Fear

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So. You spend weeks, day by day
peering into the pan
scrying those wine red veins in the brown dung
you’ve excreted. Hoping
it doesn’t mean what you fear and wishing, day by day
it’ll stop. Until the day comes
(tooled with a thin spatula and a small diameter tube)
you hope this is not the day they vanish. So,
does this mean you fear madness more than malignancy?

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Not The Devil’s Dyke

I said, ‘To be honest, I can’t do this anymore.’ Her question had been ‘How are you?’

‘I can’t do it, I’m sorry.’ I couldn’t do business as usual. ‘It’s not you,’ I added, hoping she’d understand.

‘Are you getting any support for your mental health?’ she asked, thoughtfully. I answered with a short history, then we said goodbye and good luck and I logged out of Skype.

I headed for The Devil’s Dyke, on foot. I’d said I was going to take a long walk. I wanted to get away from myself. I couldn’t do it. Hove Park, then up and through overlooked, red-brick Hangleton where swifts were seeking a home. Access Land (‘Within the meaning’ — a board announces — ‘of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000). This late in spring it’s wreathed in the cream of cow parsley and may blossom.

A foot bridge across the bypass, onto the old railway track, beloved of dogs and their walkers and lads on off-road trail bikes. Birdsong mingled with the traffic noise; a pair of whitethroat scooped from thorn bush to thorn bush, hidden again. At a bench I knew I could go no farther. I couldn’t do it. How could such scrawny legs be so heavy, a windless chest weigh so much?

On my way back a tiny viridescent lizard skimmed across the path, as dainty as a shadow.

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The Cat In The Window

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.   .   .

. . . here. i’m called hazel, a kitten and a cat.

home’s hove but i’m hollingdean born;
there were many sisters, many brothers, mother and aunt,
father was a wanderer, free and far:
i never saw that rover.
now here. father’s two footed and fond,
like sister, like mother so i’m liked and loved;
all come when i call (quite quickly sometimes).
from here to earth is two hurried leaps
scaring, skittering, the cost one limp leg;
so here, so now, stare through the window’s what i do.
yet here at dawn, at dusk, the man holds me close
opens the window, we watch, we hear;
i nose the air: one day, one day, when . . .

A Sunday In January

I opened the bedroom window to throw out some tat.

The tat is the stuff and dregs of my pockets: dried skin (heel and finger), screwed up Co-Op receipts, mini Post-Its; the waste bin in the bathroom seemed too far away. The Velux window is hinged from the top, quite smart but weighty so I can sneak out stuff without it being seen. Two floors down the garden would be a desert of slate gravel speared by two dried and sickly palms, but for the unopened celandine and stonecrop greening out of winter slough. It belongs to The Downstairs, who aren’t above reminding us tenants of their ownership. It’s Sunday in its January grey when the day hardly wakes.

From left, a dark arrow, dark, quick, barely an armslength below, an absence of light, flint-arrowed wings, silvery trine low on its back. It must have been haunting under the eaves. It’s ushered away by a plump and purple pigeon, beyond the Victorian villa opposite. It? The Collins Bird Guide says, Do not hope for or pretend reliable identification of all birds of prey in the field — ever. And anyway, who ever sees a bird of prey from above?

I clomp into the living room and announce to wife and daughter, “I’ve just seen a peregrine and I’m going out to see it I can see it again.” Neither says anything.

I followed where I’d last seen it, around the old soap factory alongside the railway line, looking up when I could, assuming I was on a hopeless chase, but at least I was out of the house. Then there, after a hundred yards or so, it is: it’s blackness etched into the colourless sky, being mobbed by a gang of grey gulls, much bigger than — him (not it: too small for a her). And then, flap and glide, he was gone.

I went back home, completing a circuit, still finding tat in my pockets. They didn’t seem  surprised I’d seen him. A few days later the snow came.

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photo from What’s That Bird? / Hayman, Everett / RSPB

Made by Humans: The Devil’s Rope

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“Between two hills, two villages, two trees, two friends/The barbed wire runs which neither argues nor explains”. W.H. Auden.

On a walk to Cissbury Rings on the Downs.

At first I thought it was already dead (to my shame I filmed it, buffeted by the wind), spiked by the knotted barb. When I took it down I found it was still living, weak but warm and its heart still beating. Mad, it seems now, but I started to walk back to town holding it in cupped hands, as though, after a two hour walk I’d find a friendly animal rescue place . . . It died in my hand a short while later.

Even then — is this what death does to you? — when it momentarily started to flutter I thought it must have healed, wanted to be off, free, but, no, it was in its death throes. Something was free, but not the body. I walked up on to Cissbury, I didn’t want to leave it, I was still talking to it, as it got cold and stiff. I laid it down under a gorse copse, at the highest level of the hill. It had been tree creeper.

I didn’t take a photograph.

 

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The Guru’s Funeral

I ain’t going.

I bought my ticket and booked a room. But I ain’t going. I got a map, from the library; you have to photocopy it, putting 10 pences and 2p bits into the  gurn of a  slot machine. I dried out my walking boots and put aside some books for the way. I even found that sloop of white cotton, like the one Jason handed out to the men who joined his crew. But I ain’t going. I don’t want to.

‘Ah’, says a late friend, whose body is laid out awaiting his own burial, ‘What does that mean?’

a sloop of white cotton

 

African Blood

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‘Can I ask you a question? I was wondering about your ancestors; do you have any ancestors from the Mediterranean or The Middle East?’
‘Well . . .’
‘Ah, perhaps you’d like to be there now, in the Mediterranean?’ He was conspiratorial, trying to put me at ease, we both knew about the British weather.
‘I used to live there, the Mediterranean’, I said, not wanting to sound too eager to please.
‘North or South?’
‘Oh, I see.’

The Haemotologist was tall, slim, slightly stooped, as if from deference, rather than age, although he seemed near to sixty, with receding, crinkly hair and a trimmed, greying beard. Handsome face and eyes that looked like he enjoyed being intelligent and dapper and charming. Complexion of coffee colour; you’d say North African, with the clipped accent of the well-educated. He ran through the analysis of my blood at speed, noting where it was less than optimum. Quickly moving on to the next graph or table, always finding ways to reassure. My blood, with it’s laggardly white blood cells, who nonetheless, according to him, managed to get the job done, was universal amongst Africans, he said, wherever they are.

I could hardly keep up with the statistics he generously showed me on the computer screen as they scrolled by. Was it me, or did other patients understand these kind of things, well-versed by the medical pages of the Daily Mirror or Google? I dismissed the thought that all this  — he shared his gorgeously hand-written notes, too — was for the benefit of the young female medical student who sat demurely behind my left shoulder. Kidney, liver, bone marrow and creatures known as the scavengers were his only concessions to my vernacular ignorance. How did he learn all this?

But mostly I was thinking about the journey. Exiled from the Dardanelles, when we got away from the Greeks, us no better than Helots. From Italy to Libya, when the Mediterranean was one, undivided. There we must have stopped off for a while, took on provisions, tarried, we might have called it; the Balearics, leaving behind our cairns; then Morocco, last pleasures and civilisation before the grim Atlantic, with its mist and black rocks and fierce gales, then to the edge of the world, Totnes, our New Troy, so called. Brutus would have left me there; he had bigger fish to fry. And my ancestors? After that we moved only when we had to.

‘So you’re saying that if I were African, my blood would be normal?’
‘Yes, that’s right.’ He was gently ushering me out of his office.
‘Thank you’, was all I could think to add.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said, as I shook his hand. And I went off for another blood test.

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