m wandering again.
               Yes, I’ve been a wanderer the most of my life
                                                                                  Yes, I’ve been a wanderer the most of my life
               And I’ve cut through each day like a new-sharpened knife
                                                                                  And I thought I could end all my trouble and strife
               But the noonday’s a time for a rest in the sun
                                                                                  But each new day dawning we start life anew
               And to lie in your arms when the day’s work is done:
                                                                                  And work through whatever we’re given to do:
                     And I’m glad that my wandering’s all done.
                                                                                        And it seems like I’m wandering again.
Play second section                             II                                 Play third section           III
               I once had a true love the light of my life
                                                                                  For seventy long years I’ve been seeking for love
               We built home together and I made her my wife
                                                                                  Not knowing it comes as a gift from above
               For thirty-five years we were lovers and then
                                                                                  But we were not meant to seek heaven alone
               Our true love, like all things, has come to an end:
                                                                                  And so take my hand ’til my wandering is done:
                    And it seems like I’m wandering again.
                                                                                       And I’m glad you were here by my side.
               We are but sojourners here on the earth                       For tomorrow’s a gift from today.
               And we start to go wandering on the day of our birth
                                                                      Play section five             V
               It’s written that nowhere can we rest our head
               Until we find peace in our heart at the end:           And now once again there are new ways to wend.
                     And I’m glad you were here by my side.           Old friends become lovers, new lovers are friends.
                                                                      The road forks and parts as we wave a goodbye,
               Who knows why we wander or where we are bound          Tomorrow awaits and there’s no time to cry:
               But the journey is all as we search the world round         On this journey we’re never alone.
               The hills and the valleys take the road up and down
               High and low, near or far, I trust you’ll be found:    We may feel at each parting that something is lost
                    And I’m glad you were here by my side.            But our memories go with us and stay till the last.
                                                                      We are the summation of all that befell
Play section four
                                              IV                      And our song is a story that no tongue can tell:
               O love of my life, from the start ever new,                 On this journey we’re never alone.
               Wherever I’ve wandered, ever constant and true.
               Once again we are lovers, whatever that means          The flesh we take with us is but skin and bone,
               And we’re working together to rebuild our dreams.      A cage for our feelings, until life is done.
                    For tomorrow’s a gift from today.                 But flesh is our reason for walking the earth
                                                                      At the end all we learn is of coming to birth:
               I cannot deserve all the love that you give:                On this journey we’re never alone.
               I wanted to die, but you taught me to live.
               You gave me your laughter, your joy and your tears,    The hand that we hold never falters or fails
               And helped me confront all my hopes and my fears.      As we struggle through storms or bend with the gales.
                    For tomorrow’s a gift from today.                 Its presence is constant, though we never may know
                                                                      What is its purpose or where we will go:
               Never say never is a rule to live by                         On this journey we’re never alone.
               And also “for ever” is a vow I deny,
               But over the years I have wandered with you            Human love is a yearning for something more great
               The pleasures were many and the sadnesses few.         It grows in each heart as we follow our fate.
We can part without rancour, end love without hate,                                    The joke
We can know who is with us, be it early or late:
    On this journey we’re never alone.


                                                              T
                                                                      he big man laughed. With scarcely a glance at
                                                                      the sky, he cried: “It’s a joke of the great God
                                        1964-March 1, 2001,           Almighty.”
                                         December 30, 2001,
                                                              And he laughed again.
                                          February 16, 2002
                                                              Though he was something of an entertainer, being the Lord
                                                              Amalric’s official bard, he was not notable for his sense of
                                                              humour, though in recent years he had composed one or two
                                                              wry reflections upon the implications of growing old. And
                   The haiku lady                             when he had shared them with a select group of his peers,
                                                              fellow bards and battle-scarred veterans of the old days, they
                                                              had raised a few smiles.
                                                              But his forte was strictly the historical ballad, tales of past
                                                              glories and victories yet to come, and since this was a time of
                                                              uneasy truce between the Lord Amalric and his neighbours
                                                              over the hills to north and west, there was little enough call
                                                              for his verse, nor for the delicate fingering of his 13-stringed
                                                              lute, traditional accompaniment of the great epics he had
                                                              originally composed for Amalric’s father and uncles.
                                                              Today the tastes of the guests at Amalric’s banquets tended
                      Haiku lady sings                        towards more raucous lyrics – if that be not too tender a word
                  rare melodies of passion,                   – of rape and seduction, bellowed out to the tune of a howling
                    jewels shining bright.                    wind band, while dancers contorted themselves lasciviously
                                                              upon the dancefloor. The big man wanted none of it.
                                               May 13, 2000   So while his attendance was required at such events, he
tended to sit morosely at the foot of Amalric’s table, his lute    up his fires still, it was less of a compulsion for either of
tuned and ready, his voice ready to tell the old tale, his mind    them.
on other things.                                                   He had never been what you could call a faithful partner, and
It was while he was thus engaged, his ears alert for any           while she had never condoned his sudden enthusiasms for the,
request from the high table but his consciousness otherwise        to her, most surprising liaisons and brief excursions with
occupied, that he noticed the gaze of the dark-eyed lass upon      companions of either sex, she had come to realise that they
him.                                                               did not impinge on his relationship with her. But he had long
In truth she was hardly a lass though – he observed later – she    since abandoned such errant ways, at about the same time,
looked younger than her forty summers. When he first noticed       and not coincidentally, that his long-abused body had forced
her, he’d have given her thirty, at the most, possibly less. He    him to abandon his other long-lived love affair, with the
was not good at estimating such things, being as self-             black, foam-headed beer of his native land, far across the
obsessed as most of his bardic clan must be, to presume to         mountains and seas which he had crossed with his parents so
comment upon the doings of his so-called betters.                  many long years ago, in search of peace and more settled
                                                                   times.
Yet he could not imagine her gaze was upon him, surely twice
her age. He had never been considered handsome, even in his        Most of his philandering had happened while gazing upon the
youth, though six decades of battle ballads had given him a        wine when it was red (or beer when it was black, in his case),
sort of grim authority. He’d had his share of love and tears in    though he had tended to ascribe his new-found near-chastity
his younger, more rumbustious days, and he had a good wife         to long-delayed maturity rather than (as he suspected was
warming his bed at home for his return, for she had long since     more to the point) the approach of his seventh decade.
excused herself from the Lord Amalric’s late-night revelries.      Yet he found his glance straying to the dark-eyed lass yet
Their love had begun as a great passion, some thirty years         again. He even looked behind him to see which of the young
before, but they were now what he had once described as            bucks at the high table might have attracted her gaze, but
“passionate friends”. He still took pleasure in her nakedness      surely none of the red-faced, sweaty hooligans toasting each
in the bath or before she slipped on the demure nightgowns         other with overflowing flagons could be its cause. True, the
which had always been her preferred night attire, and they         mysteries of what women found attractive in mate or garment
slept most nights entwined in each other’s arms like the old       had long bewildered him, a confusion he had celebrated many
sweethearts they still were, but it had to be admitted that they   times in his more private verse, and it was no more likely that
made love but seldom now, and while she could easily stoke         her gaze was fixed on an over the hill veteran like himself
than that she could actually find those laddish oiks interesting   As he renewed his seat amid the applause of lordlings and
enough to fix her gaze upon them. Either way, it was a             groundlings, he couldn’t help but notice the dark-eyed lass
satisfying conjecture, that there might be something in his old    clapping as enthusiastically as the rest. And she looked him
frame to draw her to him, though in truth of small significance    full in the face as she did so, as if there were indeed more to it
in the real world.                                                 than pleasure at what he felt, in his heart, to be something
His reverie was interrupted by an unexpected (and, these           slight and insignificant from the composer of epics which had
days, damn near unprecedented) call by his master for a song.      entered into the national traditions, furthermore one with a
He stumbled to his feet and grabbed his lute.                      strong element, he admitted to himself, of special pleading.

“And none of your gloomy old ballads, see,” said Amalrric.         Yet the brightness of her dark eyes, as she looked across the
“Give us a bit of a laugh, please!” And he looked round at his     hall directly into his, made the rest of the company disappear,
companions, who roared appreciatively at his wit.                  a pleasing sensation, accompanied by a surprising swelling at
                                                                   his groin.
As it happened, he had something in tune with his recent
conjectures, which might well serve the lord’s purpose. Like       Though, clearly, there was nothing he could (or should) do
many men past middle age, he had been much concerned               about it, nevertheless he found the experience enjoyable. He
about the decline of his sexual powers, and since he had           wondered if his Gretchen would be awake with her bedtime
always regarded ballad-making as a branch of sympathetic           volume still unfinished.
magic, he had composed an encomium upon the superiority of         He had forgotten the dark-eyed lass by the time the feast was
older men as lovers, which depicted a young lass’s                 over, while Amalric and his entourage were going to their
unfortunate experiences with just such young bucks as              beds. The bard was looking forward to his – but then he
Amalric’s coterie, with the repetitive refrain, “take my advice,   remembered. Gretchen would not be at home, warming his
never court a young man”.                                          bed for him, since she was up in the north country, visiting her
The high table roared with each successive indignity,              mother, had been for a week, not expected back for at least a
concluding with premature ejaculation and the lass’s creeping      month.
out of the bed “into the arms of a much older man”, scarce         The big man sighed. His sexual fires might have been
recognising their own brewbased impotence as its butt.             damped down somewhat, compared with his rumbustious
“Forget all your pretty boys,” it concluded, “they’re just all     youth, but he did like a warm body beside him in his bed.
talk and noise.”                                                   He was awaiting his turn among the swell of the feasters,
when he was aware of a small figure pushing her way through        “You heard my lord. He called for entertainment, not
the crowd towards him. It was the dark lady herself. He            enlightenment.”
capitalised the title in his mind, as if she were a character in   “Pshaw!” Her look was more eloquent than her exclamation.
an old ballad: the Dark Lady Herself. The conceit raised a
smile on his battered old face as he waited to see what she        “You prefer the old songs?”
wanted – or if, indeed, it was he she was pushing through the      “One can never hear them, these days. I’ve tried to learn a
press to see. He fully expected her to pass him by, only to        few, myself.”
melt into the arms of a much younger man – you see, he did
                                                                   Now this was surprising. Few under the age of fifty had even
not even believe the words of his own song – but in fact she
                                                                   heard of the old songs, and even when they’d been sung each
did stop before him, and raised her small face towards him.
                                                                   night at court, they had been male fare only. It would have
He waited for her to speak, then realised she was waiting on       been close to blasphemy, in the days of Amalric’s father, for
him, as befits a younger person before an older, and he an         any woman to perform them. Their role was lullabies, and
esteemed bard. He had forgotten such old-style manners, in         silly lovesongs.
the days of Amalric’s rule, where tradition and precedent went
                                                                   “And sing them where?”
for nothing.
                                                                   “Just to myself, while cooking or washing or caring for my
“You seemed to enjoy the song, young lady,” he said.
                                                                   four children. I used to sing my young ones to sleep with an
“That I did,” she responded. Her voice was slightly hesitant,      old ballad, The Courtship of Margaret and the Earl of
as if she were unsure of her reception, a mannerism he was to      Darkness.”
learn to recognise as typical, later. And never cease to wonder
                                                                   “Aye, I know it well. But surely it gave them nightmares.”
what gave such an apparently assured young person such
uncertainty.                                                       “They slept before the dark ones came up out of hell to take
                                                                   the lady down into their bosom. And anyway, they need to
“I was a little surprised, though.”
                                                                   learn there are dark forces in the world, as well as good.”
“At what?”
                                                                   They were moving now, out of the hall, with the press of the
“Well” – again that hesitancy, as if her opinion didn’t really     throng about them.
count – “it was unlike the epic ballads for which you’re
                                                                   “And your husband,” he asked. “Does he sing, too?”
famous.”
                                                                   “Him! Like a hoodied crow. I’d not let him sully the charm of
the old songs. He never could carry a tune.”                        “I wonder . . .” For once it was he who was hesitant. He’d be
“You use the past tense. Are you a widow?”                          dumbfounded if she said him nay to what he was about to ask.
                                                                    He smiled to himself at his diffidence, like a young page
“Not I! I kicked him out long since, shortly after Clarissa –       unskilled in the ways of women.
my youngest – was born, these twelve years since. We had
little in common.”                                                  “You wonder what, my lord?” she asked, after a respectable
                                                                    moment of silence had hung in the air between them for, it
Enough, he thought, to father four children upon her, but he        seemed, an age.
did not voice the thought. There was something unique about
this lass, in a world where a single woman in her forties was       He shook his head. “No,” he objected,” forget it. A stupid
regarded as fit only for the convent – or the sporting house –      thought.”
able to raise and care for four children, with an ear for the old   “Nay tell me, please, my lord. I would know your pleasure.”
traditions which would have gainsaid such singularity.              He looked down at her, and he felt that swelling at his groin
“I was wondering . . . if you could spare the time . . .”           again. Pleasure, was it?
“Time is something I have plenty of, these days,” he replied.       “W-e-e-l-l-l.”
“My younglings are grown and flown the coop.”                       Good Lord, he’d forgotten how to do this.
“Could you hear me sing? And perhaps fill in some of the            “If you’re not too tired . . .”
verses I just cannot find.”
                                                                    Again, he could not find the words. She was, after all, a
He noticed that, though he had mentioned his own children,          mother with four children, hadn’t she said – he found it
she had not enquired after whether he had a wife. Perhaps she       difficult to remember what she had said with any accuracy, for
preferred not to know.                                              all the spell she seemed to have cast over him. But then that
They were now outside the banqueting hall, and they paused,         was perhaps part of her witchcraft.
the throng having thinned around them as they talked,               He shook his great head in exasperation. Stuff and nonsense,
walking more slowly than the multitude. A mad idea                  spells and magic! He’d have to confess it to the priest next
possessed him. Later he was to wonder if this Dark Lady was         rest day. Was he a babe, hiding his head under the blankets?
not indeed one of the dark ones out of hell, and she come to
bewitch him. But that was a time yet to come.                       This time she made no reply, letting his words go unanswered,
                                                                    so that he had to do something to fill the silence.
“Sing to me now!” he cried, with more force than he had              She was good, yes, very good. Oh, untutored, of course,
intended.                                                            unskilled in the techniques they taught in the great ballad
“Where, lord?”                                                       schools (which few, if any, attended in this acculturated,
                                                                     decadent age). But the way she abandoned herself into herself
“Why, here.”                                                         to find the spaces in the song, her head and shoulders circling
She looked around them, and saw that they were indeed alone,         around like some dervish, was something the freshers took
in an antechamber to the main banqueting hall, whose great           several semesters of hard schooling to learn. And most never
doors had been pulled shut while they dallied there.                 did.
“If that be your will, of course, my lord. But will not your         Her voice was strong and powerful, with a hard edge to it
wife . . . ?”                                                        he’d heard in the singers from the north country, but never
                                                                     before in a woman. He was particularly pleased that she did
“My Gretchen’s away in the north country, visiting her
                                                                     not over-dramatise the story of the great old tragedy, but let
mother. But you, no doubt, will have to get up early for your
                                                                     the words make their own, direct impression. There was no
bairns. It was a foolish thought.”
                                                                     feminine artifice at work to capitalise upon her beauty (albeit,
“Nay, my lord. They are no bairns. Clarissa may be twelve            with an audience of one, this would hardly have been
only, but she’s well able to dress and break her fast without        necessary, but he’d experienced many another woman singer
my urging at her elbow all the while. And there’ll be no             all fluttering eyelashes and coy simpering, when the words of
school tomorrow – or today, I think it be – since the lord           her lovesong said it all, and this one played none of those
declared a holiday. And the three lads will lie abed till noon, if   mindgames).
I let them. I’ll sing for you, and glad to.”
                                                                     She ended the song, and looked up at him, like someone
So she did sing. And he had the experience of feeling the hairs      emerging from a dream, as indeed she was, if, as he
rise on the back of his neck as she did so. He had felt it           suspected, she had what the old singers of the west coast
before, but he could not remember when last something had            called the “nyah”, that elusive quality which he suspected was
stirred him so. Yes, in the old days, when the ballad-makers         bred in the bone, and unteachable.
had swapped their latest and greatest creations, and the muse
                                                                     He was silent after she had drawn the tale to its terrible
moved in them. But these had been the inheritors of a great
                                                                     conclusion, saying nothing, for what could be said? Like the
tradition, raised in the magic of the craft. Whereas this woman
                                                                     “how was it for you?” anxious chatter of inexperienced
was coming totally afresh to the tale she was telling.
                                                                     lovers, anything he said could only diminish the magic she
had left hanging in the air. But she was not so constrained.         terror and been worked on by its magic, we can no longer
“Was it . . .” – again that hesitation, with which he was            stand on ceremony.”
already beginning to become familiar – “ . . . all right?”           “Well,” she hesitated, as if astonished at her temerity, “. . . Sir
He grunted, unsure of what he could say to express how               Adam, my name is Rosella.”
profoundly she had moved him. Her face fell, misreading his          “A fair – a fine name, and beautiful as its owner.” God! He
reaction. This would not do. She was not, after all, a schooled      was bad at this. Move on to more familiar ground.
bard, among whose company a simple “Not bad” would be                “I haven’t sung that ballad for many a long year.”
high praise indeed. She deserved some sort of answer.
                                                                     “I was a child, sitting on my father’s knee when the Lord
“Young woman . . . “ – where were his manners? he was quite          Amalric’s father still lived.”
put out at his own surprise, but clearly she deserved respect
for her bardic talent, unschooled though it be – “My lady,” he       “Oh, those were great days. The old man loved the big
corrected. “You are truly a magnificent singer. You took me          songs.”
there. I was a little nonplussed, that was all, to hear such a big   “And my father, too. But he forbade me to sing them. He
tale in the mouth of one so young and fair.” Another blunder.        chastised me severely the one time . . . “
“Fair” was one thing she decidedly was not.
                                                                     He did not like to accept the image her words gave him, both
“Where, tell me, did you learn the song? Not at a ladies’            attractive and repellent, reminding him she’d been a babe in
sewing circle, that I’m sure.”                                       arms when Gretchen and he . . .
“Pshaw!” she exclaimed again. “They’ll only hear silly               “He did right,” he said hurriedly, for fear she might go into
lovesongs.”                                                          embarrassing detail. “But times change. That was then, and
“And love,” he could not resist saying, “is that also silly?”        now is now. If no one else will carry them on, then you must
And cursed himself for playing such wordgames, unworthy of           do so, even if it means they pass to the distaff side.”
a callow youth. She did not dignify his retort with an answer,       “And you liked it?”
though her look away spoke volumes.
                                                                     “Madam, you enriched it. Truly. From now on, I will always
“I learnt the song from you, my lord.”                               hear your voice in my head, every time I sing it.
“Please, you know my given name. Let us not be so formal.            “That’s if the Lord Amalric tire of bawdry.”
When we have been into a big ballad together, experienced its
A pause hung in the air like a closed door, barely ajar. He      “And you need to clear up from the banquet. Forgive us. We
waited to see how she would push it open.                        were thoughtless.”
“My Lord.”                                                       “Bid you goodnight, my lord,” she said.
“Madam?”                                                         “But your song?”
“May I, perhaps . . .”                                           “Another time, my lord.”
“Ask on, lady.”                                                  And she stood on tiptoe to kiss him briefly on the lips, almost
“No, it was nothing.”                                            chastely, though her mouth opened slightly and he could taste
                                                                 her breath, before she vanished through the portal like a
This was getting a bit irritating. “Please, madam, how may I     wraith of woodsmoke.
serve you?”
                                                                 He slept badly, that night. He slept badly most nights, to be
“W-e-l-l . . .” Still she hesitated.                             truthful, but usually because age did not require him so much
Then: “May I sing you one of my own?”                            rest. But this night he could hardly sleep, so troubled was he
                                                                 in mind.
“You are a Makar?” This was truly astonishing. To recreate
the old was one thing, and while creation of the new was but a   Eventually, he embraced himself and brought himself to
step beyond, it was a step even some experienced bards failed    climax, hoping that would fill his body and soul with the
to take.                                                         fatigue of satisfaction. But he was far from satisfied.
“Not really. But I scribble down verses now and then.”           And when he did sleep, his dreams were filled with ghostly
                                                                 images, that were like the woodsmoke she had vanished into,
Wonder upon wonder. Did this young women know just how
                                                                 when he awoke.
many traditions she was violating, in striving to keep the old
traditions alive? And using writing in her composition. It was   The day passed as poorly as the night, and the days and nights
said, in the bardic school, if you cannot remember your          like heavy hands upon his breast, until the time came for
verses without imprisoning them in spider-scratchings, then      another feast. And he found himself hurrying early to the
they were not worth the singing.                                 banqueting house, cursing his adolescent fantasy of finding
                                                                 the dark Rosella there before him.
A head poked itself round the great door.
                                                                 And lightly did his heart rise, and his groin with it, to see her
“My lord, my lady,” said its owner. “Time grows late.”
already at table, sipping a glass prepriandially.                   “And when shall that be, my lord?”
By rights, he should have sat himself directly before the lord’s    Damn the woman! She was as importunate as a young buck.
table, in the bard’s place of honour, but the young Amalric’s       He’d challenge her in a like fashion.
company had not arrived, nor just a few of the guests, come to      “Why, on the morrow, if it please you, my lady.”
that. Servants were still setting out the silver.
                                                                    “The morning will do well, for my boys will be back at school
He glanced at her, and she raised her glass in a silent toast. He   and we shall have no one to intrude upon us.”
inclined his head, for he had nothing with which to toast her
in return. He set himself to tuning his lute, as if he hadn’t       “And will you sing for me?”
already set in true temper before leaving his home, and for         “Aye, my lord, if that be your pleasure.”
some moments that occupied him, for his twelfth string really
                                                                    And what other pleasures might there be on offer? He was
needed replacing, and was hard to keep true. There was
                                                                    tempted to give her a like bawdy reply, but restrained himself
nothing for it: it must be changed.
                                                                    in time.
“Is your instrument causing you difficulty, my lord?”
                                                                    The hall was beginning to fill.
Oh that voice, liquid like the ice-melt from the high hills! He
                                                                    “I’d best be back at my table, for fear someone will take my
jumped like a startled rabbit, despite himself.
                                                                    seat in my absence.”
“’Tis my twelfth string,” he explained, gruffly. “I should have
                                                                    And she was gone.
changed it before leaving home this night.”
                                                                    It was only when he was in his bed again, restless with
“Shall we hear you?”
                                                                    thoughts of her, that he realised he had no knowledge of
“If my Lord Amalric wishes.”                                        where she lived.
“And if I wish?”                                                    For someone close to the Lord Amalric, he could no doubt ask
He looked up from his instrument to see if she were jesting         a flunky of her and learn her whereabouts from those who
with him. But he eyes were serious.                                 issued the banquet invitations, but he was reluctant to do so.
“Nay, my lady,” he said after a pause, “tonight I am my lord’s      He asked himself: Why? He was reluctant to give the court
bard only. If I would sing for you, it must be on another           gossips fuel for their chattering. But why should he care?
night.”                                                             Gretchen, if the news of his enquiries came to her ears on her
return, would no doubt dismiss it as an inconsequential          “Is that your husband’s?” he demanded to know, for surely no
adventure, and it was barely that, so far. Why, then, did it     lute-maker would serve a woman.
seem to be so much more than that?                               “No, my lord,” she answered demurely, “I . . . I crafted it
He shook his great head as if to shake out such adolescent       myself. My husband has no more music in him than a marsh
fancies, as he washed, trimmed his beard and plaited it in the   toad. Would you see it?”
twin forks which were his badge of office, and dressed.          Without waiting for an answer, she pulled open the cords that
He smiled at a thought. No wonder there were no women            fastened the case and extracted what seemed to be a
bards, for bearded women were few and far between.               handsome instrument indeed, its belly inlaid with redwood
Occasionally, a carnival would come to town for the              and what looked like mother of pearl. Where had she obtained
groundlings to gawp and jeer at, and while he’d never seen       such rich materials?
them himself, he’d heard they’d shown women as hirsute as        Of course, such cosmetic finery meant nothing if the lute
hairy bears. He found hairy women quite stimulating, as a        didn’t play well, and some craftsmen whose decorative skills
matter of fact, but he’d probably draw the line at beards.       exceeded their Pythagorean knowledge had prejudiced him
His quasi-erotic fantasies were interrupted by a great noise.    against such embellishments.

Who was that, tirling at the pin on his front door, as if some   She held it out to him, hesitantly.
great fire were threatening the city?                            “I don’t expect it’s any good, but if my lord would . . . “
A servant appeared.                                              He took it from her and ran his fingers across the strings in his
“A lady to see you, my Lord Bard. She says she knows you,        favourite Aeolian mode arpeggio. He nearly dropped the
but would not give her name.”                                    instrument in astonishment.

It had to be . . . surely it couldn’t be? . . . she was an       “By God!” he exclaimed, forgetting his long disenchantment
importunate wench, but even she wouldn’t outrage all             with religion in any shape or form. “This is very fine. Where
decency? . . .                                                   learnt you such skills?”

“Show her in,” he grumbled with an impatient gesture, and in     “My father was a lute-maker.”
a moment she stood before him. And even more amazing, she        “But surely . . .”
carried a lute-case in her hand.                                 She laughed.
“No, my lord. He would not teach me his craft. I was                his fast.
forbidden even the entrance of his workshop. But I observed         “Forgive me, lady. I forget my manners. Would you take
the way he would test out each new product of his skills,           refreshment?”
curse at what seemed to me perfection itself, go away and
work more upon it, and then try and try again until it satisfied    “I have eaten, my lord, but please, if you are hungry . . . “
him.                                                                “And while I eat, perhaps you can sing for me.”
“Thus were my ears trained.”                                        He handed her back the lute, and clapped his hands for
“And your hands?”                                                   service.
“Self-taught,” she shrugged. “My first instrument was wire          She ran her fingers over the strings, lifted up her head, and
strung across a frying pan. When he died . . . “                    sang a story, the like of which he had never before heard.
She paused, as if it were too painful a memory.                     He had expected some sort of pastiche, an invented tale of
                                                                    lordly passion and lady loves. There were some Makars who
“. . . I stole some essential tools before the Guild came to        produced such ephemeral guff, and he could hardly expect a
collect them, and started working in earnest.”                      battle epic to come from a female hearth.
“Your husband, what thought he of this?”                            But this was a tale of the present day, a question and answer
“We were barely speaking at that point. He chose one time to        between a mother and her child, set in the poisoned lands by
threaten to expose me to the Guild when I had a one-inch            the edge of the sea, the child wishing to play on the beach, the
chisel in my hand. I thrust it in his face with barely an inch of   mother unable to explain the invisible death that lay in the
marking him for life, and he troubled me no more.                   very grains of sand.
“And very soon he was gone with some young flibbertigibbet          It had an air of a nursery ballad to it, the sort of tale mothers
half my age, never sending so much as copper pence for the          sang their babes to sleep with. And there was also the age-old
support of me and my children. Still, I managed, and good           conflict between the old “you must not” command and the
riddance to him!”                                                   young “why must I not?” rebellion.
This last she spoke with that left her breathless, her dark eyes    So much was almost traditional, though recast in a very new
flashing and her breasts heaving in remembered anger.               mode that set his fingers tingling to explore it himself on his
His stomach grumbled, and he remembered he had not broken           own instrument.
But to compose something so real, so rooted in the now, a        He paused, summoning his thoughts. She waited on him,
flower blooming like new branch grafted on to old stock, was     expectantly, saying nothing, her long face receptive, the eyes
quite unprecedented, in his own long experience of the art of    sparkling above the prominent cheekbones like dark pools
ballad-making.                                                   highlit by a dawning sun, her lips parted slightly, bringing to
Yes, new songs were made every day, poor things most of          his mind the chaste kiss they had shared at their last parting.
them. He still tried his hand himself, but would be first to     His groin swelled at the thought.
agree they bore no comparison with the big old epics sung so     But this was not what she wanted from him. (Was it not? He
rarely these days. Perhaps it was because these were no longer   could not be sure. Again he shook his head. It was a long
epic times.                                                      time, it felt like centuries, since he last experienced such
But this, this was like new wine in an old bottle. Scripture     confusion.)
taught that this was unwise, and he had always wondered          Hurriedly, he tried to cast himself into tutor mode, as if
why. For was not the Good News like a fresh vintage within       counselling some would-be bard, something he did but rarely.
the old brought down from Sinai?                                 There had been a young man, his breast as flat and hard as her
Vintners told of the plague that had almost wiped out the        bosom looked round and soft, whom he had tutored thus. But
vineyards, and how their craft was saved only by grafting in     that had an ugly end. The young man had sung no more. He
new stock from the western lands across the great waters.        must not make the same mistake again!

Perhaps this young woman was such a vintner.                     “I find myself asking: What is this song for? When will you
                                                                 sing it? Where? And to whom?
He sat silent, considering all these things.
                                                                 “To the rowdy, bawdy crowd at the Lord Amalric’s table? In
“You . . . you do not like it. I feared as much.”                the tavern? I do not think you would get through one verse.”
He roused himself from his reverie and forked a portion of       “I sang it to you.”
egg into his mouth. It was cold.
                                                                 “Yes, and it was good for me to hear it. You have opened new
He shook himself awake with a movement of his great head         doors in my soul.”
like a dog fresh out of the river.
                                                                 And into my heart, he wanted to say, for it was true. The
“Nay, nay my lady. ’Tis not that. ’Tis very fine, very fine      simple artistry of her song had touched him deeply. Not since
indeed. It’s just . . .”                                         he first gazed upon the woman now his wife Gretchen, had
body, mind and spirit united in one flesh. It was an almost        called it out in his mind’s ear, but she was never there to hear
religious ecstasy. Perhaps he had stayed away from the sacred      him.
love feast too long. His body was substituting for it – what?      Each feast day, he went there in hopes that he’d see her sitting
Carnal love?                                                       in that place, but another had taken it. He awoke each
“My lord?”                                                         morning, telling himself that this was the day when she would
“Forgive me, lass. You have awakened such thoughts in me I         return, lute case in hand, ready to sing to him again.
have not received for decades.”                                    His woman returned to him from the north, and they fell into
So lass she was, now, not “My Lady”. How he wished it could        each other’s arms with renewed, almost unexpected passion.
be “My love”.                                                      But as he and Gretchen roused each other to ecstasy, it was
                                                                   another, a rounder, younger bosom he imagined crushing
“And you in me. When a great artist hears my song . . .”           beneath him, her name he wanted to cry out loud, growling
“Pshaw! I have some skill with versifying. But if I could          the tiger of the tropics.
make such a lyric . . .”                                           ’Twill pass, he told himself, as all things must. But it did not.
But he knew he could not. This was a woman’s song, though          He tried composing a lovesong, but the results were tawdry, in
one such as he could not imagine any woman singing it. And         comparison with the depth of loss he felt. He cast the lute
she had sung herself into his heart, more surely than if she had   down in disgust.
performed some silly lovesong.
                                                                   “Let us go again to church, my lord,” said his woman. “We
This must be put a stop now, and suddenly!                         have much to give thanks for.”
“Forgive me, lady. I have much to do this morn.” Her reaction      Thanks? For this pain?
was immediate, and immediately perceptible. It was if a dark
blind came down, hooding her eyes. He did not perceive the         It was then he lifted his fist to the sky and laughed.
momentary flash of pain that came and went in her face, like       “It’s a joke of the great God Almighty.”
summer lightning.                                                  “Joke, my lord?”
“No, my lord, it is you who must forgive me. And I must go to      But he gave no answer. And laughed again.
market.” And she was going.
                                                                                             September 1, 1999-February 11, 2005
He wanted to cry out: Wait! The next day and every day, he
                                                  A blessing
                                Tune: The blacksmith (English traditional folk tune)
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. –The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s, 2: 4

Play song                       Some say marriages are made in heaven
                                While others all their lives for love have striven;
                                But you have found in each the joy supremely human:
                                Long may our several lives its light illumine.

                                Though rains may tumble down and storms dismay you
                                This love will bear you up, will not betray you,
                                Whatever perils may rise up to bar you,
                                For hand-in-hand your way is strait and narrow.

                                Of all the blessings planned on you bestowing
                                Your children all around in fullness growing.
                                Young life springs up anew each new day dawning
                                Like flowers in the dew of a spring morning.

                                Whom God has joined as one let no one sunder,
                                The still small voice of love drowns out the thunder.
                                This day lives in us all and we will treasure
                                Its memory long since, our hearts to pleasure.

                                So blessings on you both, this great step taking,
                                Vows, you remind us all, we should be taking.
                                Like Solomon of old, the love we give each other
                                Reflects the love of God, there is no other.                        September 3, 1994
                  9. Tobe not
Your no empowers me. Click to hear text               It is a hard word, sharp as the teeth that frame
It is a kind of yes. Not to deny your naysaying,        its beginning, open as its end, for nothing is
  but to be defined by it, those teeth unbiting,        final, all changes, tomorrow is another day.
  your tongue touching the palate to expel this       Dawn follows night, given for sleep as well as
  soft negative, the warm-breathed vowel thrust         love.
  from your lips a hole in the air, never to be       And if you love my meness enough to bar me,
  possessed but mine still, making me I because         as much as or even more than to let me in,
  it makes a she of her.                                then this is just to say that doors may be
A you.                                                  unlocked if they stand closed, but a broken
It must be heard, for to deny it is to commit           gate admits no one, since all may enter,
  violence on this she and I, this being two who        without discrimination.
  have the choice to be one, for without minus        But there are many doors, gates, windows,
  there is no plus, without separation there can        more keys than this manmaker, more touches
  be no joining, to choose yes requires the no          than flesh on flesh, for we clothe ourselves
  option, or we are puppets.                            not only to hide, but to uncover, the hand that
One greater gave it to us, this right, this duty,       grips must can release, or its grasp is
  this great gift, and if we freewill ourselves out     counterfeit.
  of Eden, then that is his gift, sobeit.             It is another growing, this joy of being apart, for
This too is choice, given in love, and how may I        in thrusting this void between us, the air
  grant you less than this right to refuse, not in      bridges all humanity, man on man and woman
  my gift but encoded in the very flesh we are          also, separate, yet one people.
  clothed in?                                         Yes, there is wounding in this negative, the
                                     Click to read entire prose poem (no audio)


 child screams for the breast that needs time                is nothing lost, each moment making its own
 to regrow milky, and not all nipples are there              new way, branching and branching, twigs to
 for the sucking, not all gaps stand in vacant               buds to leaves to flowers to fruit, whether
 wait for me to fulfil them, a tough lesson to               sweet or acid-biting sour, wholesome or not,
 learn, but gain in the pain, written by this                for even black poison plays its part in this
 hole in air, this no, this love of being                    great circle, for there is no death, only birth
 expressed by choosing not to love.                          after birth, as each moment makes new, and
We stand apart, and flesh cries for flesh, yet               old is a word without meaning.
 touch can push as well as pull, the forced                 Let your no be no, and no oath shall gainsay it,
 door stands broken, and when the wall is                    the yes that bid us stand, the otherness
 fallen, there is no place to enter.                         defined, made concrete, as we walk away,
The child is all mouth, all pleasuring, a great              united, liberated, gloriously alone.
 hammer to beat on the world, or lips to                                              10. Notend
 engulf it. The first cry is the om of the breast
                                                            So. This earth whirling, now populated, stands
 denied, and it is that same hole sound, closed
                                                              fast beneath my stumbling feet, and what was
 at each end, the mother’s name, answered not
                                                              once my world has its own meaning, which I
 with words but the milktit’s return.
                                                              can only know in part, tentatively.
So word and flesh become one, in the losing
                                                            Yet this more certain lack is where I am, not
 and the finding, the yes in this no.
                                                              lost, not left, one in many, this caged mind
To part, if even never again to meet, is to join
                                                              freed, to fly dovelike into the sky at end of
 in the great dance of all, bobbing and
                                                              time.
 circling, linking and releasing, embracing
                                                            In eternity there is no tomorrow.
 and failing to embrace, for the non-coupling                                     October 26, 1995 (edited July 20, 1996)
                         The Lady from the West
Play first section        Tune: A variant of John Barleycorn                  And see the snows are melting and the barns with grain are
            There came a lady out of the west but her folk were from the            stored.
                  east.                                                           So we can sing a reaping song and the fiddler rosin the
            She rode into a barren land like a guest come to a feast.                   bow.
            The people said: You’re welcome, but it’s not the festive time.       And song birds fly in the cloudless sky and the girls to
            Our king lies sick and unto death and the funeral bell does                 the harvest go.
                  chime.
                 So silence the music of your mouth and break the             When the king awoke he said to his folk: Who was it lay with
                      fiddlers’ bow.                                                me?
                 Crowbirds fly in the leaden sky and the fields are white     For she has set my heart aflame and I’m no longer free.
                      with snow.                                              The lady said: You have your queen and duties to your land
                                                                              While I must travel down the road that lies at my right hand.
            This lady said: In the darkest night the dawn is not far off           So forget the music of my mouth and the tune of the
            And though your king be sick to death yet can he be cured by                fiddlers’ bow.
                   love.                                                           For the sun is high into the sky and onward I must go.
            She stripped the clothes from off his back till he lay like a
                   naked boy                                                  The king he swore a mighty oath, said: That shall never be
            And she lay down beside him and she filled his heart with joy.    For I shall leave my native land and go along with thee.
                 And warm was the music of her mouth and the sky wore         But if you will not have me it were better I should die.
                       a ribboned bow.                                        Sweet chains have bound and made us one, and none shall
                 The mourning birds sang dawning words and the corn                  say me nay .
                       grew under the snow.                                        For I live by the music of your mouth and we’ll dance to
                                                                                         the fiddlers’ bow.
            Now the queen she swore a mighty oath and she swore it like            And free as the birds up in the sky you and I shall
                  a man:                                                                 onward go.
            No other shall lie in my lord’s bed and I’ll kill you if I can.   Now the queen she was a wise woman and none so wise as
            But the lady said: Be not afraid, your lord is still your lord,        she:
Come into my arms my own true lord and listen unto me.                   It lives in the music of your mouth and the tune of the
This lady gave you healing love and the healing work is done.                  fiddlers’ bow.
Now you and I shall live till we die in the blessings of the sun.        And the skylark’s rise into the sky and the cornfields here
     We’ll make new music with our mouth and dance to the                      below.
                                                                                                                   February 10, 2002
          fiddlers’ bow.
                                                                                                       Last verse: February 11, 2002
     As birds fly high up in the sky and streams with waters
                                                                                               Penultimate verse: February 12, 2002
          flow.
                                                                                                  Small revisions February 19, 2002

No tongue can say how she felt that day as she rode away                       Songs from the mountains


                                                                    M
      from the town.                                                           RS Mary Sands shifted uncomfortably in her
Did she go to join her own true love or roam the whole world                   truckle bed. She was heavily pregnant, near her
      round?                                                                   time, with another wee one to join the nine already
Or was a part of that lady’s heart for ever in that land            sleeping together in a big box bed nearby. She thought of the
As the sunshine bright put paid to night and the hills were a       two strangers who’d come to the village over the hills from
      golden band?                                                  Marshall, the frail, beak-nosed Englishman and his maidenly
     You may sing with the music of your mouth and dance to         companion, Maud she called herself. A strange pair. No
          the fiddler’s bow                                         wonder some folk wondered if they were German spies,
     You can see the smile on the face of love but not what lies    wandering around the mountains with their notebooks.
          below.                                                    But that Mister Sharp was so educating, his speech so old-
                                                                    fashioned and all, that Maud with her big hat to keep off the
True love is a gift comes from above and it moves like the          sun. She’d had to go into Marshall to buy some new things,
       winds of spring.                                             her old ones being stolen on the train and all. Wicked people
It obeys the command of no man’s hand nor the cold winds            there were in the world.
       wintering.
Like dragonflies in the summer skies it glows and then it’s         How many lovesongs had she given him? Must be nigh a
       gone                                                         score. He’d liked her Lord Lovel. It was a wonderful thing, to
But the memory sweet is still complete and never can be gone.       be able to catch the old airs on paper like that. It looked more
                                                                    like spider scratchings to her when he showed her the
                                                                    notebook, but then he’d sung it over, and she could hear the
old song, almost as if she was singing it herself, though his       you could hardly hear yourself think for the two-note piping
voice was not so rough as hers, being a city-bred man and all.      of the red cardinals during the day. Must be past midnight.
He’d given her five dollars for the children, which was kind        That Mrs Sands was a fine young woman. Well, forty-five I
of him. He made a point of saying it weren’t payment for the        think she said, but not so worn out as some of these mountain
songs. Said they were beyond price, which was true.                 girls, with a fine crop of songs. She’d promised three more for
Mrs Gosnell come over this day to sing as well. No, check:          this day. That old fiddler was a bad singer, though I got four
the moon is nearly down, must be yesterday now. Gave him            from him. It was hard to make head nor tail of his fiddling,
two songs. She don’t know as many as me, but she’s good             though, the battered old instrument held low on his chest, the
enough, the way she do them. And that fiddler, Mister               bow scraping away over the metal strings ringing out like
Mitchell Wallin, he played him some tunes, but I think they         cracked churchbells, the unstopped ones droning along like
were a bit wild for Mister Sharp, he were shaking his head          bagpipes.
and cursing to himself, seemed like, scribbling in his book         A far cry from the English Morris.
and then crossing it all out and starting over.                     And a long way, here in Appalachia, from the Western Front,
He’s no singer, that Mitch, but he has a few good ’uns, and         where most of his dancers were while he stood on a southern
Mister Sharp noted them down all the same. Think my Broken          verandah, taking the night air before turning in. People said it
Token’s better nor his, though, a lovely lovesong, the two          was dangerous, up here in the mountains, but it must be far
parted lovers joined together by a silver dollar split and shared   worse to be on the Somme, like Butterworth and Lucas,
between ‘em. His ain’t a patch on mine, though I do say it          huddling in a trench with the German shells coming over,
myself.                                                             fighting hand-to-hand for a yard of land. And the North
Wonder if he’s asleep yet, over to Miss Fish’s at the school        Carolina hills might be raw and rough, but the people were
settlement house? He’ll be jolting over the hill in the two-        gentle, raising their hats and extending a friendly hand when
mule buggy to White Rock tomorrow, a hard journey for a             your paths crossed, pleased to share their old lovesongs with
man as frail as he, needs a good night’s sleep. But city folk       you: “But surely you will tarry with us for the night.”
don’t keep God’s time like country people, to bed at dusk and       The youngsters enjoy the old songs as much as the older
up with the dawn. Most like he’d be still waking.                   people, which is different from England, where the youngsters
He was. Cecil Sharp was on Miss Fish’s verandah, smoking            scorn their parents’ culture. They’ve been cut off from the
his pipe before turning in. The night was quiet, here where         world here for several centuries, and the railroads and
wireless haven’t got here yet. It’ll happen, soon enough.          He winced again. Still, it was better than the gout, just a bit of
And the missionaries have a lot to answer for, the way they        a strain, when he turned his ankle on the rocky part of the
are imprisoning their voices in those dull, Presbyterian           road. He’d walked fourteen miles on it, that day, which can’t
Yankee hymn tunes. They’ve invited us to join with them            have done it much good.
Sunday night, but we’ll try to excuse ourselves. Still, it would   Another hot night, though there was a touch of thunder in the
be hard to do this work without their help.                        air. It was the same all over America, apparently, a real
That Miss Edith Fish is a nice enough old dear, not half so        heatwave. Some rain might cool it down a bit, and Maud can
prim and proper as she looks, a hard old thing. It’s good she’s    get out her oilskins. She’d had to buy them in Marshall, but
teaching them to read and write. But their theology is hard to     they didn’t sell umbrellas. Didn’t seem to understand what
take. A pity they can’t leave them to their country ways,          they were for.
which have endured for centuries.                                  No fear of floods, up here in the mountains, but it had been
You can’t separate out the songs from their lives. They’re not     bad down in the valley, apparently. Six people drowned when
entertainment, something more central. That old lady, shaking      the river broke its banks.
her head when she forgot the words: “Oh, if only I were            That woman poling her punt across the waters, still muddy
driving the cows home I could sing it at once.”                    from the floods. Gaunt features, though handsome, probably
That boy, creeping in to listen when I was noting them down,       in her thirties, but looked older.
and then launching into the song when the old lady fumbled         The bed creaked as he got into it. In hers, the other side of the
over the words. And appreciating them: “I always like to go        curtain that veiled them from each other, Maud heard him
where there is sweet music.” How old was he? Fifteen? No,          settle down to sleep. He should take better care of himself,
less.                                                              she thought, as she turned on to her side.
He moved back to the bedroom Miss Fish had set up for him,         It seemed scarcely seconds before she was woken by the
wincing as he put his weight on his foot. Doctor Packhard was      rooster crowing nearby, the sun burning down bright and
coming to look at it, which was just as well, since there’d be     hard, from a sky like burnished sapphire.
some walking later, when the mountain tracks got too much
                                                                                      An extract from an uncompleted novel
for the jolt-waggon, and we had to follow behind as the two
mules struggled in the mud. Aptly named.
                        Magdala
                 a song cycle with readings

                          Prologue
SPEAKER:
 When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly
    is wisdom.                                                       She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming
 The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by                         in at the doors.
    understanding hath he established the heavens.                   She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the
 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth           places of the paths.
    in pain together until now.                                      Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand
 Incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to               riches and honour.
    understanding;                                                   Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are
 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and             peace.
    happy is every one that retaineth her.                         SINGER:
 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid              Listen
    treasures;                                                                     and
 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find                              learn.
    the knowledge of God.                                                     Can
 Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:                     you
 She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings                            not
    of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,                                 hear?
 Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.                 Can
 Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening                       you
    of my lips shall be right things.                                                   not
 Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her                                         understand?
    voice?                                                                    She has been given you
                                                                              a helpmeet
                  a counsellor                                    taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
                  a friend                                      They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in
                  a companion.                                    adultery, in the very act.
                  Yet you will not hear.                        Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be
                                                                  stoned: but what sayest thou?
                  You have sacrificed us upon your altars       This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse
                  and defiled us in your beds.                    him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote
                  You have elevated us on to pedestals            on the ground, as though he heard them not.
                  the better to enslave us.                     So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself,
                                                                  and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let
                  I sing you my sister                            him first cast a stone at her.
                  who arose from her enslavement                And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
                  a sister you despised                         And they which heard it, being convicted by their own
                  and still refuse to see as she is               conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest,
                                                                  even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the
                  Yet not all men are so blind.                   woman standing in the midst.
                  There was one who saw                         When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the
                  who lifted her up                               woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine
                  out of the slime you had plunged her into       accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
                  who accepted what she had to give.            She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do
                  He took the punishment for her                  I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
                  and for all of us                           SINGER:
                  to show what it meant to be human                     Who will throw
                                                                        the first stone?
                  And on our way to heaven.                             Is it me, Lord?
                    1. The stoning                                      Is it I
SPEAKER:                                                                here in the dust
 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman                 judging the judges
condemned condemning                                        is no magic trick
waiting for death                                           but simply love
my killing thoughts                                         the counterfeit I traded
like claws within                                           made true coin.
gnawing gnawing
knowing                                                     Bought with a price indeed
sowing thorns where flowers you planted wither.             to make me whore of God:
                                                            yours for the long night
I who loved                                                 mine for the long day
so many                                                     ours for all time.
cannot love enough                                          Judge and criminal
to strip my own breast for the stone                        victim and executioner
as you will                                                 stone and broken bruise
to make it fertile                                          antagonists made one.
for your seed to grow in me.
                                                            Come
You love me like no other                                   throw your stones.
you never touched me                                               2. The jar of ointment
Yet I’ll be touched
                                                  SPEAKER:
forgiveness come to me
turn back the stone                                And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout
into a rose                                         every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad
its one thorn bleeding.                             tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with
                                                    him,
Like Lazarus I died                                And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits
and rose again                                      and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom
my brother death                                    went seven devils,
dancing out of the tomb                            Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany,
Resurrection                                        where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised
    from the dead.                                                               scorn
  There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but            the way I live?
    Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.       The gift I give?
  Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very           Who made you made me
    costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet    and what I give
    with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of     to those I love.
    the ointment.                                                 I pour it out on all
  And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to          like sweet perfume
    wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs    and all I ask is dross,
    of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with      nothing but your coin
    the ointment.                                                 a nothing
  Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son,   soiled like me with the grasp of many hands.
    which should betray him,
  Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence,         This man asked more.
    and given to the poor?                                        He wanted me
  This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he    this central I
    was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put           I give to no man.
    therein.
  Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my           He took me without asking
    burying hath she kept this.                                   with a look
  For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not        a word
    always.                                                       acceptance.
  Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be         By taking all
    preached throughout the whole world, this also that she       he left it all to me
    hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.           so I could be
SINGER:                                                           the who I am
          How                                                     not what you think me.
               dare
                    you                                           I am not a what
         I am a me                                              And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints
         not the whore reflected in your eyes                    which slept arose,
         but the lovely shape I saw in his.                     And many women were there beholding afar off, which
                                                                 followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
         And so I pour out                                      Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother
         upon his head                                           of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.
         what none has had from me.                           SINGER:
         Whores never kiss                                             Tell me how did my comrade die
         but I have bathed his feet                                    alone and abandoned?
         with my tears                                                 Hands he had reached for turned into fists
         and dried them with my hair.                                  and beat him down to the ground.
         Can you give more?
         Can you give less?                                            They took him out
         Your twice my all                                             to the killing field
         is less than mine                                             where a scaffold waited
         growing as I give                                             the hanging tree
         Living as I love                                              for the lowest and worst
         I in him                                                      than those he befriended.
         loving him in you
                                                                       How could it be so
         Learning to forgive.                                          that none stayed by his side
               3. The women at the Cross
                                                                       to suffer with him.
                                                                       They all ran away
SPEAKER:
                                                                       for all their macho boasting
 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded             and only the women
   up the ghost.                                                       and the one man he loved
 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from            stayed constant beside him.
   the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the
   rocks rent;                                                         How dark was the sky
         the earth moved and heaved                               And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She
         like a woman in labour.                                     saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord,
         And something was born                                      and I know not where they have laid him.
         that day in the dark                                     And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not
         no power can take from us.                                  ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
                                                                  He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the
         He has gone                                                 place where the Lord lay.
         yet he is with me always.                                And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from
         Now                                                         the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee;
         I shall be no longer alone                                  there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
         and no one can take him from me.                         And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and
                                                                     great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
              4. To whom Jesus is revealed
                                                                  And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met
SPEAKER:                                                             them, saying, All hail.
 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the        Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom
   first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the                seekest thou? She supposing him to be the gardener, saith
   other Mary to see the sepulchre.                                  unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me
 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of         where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
   the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled            Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith
   back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.                    unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white        And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped
   as snow:                                                          him.
 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as         Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my
   dead men.                                                         brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see
 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as             me.
   she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the                And they remembered his words,
   sepulchre,                                                     And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things
 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head,         unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
   and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.   It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother
   of James, and other women that were with them, which             and we will lay you out at the end
   told these things unto the apostles.                             but in between you laugh your laddish disbelief
  And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they            and we’re invisible.
   believed them not.
SINGER:                                                             Listen
          Why                                                       we have something to tell you.
          do you laugh                                              Come see
          to scorn                                                  what we have seen.
          what we have seen                                         Live
          what we have done                                         what we have lived through.
          what we have felt?                                        Learn.
          Your world of figures
                                                                                     Epilogue
          does not count
          when life and death                              SPEAKER:
          are traded on the crosses you erect               Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of
          piercing like stakes into our hearts.              heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid
                                                             in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
         You would make us                                  And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the
         hearts of stone                                     kingdom of God should come, he answered them and
         that cannot bleed                                   said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
         even as the rose thorn pierces our flesh           Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the
         but still they beat.                                kingdom of God is within you.
                                                            And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And
         We are only stupid women.                           he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will
         Our words fly away                                  the eagles be gathered together.
         where you cannot catch them                        When they therefore were come together, they asked of
         and turn them into dogma.                           him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the
                                                             kingdom to Israel?
         We gave you birth                                  And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times
   or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own         even when gravebands
   power.                                                       mask its mouth.
  But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is
   come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in     Grief is knotted here
   Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the   like a swollen gut
   uttermost part of the earth.                                 and must be heard
  And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld,       even if others must be paid
   he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their       to do our weeping for us.
   sight.
  And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went     Despite my sobbing
   up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;          there’s no grave or angel can rob away
  Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up    the peace he gave me
   into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you     even as he left
   into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen    so that, returning,
   him go into heaven.                                          he can live in me for ever.
SINGER:
          Heaven                                                He went to make a place
                is                                              and here it is:
                   with
                      in.                                       With.
          You men look up                                            In.
          as if the dead are flying
          over our heads
          like vultures preying on the already walking dead

          But life grows inside
          eternity is now
          and the child’s birthcry
          is loud
                       “Why not?”
“Pourquoi pas?”                                                   He had spent a satisfactory hour or so, walking along the
The question almost stopped him in his tracks, en route for the   Promenade des Anglais, dodging the young rollerbladers and
pissoir.                                                          cyclists, holding on to his straw hat in the strong easterly
                                                                  wind, watching young parents coaching their offspring on
The elderly lady had followed him down the steps into the         their first skating excursion, young bucks weaving through
seafront toilette, and when he had offered his 35 cents in        the crowds on some strictly personal slalom.
payment, the attendant had presumed they were together, both
of them being, shall we say, of a certain age.                    His admiration of these young people was purely academic.
                                                                  Even as an adolescent himself, he had never been attracted to
“Soixante-dix cents,” he requested.                               the nubile young, preferring women twice his age for their
“We are not together,” he replied in his broken French. “Nous     maturity and concentration on the matter in hand, with
ne sommes pas ensembles.”                                         nothing to prove except their mutual need.
And she asked: “Pourquoi pas?”                                    Now, fifty years on, his interest in their young bodies was
He glanced at her then, for the first time. She was not           mainly aesthetic, almost chaste. He viewed the passing breasts
unattractive; “as I suppose I am not unattractive”, he thought    and buttocks with something of the same detachment that
to himself a moment later as he looked at his wind-burnt face     might engage his tour of an art gallery or a visit to the ballet
in the mirror over the urinal,                                    or (the same thing, to his mind) to the circus, enjoying the
                                                                  flexing of calf and thigh as a celebration of the physical, with
It was a face, people were always telling him, that looked        nothing tumescent in his gaze. He could no more imagine any
younger than his seventy-four years. The wrinkles were            kind of sexual congress with any of these children than with
laughter lines, mainly turning up at the ends of his mouth like   the dogs some had trotting behind them on leads.
dormant smiles. His eyes had been baggy since his teens,
when in those days he’d always tried to pass for older.           And besides, he had not come to Nice seeking sex. He had
                                                                  work to do. The book was not going well. Oh, he knew he
“Pourquoi pas?” he murmured to himself with a self-satisfied      could string together publishable texts practically in his sleep,
smile as he rubbed his hands together ineffectually in the roar   but it was that very facility which he distrusted. What he was
of the electric drier, rubbing them down the sides of his         writing seemed to him superficial, merely facile. He had
button-fly shorts as he mounted the steps into the watery April   something more important to say.
sun.
He had always been a political writer, and he expected that his     wither on the vine when the cold wind of separation blew
readers would look askance at the semi-autobiographical tale        between the lover and the beloved.
of unrequited love he was struggling to put down on paper.          Yet here he was, thoughts of her still uppermost in his mind
It had been in his head for years, even before the affair had       while he waited on the Promenade des Anglais for a woman
come to such a messy end. Indeed, the story had begun, in his       to climb the steps up from the toilet so he could explore the
head, as a celebration of what he felt was probably his last        meaning of her “pourquoi pas”.
love. It had taken him completely by surprise, this forty-year-     He might well ask himself his own “pourquoi moi”. Why was
old woman’s surrender to his approach, as, indeed, had his          he doing this? And what did it say about this undying love he
own growing obsession with her which had led to that first,         had sworn and refused to foreswear?
hesitant kiss, which she had returned with such surprising
enthusiasm.                                                         Here she came. A short, trim figure, fashionably dressed in a
                                                                    black trouser suit that just shrieked an up-market brand name,
For a while it had seemed like a love made in heaven, until         Armani or Versace or something similar. Dark hair (probably
she ran off with a fiddle player and he was left feeling foolish.   dyed, but he had no prejudice against cosmetic adornment)
However, while this love had been a life-changing experience        cut short into black petals about a round, friendly face.
in what he refused to consider as the autumn of his years, it       Sandals on bare feet, with dark red nail varnish. A patterned
was the time that followed her defection which he had               scarf at her throat which might be Hermes. A patent leather
resolved to communicate to his readers, for the persistence of      shoulder bag which she was fastening as she came to the top
his love for a woman who he felt had treated him shabbily had       of the steps, so she did not see him standing there.
caused him to re-evaluate everything he had always believed         She almost bumped into him, then jumped and stopped dead
about human love and affection.                                     in her tracks.
He had had many loves, all of which had ended fairly                “Pourquois pas, même,” he said.
peacefully, often no more traumatic than a mutual
acknowledgement of the parting of the ways. But just as this        She paused, looked at him quizzically, and then linked her
love had been different in its three years of life, three years     arm in his.
more on she still occupied all his waking thoughts.                 “No raison,” she said, in a franglais mixture acknowledging
Fidelity, he had come to believe, was not the bourgeois             his foreignness.
illusion he’d always thought, and the fruits of love did not        And there they were, walking down the Promenade like old
friends.                                                           them,” she laughed, in unconscious paraphrase of Woody
“My name’s George – ,” he began, but she interrupted him:          Guthrie.
“No last names, please. I’m Joyce, but my friends call me          “Actually, it’s a fifth floor studio.”
Marie for some reason.”                                            “Does the elevator work?”
“Hail Marie, full o’ Grace,” he quipped.                           “Oh yes.”
She stopped and turned to him.                                     “Well some time, perhaps, you may take me there and boil up
“You are perhaps a sceptic.”                                       some coffee on the solitary gas ring.”
It was not a question.                                             “It’s a two-ring electric hob,” he began to object.
“I’m not an atheist, if that’s what you mean.”                     “No matter,” she said. “We shall go to my place in a taxi,
“But you feel free to satirise religion.”                          which I shall pay for,” (when he was going to object), “and I
                                                                   shall percolate us some coffee in my English Rose kitchen.”
“I feel free to satirise anything,” he said, thinking this was a
weird chat-up line. But it got weirder.                            In the taxi, he put his arm around her, but she disengaged
                                                                   herself.
“Good,” she said. “Let us go into this hotel and talk in the
coffee shop.”                                                      “Not too fast, Monsieur La Poète. I am jung and easily
                                                                   freudened.”
It looked like an expensive place, the Meridien.
                                                                   A joke from Joyce yet! Then he smiled at his own double pun.
“I think I should tell you . . . “
                                                                   “You are amused?” she asked. “Will you not share the cause?”
“You want me to pay, because you are a gigolo?”
                                                                   “It was a passing thought. A joke from Joyce – James Joyce –
Then she laughed.                                                  and also from you, Joyce known as Marie.”
“No,” he protested. “I’m a writer.”                                “Oh, that terrible Irishman! If there had been no James Joyce
“Un écrivain.”                                                     we would never have been afflicted by his awful secretary.”
“Actually, I’m a poet.”                                            “Samuel Becket? But Godot is a great work of comedy.”
“And you will take me back to your garret, where we will           “The comedy is that anyone takes such charlatans seriously.
shiver under blankets so thin you can read a magazine through      But see, we have come.”
George was not familiar with the geography of Nice but             “Moi aussi,” he responded, but she was gone.
clearly this apartment building was in one of the better parts.    “Little minx,” exclaimed Joyce. “She always does that.”
The lobby had the hush of an oil company reception area and
the elevator – it could not be called anything as anglophone as    “Does what?”
a lift – whispered its way to the fifth floor, its brass baroque   “Tries to seduce my men. Tomorrow, no doubt she will entice
gates disclosing views of brass door-knockered mahogany            you to go to a museum or art gallery with her to admire
front doors.                                                       meaningless daubs by someone like that charlatan, Matisse.
Joyce’s apartment was a variation on that theme. A small           “And of course, you will go.”
dachshund came running to greet them. Joyce dismissed it
                                                                   He pondered how he should respond to all this, but it was
with a vicious kick.
                                                                   difficult to know where to start: “my” men? And why would
“I hate that bloody sausage-dog.” she said. “It belongs to my      she assume that he could be seduced by a younger, more
daughter, the beautiful intellectual Caroline, who is what I       conventionally pretty simulacrum of herself?
think you English call a blue-stocking.”
                                                                   “Well,” she said, after a short pause while he was gathering
The beautiful intellectual Caroline then appeared, greeting her    his thoughts, “shall we make the café I promised you? Or
mother with triple air-kisses, extending cool fingers to           shall we make jig-jig?”
George, and scooping up the dachshund and cradling him, all
                                                                   And without waiting for his reply, she took hold of his hand
in one seamless motion.
                                                                   and led him into the bedroom.
“I have asked you times without number not to kick little
                                                                   “Me,” she said, as she kicked off her sandals and began
Klaus, mother,” she said in impeccable English. “It makes
                                                                   unzipping her little black dress, “I prefer the coffee after the
him frightened and he makes ca-ca behind the curtains in the
                                                                   love. Or perhaps you are pederast, like most poets today?
sitting room.”
                                                                   “How do you like this old woman’s body? Is it not well kept
She went to a hall closet and shrugged into a camouflaged
                                                                   for a woman of my age?”
cagoule, transferring the dachshund first to her right hand,
then to the left, as she pushed her arms into the sleeves.         By now she was lying on her back, naked, on the huge bed,
                                                                   and he noticed that even so she had folded her clothes and laid
“Ciao, maman,” she said, pulling open the heavy door. “I will
                                                                   them neatly over a small gilt chair.
see you again, monsieur, I hope.”
                                                                   In another life, before he abandoned well paid hack
journalism for unpaid “creative” writing, he had sat upon such     by the dryness of the vagina, so I keep remedies by my
chairs at fashion shows organised by the Paris Chambre             bedside.
Syndicale, and he had a sense of déja vu, as if he were            “And you, my dear, have hands and fingers on those hands,
observing a catwalk, where the merchandise on show was             and a tongue also. Do not worry, for I also have a mouth to
clothed in naked flesh, rather than silks and satins.              arise your manhood.”
He sat on the bed and traced a line across her belly with his      She pulled him down on to the bed and took between her lips,
forefinger, crossing the stretchmarks of a body that had lived,    her heavy breasts caressing his belly.
had been used, had given birth.
                                                                   “Oh,” she said, “you taste of the sea. Are you not afraid of the
“I think you are very beautiful,” he said.                         turds that float in our Mediterranée? Perhaps we should take a
“Pshaw!” she exclaimed. “What kind of a poet are you, if you       shower together?”
cannot think up prettier lies than that?                           And she jumped up from the bed and ran out of the bed with
“Come, mon cher. Actions speak louder than words. Let us           the lithe athleticism he might have expected of her daughter.
divest you of these ridiculous teenage gear.”                      Suddenly, his bowels reminded him that he needed the toilet.
And she pulled his T-shirt over his head and started to tug at     He left the bedroom and walked in the direction of the shower
his shorts, trying to find a zip.                                  noise. Joyce was already under the water, her hair matted
“But you have the button-fly,” she exclaimed. “So perhaps          close to her head, and her groin, droplets sparkling on her
you are as reactionary as I, despite your liking for the tedious   dark, sensuously long nipples. In the bathroom was a jacuzzi,
Godot.”                                                            a bidet, a washbasin, and a WC.

He stood up and stepped out of his boxer shorts, wondering         “Is there another toilet?” he asked.
how he was going to cross the chasm between the bedside rug        “Of course,” she said. “But do not be so petit bourgeois. As a
on which he stood and the bed on which she lay, eyeing him         poet, you should celebrate all your bodily functions. Come!”
up and down.                                                       And she indicated the WC. “Sit. Or would you prefer to stand
“M’m,” she said. “You are even better preserved than I. But        and piss?”
your poor cock is not very excited to see me. It is not            He sat on the toilet, but despite the urging of his bowels, he
unexpected, at our age. I, for instance, am sometimes afflicted    was not yet ready to void them in front of a comparative
                                                                   stranger.
“I see you are shy,” she said. “No matter. I shall join you. The    “We are going well,” she said as she dried him and led him
shower always makes me want to make water.”                         back into the bedroom. “Normally I do not piss on my lovers
She sat on his knees, facing away from him. He reached              until the third or fourth time, sometimes never. And most
round and grasped her breasts. Suddenly, the feel of her long       Englishmen are too tight-assed to take a shit, even in the
nipples in his palms reminded him of Lorca’s lines,                 toilette with the door locked, because they are ashamed of the
comparing them with hawthorn buds.                                  smell.

A warm trickle flowed over his penis and down to his                “What did your William Blake say? All that lives is holy?”
scrotum, and he felt himself reacting to what was, for him, a       He put his hand over her mouth.
totally new experience. So this was what a golden shower felt       “Enough talk,” he said. “Let’s just fuck.”
like. He hoped she would not want to piss in his mouth.
                                                                    And he ran his tongue down between her breasts, over her
“Come,” she said, wiping herself with a tissue. “I have             remarkably neat navel, through the black bush of her pubis,
washed off the Mediterranean moi-même. Or do you still need         probing for her clitoris. Besides the anchovy taste of her
to shit?”                                                           juices, he could smell the traces of urine still clinging to her
Suddenly, his bowels opened, and the bathroom was filled            hairs.
with his stink. She clapped her hands.                              She grabbed at his head.
“Oh, now you are no longer English,” she said. “Sit on this         “Oh, why not?” she cried, in English. “Why not? Why not!”
bidet and I will enjoy to prepare you for the love.”
                                                                                         Nice – Bradford – St Leonards, 2005-2006
Her fingers around his scrotum and his anus were firm and
efficient, yet still erotic. He remembered then how, as a
fourteen-year-old in hospital, encased in plaster from his hips
to his ankles, nurses used to extract the bedpan from under his
bum and clean him with the same not quite so impersonal
effectiveness. It had never seemed so erotic as this at the time,
though he had entered puberty in hospital and had his love
affair there – with a nurse who offended him by going off to
marry a flight-lieutenant in the RAF.
                    Moonshadow
They said it would get darker as the moon consumed          jumped out into stereoscopic clarity.
     the sun,
but it didn’t.                                              It was very cold
The light was pellucid,                                     and a wind chilled my skin.
a sort of silvery-grey twilight,                            All four of us hugged in glee.
like the cusp between darkness and dawn.                    These were special moments,
No birds sang,                                              special like the carpet of trees across the valley,
but somewhere in the distance                               like each leaf of grass embossed by shadow,
a dog kept barking.                                         like wandering away for a snatched moment in the lee
Children gazed at the sky through darkened                       of a big rock,
     eyeglasses and pinholed cereal cartons                 like coffee and toasted teacakes in the glen cafe,
and chattered loudly about the progress of the totality.    like the after-image of the gobbling moon burned into
                                                                 our brains.
The Bible teaches that as Moses grew close to the
     brightness that is God                                 Later, the TV images of a blazing wedding ring
he moved into darkness.                                     had nothing in common
So, as I am consumed by your darkness                       with the magic
my soul is filled with light, banishing the black terrors   of those long two minutes of the eclipse.
     of the past                                            The moonshadow passed,
and their uncertain cousins from the future.                as must all things.
And as the moonshadow ate its way across the sun            But your dark brilliance in my soul
the clouds cleared,                                         does not pass.
the air grew light,                                         Infinity minus one
and the trees, hills and rocks                              still equals infinity.                 September 1, 1999
                The wedding picture
                     edding picture
                    wed                                                  “A foot-soldier.”
                                                                         “What does it mean?”
                               I
                                                                         “Doing what must be done.”
He was a foot-soldier, she was The Princess.
     “You had coffee,” said The Boss. It was not a question.
                                                                         “Killing?”

“A latte,” she said. He ordered a four-shot espresso for him-            “Anything.”
self. A bad idea, he knew, but it was frightening, being here                 “I suppose she approached you first. She shall be spoken to. About
with her.                                                                     that.”

     “You paid. That is not permitted. You should have run a tab.”       He stood in the lobby, dressed in Tommy Hilfiger, anony-
                                                                         mously logoed. Lurking, it was called. Unseen, unseeable.
“I will pay,” he said. The tab would be more than he earned in
a week, but what the hell.                                               Alert.
     “It is a permissible expense,” said The Boss. “Sign and you shall   Especially when she swept through, her and her minders, was
     be reimbursed.” Sliding a chit across his huge desk. He looked at   what he called them. She dressed in haute couture so elegant
     it. Did not sign.                                                   it looked like something a little woman round the corner
“How did you become . . . ?”                                             might have run up on a foot-treadle Singer. Under it a body,
                                                                         the black crepe revealing as much as it concealed. He tried not
Sipping the latte, which left an arousing trace of brown along
                                                                         to look.
her faintly moustached upper lip. He wondered if she shaved
under her arms, knowing he would never know.                                  “Is that how it was? She spoke first? I do not think you would
                                                                              dare . . .”
     “Do you defy me, sir?” Not raising his voice. Almost as if asking
     the time of day. But his eyes were cold.                            He knew what was forbidden, and this – she – was at the top
                                                                         of the list.
“A foot-soldier?”
                                                                         “You,” she said, dismissing the minders with a wave of her
“Is that what they call you?”
                                                                         arm. “He will take me to the coffee shop.”
“It’s what I am.”
                                                                         The foot-soldiers bought burgers and do-nuts from a stall in
     The chit lay there, unsigned. Disregarded.                          the street. Ate in the basement, among the boilers and duct
     “You know you may not address her directly, you.”                   tape. The coffee shop was out of his league.
“I will pay,” he told the waiter, who looked his Tommy up and           “Yes, sir.”
down with a curl of his lip. Why he did it, paid, that contempt.        “Some cream a little off the top. But not you.”
     “You will sign.”                                              “And now you pay out the bribes.” Her eyes danced. “You
     He sighed. There would be no end until he did so.             pervert justice. You, the incorruptible ex-lawman.”
“I was a lawman,” he told her. “Internal affairs said I took            “I am not a thief.”
bribes.”                                                                “You wear my clothes and you drink coffee with my daughter
                                                                        when you should be minding the store. Is not that to steal your
“But you did not.”
                                                                        time from me, time that I have paid you for?”
     “How long have you worked for me?”
                                                                        “Could I disobey her if she required me to drink coffee with her?”
It was said The Boss knew everything about everyone, even
                                                                   Paying the tab had emptied his wallet. And it was not even
their social security number. That kind of mind. He knew the
                                                                   very good coffee.
answer to this question. To all questions.
                                                                   The minders were there as soon as they left the coffee shop.
She, too. “You had not taken bribes. From my father.”
                                                                   He suspected that they had never really left. Their conversa-
Her dad. He turned the words over in his mind, imagining this      tion was probably being uploaded to some storage facility
young woman’s creation.                                            even now, his vocabulary being scanned for evidence.
Pleasure he could imagine, dancing girls he had taken up in        Of what? He had only answered her questions.
the personal elevator, stopping only at the penthouse floor.            “You talked of refusing to take bribes. It is not something to be
But nothing as common as procreation, gestation. He imag-               proud of. I shall expect to see small discrepancies.”
ined a delivery room all white melamine and stainless steel.            Suddenly, The Boss fed the chit into the shredder.
No blood. No cries of distress.
                                                                        “Fiddling is a better way,” he said. “My daughter will wish to
A baby howling? Surely not.                                             take coffee again. You will continue to pay cash. She will not be
                                                                        impressed since she has no concept of money. You will reimburse
“Not from him directly, of course.”
                                                                        yourself in the traditional manner.”
“Foot-soldiers.”
                                                                   “Let’s do this again,” she said. “It’s been fun.”
“Yes.”
                                                                   And kissed him chastely on the cheek.
     “Your accounts always balance. Answer me!”
     “You’ll need smarter clothes.” Handing him the address of an   thought about them and her it had been as a sort of sexless
     uptown clothing store.                                         sex, leaving her still inviolate, virginal, spiritually intacta.
                                                                    The Boss’s words shocked him. The prohibition was admis-
                                II
                                                                    sion of a possibility that had been so impossible until now it
He did not like who he became in his new clothes. They were         had not even been forbidden. Now it was like juices flooding
less like him than the Hilfigers. He looked like a minder           his mouth outside a sweetshop window when a kid. Sweets he
though he was still a foot-soldier. He found himself demand-        would never have the money to enjoy. The stuff of dreams.
ing more from his clients. Keeping more off the top.
                                                                    So he began to dream about her.
He needed it. They had taken to eating cakes with their coffee,
each cake a month’s wages rather than a week’s.                     And his dreams became flesh. Under the severely cut dress
                                                                    breasts, thighs, buttocks walking away after that dismissive
She said she preferred the new look. But then he was someone        chaste kiss, occasionally nipples winking in and out under the
different with her than he’d been before. He talked.                silk.
She called him Tommy, after the outfit he’d worn when she           Of course he would not. Could not. But what if.
first led the way into the coffee shop. He hadn’t had a name
since his father had been killed. In The Home they gave him a       She took to driving with him to shops, restaurants. She would
number. As a lawman, too. A barcode tattooed across his             vanish and reappear, twirling, her feet bare.
wrist, then lasered away. Now he was his thumbprint, retinal        “What do you think?”
scan, DNA. The system knew him and clicked him through to
                                                                    And carrying the packages back to the limo, clothes she never
permitted areas, to the penthouse floor when he was sum-
                                                                    again wore, her display a reverse strip-tease, who she could
moned.
                                                                    become. Only for him. If only for a moment.
     “You will not fuck her.”
                                                                    She said to call her Eve. Did not say that was her name. If,
He had never even fantasised such a thing. In the locker-room       unlike him, she had one. He wondered if she was cultivating a
a single ribald entendre had tailed off into an apology when        tree in her Eden, bearing a single, forbidden fruit.
he had stared the joker down.
                                                                    By forbidding him, The Boss had indicated a Pandora’s box,
He had clicked her lovers through. Handsome, anonymous              not yet opened. He could hear its interior, like honey bees
faces. Unchanging, serial, allowed, disallowed. If he ever          buzzing.
She said little. “Tell me about the hood,” she might say. He        She had never spoken of The Boss so intimately till then.
dredged up memories, long forgotten.                                Doing so now made him also somehow part of the family.
She tempted him to drive through them, places the limo was          Another link, like the hitherto unconsidered prohibition.
programmed to avoid, despite its armour-plating.                         “You will need clothes for the wedding.”

“How wonderful,” she said, “to be up on the roof, lying naked       Oh no. He was just getting used to the Brooks Brothers suit,
in the sun.”                                                        the Gucci shoes, the Turnbull & Asser shirt and tie.
“That’s just a song,” he said. But he could not explain about       He’d seen society weddings on the box. The shade-eyed
the stink from the stench-pipe, the biting flies, the no-go graf-   minders morning-suited, muttering into their Bluetooths. He
fiti demarcating where and nowhere. She only knew smells of         could not play that role.
Chanel, Dior, artificially floral. The one time they had driven          “You may not refuse.”
out to the country she had wrinkled her nose, sneezed. The
                                                                    “You must come,” she said. “I’ll need you there.”
open spaces made him uneasy. He was glad to be back among
buildings.                                                          So once again the tailor’s measure, the inside leg, the quick
                                                                    slashing chalk, the big tacked stitches, the tightness under the
     “She is to marry.”
                                                                    arms, at the crotch.
Of course.
                                                                    He had an image of the groom, though he had never clicked
It would not be one of the facelessly handsome. A corporate         him through. He drove them together sometimes, though then
merger. Damaged goods would sour the deal. He drove her to          he sat upfront, with the driver. He looked to see some happi-
the clinic, a brass plate on an automatic gate.                     ness on their faces.
She shuddered when she rejoined him behind the armour               In vain.
glass plate between them and the driver. “Ugly.”
                                                                    When he shopped with her without the groom, now, she was
He tried not to imagine the stirrups, the speculum, the latex       if anything more provocative, more borderline between the
fingers. Probing. Damaging her innocence.                           compulsory and the forbidden. Linking her arm through his,
“They should use MRI,” he said.                                     almost dancing him through the swish of automatic doors.
                                                                    Twirling.
“It is the church,” she said. “They do not trust technology.
Daddy too.”                                                         He drew the line at lingerie departments, and she danced away
from him, laughing. Her breasts more real to him after, though         He applied for a transfer. Denied.
actually he could see no discernible difference.                       “This job is not about feelings,” said The Boss. “Feelings will let
                                                                       you down.
He tried to imagine them that first night together but he could
not. For all her Barbie-doll prettiness she was real flesh.            “So you have bonded. That’s good. You can keep an eye on my
Though he could not detect it under the Chanel, there would            investment.
be the perfume of sweat, feminine juices. Her groom-to-be              “And don’t look at me like that.”
was a shop-window dummy, a front for corporate ambition.          He had learned what The Boss was reminding him of, back in
He was too clean-shaven, talcummed. Probably shaved his           the hood. And it had lost him his lawman’s shield. Knowing
pubis.                                                            that, why had he been picked up, dusted down, dressed in
     “You can go with her if you wish. She has asked that.”       Hilfiger, set on this course that could have only one end?
Become her minder? And his? Manage their diaries? Diary?          He wasn’t jealous of the groom. He even felt a little bit sorry
     He shook his head.                                           for the poor bastard. Under those shellac nails would be
                                                                  claws, he knew. She was her father’s daughter, after all.
     “Don’t decide now. Plenty of time.”
                                                                  Though she had never unsheathed them to him.
She behaved as if it were already decided. Now, they shopped
                                                                  He imagined them raking down his cheek. Tried to think what
for furniture. Art galleries. Kitchen equipment he knew she
                                                                  would provoke such an attack. Failed.
would never use. A circular king-size, gadget-controlled.
                                                                  Probably she didn’t care enough. Unless he refused to follow
He wondered why the groom did not come on these expedi-
                                                                  her into this loveless marriage.
tions. But did not ask. She made it seem such a question
would be an irrelevance.                                          But what then did he know of marriage? His old man had beat
                                                                  up on his mother. Then afterwards he’d hear them grunting
They – she and him – were the couple. The Boss still picked
                                                                  and groaning in the alcove above the big old stove. He’d
up the tab. Would do so in future, he imagined.
                                                                  sworn to kill him one day when he was big enough. Instead of
Locker-room said the marriage was buying in                       which the old man had died in a hail of bullets, her too, in a
nanotechnology, the groom the junior partner in the deal. A       supermarket hold-up, not even on duty, so there was no fancy
new apartment was being grown for them tectonically on the        funeral, bullets fired over the coffin, no pension. Just The
penthouse floor. He would join her there. But he would still      Home, for him and his rat of a brother. Who he put away for
need to be clicked through.                                       ten to life, to die in the joint, stabbed with a sharpened screw-
driver in the woodworking class.                                          Because she said that.
He had an image of what a marriage should be, and it was a                He was finding it hard to pay for coffee now, spending so
feeling in his gut. Like how she danced away gaily looking at             much time with her, others taking over his clients. So not
brassieres. Which she didn’t hardly need. Or perhaps they                 much top to cream off.
were so skilfully made they looked like nothing at all.                        “You’re on salary now. I don’t want you on the streets. It endan-
What did he know? The whores he went to all had silicone                       gers her. Run a tab. It will be debited from your salary so don’t get
                                                                               proud.”
implants, their tits impossibly huge and elevated like hot-air
balloons. But he’d stopped visiting the cat-house after that              He felt as if he was being enclosed in a warm cocoon he
first coffee-house drink.                                                 didn’t know how to get out of. A job for life, they had told
     “You seem to have gone off sex.” The Boss knew, of course, every-    him when they picked him up on Skid Row, and they meant it.
     thing he did. Or did not do.                                         You couldn’t resign.
     “You could have entry now to a higher-class establishment.”          He didn’t know if he would, even if he could. He didn’t want
     Pushed a neat little, business-like business card across the desk.   to be her minder. But how else could he protect her?
     “Check it out.”
                                                                          From what? From the shop-window dummy? Herself?
     An instruction. Not an invitation.
                                                                          Although he’d refused, he realised he would accept it. No one
So he went. They were very skilful. High class indeed. His
                                                                          else seemed ever to have doubted it.
suit was steamed and pressed for him when he was done, his
Gucci’s polished to the sort of high gloss workers of a certain           Jammy bastard, was the locker-room verdict.
age preferred. He scuffed them up as he walked back, dis-                 The tectonics were done, and she took him up and showed
missing the limo. He showered as hot as he could stand as                 him his rooms, his own kitchen and shower, bedroom, even a
soon as he reached his pad, though he’d been soaped and                   living room.
sponged all over after.
                                                                          No furniture, apart from the hob, washing machine and
Because he’d been soaped and sponged all over after.                      fridge-freezer, the wall plasma in the living room.
He felt uncomfortable next time in the coffee house. But her              “I thought we could choose the rest together.” Her eyes wide,
natural innocence soon dispelled his discomfort. And he never             guileless, laughing, knowing he knew the game she was play-
went back to the high-class brothel. Even though the madam                ing. Powerless to do anything but play along.
had said the tab was covered. And always would be.
He had minimalist tastes. She did not interfere, except to buy      Then, inviting him in. Twirling.
him a big, disturbing abstract for the wall over the single bed.    Not a Princess any more. A Goddess.
“Get to be a tight fit if you’re entertaining a guest,” she said.   The seamstresses exchanging complicit smiles, this twirling
“Or – “                                                             for a foot-soldier, the unconcealed devotion in his eyes.
“Or?” He couldn’t resist rising to the bait. But she was al-        The cathedral was huge, full of worrying nooks and crannies.
ready leaving the gallery. Ahead of him, which was contrain-        Not his problem. It had been swept and double-swept. Then
dicated by his training. She was a very valuable property,          swept again.
especially now. Not everyone was happy about this marriage.
There had been other shop-window dummies before this one.           But still he worried.
He moved into the apartment before the wedding.                     He confiscated a toy raygun from a kid in the VVIP section.
                                                                    Mods were possible, turning toys into lethal weapons. Invita-
And placed at the bedside a photo of her he’d dumped from           tions had been explicit: no handguns or replicas.
the CCTV footage. Blurry, but he didn’t mind that.
                                                                    He crushed the toy into a tangle of pink and green plastic.
How he thought of her, when he closed his eyes that night.          Handed it to a startled parent, who would no doubt complain.
Imprecise. Uncertain. Dangerous.                                    Who gave a shit?
Like her dancing eyes.                                              He was in place for the wedding march, as close as possible to
                                                                    being by her side as she glided down the aisle.
                              III
                                                                    Locker-room said he should have been best man, but that was
He was a very small cog in a very large wheel on the wedding
                                                                    impossible. One of the top lieutenants would be there, the two
day. Planned and co-ordinated from the very top. His moves
                                                                    rings in his vest pocket.
controlled by his Bluetooth.
                                                                    By the side of her, The Boss. He realised this was the first
Except she was a loose cannon, and he had to stick close to
                                                                    time he had ever seen them together. He walked like a man
her. Even when she went to the can. He couldn’t go in with
                                                                    with a not too favourite mistress. Arm candy.
her, but he cleared it for her. Even a duchess would have to
quit whatever she was doing, then.                                  Their eyes touched for a nanosecond, then both looked away.
                                                                    In the older man’s, something akin to boredom. A story al-
When she was dressing, too. Outside the door, checking seam-
                                                                    ready printed and published, headlines yellowing with age.
stresses in and out. So many sharps. Made him nervous.
Done and dusted.                                                    was still standing.
Most of the time his eyes were ranging the hall. Choir: sorted.     All he had done with his flechette was to give the gunsel a
Military band: OK, no weaponry. Bridesmaids, matron of              clearer target. He threw himself in front of her, trusting that
honour: more Barbies, checked and triple-checked. Again, not        the kevlar armour under his shirt would protect him, and her.
his problem. But still a worry.                                     As he felt the armour-piercing shells stitch across his chest he
He didn’t look at her. Her veil covered her eyes anyway. What       realised this was no longer an option.
the fuck was he doing here? What had to be done. Like al-           “You fool,” hissed The Boss in his ear, “didn’t you realise this
ways: his father rutting away in the alcove, protecting his butt    was planned? Why did you have to get in the way?”
in The Home, staying out of the line of fire, drinking coffee.
Necessity.                                                          He was lying in her lap and he worried that his blood would
                                                                    be ruining her gown. There were tears in her eyes. She stroked
The archbishop was intoning the ritual words. One of the altar      his cheek.
boys made a strange move and everything dropped into that
slow-motion speeded-up reality he remembered from the               Her face morphed into the stolen screen-dump by his bedside.
street.                                                             It was the last thing he saw.
Most of the minders didn’t pack, but there were sharp-shoot-        Blurry.
ers with telescopics in the gallery. He had a flechette sewn
                                                                                                                      27/3/06 15:03
into the right arm of his jacket, activated by his forefinger,         The ballad of Fair Annie and Lovely
pointing. Its darts would shred its target into beefsteak tartare
if he could get a clear shot. If necessary, he would take out
                                                                                     Johnny Play song
innocent bystanders at the same time if he had no other op-                             Music: Rahel Guzelian (recorded live)
tion.                                                               Of all the fair maids in this town,
                                                                    And I have lain with many,
The ugly little handgun in the boy’s hand seemed to close all       There’s none that sets my heart afire
other doors. If only he could get past the archbishop, who was      Like the golden eyes of Annie.
waving his arms, pushing away from the line of fire.
The gun went plop, and the best man went down. He triggered         There’s many a young man in this town
the darts, and a mist of blood clouded his vision. The altar boy    And they be blithe and bonnie
But only one resists her charm:            How may this be? I’ll see him die,
They call him lovely Johnnie.              If any slight my bonnie.
                                           Tell me his name and he shall hang
For Johnnie’s fair, his eyes are blue,     For hurting my dear Annie.
He’s caught so many’s fancy
But none is so enchanted as                Nay, nay my father dear, she said,
The soul of golden Annie.                  Your anger comes but rarely.
                                           ’Tis not the man but his true love,
There’s some will say that Annie’s cold,   Her name is devilish Mary.
Her heart is hard and stony,
But those who love her know that she’s     I know not if she be a witch
Consumed by love for Johnnie.              It has been said of many
                                           But she has stole his heart away,
But Mary is his own true love              Away from his fair Annie.
Though he could choose from many.
He loves and lives only for her            He sent a troop throughout the town,
And never thinks of Annie.                 They searched the streets for Mary,
                                           They found her by her lover dear
Fair Annie’s father rules the town,        In the tavern making merry.
He’s just as she is bonnie,
But he would turn it upside down           Fair Annie’s father tried the maid,
To please his daughter Annie.              Her heart was dark and heavy,
                                           A guilty verdict was declared,
She came to him one dismal day,            And so condemned was Mary.
Her eye was dark and stormy,
She said: There lives within this town     So Johnnie searched throughout the town
A man who’s slighted Annie.                Until he found Fair Annie,
                                           Saying what dreadful deed that you have done,
                                           For they would burn my Mary.
Fair Annie ran to the old court house,      For though she doesn’t care for me
Repenting of her folly.                     To me she’s still my bonnie
But her father cried: You are too late,     I’d wait until the sun go cold
For she’s condemned already.                For a kind word from my Annie.
                                                                                            December 1, 1999
In vain she cried for mercy mild,                                     A Death


                                            T
To hear they would not tarry,                       he dead man smiled. Which made him smile all the
They dragged her through the city streets           more, because obviously he no longer had the physical
And took the life of Mary.                          means to smile, but nevertheless he could sense the
                                            non-existent muscles of his non-existent face tighten up into
What kind of love, fair Annie cried,        that strange human rictus which would have been more like a
Is this, so dark and heavy?                 snarl than a friendly greeting in any other animal species.
False witness was the death of her,         What made him smile was the irony of it, the way he’d been
Who once was blithe and merry.              praying all the time for it all to end, but with no response from
                                            whoever he thought he was praying to; it just went on and on,
Too late, too late, young Johnnie cried,    the pain, and so he’d taken over, volunteering to go into the
Your tears shall never move me,             war zone, hoping an Uzi bullet’d work the way prayer hadn’t.
For you have slain my own true love,        And he’d come back in a body bag and everyone’d be sorry.
And never shall have Johnnie.
                                            But then the prayer had kicked in, the way it will, and he’d
Nevermore, this fair maid cried,            been walking along a country lane on the wrong side, a road
Shall any young man have me.                he’d walked along with the woman many’s the happy time,
For the innocent I’ve done to death         and it was making him happy not sad.
And I have lost my Johnnie.                 And the car had caught him in the back, flipped him in the air
                                            like a broken doll, tossing him down on to the asphalt,
Full forty years a single maid              slamming his face down on to the ground so the skull
Lamented my fair Annie,                     fractured into a million shards of bone and this essence of
And forty more I’d wait as well             himself, what people called his soul as if it was something he
Till cold clay grave should claim me.       owned rather than something he just was, this soul-thing that
he was had escaped from the skin and bone thing lying                frame his death-tossed limbs and the cells began to break
sprawled in the road.                                                down and decay into the stench of their constituent chemicals,
And as he could still hear the car engine revving dangerously        he had a sense of this shattered shell as only one node in a
in low gear, the teenage driver’s voice high in a keen of            continuum, stretching back through the moment of conception
triumph as it vanished round the bend, he offered up a prayer        into the tumid blood of his father, and back through the
of thanks to whoever had answered his plea, and he wondered          millions of generations to the very creation out of chaos itself,
what next.                                                           and forwards, too, through the irrelevance of the burial
                                                                     service, through the disassembling work of worms and bacilli,
He looked down – down wasn’t really the right word, because          leading entropically into the end of time’s illusion and the
since this being that he was had no physical location in human       return to chaos.
space-time, all directions were the same to him, yet even as he
began to perceive the reality all those scientific book              He began to perceive something of the beauty of eternity, the
equations had been hinting at, he still retained some human          total past and future as a continual now.
perceptions and chose to accept the fiction he’d once called         And he became aware of the body as part of a dance with all
down – so he looked down at the broken thing he once was,            its surroundings.
and he was startled to observe that it wasn’t really dead. Yes,      Somehow, whenever he had thought but rarely of life after
the gestalt of his collective identity no longer functioned, so it   death, he had expected it to be a monotone grey, drained of all
could no longer be considered to be himself, and the constant        life. He was astonished by the vibrancy within which all
concourse of protein along its neural pathways had ceased, the       things sang a sort of heterophony together. He thought of the
scarlet and blue flood of his arteries and veins no longer           harmony of the spheres, but he knew this was just another
flowing as it leaked out to puddle beneath his ruined face, the      metaphor, that his memories of his departed physical
heart had ceased pumping, the lungs no longer rising and             boundaries were translating the transcendence he was
falling.                                                             experiencing into terms his old consciousness could have
But it was still alive, teeming with microbes and bacteria           comprehended.
going about their microscopic business, antibodies                   And so at the same time as he became aware of the road as a
surrounding and subduing foreign invaders entering by the            convenient fiction, of its history as once a footpath, now a
broken gateways of his flesh, the melanin of toe and                 lane, one day to become an electronic pathway for modes of
fingernails and body hair still multiplying and laying down          transportation unknown to him, then to be abandoned as
layer upon layer. And even as rigor of death began to freeze-
channelled travel became a myth of pre-history, nevertheless      into noxious gases flying up to girdle the stratosphere, walls
it pleased him to travel along it in space, observing the lives   falling down, roofs falling in, lovers creating new life on
of its hedgerows and the fields on each side as a symphony of     hidden beds of straw, life that would live as he had lived, die
greens and browns, a hymn of colours and inter-penetrating        as he had died, only to discover as he was discovering that all
beings who were more aware of themselves and each other           was fiction, that all lies were truth somewhere, somewhen, in
than he and his kin had ever been, a bird’s tiny mind warning     a universe of infinite possibilities.
all others not to encroach as it rose, shouting its displeasure   And he saw a couple passing by, hand in hand, and he felt the
into the sky, the steaming dung still linked back through time    tears of memory start to pull at what would have been the
with the sad-eyed horses which had dropped it.                    ducts of his eyes when he realised that he was the man who
And he was astonished to discover that the horses, the worms      led the woman over a stile, and she the woman no longer his
hurrying up through the topsoil to feed on and be fed upon by     woman, at the moment of his death with another love, the old
the horse-shit, all were aware of him, not only of the physical   pain of loss welling up within him as red as the blood still
presence of the body he had left behind him – as if behind        seeping from his broken veins.
meant anything at all – but also of this being that he now was,   For a moment a scarlet rage blurred his vision, a murderous
had always been and ever would be, unchained to the quanta        anger at the loss of what might have been, but it was
of time passing as he had been. They were of flesh as he had      submerged almost immediately with a sense of peace, of the
been, but their perceptions had not been blunted as his had       meaninglessness of anger and hate, and of love too, when it
been.                                                             attempted to possess the loved one.
And he saw that the old distinctions of organic and inorganic     And he saw the woman anew in her beautiful totality, not just
were as meaningless as past, present and future, even as life     the love that there’d once been between them but also the
and death itself, for he saw the farm buildings and               things in each which had driven them apart.
implements, the tractors and ploughs and harrows part of the
same elemental dance, singing their parts in the same             And he saw her curled up and a round her new love, as and
soundless song, lying in ore beneath the ground to be quarried    unlike once he and she had lain together, and he longed to
up and smelted down into mechanical shapes, the hungry rust       reach out and touch this otherness in her, to embrace the
beginning to gnaw at them even when they were still bright        things that had given him pain, so that they, too, could be part
and shining, the oil lying in the earth, laid down through        of his love, and he saw that this was impossible, that in trying
aeons of destroyed life, refined into fuel, soon to be exploded   to make the other not-other he could only destroy what made
it other, thus diminishing who she was and robbing himself of      not consume him, but would give him the unity with others he
what had once been so precious in their love.                      had sought throughout his life.
She stirred and turned over in the bed where she lay, and          And he laughed, thinking that if only he still had a face his
scratched irritably at a lesion below her breast. He recalled      cheeks would be wet with tears.
how, so many times, he had tried to bring her peace, and he        As he approached the white light, he had visions of all the
reached out to her once again, wishing he could touch and          images of godhead through which human beings had sought
bring healing to her flesh. She sighed and turned into her         to picture the ineffable, whether Krishna, Buddha, or Christ in
lover’s arms, and he was aware that her spirit was descending      Majesty, or Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin or Mao. And
into a lower level of consciousness where there are no             he saw them all as approximations of this single,
dreams.                                                            unimaginable truth, and the edges of all the images
He longed to be united with her in those depths, but he saw        blackening and curling into fire, not lost in it but blazing with
that while all lovers sought such a union, it was impossible.      a new intensity within it, as he himself was drawn into the
And he saw the integrity of her unpossessable being as             heart of the fiery maelstrom, and felt his identity affirmed as
something precious, a jewel in the silent place at the heart of    the very sense of his separatedness became subsumed into the
her, the source of his love, and its objective. He saw this        flames.
silence within all those struggling with life, and found it also   He was spinning, spinning, and the flames did not consume
within himself, and expanding like a silver flame to consume       him.
all his petty griefs and pleasures.                                And, suddenly, he had passed through it and beyond, and he
As he became that fire, he saw the fires of all his fellows        found himself on a country lane, walking in the warmth of an
burning also, not only his love and her lover, but all the loves   early summer’s day. He heard a car’s engine, protesting at its
of his life, stretching back through his tortured parents into     high revolutions in a dangerously low gear, and he pulled
the wombs and loins of all those gone before, and stretching       himself into the hedgerow as the car roared past him, the
out laterally to engulf all humanity, and through it to all        teenage driver whooping and hollering as he went, leaving the
creation. And while each flame was a discrete identity, he saw     stink of burnt petro-carbons behind him in his wake.
that they were all contained within a single fire, white hot and   In the silence that followed, he heard a skylark singing as it
incandescent, to which all the individual flames were drawn,       climbed a bright-blue pathway into the sky.
like moths to a candle. Yet he knew this greater flame would
                                                                                                                  May 20-23, 2002
                       A sad dance
It’s a sad dance      Click to hear poem       When the music changes
It’s a sad dance                                  That means we’ve got to change too
It’s a sad dance
      But I’m dancing all the same             The dance never ends
                                               The dance never ends
Won’t you dance with me                        The dance never ends
Won’t you dance with me                             And I’m still here learning the steps
Won’t you dance with me
    See I’m holding out my arms                We all take hands
                                               We all take hands
I can see you dancing                          We all take hands
I can see you dancing                              And make a circle round the sun
I can see you dancing
     But you’re dancing with someone else      It’s a sad dance
                                               It’s a sad dance
We’ve changed partners                         It’s a sad dance
We’ve changed partners                               But I’m dancing all the same
We’ve changed partners                                                                      October 22, 2002
    But I’m learning that everything changes                     The heart songs


                                               I
                                                  T looked like he’d have to cancel the funeral.
When the music changes
When the music changes                             The heart had been beating erratically within him for
When the music changes                             nearly a year now, though he had first been aware of its
   The walls of the city shake                 beating some two years earlier than that. Sometimes it would
                                               beat so fast he thought it might escape from his breast like a
When the music changes                         sky-rocket and explode into a fountain of stardust. Other
When the music changes                         times it slowed so that he could barely feel its beating. And
                                               his other, the heart he’d lived with all those years before he
came to realise he had two of them, twisted around each other        space left within him by its removal.
like a double helix, beating in concert for so short a time, his     He made it a small coffin, and sang it a song as he hammered
other beat steadily on, rather manic at times, it’s true, but loud   the lid down with silver nails:
enough for two.
                                                                       Beat the drum slowly and lower him down,
People had looked askance at him when he disclosed the                 Here lies a dead lover but now love is gone.
complex polyrhythms within his bosom. It was weird to them,               He loved well and unwisely but it wasn’t enough
a freak, at best immoral, certainly unnatural, and possibly               One of the wounded in the madness of love
illegal, a kind of bigamy.                                           He did not know where the words had come from. They
Still, for a while, his two hearts had beat on, the one steadily,    sounded like an old funeral dirge. The melody was tuneless,
the other quite clearly erratic, and for a while he enjoyed the      something he hummed to himself, hardly realising he was
crossed tempo of their beating, like an African drum choir.          singing.
But now that second heart had stopped. He had heard it, one          And then he heard a small noise, a faint scratching like an ant
                                                                     taking home a grain of stolen sugar to its nest on the other
morning, stuttering, hesitating, quieting, like a groan heard
                                                                     side of the hill. He stayed his hammer. There it was again.
from another room, so low it was almost below the range of           Like tiny hands touching wood. He bent his head down to the
hearing, so that when finally it did stagger to a stop it was        coffin. The sound came from within.
difficult to tell the silence from the faint sounds that had gone
immediately before.                                                  Quickly, he levered up the lid. The wrinkled heart lay there,
                                                                     still as death, but the sound was louder now. Then he saw the
He took it from his breast and looked upon it. Its shape was         faintest possible quiver stir its surface, like a morning breeze
withered, like an old walnut, cold in his hand like a cat-killed     moving the waters on ancient depths. The heart was beating.
bird. It was clearly dead.                                           He picked it up in his hands, and he could feel its life, gentle
His first response was one of relief. Most people managed            still, but increasing in volume, a small breath from memory.
with one heart, and this unnecessary supplement to his blood         He cradled it there a full moment, feeling it strengthen, the
had caused him nothing but grief. It would be hard to get used       sound louder now, a steadier rhythm, growing in confidence.
to, this silence, this emptiness within his breast, but he           The empty space in his breast called to him in agony for its
resolved not to mourn it, but to bury it quietly, leaving no         vacancy to be fulfilled, and gently he replaced the organ in its
headstone to remind anyone of the great joys it had brought          home.
him, at the best, nor the pain he could still recall, deep in the    Suddenly, he was wracked with remembered pain, suffusing
his whole being with a longing almost too great to bear. This             On the banks of the moorlands
is what it had been like, to have a heart within him that called         Tune: On the banks of the roses (Irish traditional)
out to union with another, and that other no longer there, that
other now another’s love.                                          On the banks of the moorlands, my love and I sat down,
                                                                   And I took out my whistle and I laid it in her hand.
He fell to the ground, quivering like a shot deer, his limbs       She put it to her lips and she played me such a tune:
thrashing about like the legs of a spider caught in its own             I sang: Darling, lovely darling, don’t you leave me!
web, keeping time with the beating within him. He tore at his
breast, trying to get at the heart, but it had already healed      But now my love has left me, for better or for worse.
over. Though his nails made the blood flow, the rib cage had       She’s got a lot of whistles and she keeps them in her purse,
closed back over his two hearts, which were now beating            And when I see her play them, well, it makes me want to
strongly, as if he had never removed anything from within.                curse,
Gradually, the pain receded, so that it became no more than an          As I remember how she played upon my whistle.
undertone to his body’s song. He became calm, turned on his
side, and slept.                                                   My love still has my whistle, lying ready to her hand,
When he woke, he remembered a dream when he had denied             It can play the sweetest lovesong ever since the world began,
what grew and beat within himself, and had sought to remove        If she don’t want to play it then I know a one who can
and bury it, deep where its telltale reminders could not trouble         ’Cos I need to keep in practice with my whistle.
him. And he rose to go about the business of living, singing as
he did a new song, wordless, whose rhythm was of the two           So if you need a whistle and you want to learn the tune
hearts beating, the one in the day, the other in remembered        Just leave your window open at the rising of the moon
night.                                                             But I’ll stick it in my pocket, when the playing has been done
                                                                         Just in case my love returns to play my whistle.
                                            November 12, 2002                                                     October 11, 2002
                       Magdalene


T
        he coldest nights are the worst, and believe me this        strictly intentional.
        was the coldest I’ve ever known, cold as charity – and
                                                                    Instead, it was a street corner designed by Robert Adam or
        there was precious little of that to be found in the big
                                                                    someone especially for the north wind to howl round, and
city in midwinter, when you’re cruising round looking for
                                                                    freezing the balls off me, pardon my French.
some old queen ready to take you back to his hotel room for a
quick leg over.                                                     You may have guessed that street corners are not my natural
                                                                    habitat, and you’d be right. Gimme a good club any night,
I had the sharp threads on, all dressed up for pulling, the
                                                                    good and dark so it gets the punters thinking of having a quick
crushed velvet strides cut so close you could tell my religion
                                                                    grope – though I soon put them straight on that score, I can
by scrutinising my crotch, and there were plenty who couldn’t
                                                                    tell you, no pay no stray – the bubbly pricey enough to make
take their eyes off it, I make no charge for looking at the
                                                                    them feel just a bit wicked but not over the top so there’s no
merchandise, the chiffon shirt open nearly to the navel with
                                                                    dosh left for anything else.
the little gold medallion bouncing on my chest, the bum-
freezer jacket of black glove leather that really lived up to its   Only this night they’d closed them up at eleven, didn’t they,
name that night, Cuban-heeled winkle-picker pumps that were         all to do with the season of the year, which is a bad joke,
killing me and the lisle socks with clocks up the sides, but        because I just laugh and laugh and laugh like little Audrey
they were built for style not comfort, and the wind is no           when they call it festive: about as joyous as a Swedish black-
respecter of fashion.                                               and-white movie with a suicide in the last reel, I call it, and
                                                                    the peace and goodwill more like the grave than anything
I like nice things, me, but in my business you need to put your
                                                                    worth celebrating.
money on your back, since that’s the way I earn my crust, so
to speak, and sometimes I had dreams of naffing around at           There was me on my street corner, and the dossers in their
home in baggy tweeds or curling up alone in a nice warm bed         cardboard boxes outside the social security waiting a first shot
in wincyette pyjamas and the hell with them all, but it’ll never    at the jobs next day – hope springs eternal in the human
happen. I have to wear silk, or the johns get the hump. Or I’d      trouserleg, I always say, but no one in their right minds’d give
like to get a good auto, something with a nice long bonnet and
                                                                    them any kind of work, especially in the catering trade which
a sexy roar to the exhaust that’ll get the macho crowd going,
with a nice powerful heater blowing up my legs like the kiss        is this job centre’s specialty. Have you seen the colour of their
of a lover, while I waited for him to come, double entendre         fingers? Do me a favour, please.
All we had in common was the wind, and the black mood that        politicians doing after they’ve provided their particular
comes down on all of us just before midnight, when you know       service for their not too particular masters. Not that I’m into
the next day’s going to be just as bad as the last, with no       politics myself, you understand, can’t afford that kind of self-
pumpkin coach to take you home after the ball, and no glass       deception, but people talk in bed, you know, the smoke and a
slipper either, just the fading chance of some sweaty minutes     chat to stave off the inevitable depression and guilt after the
with an old codger too far gone in booze to get it up, most       event, and I’ve had some prominent people in my time.
times.                                                            I could make my fortune with the gutter press, naming names,
I have this dream of someone really nice, not too old, with       but I’ve got my respect, and even if I’m a whore, I’m a clean
gentle hands, who wants to set me up in a place where I can       one, not like some who’d sell their grandmothers down the
forget all about clubs and street corners both, take him a nice   Street of Shame, thank you very much.
cup of tea every morning, cook a moussaka for when he gets        Anyway, back on my street corner I was just about to call it a
home from the office, Martini in his glass and slippers by the    wasted night when all the dossers started getting excited,
fire, the whole domesticated bit, but it’s just another dream.    jumping up and down and pointing at the sky, making enough
I’ve got my regulars, of course, some of them quite kind, but     fuss to attract the attention of the law, I shouldn’t wonder,
most of them are married and the others aren’t into settled       which is one additional problem I don’t need. I steer clear of
relationships. If they were they wouldn’t be cruising the bars,   the dossers most of the time, they smell rather choice you
they’d be . . . God knows where, because I don’t, but it’s        know, and while I expect they need to get their end away like
surely somewhere I’d never be seen dead in, so there goes that    all the rest of us, I hope I never sink that low.
dream up the spout.
                                                                  I looked up at where they were pointing, sort of instinctively,
People have this funny idea about whores, of either sex, they     not really curious, and blow me if it wasn’t something more
swing between thinking we’re barely human, like some kind         than a wino’s imaginings: a multitude of coloured lights in the
of fleshy garbage can for those who can’t control themselves      sky, all clustered round the Tower, or rather behind it, plus a
to dump into, the other is the whore with the heart of gold,      pure white beam shining straight down.
who has a nice little house in Surbiton and a nanny looking
after the kids while they’re out on business.                     Everyone started running, you know the way it is, we’re just
                                                                  rabbits or sheep at heart aren’t we, under the skin, so I joined
Me, I’m just obeying market forces, like the premier says, one    in the general rush, the dossers, me, some soldiers who
of the service industries. At least I can wash my mouth out       appeared from nowhere so I wondered if my luck was
and feel good and clean after, which I can’t see many
changing after all, a bit of rough with a hand job in a            There was a kind of a hush, like you get in church, you know,
doorway’d be better than nothing, and I had to pay the milk        before the service starts and everyone’s half-kneeling with
bill in the morning or it was black coffee for now on and I like   their heads in their hands, before the real out-loud prayers
my cream.                                                          start, and though we came in chattering excitedly, the hush
There was even a vicar, God knows what he was doing on the         took us over and we quieted down pretty damn quick, craning
streets at that hour, dog-collar and all; I gave him a kind of a   our necks and trying to see what on earth was it all about.
sideways glance to check out was he your classic cleric with       Being fairly tall, I had a better view than most, but I wasn’t
his hand on the choirboy’s knee but nothing, so I just let         any wiser. The girl was quite pretty, though her face was
myself be swept along with the crowd, past the Tower, where        grubby the way all street people are, when soap and water’s
some of the security guards joined us in their comic-opera         hard to find, but there was a sort of glow about her which
uniforms, gold braid and darned socks, and into the car park       turned her street-urchin scruffiness into something a painter
behind the big pub on the corner.                                  might fall in love with.
I don’t like that place. Barred me once they did, and me just      The baby, oh he was something else. I looked into his eyes
nursing a G-and-T in the corner causing no harm to nobody,         and if I tried to put a name to what I saw there, it’d be
but the bouncer came over and said I was lowering the tone,        acceptance. People were on their knees by now and praying
which was a laugh, all that poncey red velvet and fake horse       and carrying on, but I just stood there, sort of transfixed,
brasses had done that already, but I went nice and peaceful,       because it really seemed as if, young as he was, he knew me,
you’ve got to watch your Ps and Qs when you sail as close to       like real deep down, and he didn’t care, because all there was
the law as I do.                                                   in his eyes was love.
Turned out it wasn’t the pub we were heading for, just as well,    I’ve noticed that in kids lots of times, before parents and
but a kind of a shed out in the carpark, a wretched little place   school and church have filled their minds with shit, they just
packed with people, and all of them goggling at a young            turn to you and take you as you are, just so long as you’re
woman and her child like they’d never seen the like before.        prepared to do the same, no judgements and no last names.
We crammed in, and at least it was nice and warm with all          This kid was like that, but in spades, like if the rest of
that crushed humanity contributing their sweaty kilowatts,         kiddiedom were gurus then he was the supreme master, and
even if I was a bit close to the dossers for my personal           there wasn’t no one going to turn him around. He wrote the
comfort.                                                           book on that one, and inside the love and acceptance there
was this incredible strength, not macho, and neither that           everyone who preaches at me, they don’t draw a distinction
beautiful maternal presence you get from some women, which          between what I am and what I do, any more than the rest of
I could sense in his mum, the serenity, and personally I’ll take    the world does. A whore is what I do, not what I am. The
that in preference to your average male power trip.                 world says what I am is shit, only fit to be a whore, and in my
Look, I know about male and female created he them, because         book that’s not so different from the preachers who tell me
I got them both inside of me, here, and it gets me very             I’m abomination, that I’ve got to deny this bit of me that
confused sometimes, but in him there was no confusion. He           looks at my own sex the way we’re supposed to look at
was male, I mean really masculine, know what I mean, with           others, that finds tenderness and affection in the hard muscled
no need to prove anything, and what I think of as the woman         arms of ones like me, which doesn’t draw the hard-and-fast
side in me was there too, natural and peaceful, not struggling      line between male and female that makes straight people feel
for supremacy like it is in me, so what you might call the male     secure in their straightness.
and the female in him was at peace within him. And yet not          OK, when I was a teenage kid I used to pray, I mean really
peaceful like what we mean by peace, sort of dead apathy, or        pray, to whoever there is out there, to make me different, so I
just the absence of aggro like when the big superpowers agree       could be turned on by the silly little girls in the youth club and
not to throw rockets at each other for the next year or two.        not the other fellows flicking the towels at each other in the
More like I imagine a nuclear furnace might be, like a gentle       showers after the five-a-side. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the
glow, banked down, but ready to give out energy like a sun          girls OK, and in fact my other prayer was to be made exactly
exploding if need be.                                               like them, but neither prayer came true, and here I am, your
                                                                    average screwed-up herbert of our time, not exactly sure what
All this is words, trying to tell you how I felt when I looked in   he is and what he should be.
his eyes, and I’m taking longer to tell it than the split-second
recognition I felt there.                                           Looking into that baby’s eyes, though, it was if he was sure,
                                                                    quite sure about me, and it was OK, so I was sure too. And I
I don’t like my life and I’d change it if I could ever see          felt the essence of myself separating out from all the shit
something better, as long as it didn’t mean turning my back on      things I’ve done, some to others but mostly to myself, like
me. I’ve heard the vicar preaching change, standing on the          warm hands inside me straightening out the tangles and
street corner by the underground station, and I wouldn’t mind       caressing me the way my mum used to do before she died,
some of that if it didn’t mean embracing the nuclear family         crooning a lullaby.
male-female and one-and-two-thirds kids concept. But
I mean, why the hell did I remember the lullabye, of all           babies either. I can tell you anything you want to know about
things, at this exact moment in time, bringing the tears to my     vulnerability, though I have to play it so hard and brittle-
eyes so the image of the mother and child blurred and just for     surfaced to make it on the streets, I bleed internally when I
a moment I was scared someone would see me, point the              hear snide remarks or someone kicks me in the teeth.
finger: Look, the little queer’s blubbering. But the image         But, compared with him, I was hard as iron. Looking into
cleared, and he was still looking at me, and suddenly I didn’t     those so gentle eyes, so understanding and accepting, I
give a damn who could see, like the tears were washing the         realised with a kind of chill that at this time of birth there was
filth out of my life, and I didn’t know what I had to do, but I    already a promise of death, not just the inevitability of decay
knew he was going to help me find a way of doing it that           and decline we all carry within us, though that, too, but
didn’t contradict everything I thought I knew about me.            something more horrible, more glorious. Within the sad lovely
You’re going to say all this just from looking in the eyes of a    eyes I sensed a sacrifice that wasn’t just a turning away from
new-born baby and, yes, I know it sounds crazy, but no more        the bad stuff like he inspired in me, because that, too, is a kind
crazy than the way I’ve been living lately, and there’s got to     of death, and a welcome one, too, but a surrender I wasn’t
                                                                   even capable of thinking about, of his very essence, a
be a better way than that. A guy I went with once, a bit of an
                                                                   willingness quite literally to go through hell for me and my
intellectual he was, trained to be a priest but couldn’t make it
                                                                   kind.
on the celibacy trail, he said that all religion’s just a
projection, what’s really happening is inside you, so perhaps      And since I saw something of myself in him, and felt him in
that baby just helped me to realise something I already knew,      me, a kind of terror struck me, a fear that I would be offered
deep down.                                                         to sip from the same bitter cup, and I would not be able to
                                                                   stomach it. And I prayed it might not be so.
Or perhaps he really was a power, the guru of gurus, the
essence of all we were meant to be and could be, not just the      Suddenly this prayer made me realise I was the only one in
golden-haired white middle-class WASP kid you see on the           the shed not on his knees.
greeting cards but a dirty little Third-World child, like the      The child looked deep into my eyes, and the fear vanished, as
ones you see starving in the refugee camps, rejected,              if it had never been, but I never forgot that premonition. Then
homeless, someone who found me within him, and found it            he looked away, as if his work with me was done for the
worthy of love.                                                    moment, and I suppose it was. I got down on my knees with
Because all that power was wrapped up in this baby’s body,         the rest of them and it seemed like the place I should have
incredibly frail and vulnerable, like babies are, and not only     been, all my life.
               The Thirteenth Hour                       its chimes strike as we enter the thirteenth hour.
A clock strikes at the edge of the dawning day:                                                               May 29, 1999
its hands stand at the thirteenth hour.
                                                                        The wedding at Cana
We spend this time in the arms of God.                     And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee;
Alone he knows where we are going through this zone of       and the mother of Jesus was there:
      silence.                                             And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the mar-
                                                             riage.
It is a place of quiet memories                            And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto
whose voice is loud with grieving for what’s been:           him, They have no wine.
moon shining through deerforest,                           Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee?
cobblestones tumbling down from the hills,                   mine hour is not yet come.
unnamed grey roofs across the valley,                      His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith
spoken words and unspoken meanings,                          unto you, do it.
eyes glancing sideways across strange rooms,               And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the
the rush to orgasm of a steamtrain on the viaduct            manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or
leading to who knows where,                                  three firkins apiece.
the whir of windmills, white against the sky.              Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And
                                                             they filled them up to the brim.
These images flash across the chimes,                      And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the
collaging like found objects turning into art.               governor of the feast. And they bare it.
Breaking if we grip them too tight to our hearts,          When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was
shards of what was then, splintering in our hands,           made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants
broken and bloody:                                           which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast
let them float, unbidden,                                    called the bridegroom,
linked with their unknown tomorrows,                       And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set
like unborn brothers to this time.                           forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then
                                                             that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine
A clock stands at the edge of the dawning day:               until now.
                       The Bridegroom                              pole had cracked with the blast. I could see splashes of red on
                                                                   the canvas roof, where it hung down, looked like fresh paint.

I
    NEVER was a brave man. In fact, my father said water
   ran in my veins, not blood. So when the rockets hit that        But I knew what it was.
   morning, just as we were exchanging our vows, I was             I looked round, to see if anyone was paying attention, but they
under the table in a flash.                                        were all like me, their hands over their ears, kissing the dust.
My bride was still with her people, and her brother flung          Even her family, tough as they are. Surely someone had to do
himself across her. I felt that should have been me, but if I’d    something.
have done it, and her not yet mine, it could have been a cause     I found myself praying: Not me, Lord. Please, not me. I’m the
of bad blood between us.                                           devout coward in the family, remember?
They’re a tough lot, her family. Veterans of the intifada, some    It was a woman crying, my bride’s mum, I think.
of them. A cousin was a suicide bomber. I couldn’t do that,
                                                                   I crawled over to her, and it was. She looked really bad. Her
myself.
                                                                   leg stuck out at a wrong angle, and there was blood at her ears
Be fair, not just because I haven’t got the bottle. I mean, what   and the corner of her mouth. She needed help, and fast.
good does it do, blowing up a school bus, shooting down
                                                                   I shouted out: Get a medic, someone.
shoppers?
                                                                   Nobody answered. There was lots of people weeping, more
But I lay there, my hands over my ears, trying to shut out the
                                                                   out of fear, or relief that they were still in one piece, it
noise of the rockets, swooshing down out of the sky, and
                                                                   sounded like. My bride’s brother looked up, looked me
blowing up our little homes.
                                                                   straight in the eyes, and sort of shook his head.
I’m too young to remember the old place, before they ex-
                                                                   Then I heard the jets making a new sweep. It wasn’t going to
pelled us, but we’ve got a picture on our wall. Doesn’t mean a
                                                                   get any better.
lot to me, I confess. Can’t live in the past, can you? But what
we’ve got here, that means something to me, small as it is. I      I stood up and went to the door of the tent. The dust outside
can’t understand what good it does, rocketing it to rubble. Not    was beginning to settle. I could see as far as the hospital, well
a lot to choose between that and blowing up a school bus, to       it’s more of a sort of clinic, really. Not many facilities, but it’s
my mind.                                                           better than nothing. The roof was damaged, and I could see
                                                                   people running about, with stretchers.
Someone started crying, in the corner of the tent, where the
I looked back into the tent, and the next wave of rockets hit.       because one alone is but a fractal fragment of the whole
                                                                     because so many have gone before
I was thrown to the ground, and the whole tent collapsed on
                                                                     because I live
top of us. The woman in the corner began to scream. Others           because I love
were shouting and praying and carrying on. I just felt cold,         because I carry all these lives and loves into an unknown territory
like ice was in my veins. I thought: OK, you bastards, you can       because love is indivisible
kill me, but you can’t kill us all.                                  because all my life has led up to the moment of my death
And I ran, half crouching, to the ruined hospital to get some        because one day there must be an end to all these endings
help.                                                                because there is no such thing as an ending
                  Into the War Zone                                  because even if I return from the war zone the man I am will be left
                                 I                                         behind me in the dirt
Because of love                                                      because perhaps in the wilderness I may drive out my demons
because of hate                                                      because the crossroads have left me nowhere else to go
because of cowardice                                                 because a tiny candle gutters in my soul and the darkness has not
because a life may not be defined only by its ending                       overcome it
because each sadness is part of the happiness of being alive         because the words of my explanation are not the meaning of the
because there are so many meaningless deaths it is good to give            act
      one life a meaning                                             because of what is, what does, and what is done
because life is a gift we may not refuse                             because if everything I have ever done is wrong then this final
because love for each is a love for all                                    wrongness may make all things right
because the red flower of blood in the sand must bear the fruit of   because I do not know
      forgiveness                                                    because I must seek what I have never known
because we shall water the barren ruins with our tears
because the child crying in the rubble is all our childhoods         because none may know the will of God but they who do it
because the bereaved mother is sister to the whore on my street                                               Palestine, June 16, 2002
                                                                                                    II
      corner
because the bread of fear must be swallowed down dry                 It concentrates the mind wonderfully,
because my going and my returning are a single act                   returning to the war zone.
because the young man who kills me is brother to my own kin          The condemned man realises,
because my death is a movement from one room to another in my        despite all the masks and guises
      father’s house                                                 he may wear
to hide him from himself,                                       this human ant heap
he still stands bare;                                           only as a means to keep our separate lives together,
however much he feels alone,                                    not mindless workers and drones in hives
webs of connections link him,                                   only swarming into sunshine in fair weather,
his life is not his own;                                        robbed daily of our sweetest nectar,
though you may think it doesn’t matter,                         the parabolic vector joining cradle to grave
we mustn’t forget                                               nothing but
that even yet                                                   the bottom line in a sterile ledger.
no bomb or missile made can shatter what makes us human.        Each time we pledge a love, devotion to something better than
                                                                ourselves,
That goes for you, man,                                         we open our eyes
and you too, my sister,                                         to catch a glimpse of paradise.
however disconnected you may feel                               This puts back into proportion the stupidity of petty hatreds
from what in childhood you expected                             and broken friendships.
from your fellow mistress or mister.
Your needs are real                                             When death comes calling,
and may not be rejected.                                        we suddenly discover autumn leaves already falling.
                                                                Life is a terminal disease,
The danger                                                      each remission too precious to be wasted.
of death dropped from on high                                   It must be tasted,
by someone pretending they’re a stranger                        its flavours savoured,
tells us nothing we don’t already know.                         the sweet and the sour,
It makes more relevant the seemingly irrelevant,                the dark and the light,
more significant the insignificant concerns of life and love,   the day and the night.
requires we nurture the struggling plant of joy in sadness,
pain in ecstasy;                                                And what is life?
all else is madness.                                            Is it only the big picture, the grand design,
                                                                the “till death us do part” part?
Once more we see                                                Is it the uneven beating of an astonished heart,
the sudden smile of a complete stranger on a bus,              what Eve and Adam learned in Eden:
the joining of you and you and me in us,                       freedom is learning to be
a telephone call from an almost forgotten friend,              unfree of each other,
a promise good to last up to the bitter end,                   to discover
and beyond,                                                    in each soul and body the sweet lover,
a fond realisation that this is all there is that we can do?   whose arms embrace us all.
Many or few,                                                   And help us rise if (or rather, when)
a hand unheld                                                  we fall.
has rebelled against our deepest need.
A kiss unshared                                                All else would lead us to the Tower of Babel,
is a lonely cry:                                               through the murderous brotherhood of Cain and Abel.
better to die                                                                                   On the road to Baghdad, 2003
than sigh alone.
                                                                                      Born to live
In truth                                                       My name is Sawan Abu Turki. I am aged 17. I live in
each life is a war zone                                        Ramallah. It is just three years since I was placed in an Israeli
but wearing body armour                                        prison for threatening an Israeli soldier with a knife.
is no protection against harm. A                               On May 7, 2001, I had visited my sister and her new baby in
proof of our humanity                                          the Alia Hospital and was on my way home. I passed through
is simply this:                                                one checkpoint without difficulty, then another. At the third, at
a kiss,                                                        Bab-al-Zawia, a soldier told me I could not pass. I told him I
a risk of bliss,                                               must go home. He hit me with his gun, first on the shoulder,
a journey to the rising sun.                                   then on the head.
When day is done
we lie alone                                                   A bystander took me in his car to Al-Ahli hospital, where I
but still reach out to touch                                   recovered consciousness. I stayed there for a week. They
reality that’s far too much                                    treated me for my injured shoulder, for concussion, and for
for a single person to outreach.                               blurred vision.
Each life should teach                                         On June 6, 2001, I was walking with my 9-year-old cousin,
Obeid, through the market. It was Shabbat, the Jewish              called the old man dad, but they were not deceived and they
holiday. Settlers with dogs surrounded us, got the dogs to         took me away.
attack us. My cousin ran away but I was paralysed with fear.       I was taken to Kiryat Arba. Female soldiers undressed me,
A Palestinian told me to escape through the cemetery.              tied my hands and feet. They hooded me and I was made to
They often attack us like this, the settlers. Their children       stand in the sun for a long time. My head hurt, because of the
throw eggs and garbage at us, even pee on us. Who is raising       concussion but also because of the sun. My nose was
these children? Who teaches them to do these things? What          bleeding. I was very thirsty. Also, my hearing was affected,
kind of society do they come from?                                 and it was as if I was deaf. I asked for water and also a tissue
A week before I was due to go back to school, the soldiers         for my nose but no one heard.
started firing their guns at my house. The electricity was         I was interrogated. The interrogator was very angry and I
turned off. We hid in one room in the dark, waiting for the        became afraid when he smashed a glass to the floor in his
gunfire to stop. A few days later, a 9-year-old girl from my       anger. I was taken to Abu Kabir and put into a cell with 20
youth club was shot and killed by the soldiers. I saw one of       women, I think they were Russian prostitutes. They were
the soldiers had written “Born to kill” on his helmet.             dressed immodestly and made all sorts of rude gestures to me.
When school started, the soldiers came every day. They threw       Some of them burned me with cigarettes. I still have my shirt,
teargas grenades into the classroom. My sister fainted once. I     with the holes from the cigarettes.
carried perfume, bandages, adhesive tape and iodine in my          During interrogation, I was slapped and given a confession to
schoolbag. I’d sprinkle the perfume on a kerchief and hold it      sign. It was in Hebrew, which I cannot understand, but I
to my nose and mouth when the teargas came. Going to               signed anyway, because I wanted my ordeal to have an end.
school was becoming a nightmare. I didn’t want to go.              I had no contact with my family. I went on hunger strike, and
On Thursday, June 9, 2001, I bought presents for all my            after four days I was allowed to phone home. On the twenty-
family. I also bought a sharp knife. It cost me 15 shekels. I      first day of my imprisonment I was transferred to the Neve
was determined to have revenge.                                    Tirzah woman’s prison and placed in solitary confinement. I
I went to the checkpoint. Two soldiers were there, one male,       went on hunger strike again and demanded to be placed with
one female. I drew the knife. They started shooting and I ran      the political prisoners. I also threatened to commit suicide, but
away into the old city, dropping the knife as I ran. I came to a   though I had hidden five paracetamol capsules on my person,
house and asked them to hide me. When the soldiers came, I         this was not serious, since it is against the rule of Allah. When
they agreed to my demand, they tried to recruit me as                              Crushed by a wheel              Hear poem
informer, but I refused.                                            Our sweetest flower has been crushed in the dust of Rafah,
One interrogator said to me I was a 14-year-old girl with the       on the West Bank,
mind of a 24-year-old woman. He was wrong. My mind is               trampled beneath the heels of a steel wheel.
now 56 years old. I am as old as the nakba, the catastrophe of      Her blood is a broken blossom blowing on the wind of anger
1948, though my calendar age is 17.                                       keening through the world.
After four-and-a-half months they sentenced me to that time         She stands tapping at the window of every home,
of imprisonment, so I was free to go. They also fined my            her voice a guilty verdict on machine-made death,
family 15,000 shekels, which is nearly £2000 sterling, or           her name a synonym for love triumphant,
$3500, which has put us seriously into debt.                        her eyes a vision of hope seen in the darkest midnight of
                                                                          today,
I have had two operations on my leg, because of injuries            her memory a reminder that death may not triumph,
received during the beatings, and the leg-irons which cut into      must not triumph.
me. I still have a bad limp.
I no longer seek revenge. What is the purpose of all this           Oh, you leader of women,
killing? I am working to protect children in detention. I also      you bell-wether of a brighter future for all the world’s
want to be a journalist, to reveal the depth of our suffering, or          oppressed,
perhaps become a nurse to help relieve the suffering of the         you breath of God inspiring all those chained in torment
injured.                                                            in the seventh deep of deepest hell,
                                                                    your name shall never die.
If I wore a helmet, I would not write upon it “Born to kill”. I
would write “Born to live”. As are all God’s children,
                                                                    How shall we remember you?
Christian, Muslim, and Jew, yes even the soldier who beat me
                                                                    Not with cold marble
to the ground and began this terrible story. How it will end is
                                                                    nor the wailing walls of mourning.
up to all of us.
                                                                    Not with the empty words of my broken song.
                            Jerusalem, August 22, 2004, 13:10,      Not with the tears of the victimed and disempowered.

                                                                    Your life empowers all who sing your name.
It is scrawled upon the bombed bunker of the Al Ameriya         Our sweetest flower cannot be crushed,
        shelter,                                                for even as the steel wheel rolls on,
etched in the bloody shadows of those burnt to death in that    see, how even in the tracks of the behemoth rolling over her,
        place.                                                  the bright petals flutter like a butterfly escaping the cocoon of
It is the dying breath of the Colombian campesino,                     tomorrow’s new harvesting,
laughing in the face of the cruel mockery of the death-squad    the birthing that grows out of even death,
        torturers.                                              which only the light of her life can penetrate.
It is the song of the oud ringing back to a time when life      We will always remember her name,
        erupted out of Bethlehem and Medina,                    but the name and race of her murderer has already been
and the dark ages’ end in the renaissance of surrender to the          forgotten.
        reality of a world founded on a compass-arc,                                                        March 21, 2003 14:42,
the mandolin calligraphy of a woman ululating into the night,               on flight RJ111 from Amman to London Heathrow,
the deep cry of whale to far-swum whale,                                     on the first day of the Anglo-American aggression
music of spheres revolving, globe on orbiting globe,                                                                  against Iraq
flinging pathways the stars and comets know.                                             A funeral
                                                                           Two chapters from an unpublished novel
Oh Rachel, our love, our delight, our truest floret on the


                                                                I
      rising greenspring of tomorrow’s life,                         HATE funerals. I know, I can hear you saying, ‘doesn’t
your murderers sought to silence your voice,                        everyone?’ But how many have you been to, in your life
even as they dung up the open mouths of children born to die        time? One? Two? Three, top whack? Me, I’ve been to
      in the ruins of Baghdad and Basra.                        dozens, in the line of duty back in my days as a cub reporter,
But they cannot kill it.                                        when I was doing the hatches, matches and despatches round
                                                                of the churches and the nicks, producing the local rag
Your death lives in our hearts like a scarlet dagger pointing   equivalent of Sweeney Agonistes’ birth, copulation and death
      towards the dawn,                                         routine.
a planted seed that sprouts like dragons’ teeth,                The real pits was the time the widow tried to jump down in
armed with love and joy,                                        the grave with her dear departed. I kid you not. Into the
not hatred or death.                                            fucking grave. And she wasn’t kidding, either. The
                                                                desperation on her red, tear-stained face at the idea of life
without her old man is something I’ll probably remember on         It wasn’t as if either of us believed in it, but she wanted a
that far off day when I finally snuff it, myself.                  fairytale wedding, like something dreamed up by Disney or
The whole thing always struck me as barbaric. I mean, why          Busby Berkeley, and she held out until I arranged for us to be
don’t we go the whole hog and do the suttee bit, the widow         hitched at Caxton Hall, a few blocks down from Westminster
and kids on top of the funeral pyre?                               Abbey, which was still a civil ceremony but sufficiently
                                                                   glamorous to be almost as good as the real candyfloss.
Then back to the widow’s parlour for ham sandwiches and
sherry. At least the Irish had a decent wake, but I never got to   Her newn man, Robert, was still in Vegas or wherever, and
one of those, like in the song, with the dead ’un lying there      anyway I don’t expect he felt it too much, Adam being
stretched out while everyone pranced round legless, ready to       virtually nothing to do with him, not having lived at home for
join in the fun and games if anyone spilt as much as a single      several years even, so he played no part in the discussions, if
drop of the craytur on to his cadavar.                             that’s what they were, about how we’d have his step-son
                                                                   planted. Of course, he was paying for the whole thing, but that
Funerals, for me, were nothing like that. They were grey,          was his privilege, being a well-heeled attorney.
tedious, hypocritical affairs, where people tried to think of
good things to say about someone they’d never really liked,        As a matter of fact, I’d stuck out for cremation, but Kay
and a stranger in a dog collar intoned meaningless words           insisted on a plot, with the whole headstone dearly beloved
about not taking it with you.                                      son bit, so I thought what the hell? I wouldn’t be paying the
                                                                   rent and if it was a shameful waste of our land space, that was
Me, I’m donating my body for spare parts surgery. I hope           no skin off my nose, and rather less of a burden on our
there’ll be some life left in the bits by the time I’ve finished   ecology than nuclear power and acid rain, so I agreed to
with them.                                                         compromise on that, ie she got her way.
Of course, Kay and me rowed about it, just like we did about       But that was as far as I went. No vicar. No sermon. No
our wedding, which she’d wanted to be white, and in church. I      hymns. Especially no prayers. No way.
conceded the white bit, even if she was long past being a
virgin, since we’d been screwing since we were 15, but no          She wept a bit, she pleaded. How about if someone said a few
way was I going to march down the aisle with Mendelssohn’s         words, she wanted to know? OK, not a vicar. What about a
awful tune thundering away on the organ, setting a dishonest       friend? And couldn’t we have a nice tape on the chapel sound
seal on our union with promises no human being can                 system, something from the Sixties perhaps, Carole King or
guarantee to keep.                                                 James Taylor?
What friend? Sebastian, with his I’n’I Jah gibberish, smokin’       and Kay and a remote cousin of mine and someone from her
a nice big spliff so we could remember how it all happened?         side of the family, the two relatives like seconds at a dawn
Sergeant Baker, telling us he’d get his man in the end, pity it     duel with pistols rather than supporters of our grief, Kay and I
wasn’t in time to stop them putting a spike in Adam’s arm?          barely on speaking terms. The three women were in tasteful
Me, a short lecture on how to be a model dad? No.                   black; I’d blown the last few coppers of my two hundred quid
What in hell was wrong with some respectful silence? We             on a black knitted tie, a number I knew I’d never wear again.
might even learn something, communing with our thoughts             It felt like it was strangling me, so I could join him on his way
and our individual and several guilts. And I wanted no peace        to that last great fix in the sky, or wherever.
and love anodynes from any clapped-out ageing hippies. That         I gazed out at the passing scenery, the Jewish enclaves of
was where we started, how we got in this particular here and        Golders Green and Hendon passing the windows in a rain-
now, the toke on the collective joint had become the shared         soaked morning, the leafing trees whipping around in a
needle in the tower block car park.                                 restless wind. Why couldn’t it be colourful, like in Ulysses,
I’d stop the game and take my ball home, if I could, but it was     with Irish repartee lightening the load? Why couldn’t we have
only in science fiction stories you could flip over to              some fantastic accident, so the coffin went flying out of the
alternative universes. This was the only one we’ve got, stink       hearse and careering down the road on its own, ending up in
as it may, and there are no off-loading points on this particular   some baboushka’s garden in this garden suburb? Why
Big Dipper, to change the metaphor.                                 couldn’t it never have happened?

All this last stuff I thought, Kay not being in a state to          The cemetery was vast, the trees presenting no serious barrier
appreciate a discussion on our existential dilemma, so she          to the wind which swept across the rather badly tended acres
clamped her lips and appeared to cave in.                           like some kind of avenging dervish. Most of the headstones
                                                                    were small, neat, discreet, screaming testimonies to our
Actually, later I found she’d organised some kind of memorial       attempts to put death in its place, but an occasional Victorian
service independent of me, to take place the following day. I       monstrosity, an angel reading from the Good Book or an
was fucking furious when someone told me, said they’d been          ornate cast-curlicued iron cross, introducing a hint of
surprised not to see me there, but then I thought again: what       humanity in its horrific kitsch. The bureaucrats wouldn’t
the hell? If it gave her comfort, why not? So long as I didn’t      allow anything like that for our lad, even if we could have
have to go along with the sugary sentimentality of the idea.        afforded it. He wasn’t Karl Marx, after all.
So here we were, sitting in the undertaker’s black limo, me         Rattle his bones, over the stones, he’s only a junkie nobody
owns.                                                               they didn’t umderstand how they’d know when to go on to the
We straggled into the chapel and the professionally mournful        actual interment, and there were no doubt other hearses
bearers did their paid duty and carried the box into its position   queueing up outside for their turn.
of honour.                                                          I nodded, and we resumed our places in the limo, cruising at a
They’d asked me if I wanted to see him at the Chapel of Rest        snail’s pace to a plot on the opposite side, next to a roaring
before they screwed the lid down, but I shook my head. I            motorway.
wanted nothing of their technicolor glamorisation of death,         We stood round the grave, our heads bowed. My cousin
with their formaldehyde embalming skills and touch of the           appeared to be praying silently. OK, if that was her pleasure.
Leichner pencil. I wanted to remember his dandelion head in         Kay’s relative had her arm round her. I stood to one side,
front of me in the push chair, and that damn Taiwanese toy,         looking down into the maw that was going to swallow up the
spinning and spinning, the sparks flying off like dying hopes.      last vestiges of my life with her, and it was if some invisible
I don’t know whether Kay took a last look. That’d be like her,      presence was billowing out of the ground, surrounding me,
blurring the image of reality with some funeral director’s          filling my lungs with gravesmell, surrounding me in a lonely
comfortable fantasy of what the dead should look like, as if        bubble that was a kind of living death, as if it wasn’t Adam
make-up could delay the decay already at work inside the            being laid away here, but me.
corpse, turning it back into compost.                               But not to rest. I should be so lucky. This stone in my chest
The silence grew oppressive.                                        was the way it was going to be, for ever and ever amen, and
Kay sobbed into her screwed-up hankie and a lump grew in            when they opened me up like in some Edgar Allen Poe story,
my throat like a cancer. I thought I was going to choke but I       they’d find it beating its cold rhythm, centuries into the future.
managed to get rid of the phlegm by swallowing over and             The flunky wanted to know was this it, should they lower the
over. An acid taste like heartburn rose, but I’d had no             coffin, now? Again I nodded. Wild horses couldn’t have
breakfast worth a light, just a quick black instant. Perhaps that   dragged a word out of me, or it would have come in a single,
was why I was feeling sick. The condemned man should’ve             sky-shattering scream, and I was determined to be cool.
eaten more heartily.                                                They stood on either side of the opened earth, letting the
One of those black-clad flunkies was asking me something.           hawsers go like the skilled craftsmen they were, seamen
The lack of any recognisable structure had thrown them              casting off, carpenters hammering the nails into the cross true
somewhat, which gave me a momentary pang of pleasure, and           and square so that it wouldn’t shame them before the alien
invaders who were paying their wages, and the varnished            “Yeah, well I’m not a believer, and nor was Adam. Kay talks
wood vanished into the soil.                                       about God sometimes, but she doesn’t really believe, either
In spite of myself, a great sob came vomiting up from my           ...”
lungs but I held it down, so all that happened was the             “I don’t know how you can be so certain there’s nothing else
paroxysm of its suppression, and I closed my eyes tight so I       but this world, Jack,” she interrupted. “Don’t you feel that
wouldn’t let the tears course down my face the way they were       there must be something else?”
with Kay. I held tight to the push chair image, but it was         “Not if it stops me from putting right all the things that are
already fading. I was no longer remembering how it had been,       wrong with life down here. I never was one for pie in the
I was remembering a photo I had of him in the chair with his       sky.”
toy, so in the end all I was going to have was bits of paper: a
marriage certificate, an adoption document, a decree nisi, a       “So, you’re quite satisfied with the way it went?”
death certificate.                                                 I ignored the question.
Birth, copulation and death all right.                             What could I say? I’d been thinking all the way back from the
                                                                   graveyard, all the different ways it could have been done, to
                              ...                                  make it less of a trial: some decent music at the chapel, and a
“HUMPH,” SAID my cousin as she munched on a pressed                few words before they lowered him into the grave, like Kay
ham sandwich, an oblong slice of pink meat out of a can,           had wanted. But it was too late now, so what was the point in
between two slices of Hovis. “Personally, I think the              mulling it all over?
Christians do these things better than the atheists.”              Kay was pouring out sherry, and she offered me a glass.
Whose side was she supposed to be on?                              “No,” I said. “I’m off it.”
I’d heard, via the rather shaky family grapevine, that she’d got   “Oh Jack, she said, “just a little sip won’t hurt you. For Adam.
religion of late, but I’d invited her because she was my sole      Don’t you want to toast his memory?”
surviving relative in London, and I needed a bit of moral
                                                                   I grabbed the silly little glass from her. She was probably
support, not a stab in the back.
                                                                   right. After all, she’d been right about the funeral. And at least
“That was the way Jack wanted it,” said Kay. Her voice was a       raising a glass in his memory would be some kind of a
little shaky, but it seemed free of the bitterness that so often   ceremony, with no hint of religion in it.
soured our talks.
“To Adam,” she said, her voice more quavery now. We all           but I’d abandoned them when everyone else started getting so
murmured the words and I took a sip.                              much better at it than me, and concentrated upon criticism.
Sherry’s always seemed to me a stupid, rather liverish drink,     Like Bernard Shaw might have said: those who can, do; those
stronger than it seems to be, OK as an aperitif I suppose, but    who can’t, become critics.
really just an excuse for old maids to get tiddley without the    I shook my head. I’d hocked my guitar over a year before, and
opprobrium of being secret drinkers. After I’d finished the       the muse seemed to have abandoned me.
glass, my mouth felt dry and yet rather sticky. I needed          The lager went down fast, like it didn’t touch the sides of my
something to clean it out.                                        throat, as the saying goes, and I held the glass out for a refill.
I suppose a glass of water would have done me fine, but           That went down too, and pretty soon I was on to my third. Or
instead I took a lager. It was warm – these women had no idea     was it my fourth? I was losing count, but what the hell.
how to treat beer – and was brewed in Britain rather than         Kay had begun loosening up a little bit and we got talking
Pilsen, but the hops left my mouth tasting better, and the fizz   about old times.
made it seem more like an alcoholic lemonade, which is why I
suppose it’s the young’s preferred tipple these days.             “Do you remember when we used to go to camp together,
                                                                  Jack,” she said, “and the camp stewards used to come round
Someone had asked Kay about her ever-loving, which was the        the tents and make sure the boys and girls slept apart?”
soul of tact, in view of my presence.
                                                                  Didn’t I just? That was the first time we had really got it
She began explaining how he was so busy in America these          together, out there in the pines, where the sun never shines,
days, she hardly saw him. He’d sent a floral tribute, of course   like it says in the song, and the stewards couldn’t find us.
– the only flowers there’d been, as a matter of fact.             She’d been my first girl, not the first one to touch, but the first
“And how about you, Jack?”                                        one who revealed to me the astonishing secret that girls
It was Kay’s relative, some kind of a sister-in-law or            actually liked being touched – there, as she always used to
something, her cousin’s wife, I think, a nice, rather buxom       say, touch me there, without naming it or even pointing my
woman who was big in co-op youth clubs, or something like         hand in the right direction, but I always knew.
that. We sometimes met on demonstrations.                         She’d let me into her bra pretty easy, and that was nice, much
“D’you still play?”                                               nicer than the previous girl, the first one who’d ever let me,
                                                                  who’d had very little up there to feel, but Kay was like some
I’d once had ambitions to be Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan,       sort of wet dream come true, well shaped, and her nipples
opening up to me like hawthorn buds, as Lorca says.                 me for walks on the common when it was safer to walk across
Out there in the woods, we’d huddled together because it got        than it is now. When she got out, I slid back into the front seat
quite cold, even in midsummer, with the wind blowing in over        beside Kay and we drove silently across the Thames, me
the coast and the dunes. I’d opened up my pyjama trousers           wondering if she’d really been remembering that first time
and put her hand in there and she’d got hold of me                  back in the pines, as she poured the weak lager into my glass,
awkwardly. She didn’t act as if she had any idea of what she        and reminisced about old times, and if she had, what that
was supposed to do with it, but it got me going, just the same,     really meant.
and I was all over her, lifting up her nightdress and parting her   I looked at my watch. There was an hour and a half to closing
legs to put it in.                                                  time. Kay had got the day off from her job for the funeral and
She wouldn’t let me do it, because I’d brought no precautions       I had nothing but time. Also, no money.
out with me. I’d left them in my washing bag, like a fool, so I     “Fancy a drink before I drop you?” she said.
had to creep back and into the tent, feeling around in the dark     “Well, I’m a bit . . . ,” I began.
while my fellow campers murmured and protested in their
sleep.                                                              “Broke as usual? Don’t worry,” she said. “Let me pay. We
                                                                    owe it to Adam.”
She filled up my glass again, saying that was the last, and as I
looked in her eyes I could see she was thinking of that time in     I really failed to see what our late son had to do with the way
the woods, herself.                                                 things appeared to be going, but if we got paralytic together, it
                                                                    might be as good a way of waving him farewell as anything
We all stood up, going home time. It hadn’t been a riotous          else.
wake but I felt better, somehow, about the way we’d put
Adam away. Kay saw me to the door, told me to take good             It was an unfamiliar boozer, a hundred yards or so before we
care of myself, and my cousin was walking off down the path         got to Blackfriars Bridge, and I chose it purely because it sold
when Kay suddenly shouted: “Hey, let me run you both                Young’s, about the only drinkable beer they make south of
home.”                                                              Burton-on-Trent. We found a seat by the window and she
                                                                    went to get the pints.
So then we sat together in the back of the little Morris Mini as
we detoured to Clapham to drop my cousin in the big old flat        It was weird, the way she was taking over. It was almost as if
she’d lived for years with her mother, my auntie, who’d let         I was being seduced, as if she was in charge of the whole
me borrow her H.G. Wells books when I was a kid, and take           operation, whether I liked it or not. It was she who had
suggested she run me home, she who suggested a drink, she           ways.” The trouble was, as the old compositor put it to me
who was getting them, while I sat waiting.                          when I was just 16, that I’d confused the wonder we’d been
“It’s a pity,” she said, looking at me over the rim of the beer     exploring together with love, though he’d put it less
mug, “we had to fall out. Wasn’t it good, sometimes, Jack?”         poetically. “You’re not in love,” he’d pronounced. “You’re
                                                                    just cunt-struck.” I couldn’t say he was wrong.
What do you say? Of course it hadn’t always been bad, the
way it ended. We’d had some good times, some laughs, and            “So where did we go wrong? Was it the drink, Jack?”
then there’d been the exploding mystery of the way our              What was this? Any moment now and she’d be waltzing me
bodies worked together. We never really did get that right,         into AA.
though we’d tried hard enough.                                      “Nah,” I said. “We were just too young, too inexperienced,
It was only later it went really wrong, with me drinking till       too passionate. I dunno. I’ll always love you, Kay, but we
closing time and catching the last train home, and staggering       always end up fighting.”
along the country lanes to our little two up two down, and the      “We don’t have to.” Her voice was low. Shit, she really meant
inevitable row that destroyed what bonhomie there’d been left       it. “We’re not fighting now. We’re talking like real friends, the
in me by the dregs of the beer. One night I fell asleep on the      way we used to.”
train and didn’t wake up until almost Portsmouth. The taxi
home cost me twenty quid. I tried to lose it in my exes, but the    Always the sentimentalist, that’s my girl. Yes, we had been
firm I was working for wouldn’t wear it. Hardly surprising.         friends, and in many ways the sweat and the body fluids had
                                                                    been an intrusion, but when they didn’t work as we hoped,
Another night I was in one of Matthew’s clubs when the              they’d come between us more and more, instead of bringing
police raided it, and I missed the last train and had to get into   us together. And then our biggest mistake, thinking Adam
Surrey by whichever means I could: night bus to Wimbledon,          could succeed where fucking had failed.
a lift down the Kingston By-Pass, and a long, long walk from
Tolworth Roundabout to Addlestone, where we lived. That             “I keep thinking of Adam in his pushchair,” she said, “with
was the night Joseph shopped Matthew and things went sour           that whirly toy thing you bought him in Habitat.”
between them. Ending up with the little rat-faced runt dead in      Bloody hell, it still worked, this telepathic thing we had
a Soho gutter.                                                      between us. Sometimes when I’d rung her late at night, she’d
“Penny for ’em, Jack.”                                              picked up the phone and said “Hello, Jack, what kept you this
                                                                    time?” without even letting me say anything. She said she
“I was thinking about your question. Yes, it was good in many
always knew it was me on the line, even before she picked it      we didn’t make love one whole month, and it wasn’t another
up. I dismissed it as typical superstition, the way she’d         woman, it was that I didn’t know who the fuck I was, queer or
murmur a rhyme every time she saw an ambulance, some              what. I used to shake my fist at the sky, metaphorically, at the
Cockney amulet about “never foller, never swaller fever” or       fate or whatever it was that had made me such a passionate
whatever the damn thing was, the way she always said “God         young fucker, but unable to have kids, and unable to be at
keep you safe” every night before we slept, though in her         peace with a woman. Jane set me right on all that, and I
heart of hearts she was as irreligious as I was, which made her   realised what it was I was just a bit bi-sexual, like most
insistence on things like white church weddings and religious     people, and the gays who went on about me coming out were
funerals all the harder to accept. After we parted, the first     just as wrong as the heteros who thought that anything that
Christmas, I decided to send a Christmas card to all our          wasn’t the missionary position between men and women was
friends, signed with only my name, so they’d get the point.       some kind of perversion. I’d learnt I could fancy a guy and be
Only thing was, she had the same idea, and sent exactly the       quite happy about it, though now I’d accepted it I rarely had
same damn card, which confused everyone utterly, including        to do anything about it, unless fate threw us into something,
the ones who knew we’d separated. And here she was again,         like sharing a hotel bedroom together, which had happened
picking up on my train of thought, the image I’d had of Adam      once. Most of the time I was queer for girls, as the saying
playing with that Taiwanese sparkly rubbish, over and over        goes.
and over.                                                         “I don’t think anyone’s to blame,” I said. I didn’t want to go
“Do you think it was our fault, Jack?”                            into all that hate that Kay had stored up for the mythical
Damn right it was our fault, or rather mine, agreeing to the      women in my life, who most of the time were just female
adoption when I knew it wasn’t the answer, but so damn            friends who liked me for something or other, nothing sexual,
determined to have a kid even though I couldn’t father one        or at least nothing sexual in practical terms. Sometimes her
myself, as sentimental in my ideas of fatherhood as she was,      insane jealousy had opened my eyes to an attraction I’d
when you came down to it. And he did bring us together for a      inspired in some innocent chick without even realising it, and
while. Until I met Jane.                                          after the inevitable row, I’d had to steer well clear of the
                                                                  unoffending party to avoid it happening again. Ironically,
“Things were going so well until you met that woman.”             she’d never been jealous of Jane until it was too late, arguing
There she was, doing it again, reading my mind, though she        no doubt that with her skinny shape and ungainly walk she
was wrong there. She forgot the time she’d complained when        constituted no possible threat to someone as shapely and slim
as Kay.                                                           “OK,” she said, “I can take a hint. You don’t want to talk
She came back from the bar bearing two pints as well as a         about it. As a matter of fact, I’m not so sure I’d want to hear
couple of shot glasses containing an amber liquid that could      the answer, anyway. I was never really sure you loved me,
only be whisky – malt, I found myself hoping. I sniffed mine      you know.”
delicately. A Glen Grant, I guessed.                              That did it.
“I thought you might like a short,” she explained, “so I          “For Christ sake, Kay,” I exploded. “I was crazy about you.
thought I’d join you.”                                            Matter of fact, I still am.” Now, that was a mistake, but the
“Can a duck swim?” I asked rhetorically, and sipped it,           hell with it, I knew it was true. A day didn’t pass that I didn’t
feeling the fire of it on my tongue and the dark fumes swirl up   think of her with some kind of affection. The fact that the
my nasal cavity and into my lungs. Glen Grant is not the          same was true of Jane, my moptop, and virtually every other
finest malt in the Highlands, but it’s a damn sight better than   woman I’d felt anything for, including my dear departed
the cooking liquor they sell to the world as blended whisky,      mum, didn’t diminish the place my marriage to Kay still left
all of it tasting more or less like all the rest, with the sole   carved in my heart. The scars might have healed a bit, but
exceptions of Chivas Regal, John Walker Black and a few           they were still there.
other quality brands, Dimple Haig, for instance.                  Her eyes were moist.
“It’s not Glenfiddich,” she apologised.                           “Why’d you have to wait this long before you tell me that?”
“I know,” I said, pleased that she’d remembered my favourite      she wanted to know.
brand, though I’d moved on from that now to one more              “Jesus, Kay, I told you all the time, but you just didn’t want to
esoteric. “It’s OK.” I hoped it didn’t sound too begrudging.      believe it. You were always so busy eying the competition up
“So what was it, if it wasn’t that woman?” she insisted.          and down. But the truth was, you had no competition.”

Oh God. Getting her into bed might not be worth of it if we       Until I discovered I was sterile, and started wondering what
had to have this trial by error as a preamble. In fact, if this   sort of sexual freak that made me, and I took to hanging round
was the way it was going to be I’d as lief split here and now,    the Soho haunts to bolster my sexual self-esteem with so-
and shank it over the Thames and into darkest North London.       called ladies of easy virtue, coming home drunk all hours,
I shrugged, hoping this would stop her inquisition.               with the insides of my Y-fronts all sticky.

Strangely enough, it did.                                         She swallowed the last of her pint, and stood up, trying to
brush the creases out of her skirt the way women do,               but it has more poke.”
regardless of how uncreased it really is. She’d turned into a      “Surprised he doesn’t give you a Porsche, you know, what’s
braw little drinker in the years we’d been apart. “If I’m going    ’is name?” His name escaped me for a moment, it truly did.
to get you home without spilling you into the gutter,” she said,   She didn’t enlighten me. I gathered from her general mien that
leading the way to the door. I was feeling a little under the      she felt a long way from Vegas.
weather, but there was no apparent sway in her stride. No
doubt a breathalyser would tell different, but she looked          There was a faint squeal from the tires as she pulled up
unlikely to invite suspicion.                                      outside my pad.
Apart from the way she gunned away from the curb like              “Here we are, Jack,” she said. “Real to-your-door service.”
Nicky Lauder, that is.                                             “I appreciate it.”
We crossed Blackfriar’s Bridge, zoomed up Farringdon Road          There was an awkward pause, that lasted only a split second,
past the neon-signed head office of the People’s Daily, past       but seemed to be an eternity.
the Mount Pleasant sorting office and the old doss-house
                                                                   “You gonna ask me up, Joe?” she said.
they’ve turned into a mid-price hotel, down into Kings Cross
and up Pentonville Road, past the nick and across to Camden        “I’m not sure I’ve got any coffee.”
Town, swinging northwards to my own manor.                         “I don’t want coffee,” she said.
She was a good driver, I’ll give her that, drink or no drink.                           Funeral song
That was something else that had happened since I left: before
then, it had been me who’d done all the driving, and she’d         Follow my coffin
navigated. Now I didn’t even have a car, just my rusty old         With laughter and song
bike.                                                              ’Cos our time on this earth
                                                                   May not be long
“Nice little motor,” I said. “I didn’t know a Mini could be this   Don’t waste your time weeping
nippy.”                                                            As you follow my pall
“It’s a Cooper,” she said, whipping into the space between a       ’Cos you know that you gave me
petrol tanker and a 134 bus with a panache that almost had me      The best love of all.
shitting myself. “A bit more expensive in petrol consumption,                                                     March 12, 2002
                  A dance of death                                                       That woman
I dreamed I saw my true loves dancing

                                                                  T
                                                                          hat woman, she said, never naming her by name, just
over the purple moors looking down on Haworth.                            that woman, like a finger pointing, that woman never
There was joy on their faces                                              oughta tooken him, who was already tooken, near
and I was nowhere to be seen.                                     thirty-five years or more, but having took, ’twasn’t right to
                                                                  drop him like an old rag, when someone younger and more
They joined hands in a circle dance                               handy about the house come along.
beneath a silver moon
                                                                  I told that woman straight I did, when they’d started
and their feet kicked showers of stars from the frozen heather
                                                                  canoodling in public but before I says it’s her or me, so he
      beneath their feet.
                                                                  moved out and got himself a nice little flat round the corner
                                                                  from where she lives with her four kids, I helped him lay the
In the valley
                                                                  carpet, but that came later.
a tombstone with my name on it
testified to their joy:                                           I told her straight, I did, that woman, I says to her, find
that my life and death had freed them                             yourself a man of your own, I says, don’t take mine, just cos
to release me from their grasp                                    we’re going through a rough patch like what happens in even
and look upon each other’s faces with love.                       the happiest marriages, but she just looked at me with those
                                                                  hooded black eyes of hers, and anyway I’ll never find out
And as they laughed                                               what she was going to say or even if she had anything at all to
my spirit echoed their song                                       say for herself, that woman, cos he comes storming over in
and tuned itself to the dance they danced.                        her defence, didn’t he, so it turns into a row between him and
                                                                  me, didn’t it, about how dare I shout at the woman he loved,
And we were joined, all three,                                    as if that hadn’t been my title up till then, so he refused to talk
in the steps that link life and death                             to me all the way home in the car and all that night, and I
as my flesh melted into the shapes of new-budded                  could see he was fixing to move out, and not a week later, so
spring daffodils.                                                 he did, wouldn’t take anything that wasn’t strictly his, like his
                               Resurrection Day, March 31, 2001   LPs and videos, though of course I kept the brass bedstead
                                                                  he’d bought before we got together, and we slept together for
                                                                  the first time.
He left the rest of the furniture he’d bought for that other       the grief she gave him when they were supposed to be
woman who wouldn’t leave her husband for him, we made              together, I know that still rankles.
love in that bed and thirteen days later I moved in and brought    He’d be a fool to ever have her back, I know, but then all men
my son too, and though he’s grown up and three of his own          are fools, and all women also, cos why would she throw over
kids now, when he wanted to take the bed, my man I’m               best man was ever born, though him sometimes hard to live
talking about, I said no way, so we still sleep in it together     with, when he gets one of his black moods; all I can do then is
when he comes to stay, which is mostly every other night,          stand aside and let him get on with it, though not so far away
now she’s taken her claws out of his hair.                         that he can’t see me ready and waiting to take him into my
People say I’m stupid, having him back when he’s done the          arms again, as so would she have, if her so-called love had
dirty with that woman, especially when he followed up with         meant anything more than romantic hogwash, that woman
that Jewish bird from up north, nearly drove him crazy, didn’t     telling everyone he was the love she’d waited for all her life,
she, never would have worked so he come back again, though         now for ever and always, and that always was falling down to
I really thought I’d lost him for good that time.                  an end before three short years were up. I took him for better
People say I’m stupid, he’s made his bed let him lie in it sort    or worse, and so surely did she, even though no marriage
of thing, but I couldn’t see him suffering when that woman         vows were exchanged, and anyway didn’t she have her own
chucked him over, so I comforted him and let him talk out his      moods, I bet she did, still does when I see her sitting beside
pain until one day I said I was fed up with this cracked           this new man of hers in the pub like two suet dumplings,
gramophone record, repeating over and over, and could he           never a smile or a holding hands and not anything that looks
please find another tune so he took the hint, bless him, and       like love between them, except she’s let whatever this new
sometimes he can go a whole day without mentioning her             man has that my man hasn’t come between my man and his
name once, so I’m glad I took him back.                            happiness.

He lies awake of a night sometimes, and I lay there too, cos I     That’s why I would never stand aside and let him go if she
know he’s thinking of her, albeit it’s three years or more since   changed her mind and wanted him back again, but it’ll never
she gave him the push. You might think it’s hard, to be lying      happen, mark my words.
alongside your man and him dreaming of another woman, and          I’ve tried telling him this, but there’s no reasoning with a man
it was at first, but I’m determined she shouldn’t come between     in love. He says their love was ordained by God, as if He
my man and me like she did three years before that, and all        would be leading men to cheat on their wives.
Still and all, it is said that He moves in a mysterious way His     woman was doing God’s work in his life, bringing him sexual
wonders to perform, and in the end we are better off, to be         healing. More than that, he reckons the work’s not done, and
honest. All marriages go through sticky patches, I expect, and      she’ll be back when God’s good and ready.
before that woman came along, things were going from bad to         Fat chance, says I, cos she’s a stubborn, hard-faced bitch, and
worse.                                                              even if Jesus came down from His Cross to beg her on bended
Worse for him it was, I expect, cos he was getting on in years      knee, she’s not ever going to admit she done wrong by giving
and no longer the more-than-at-least-once-a-night he’d been         the elbow to the best man was ever born. She’ll swap this new
when first we met. When she came along, suddenly the old            one for an even newer one when the gilt wears off the
fire burst into flame again, and I could have been fine, if he      gingerbread – that’s always if anyone else’d want her as
wasn’t always sneaking off to be with her, yes, even the            hasn’t got stardust in his eyes, like my man, and her fast
morning after a night spent naked in my arms.                       approaching fifty and not getting any younger.
He said he loved us both and in different ways, but how could       He calls her beautiful, but I can’t see it meself, try as I might.
that be? It’s against nature. Bible says King Solomon had a         Of course, I know I’m biased, but folk always say I’ve a good
thousand wives, not to mention concubines, but how’d he             eye, for curtains and that, and I do admit she’s striking in her
share his attentions between them all? That’s what I want           way, with those high cheekbones and dark, hooded eyes,
know. That’d be about once every three years for every wife         never let you know what she’s thinking in that black head of
(not counting the concubines) and how’d that work? Have a           hers.
timetable on the harem wall?                                        But as she gets older, that skull beneath the skin’ll get more
When Sarai couldn’t give Abram a child, she told him to lie         and more prominent, just mark my words, and no man but
with her slave, who did the business with him.                      mine’d look twice at her, lessen she learns to smile a bit more
Well, Solomon was a king and Abram was a prophet, and no            than she does, these days.
doubt used to such goings on. But for ordinary folk like him        Happen this new man’s not turned out quite as fancy as she
and me, Bible also says Eve was a helpmeet for Adam.                imagined he’d be, and she’s making the best of it, which
Nothing about others on the side.                                   would account for their glum faces every time they’re seen
And isn’t there a commandment against adultery?                     together.

Well, he knows all this, and admits it, but he still reckons that   She pays court to him naitheless, she who was well-known for
not taking any shit from any man, so while they don’t               unwanted.
canoodle in public like my man an’ me used to and still do          As it happened, though, it’s all worked out OK. We’re back
today, no doubt she loves him in her fashion.                       together, and cuddling all night like he never went away.
But he won’t have it, my man won’t, and so he lays awake a          She’s got her new man, and long may it be so. My man seems
nights, no doubt projecting the great reconciliation on to his      to be grieving less, and at least he’s no longer on about her all
dreaming eye, when the one thing everybody knows about the          the time.
future is that it never turns out the way you plan, and even if     If she decides she wants him back – well, we’ll cross that
does, the reality likely as not don’t come up to expectations,      bridge when we come to it, shall we? One thing’s for sure, no
like.                                                               way I’m going to drive him back into her arms. It won’t be
And what if it does, what if she does call on that phone he         easy, I know that, every minute he chooses to be with her
always keeps at his bedside in case anyone might call, and          rather than me’ll be like a spear through my heart. But if love
who else would call but her, him having said she always can,        is eternal, like he’s always saying, then I know we can
any hour of the day or night, though me being by his side           weather the storm.
again most nights? Like I say, it’ll never happen, but what if it   Until that stupid bitch tires of him again, bad luck to her
does, and he’s up and out of our bed at the midnight hour the       cheating heart.
very first time she beckons, what will I do?                                              Cante Hondo
                                                                                                    I
Well, I don’t know, but I tell you what, I know what I won’t
do. There’s no woman on earth can give him what I can, and          She sings:
that includes this lady-love he’s been mooning over these past                In the street at midnight
three years, and he’ll soon discover what’s what, if I don’t do               A white stallion gallops through pools of silver.
what I did last time round, kicking him out so she was all he                 The stable door is broken.
had, and me lying alone all night, rueing the day I ever told                 His hoofs strike steel fire from the cobblestones.
him it was either her or me, he had to choose.
I mean, how stupid can a woman be? Either way, I was bound                    If I had a silver arrow
to lose. If he chose me, he’d be grieving for her, worse than                 I would shoot it into the heart of the woman who has
he is now, and it’d be all my fault. Choose her – which he did                       bewitched my lover.
– then I might have lost him for good, if she hadn’t lost the                 I would scatter her blood
sense she was born with so she threw him away, used up and                    Like roses in the heather.
            I went into the church                           Rising like a kestrel into the clouds,
            And I prayed to the Holy Virgin.                 Hovering, with eyes ever seeking.
            I asked her to bring him back to me
            So she answered my prayer.                       True love is sweeter than honey
                                                             But betrayal is sour as wormwood.
            His lips are cold fire                           A maggot has entered my soul
            In the night upon my breast.                     And her face is growing dim in the darkness.
            He drinks from my mouth
            But it does not quench his thirst.               She is no longer anything to me.
                                                             I placed a ring upon her finger
            He stands upon the high hill                     As a token of our love.
            Dappled in shadows like the night.               But it lies in the dusts of the desert
            He turns in my arms                              And perhaps another will find it for his beloved.
            And rests his head upon my shoulder.
                                                             The love of the woman who loves me is faithful and
            The past flies like an eagle                            true.
            But it crows like a raven.                       Faithful like a mountain.
            Outside my window                                True like a tree in the forest.
            A wood pigeon lies slaughtered.
                                                             I am waking from a dream
            I will saddle his horse                          And the memory is bitter as well as sweet.
            And ride out after him.                          A grey rain is falling outside the window.
            Anywhere he goes                                 I shall water the roses with my tears.
            I shall be at his side.
                                   II                        Tell me, how does it feel,
He sings:                                                    Young man in the arms of my once true love?
            My memories are smoke from a dying fire.         Knowing that just as her promises to me proved
            From dead weeds burning where new flowers will         false,
                 bloom,                                      One day you, too, may be cast aside for another.
       I wish you more years of her love than she gave to                           The goodbye
              me.

                                                               “T
                                                                            HERE’S someone here to see you,” said the nurse
                           III
                                                               )           to the old man.
The woman sings:                                                            Damn the woman! Couldn’t she see he was
       I am not to blame!                                                   working?
       Blame the wind                                          No, of course she couldn’t. How could she? As far as she was
       For coming and going its own sweet way.                 concerned, he might just be day-dreaming, remembering a full
       In the end, we do what we must.                         and tempestuous life. Ever since he sent his paints away,
                                                               because his hand had lost its old sureness and what he saw in
         Have you forgotten how empty my bed was,              his head never translated itself on to canvas, he’d done all his
         When you lay beside me looking out into the night?    painting in his head.
         I watched the sun come up
         And the birdsong drowned my tears.                    Right now, he was changing the light through the window,
                                                               and the tree-foliage patterns on the window blind, into an
         I shall not for ever wander the moors                 arrangement of planes, and he’d almost got it right. But now,
         Seeking the dying embers of our love.                 he’d lost it.
         How long must I listen in vain for the song of the    Women could always do that to him, but he thought that when
                skylark,                                       they removed his balls, it would stop happening. They’d lose
         For the mournful cry of a distant train?              their lifelong power over him. Instead, here he was, stuck in a
                                                               hospice, his every bodily function dictated by women, and
         Sometimes I climb alone to the top of the hill        their slavish adherence to the tyranny of the clock.
         So no one can find or bother me.
                                                               So what now?
         I love to run before the wind like clouds,
         Like seabirds driven inland from the coast.           A head poked round the door.
                                                               The hair was silver, the face lined and cragged, the lips
         Tomorrow is an unknown country where old maps         surrounded by the hairlines of age. But the eyes, the eyes!
                mean nothing.                                  Undoubtedly, it was her.
         I ask nothing more of you, not even your blessing.
                                                               “I don’t expect you recognise me, William?” she said, with
               First draft 30/6/03. Amended version 18/08/03
that familiar tentative manner which cloaked the steel              she’d sat for him, when he had lifted her from the dais and
backbone beneath.                                                   kissed her at the end, wept tears of invisible blood every
“Um,” he said. He needed time to think. How long had it             January since that black New Year when she’d found him in
been, twenty years? Yes, he was nearly ninety now, which            bed with – God, he couldn’t even remember the hussy’s
made her what? Sixty-something. So what did she want from           name! – and there she was, gone.
him now, two decades on?                                            “You quit painting when you left me,” he mumbled.
He quartered the familiar bone structure in his mind’s eye          “And hello to you, too,” she smiled. “Is that all you’ve got to
while he took time to assemble his thoughts.                        say to me after twenty years?”
Yes, it was still there, under the lines and crags. His favourite   “Twenty-two years, five months . . .”
model. His favourite lover, till she’d up and left.                 “. . . and ten days,” she finished. “You see, I remember things,
“But I always fuck my models,” he’d protested to her                too.”
retreating back.                                                    “Did you remember how great we were, how great you could
“And I always leave a man who fucks anyone else but me,”            have been, if you hadn’t taken up with that nonentity, that
she’d retorted through the closing door without looking back.       ...”
Not once. Not once!                                                 “Tom?”
Of course, he’d seen her occasionally at private views, usually     “Whatever. You could have done better than that, you know.”
with that man she married, that nonentity who didn’t know
one end of a brush from the other, though he presumed to            “I did do better than that, Willie, but you wanted to fuck
write as if he knew it all. Bloody critics! She, on the other       everyone who sat for you, the boys as well as the girls, so I
hand, had been showing promise when they split up. Promise          settled for safety. Tom thought I was wonderful.”
never fulfilled. The nonentity had gone, the way of all flesh,      “I thought you were wonderful, ‘Tild. I knew you were
but she’d become a rich man’s mistress. Not bad at the age of       wonderful, we were wonderful, why did you have to smash it
forty-something.                                                    all up?”
He corrected himself. What’s with this vagueness? He knew           “Who knows, my love? We did what we did. You fucked
her age, almost to the second. He’d celebrated her birthday         young Millie . . .”
every May, remembered every November the very first time
                                                                    Yes, that was her name. He always preferred to call her
Millicent. It sounded so like a girl’s school story. “Millicent    two-ton lumps of marble and cast-iron in a Notting Hill
gets it off,” he called her for full.                              bedsit. I didn’t want to sell them, and anyway Oscar’s wife
“. . . and I didn’t think I could allow that, so I took off, and   wouldn’t let me have the time to have a show. I mean, who
settled for a settled life with Tom.”                              was I? The left-over lover of a once-famous painter?”

“I could have changed, of you’d stayed, ’Tild.”                    “What d’you mean, ‘once-famous’? The Guardian did a
                                                                   retrospective just last week.”
“No you couldn’t, Willie, and frankly I wouldn’t have wanted
you any way different.”                                            “Only because they know you’re dying.”

“My painting improved after you left me.”                          “I’m not . . . !”

“Yes, that’s true.”                                                “Oh yes, I know you always said you’d live for ever, Willie,
                                                                   but you knew and I knew that was bullshit. Now you’re
“And yours stopped.”                                               raging against the dying of the light.”
“No, that is not true.”                                            “Bloody Dylan Thomas. I could drink him under the table any
“You mean, you kept on painting?”                                  day.”
“No, sculpture.”                                                   “No doubt you could, Willie. D’you remember that’s where
                                                                   we met?”
“Really? But that takes acres of space. Where was your
studio?”                                                           “The George? How could I not? You were sitting there
                                                                   nursing some poncey drink, port-and-lemon.”
“Oscar set me up with a loft in Hammersmith.” That would be
her millionaire.                                                   “No, that was a previous generation, Willie. Mine was rum ’n’
                                                                   coke in those days.”
“He died.”
                                                                   “Bloody Bacardi.”
“Yes. His wife got it all, even the studio.”
                                                                   “Yes, you refused to buy me one in solidarity with Che
“And the work.”
                                                                   Guevara. Since they didn’t sell what you called proper Cuban
“I put it on the tip.”                                             rum, you insisted I drink Boddington’s like a real drinker,
“But that’s criminal!”                                             which I recall was your tipple of choice right then.”
“Yes, Willie, I’m afraid it was. But there’s not much room for     “I thought I’d given it up by then.”
“No, you went on to the orange juice the following year, when     columns?”
you got that perforated ulcer.”                                   “Yes, they were a bit graphical. Testicular cancer, wasn’t it.
“Bloody acid, all those non-alcoholic drinks. Gave me             But they didn’t castrate your brain, did they? I bet you can
heartburn. Think the booze would have done me more good.”         still dream, can’t you?”
“The booze would have killed you, Willie. It already was          “Only of bloody paint. Never stops, the light and the shapes.
killing you.”                                                     The planes. Look at that window.”
“A short life and a merry one.”                                   She looked, not particularly keenly.
“Not so short and not so merry, Willie. Don’t forget, I married   “Yes, pretty. But you never did pretty paintings, Willie.”
an alkie.”                                                        “Pretty? Pretty!? It’s abso-fucking-lutely marvellous. Look at
“Tom?”                                                            the way those leaves move about. Like waves in the sea.”
“No, before I met you. The kid’s dad.”                            “Oh come on, Willie. You were never good with landscapes.
She never used his name.                                          You mean you haven’t painted any of these nurses nude in
                                                                  that head of yours?”
“He drank himself to death. Not pretty, Willie. You wouldn’t
have enjoyed it.”                                                 He grunted again.

“Think I’m enjoying this?” He waved his hand around the           “You never stopped painting me. Oscar hated it.”
room.                                                             “Whereas Tom just grinned and bore it, I suppose.”
“Yes, I’ll bet you’re lapping it up. A bunch of pretty young      “Tom didn’t pay much attention. He was more of a do-it-
women standing round ready to do everything but wipe your         yourself man.”
bum for you. And I expect you’d like them to do that for you,     “Masturbated, did he?”
too.”
                                                                  “You know what I mean. Built me a grand conservatory.”
He grunted.
                                                                  “So why didn’t you return there after your sugar-daddy died?”
“You’re not telling me you’ve put all that behind you, are you
Willie?”                                                          “Couldn’t. We sold it, part of the divorce settlement. Or at
                                                                  least, I sold my half to him. He’s still there, far as I know.”
“I’ve been castrated, haven’t you read that in the gossip
“He still writes that garbage in the posh Sundays.”               what I said.”
“Didn’t know you read critics.”                                   “Yes, well I believed you when I saw you fucking young
“Now, I do. Try to keep in touch. But he likes all that           Millie. That told me the truth about you and me.”
conceptual bullshit.”                                             “She was the only one. And that was the only time.”
“‘All art is conceptual’, I remember you said to me one time,     “What about after?”
Willie.”                                                          “Well, I ditched Millie. Every time I saw her, she reminded
“I said a lot of stuff. But not all of it was bullshit.”          me of how I’d lost you. And anyway, I was doing my brothel
“Conceptual art?”                                                 series.”

“No, stuff I said. About loving you for ever.”                    “Yes, very flattering that was, seeing all those canvases with
                                                                  me in a salon, waiting for my clients. Over and over again.”
“Yes, you kept sending me emails.”
                                                                  “No one could recognise you.”
“Well, I assumed your Tom didn’t read emails. I didn’t want
him reading what I wrote.”                                        “Yes, thank God for cubism. But I knew, and you knew I
                                                                  knew.”
“I printed them out for him.”
                                                                  “You went to see them.”
“I always said you were a bitch, at heart.”
                                                                  “Tom took me.”
“You only called me a bitch once, and I told you if you said it
again I’d leave you.”                                             “Yeah, he likened them to the Demoiselles d’Avignon. As if
                                                                  no one could paint whores like Picasso.”
“And I didn’t. But you still left me.”
                                                                  “You could have done them like Toulouse Lautrec.”
“Yes, well, that was then.”
                                                                  “Now I know you’re joking.”
“And now is now. I remember you said that in one of your
few email replies.”                                               “Yes, well . . . “

“Well, I distrust words. You loved them, even though you said     A pause hung in the air.
the only truth was in paint on canvas.”                           “Could you pull up the blind, ’Tild? The sun appears to have
“And fucking, ’Tild, and fucking. You’ve left out the rest of     gone in.”
Another pause while she did so. A nurse popped her head          bullshit. No Geordies south of the Tyne. Anyway, it was you,
round the door and then retracted, like a tortoise tasting the   I’d swear . . . “
air.                                                             “No, Willie. I’d remember the mile castle. I remember
“So you’re only painting in your head?”                          Derbyshire. We went there to stay with that jazz guy.”
“Not even that, a lot of the time. I do a lot of thinking.”      “Neil.”
“What of?”                                                       “Remember, you wanted to be a jazz composer. You painted
“Mostly of you, believe it or not.”                              him a score.”

“Very flattering.”                                               “They bloody performed it, too. Bloody ’orrible row.”

“You don’t know what I think.”                                   “And we all walked up on the Peaks.”

“You never asked me to come back.”                               “Yes, and we ran away and I stripped you naked. We both got
                                                                 bitten to death by red ants, there in the bracken. You didn’t
“Not in so many words. But I did believe you would, one day,     seem to care, the ants or anyone seeing us, Neil or a complete
when you realised what a mistake you made. And here you          stranger. It was all the same to you.”
are.”
                                                                 “I enjoyed those ants. It felt like the whole of nature was
“A bit late in the day.”                                         giving me lovebites.”
“But better late than never.”                                    “And everyone wondered why my nudes had all those red
“Hey,” he said, after another pause. “Remember the time I        blotches all over them after. I always thought you must be a
took you up on the Roman Wall?”                                  bit of an exhibitionist, on the quiet.”
“No, that must have been someone else.”                          “I was an artist’s model, Willie. Taking my clothes off is what
                                                                 I do.”
“You must remember. I fucked you in the mile castle.”
                                                                 “Not in the Derbyshire Peaks and not with my cock between
“No, honestly, Willie, you’re mixing me up with someone
                                                                 your legs, you don’t.
else. You were always talking about taking me up to
Northumberland, but you never did.”                              “But I did take you up there and I painted you.”
“Bloody Tyne and Wear they call it now. Bureaucratic             “And yourself like some kind of masked demon.”
“I’m always a masked demon in my paintings. It’s like              to talk. It was very painful, what you did.”
Picasso’s minotaur.”                                               “Not so bloody painful as you leaving me in the lurch. I had a
“At least you never gave yourself that sort of huge member.”       canvas half-finished.”
“Well, given that I’m not all that well-endowed . . .”             “What happened to that famous memory of yours?”
“You’re reasonably well built.”                                    “It wasn’t that. I vowed I’d leave it until you came back.”
“. . . I didn’t want to give you cause to scoff.”                  “And I never did.”
“Would I ever scoff?”                                              “Not till now.”
“No, be fair, you never did.”                                      “And you’ve stopped painting.”
“Well, I never thought sex was all that important, really.”        “Not really. Take your clothes off and I’ll send home for my
“No, ’Tild, you’ve got that wrong. It’s size that’s not all that   palette.”
important. You loved sex. Couldn’t get enough of it.”              “You wouldn’t want to. I’ve had a mastectomy. These are
“That’s because it was sex with you. It was never the same         falsies.”
with anyone else.”                                                 “Wild! Come over on to the bed and let’s feel them.”
“You’re just saying that because you think it makes me happy.      “Willie!”
But you’re wrong. It just makes me sad.”                           “No, I mean it. I always wondered if I could tell Stork from
“Why sad?”                                                         butter.”
“Cos you fucked off and left me, you bitch.”                       She sits on the bed, gingerly, barely within reach. He sits up
She stood up.                                                      and grabs her, pulling her body across him.

“No, don’t go. I take back the bitch. At least, don’t go without   “Willie, someone might come.”
saying why you’ve come to see me, after all these years.”          “You never worried about it in Northumberland.”
“I don’t know, really. I suppose it might be to say goodbye.”      “Derbyshire, you mean.”
“You never did. Not really.”                                       “Wherever.”
“No. I don’t mean like that. That was because I couldn’t bear      “So what d’you think?”
“About what?”                                                      “And I still kept taking it.”
“My prosthetics, stupid.”                                          “Stubborn b–, I mean woman. So it’s all there, down here.”
“I can’t believe they’re not butter.”                              “Willie! I thought you said you’d been castrated.”
“No, really.”                                                      “But they can’t castrate my brain. You said that, and it’s true.”
“Let’s get inside them.”                                           “Ouch, I’m a bit dry.”
“There’s nothing at all inside them.”                              “Must be those hormone pills.”
“Not at all. It’s you. I can feel your ribs. You’re like a young   “I’d be a damn-sight drier, without them, believe you me.”
boy.”                                                              “How if I spit on my fingers, like this.”
“I thought you might like that.”                                   “Oh, Willie!”
“Is that scar tissue?”                                             There was silence, apart from the rhythmic squeaking of the
“Yes, it’s a bit tender.”                                          bed.
“Oh, sorry.”                                                       “Funny,” he said eventually, “didn’t know this bed squeaked.
“It’s OK. You always were a bit rough.”                            I’ll have to get it fixed, if you’re going to come round very
                                                                   often.”
“Which you liked, if I remember right. Anything else you’ve
had removed while I’ve not been looking?”                          “It seems terrible, not being able to help you enjoy yourself.”

“Like what?”                                                       “But I enjoy your enjoyment. Don’t you remember?”

“Like a hysterectomy?”                                             “Yes, I remember. I always wondered how much you meant
                                                                   it.”
“No, but I’m on HRT.”
                                                                   “Didn’t you know I meant it?”
“Don’t believe in it, meself, mucking about with your
hormone balance.”                                                  “Yes, I suppose I did. Well, I think I’d better be going.”

“Yes, you didn’t like me being on the pill, I recall.”             “Wham-bam! Thank you man, eh? Now you’ve had your will
                                                                   of me.”
“I forbade it, what I did.”
                                                                   “No, it’s not like that. I’ll stay a while longer, if you like. Why
don’t you close your eyes and have a bit sleep, after all that                  Text messages from Palestine
exercise?”
                                                                    June 26, 2002 Click here for complete audio sequence
“I’m only glad I can still do it.”                                  Waking
“Oh, you can still do it, all right.”                               All night your words: a look, a smile, a handclasp, an
“So lie here still with me, and perhaps we can both doze off.”             embrace, a kiss. Simple, saying more than they say,
                                                                           across oceans, through skies, wrapped round my sleep.
Slowly, his breathing eased, and as it did so, she drifted off to
sleep, as she had so many times before, feeling his arms            Sunday June 30, 2002
around her naked shoulders.                                         Midnight
The room was dark when she woke.                                    Before you go to bed, she said, you must wash your feet. Here
                                                                          is a towel. I lay in bed, listening to the quiet breathing
“Oh,” said the nurse, “sorry to disturb you, but he needs his             of 2 strong women. Change in adversity.
night shots. He can’t sleep without them.”
She sat up, startled, surprised to find she was fully dressed.      July 4, 2002
When did that happen?                                               7.55am, Crystal Motel
                                                                    In naked sheets my body loves the night. Proper food and
“Mr Jimpson,” said the nurse. “Mr Jimpson. Time for your                  comfort restores me. But no relief for those outside,
night shots.”                                                             oppressed by curfew. Rested, refueled, returned.
She shook his shoulder. Gently at first, then more vigorously.
                                                                    10.30am
“Mr Jimpson. Mr Jimpson! Oh my God!”
                                                                    Erotic dreams’ affirmation where identity is compromised.
She pressed an alarm bell and ran out of the room.                        Body wakens, will not be denied. Bowels move, hunger
The woman looked at the man. He was not breathing.                        stirs. Children play in the street. Life goes on.
There was a faint smile on his face.
                                                                    July 5, 2002
His hands were clutching air, as if holding a paint brush.          10.15am, to Lisa
The woman leant over and smoothed his brow. Then she got            A dove surrounded by cheeky Arab sparrows. Undismayed by
up and left the room.                                                     touch, invasions of her space. A light in darkness. A
                                              June 5, 2004                dream. A pleasure to meet, to know, & understand.
                  Dolly the Sheep                               So take my word, the idea is quite absurd,
                  Tune: Nellie the Elephant                     Putting an end to sex my friend is really for the birds.
                                                                The sterile lab will never be quite as fab
Scientists say they’ve found a better way                       As good old fashioned snogging as the method much
Than smelly old sex and love to put girls in the family way.          preferred.
They made a leap and now they’ve cloned a sheep                 ’Cos
But they’ve hit a snag and now they nag and worry night and          Dolly the sheep was born a clone
       day.                                                          And now she’s got arthritis
Her chromosomes unlike our whole biomes                              Off she goes with a clumpety clump,
Are six years older than they should be, so send for Sherlock        Clump clump clump.
       Holmes!                                                       Dolly the sheep has chromosomes
Her back legs are stiff as wooden pegs                               That are aging faster than normal
And all of them standing puzzled like a bunch of garden              Off she goes with a clumpety clump,
       gnomes.                                                       Clump clump clump.
’Cos                                                                                                         January 6-10, 2001
     Dolly the sheep was born a clone
     And now she’s got arthritis
     Off she goes with a clumpety clump,
                                                                . . . the creature itself also
     Clump clump clump.
     Dolly the sheep has chromosomes
                                                                     shall be delivered from
     That are aging faster than normal
     Off she goes with a clumpety clump,                             the bondage of
     Clump clump clump.
                                                                     corruption into the
Their plan is blown, it’s knocked them off their throne
If they try to clone the human genome the effects are quite          glorious liberty of the
       unknown.
We’ll all be born, old aged and outworn
Like Dolly the sheep with pain we’ll weep and we’ll be quite
                                                                     children of God.
                                                                                                                 Romans 2: 21
       forlorn.
                       The return
  riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to           since many lie with many, childbirth being a matter that does
    bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of                 not concern them.
    recirculation back . . .
                                                                   The longhouse is women’s territory, to which they are
                                 –James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
                                                                   admitted at our bidding, and women have skills of which men
  The dissolution of society bids fair to become the               know nothing, not only of child-bearing but of potions and
    termination of a career of which property is the end and       lotions made from herbs brought back from our gathering.
    aim; because such a career contains the elements of self-      Those of us who have special skills are well regarded, but
    destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood (sic)        none rules over the rest, for each is special in her own way,
    in society, equality in rights and privileges and universal    united with all in the way our bodies’ seasons echo the
    education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to      coming and going of spring upgrowth and winter down-
    which experience, intelligence and knowledge are               coming, a body of all bodies, each with her own rhythm, each
    steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of   in asynchronicity with the whole.
    the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.
                – Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society (1877)       The men have no such seasons to their living, though to be
                                                                   sure there are times for their hunting, when the great herds


I
   t’s good when the men are away, hunting. But it’s better        mass on the plains, and times also when they have moved
   when we’re out, wandering, gathering.                           away, to return again, and move away, and return, as if bidden
    The hunt doesn’t always bring food for us. As a species        by the length of days.
we’re not as fast as deer, we don’t have claws like the tiger.     But the men have no time or tide in their own lives, willing to
But I guess the men have learned from the wolf, hunting in a       take us whenever we will, but in times we decide, not they, for
pack. They come back whooping and shouting, dancing; then          they would be forever at us if we did not set limits to their
they come to us, the women. To be fair, we’re glad to have         rutting.
them back, however the hunt went.
                                                                   There are times we may not be touched, whether they be back
Children come from that celebration, more to run around as         from hunting or no, and times when our blood flows like the
we travel, picking for food, each of us women knowing who          coming and going of the moon, a white lady looking down on
are whose, the men nothing to do with it, except those             her journeyings, much as we come and go gathering, without
moments of pleasure, not knowing anything of fatherhood,           fuss and bother. It’s more like a walk in the woods, the kids
running around, though not too far from us, because the          berries are shunned, because they’re poison, but what’s good
jungle can be a dangerous place. Nevertheless, it’s rare for     is just natural, there to be gathered by any who see them,
any of us to be carried back, like the men with limbs torn by    passing by, seeds to be scattered.
savage jaws. The worst happens to us, most times, are thorns     They spring up around the midden place, and such as they are
in the feet, scratches from fruit bushes, stings from honey      fatter and juicier than many we find out on the trails. We need
bees.                                                            to go out less and less, seeking, because the fruits have come
Berries are more dependable than raw meat. They are always       to us, within easy reach of our cooking pots.
there, if we ramble far enough. And if the woods are gathered    Now we gather to plant, and the men see us planting,
out, then we up sticks all of us, women and children and men,    watching, considering, planning.
and together we find a place where no one’s stripped the trees
of all their fruit.                                              It is good what they plan, but it changes everything.
Of course, there are seasons to our gathering, lean months       Yes, they still go out and hunt while we tend the garden, but
when the wind whistles through the trees, and what we find       in the heat of summer the ground bakes hard. It takes more
are hard, dried by sun and storm, almost uneatable. Or fire      than a pointed stick to break it up. A spear can be made into a
may rage through the trees, or the rains fail, and we must       hoe, a man’s tool.
search farther and farther, bringing back scant fare for the     We were content to let the plants spring up wherever they
whole body of all. Fortunately, such thin times are rare, but    may, not worrying if birds from the air come down to take
they cannot be planned for. Like birth and death, they have      some of them, for the earth provides enough for all, human
reasons beyond our knowing.                                      and fowl alike.
Sometimes we meet others, gathering, but we live and let live.   But they teach us to plant in rows, nets over to prevent our
The earth has enough for all, and if her fruits are scarce, we   winged brothers from swooping down to carry off the seeds,
can point each other to greener places where more may be         walling the plantings round with fences to keep out animals,
found.                                                           or others.
The men shout and wave their spears in the air if any stranger   Something new to be considered: the land, once created one
dare to approach their hunt.                                     for all, now property.
The animals are sacred to them, whatever that means,             Now they do not come to the longhouse but take us on the
forbidden to others. It is not our way of thinking. Some         tilled ground, willing their seed to make sprout up the seeds
they have planted. And we, too, have become property.               whose wombs quicken and whose breasts give suck. We are to
They forbid us to wander abroad any more, gathering, and            them unclean, sinks of iniquity.
truly there is no need, since the plantings provide enough for      So they teach in the place where they say their god lives.
all. More than enough indeed, and a man’s worth is valued by        Yet womanly times are not forgotten. Suns shall revolve about
what he has in store when winter winds rattle the husks of          the round earth a thousandfold, a thousand thousandfold, yet
what has died down.                                                 the madness they try to trap us into shall not prevail.
Those whose planting has been less fruitful must work for           If only because the serfs of these times are not only we, who
those whose granaries are full. Or they starve.                     labour and spin, but they also, imprisoned behind their own
Our children are numbered by their fathers, for our old             created prison bars, rules erected when first our great mother
freedom of choice has been lost. There are now rules which          earth was fenced and walled off, made property. The owners
say whose we are, and whose we may not be. There are                are owned, the walls surround their own hearts, denying their
penalties for those who break the rules, even unto death,           own flesh, which would be one with us and our ancient ways,
though we who are the taken are the ones punished, most             and so one with all.
times, while the men who take another’s are often forgiven          So the circling seasons, the rotating suns, universes and
their trespass, for it is given out that women’s wiles led the      galaxies, turn time back, return us to the need for all to live in
men astray, they being governed by their ungovernable               harmony with the green earth, woman and man. In liberating
passions.                                                           ourselves we shall also set them free.
Sometimes we are whore, sometimes goddess, also virgin;                                                         April 4, 2006, 23:48
                                                                    It shall be an act of love.
many times something of all three. They have carved
themselves figurines, idealised representations of what they
would wish us to be, great tits and bums on them, tiny heads,       As it was in the beginning, is
no faces. We must try to live up – or down – to these images.
Once, we were people. But now we are things, and when they                now, and ever shall be :
come to us and penetrate us their eyes are closed, we just the
stuff of their fantasies; we know it is these headless, brainless
simulacra they are fucking in their heads, not the women
                                                                       world without end. Amen.
                                                                                                         – Book of Common Prayer
                         One Love       Play audio

For all my loves                                     For the whores and the strippers and the porn stars
past, present, and future.                           who have populated my lonely days,
                                                     for the wet dreams
For the living and the dead,                         who left me stranded like a drownded fish
for those who have gone to a greater love,           upon the barnacled rocks of the morning.
still living in my heart,
a slim girl walking through broken glass,            For trim buttocks winking away down a railway platform,
a fat woman opening up like a sliced peach;          the breastless, slim-hipped as boys,
for those still living for whom I’m dead,            and women enormous in silk blouses,
whose lives go on without me.                        legs like treestumps,
                                                     ankles like differential gears,
For those who went on to new loves,                  eyes dark and light as sandstone,
whose loving I embrace                               noses hawklike and snub-buttoned,
even as we now refrain from embracing.               lips wide and skinny,
                                                     teeth savage in their perfection
For those present and not present,                   and scroggled one upon another in a jumbled mouth
for the pain of being together                       which opens to take me,
and the joy of separation,                           warm and generous,
for absences and new meetings,                       light as sudden laughter,
for those who said yes                               wet as long-expected tears,
and even more for those who said no,                 lips unexpectedly dry,
and those who said they wanted to say yes            closed, welcoming,
but still refused me.                                unready, fulfilling hoped-for promise,
                                                     silent,
For the one boy I could be a man with                howling at the scarlet sky
and all the women who sought out                     within my eyelids.
the woman in me.
For those I have exploited                            for golden darkling,
and those, unknowingly,                               and black greyness of rain-wet dawns,
whom I have been exploited by.                        snow blown cold into our faces,
                                                      and sun reflecting off blue-lapped beaches,
For the known and unknown,                            the birth of hedgerows
the distant and by my side                            and the death of corn,
(and the one becoming the other),                     the hollow mountain
for the totally me                                    and the valley rising to the green horizon,
and the totally not mine,                             for treefall and larkrise,
for the always ready                                  for chimney tower
and those needing time to prepare themselves,         and burnt-out factory,
for the silent,                                       for railway sleepers
for those whose chatter staves off the night,         and broken bridges,
for the body language,                                for tower blocks tenanted like prisoners,
for the flash of eye and twist of mouth,              and thatch-haired villages
for the wordy and the unworded,                       we drive through,
the articulate and the incoherent cry of happiness,   anxious to reach destinations
for the chaste and the voluptuous,                    which are always the same,
the virgin mother of god,                             yet never where we expected to go.
and the mother of all,
the condemned and the forbidden,                      For jets stinking their paraffin into the sky,
the permitted and compulsory,                         travelling to download their shit
the now and the then                                  on to the upturned innocents
and tomorrow                                          a world away.
which never comes.
                                                      For the man with the gun
For the light and the dark,                           standing guard at the frontier,
the moon by day                                       for the millions waiting silently,
and the sun at night,                                 outside,
afraid of where they’ve been                       huddling together to keep out the night.
and where they might be sent back to,
for those whose lives have been shattered,         For the chink-chink of the gravedigger’s spade just yesterday,
for the green shoots of new life                   for the angry howl of the new-born tomorrow,
between the broken flags of the way things were,   the milk-sweet satisfaction of being named a child,
for those who are trying to remember,              the hard bite of the chisel carving the gravestone,
for those who can never forget,                    for the beginning which has no ending,
for memories of the way things ought to be,        the end which is a new beginning,
for the abuser and the abused.                     the circle and the harmony of the spheres,
                                                   the music of revolution,
For Cain mourning at the grave of Abel,            rounding the singularity where it all began
for Lucifer remembering the morning star,          and soon shall end,
for David recalling the love of Jonathan,          the water boiled off as steam,
for Herod putting the murderers to the sword,      the ice first contracting then expanding even as it freezes,
for the disciple whom Jesus loved,                 Clausius watching a kettle cool,
for Pilate finding no water                        the influenza virus floating between the stars,
to wash away the stain upon his hands,             the nothing that became everything,
for Caiaphas convening a new kangaroo court        the undivided
to condemn those who condemned                     who poured himself out into our human clay,
the birth of love into the world.                  the love that may not be named,
                                                   for to name is to limit,
For life flourishing in the desert,                and the limitless became man
for dewdamp sweet under sundried rocks,            so we could imagine him with us,
for stones which cut our feet,                     one love,
for the green mirage                               one eternal,
of promises yet unfulfilled,                       one at the beginning,
for the black chill                                one at the ending,
of stars marching across our tent-sky,             one in your arms,
for the warmth of bodies                           one in the space beside me where you are not,
one in all the faces of the ones I love,                                                    Notes
in the faces and names I can no longer remember,                 Though there are autobiographical elements in nearly all these
holy holy holy,                                                  pieces, readers should beware of trying to identify the ladies
whole,                                                           depicted alongside me. Almost all the stories are all fictions.
indivisible by zero,                                             The poems and songs, however, are all true.
infinity to the infinite power,
small as the dewsweat between your breasts,                      Songs of a wanderer
large as the caverns I find between your thighs,                       I composed the first section when Gloria first became
round as the clocksweep,                                               my beloved. The remainder tell the story of my
high as the curlew cry,                                                wanderings since then. The tune is original.
deep as the roseleaf raindrop,                                   The haiku lady
one,                                                                   Haiku (hy-koo) is a seventeen-syllable verse form,
the loneliest number,                                                  arranged in three lines of five, seven and five syllables.
yet three:                                                             The Japanese characters are a haiku by Basho, one of
you                                                                    the originators of the form:
and I
and I,                                                                 yoku mireba nazuna bana saku kakine kana
Jah love.                                                              looking carefully,
So mote it be.                                                         a shepherd’s purse is blooming
                                     February 26-March 1, 2000         under the fence
                                                                 The joke
                                                                       I started writing this story at the beginning of a love
                                                                       affair, but it became rather academic as the love
                                                                       progressed. When it ended (for her, at least) I took it up
                                                                       again and finished it. The ending was as I originally
                                                                       planned it, at the very beginning of the affair.
                                                                 Song: A blessing
                                                                       Originally composed for the wedding of my friend John
     Dunnet, and subsequently sung at the weddings of a          Magdala
     number of friends (and of one ex-lover).                         After meeting with a rather fine semi-pro soprano,
Tobe not                                                              whom I really admired, I was inspoired to begin
     A chapter from a prose poem, which I began with no               composing this song cycle for her, which would have
     idea what it was or where it was going. I only knew I            been my first attempt at a “classical” piece. I think she
     was trying to invent a new kind of syntax for my                 was a bit put off by my enthusiasm, and we lost touch. I
     writing. It was composed entirely on the first version of        have only written music for the first part, and never
     the Nokia Communicator pocket computer & mobile                  started on the accompaniment.
     phone. This particular section was composed when a          “Why not?”
     lady I was attracted to gave me a very nice “no”. I went         The inspiration for this was an actual incident in a Nice
     back to my hotel room and wrote it, and read it to her           toilette in Nice in the South of France. The rest is
     the very next day. But she didn’t change her mind!               fiction.
Song: The Lady from the West                                     Moonshadow
     A true story, given a mythic setting, inspired by Jessie         The Interchange writers’ network suggested we should
     L. Weston’s From ritual to romance (a copy of which is           observe the August 11, 1999 solar eclipse from Shipley
     on Kurz’s bookshelf in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now                  Glen and compose something in commemoration. This
     movie). It also inspired Eliot’s The waste land, one of          was my result.
     the most profound influences on my earliest juvenile
     poetry.                                                     The wedding picture
                                                                      The second newest piece in this publication. I was
Songs from the mountains                                              reading William Gibson at the time, which seems to
     A literary agent asked me to write a novel about Cecil           have influenced its style. The time is the near future. A
     Sharp and the early 20th Century folk revival. This, the         friend, reading it, wanted to know what happened next,
     second chapter, tells of Sharp’s expedition to the US            and why The Boss wanted his daughter killed. But
     Southern Appalachians in 1916, and what he was doing             that’s another movie, which you can compose in your
     when his friend George Butterworth was killed on that            own head.
     very day on the Western Front. The agent didn’t like        Song: Fair Annie and Lovely Johnny
     what I’d done, so that was an end to it.                         I dreamed this song, which might well be dismissed as
     a bit of pastiche. I rushed to write the words down as            life of Christ set in present times (Roman soldiers
     soon as I awoke, but by then I’d lost the melody. Every           toting sub-machine guns, the Wise Men professors at
     tune I tried to fit to it seemed to be more of a pastiche         the local university, the birth in the shadow of the Post
     than the words. In the end Rahel Guzelian found a tune            Office Tower, etc). Although the common identification
     for it. I’ve never sung it in public, but she does,               of the woman taken in adultery with Mary Magdalene
     sometimes. Ryan McGovern has also. He changed the                 is un-Biblical, I have adopted it here. Since the
     first line, which I don’t approve of, but that’s his              reformed whore is a bit of a cliche, I have made her
     choice.                                                           into a male prostitute, which upset Mary Whitehouse.
                                                                       Nevertheless, I couldn’t find a publisher who wanted to
A Death
                                                                       bring it out.
     Another story inspired by a real incident, when I was
     nearly run over by a crazy driver on a hill road above      The Thirteenth Hour
     my wife’s house. I wasn’t too keen on living at the               The clock is still chiming.
     time, hence the welcome the hero gives to his own
                                                                 The wedding at Cana
     death.
                                                                 On April 18, 1996, the Lebanese village of Qana (believed to
A sad dance                                                      be the site of Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine),
     “Isn’t life a terrible thing, thank God!” (Polly Garter,    was attacked by Israeli rockets. Around 800 Lebanese
     Under Milk Wood)                                            civilians had taken refuge there to escape the fighting, of
                                                                 whom over 100 were killed and 300 were wounded.
The heart songs
     Apologies to Edgar Allan Poe                                Into the War Zone
                                                                       I wrote the first part on my trip to Palestine in 2002,
Song: On the banks of the moorlands
                                                                       and the second in Iraq in 2003. This second part was
     I gave my love a B-flat whistle and then she ditched me
                                                                       recited by the cast at the end of my play about the
     for a fiddle player. The traditional song whose air I
                                                                       Human Shields in Iraq, which took its title from the
     have used uses phallic symbolism, but not so obvious
                                                                       poem.
     as mine. But subtlety was never my strong point.
                                                                 Born to live
Magdalene
                                                                       A true story, which I read about in Haaretz Magazine
     A chapter from Witnesses to Glory, a re-telling of the
                                                                       while I was in Jerusalem, in August, 2004.
Crushed by a wheel                                              Cante Hondo
     Rachel Corrie (April 10, 1979–March 16, 2003) was a             I have always loved flamenco. When I was still at
     member of the International Solidarity Movement                 school, before I started composing songs, I was singing
     (ISM) who was killed by an Israeli army Caterpillar D9          to myself a musical version of Lorca’s Somnambule
     bulldozer in a Palestinian residential area of Rafah, in        Ballad. This is an attempt to write the previous story as
     Gaza. The bulldozer deliberately ran over her twice             a series of three “deep songs”. More pastiche? Possibly.
     while she was trying to prevent a house demolition.
                                                                The goodbye
     Note to verse 2 (“Oh, you leader of women . . . ”): The
                                                                     I borrowed the name of the hero of this tale from Joyce
     name Rachel (in Hebrew Rahel, raw-kale’); stems
                                                                     Carey’s Trilogy. But then I always saw Gully Jimpson
     “from an unused root meaning to journey; a ewe [the
                                                                     as Stanley Spencer.
     females being the predominant element of a flock] (as a
     good traveller): —ewe, sheep.” (Strong’s Dictionary of     Song parody: Dolly the Sheep
     the Hebrew & Chaldean Language). In Arabic,                     I met Mandy Miller when she starred in the film
     however, it means “breath of God”.                              Mandy, long before she had a number one chart hit with
                                                                     Nellie the Elephant. She must be an old lady now.
A funeral
                                                                     Dolly was the world’s first clone, but she had a short,
     Two chapters from an unpublished novel, The fourth
                                                                     painful life. Rahel Guzelian said I should write more
     step, describing the funeral of the anti-hero’s son, who
                                                                     funny songs like this one, but then this is really quite a
     has died of a drug overdose. Though there are
                                                                     serious story.
     autobiographical elements in the story, all my children
     are alive, grown-up and well.                              The return
                                                                     I have often told the story of how we have moved from
Funeral song
                                                                     “womanly times” to our present predicament, and how,
A dance of death                                                     perhaps, we might "get ourselves back to the garden"
     There’s a lot about death in this collection, which may         (Joni Mitchell). This is the newest piece in this
     be a reflection of my age. But funerals don’t have to be        collection.
     sad affairs.
                                                                One Love
That woman                                                           The final four words are the traditional end to a magic
     What a wife might think of her husband’s mistress.
      spell, and I suppose that’s what this is. I first performed
      this piece in the Monkey Bar in Wakefield

      Who is the man who has written
               all this stuff?
I was born on Thursday, January 29, 1931, named Karl
Frederick after Marx and Engels and enrolled in the
Independent Labour Party on the day I was born. I still have
my membership card. I was baptised a Christian in 1983.
I started writing stories when I was eight, graduated from
Hotspur/Champion-style adventure stories to rather soppy
romances when I entered puberty, began writing poetry about
the same time, influenced by Mayakovsky, Paul Éluard, Paul
Potts, T.S. Eliot, Pablo Neruda and Stephen Spender (in his
pre-war, social realist phase). My ambition was to perform my       which will be apparent from most of these stories.
poems in public, but when I read an anti-war poem at a              The picture (above) was taken in Baghdad when I was singing
conference protesting at the Korean War, it went down like a        to kids in the street. I wonder how many of them have
lead balloon.                                                       survived?
A friend introduced me to the songs of Woody Guthrie, and I         I produced a Declaration of Principles which was signed by
got a guitar, taught myself a few chords, and Ewan MacColl          most of the Human Shields in Iraq. Its last point quoted W. H.
recorded the second song I wrote as a result.                       Auden: “We must love one another or we die”.
When I was invited to sing at an International Women’s Day          When I wrote in the Daily Worker that the most political
demo in Baghdad in 2003, I protested that I was not a woman,        songs I knew were lovesongs, I was hauled over the coals by
but was told that they considered me an honorary woman. I           the head of the Communist Party’s cultural committee, but I
suppose it’s true, because all the men were away at the war         still believe it’s true.
when I was growing up and my mother was one of six sisters.
                                                                    Most of my writing is an attempt to understand what the hell
Women have always been the authority figures in my life,
                                                                    is going on in my life, but I don’t expect I ever will.
          Published by October Press, 15 Church Green, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD8 7QN, UK. Tel: +44(0)1274 823949.
                                              Email: karldallas@blueyonder.co.uk
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