February 12, 2010

Swordsheath

I don't even know what this is. We were supposed to use the style of one form (detective, for me) and the tropes of another (fantasy). It ended up being a mixture of ridiculous and stupid, but I enjoyed writing it. I kind of want to write more, actually. Also, I hope swearing is allowed on these blogs. Because there is some.


Swordsheath: a tale of Sir Albion and his sidekick Lady Gaewen


The dragon soared past the window, circled a couple of times, and came to rest on the rooftop outside Sir Albion’s window. He sharpened his sword thoughtfully as it yowled outside, butting its big silver-scaled head against the glass.

“In a minute, bird,” he said. He wasn’t much inclined to talk to dragons. It wasn’t his style. He didn’t think a guy could trust an oversized bird that breathed fire instead of talking back.

It was like the damn thing had heard him. It blew a couple of smoke rings before belching a short stream of flame.

“I could do better with my pipe,” Sir Albion told it severely. It gazed mournfully back at him. He sighed. He had a soft heart, despite all he’d gone through: being temporarily suspended from the King’s Counsel, crashing his horse ass-over-tail into the side of the barn, and worst of all, his wife Lady Gaewen leaving him and taking the kids. Apparently he drank too much. Sir Albion cast a bitter look at the casket of wine in the corner. Lady Gaewen didn’t know shit about him, he decided. She didn’t know shit about his life.

He stood up quickly, shoving his sword into the holster at his side. He was one of the best duellers in Gallcliff and had the scars to prove it, one a great silvery gash across the side of his face where the tip of a sword had grazed him, back when he’d been duelling Sir Ebbford for Lady Gaewen’s honour. He was lucky, he figured, to escape from years of hard duelling with only a couple of scars and a limp to show from it. His leg had hurt for years. It predicted when it was going to rain. Of course, his mental scars ran deeper.

Lady Gaewen had never had any honour to fight for, he reflected bitterly as he crossed to the window and stared at the dragon. It stared commiseratingly back at him, its eyes big like full moons, or maybe like fat circles of cheese. What use had it been trying to win Lady Gaewen’s hand? He hadn’t gained anything but a woman who was buttoned-up on the outside and a whore between the sheets. A fake. She was nothing but an ex-stableboy, abandoned at the castle at a young age by her parents so that she could learn to fight and ride like a man, and later to smile and acquiesce like a lady.

“She was never a lady,” he told the dragon.

The dragon was steaming up the window with its hot breath. Sir Albion was getting irate. He crossed to the cask of wine and helped himself to a glass, staring into its depths as he swirled it. The sweet amber liquid had helped him through many a long day sitting on his horse and staring into darkened camps, waiting for the dreaded talisman-smugglers to finally make a move. Those jerks had been on his ass for years.

The talismans, laced with ancient power, had been removed from the castle for a long time. Sir Albion could feel magic leaking from his fingertips every time he moved the wrong way. It pissed him off, and it pissed the king off, and it pissed everybody off, but no one seemed to know what to do about it. They watched the suspects they believed to be talisman smugglers but they were slippery: nothing ever stuck to them, they were always brand spanking clean.

Sometimes he wondered what he was doing wrong. Maybe he was being too hard on them. Maybe he should charm them – but while he had a lot of valuable attributes such as the ability to wield a shield at a jaunty yet casual angle, the know-how to kill and butcher a deer in twenty seconds, and an undeniable ability to woo the ladies, Sir Albion was not good at sweet-talking talisman smugglers. He lost his patience. He smacked them around and threatened them with his sword. Sometimes he cut them a little bit, but only when he lost his temper. That had been what had got him thrown out of the King’s Counsel, cutting prisoners with his sword. In his personal opinion, way too big a deal had been made out of that incident. It had only been a surface wound after all, and with some good old-fashioned cauterising the guy had stopped screaming after a couple of hours. Sir Albion’s record was clean, though – the king had kept it strictly under wraps. They were buddies, he’d said, buddies that went way back, but ‘Albion, I can’t trust you anymore. Keep that sword sheathed.’

As Lady Gaewen could attest to, Sir Albion couldn’t be trusted to keep his sword sheathed. He was working his way back, though. It was a tough life, being a maverick.

There was a knock at the door. “May I request the honour of my lord’s presence?”

I’ll make him sweat, Sir Albion thought, but didn’t. “You may.”

The kid entered, a sweet-faced kid who couldn’t have been more than twelve. “I was sent to say,” he began breathlessly, “that you should probably look out of the window.” The kid glanced at the window. “You should get the dragon to move first,” he added doubtfully. Sir Albion could swear the big dumb dragon was smiling. That thing had way too many teeth.

“Yes, thank you, I have the situation under my control,” said Sir Albion, meaning, “No shit, Sherlock.” The kid left and Sir Albion crossed to the window. He opened it. “Excuse me,” he said to the dragon, wishing that it’d move its fat ass out of the way so he could see what the hell was going on in the castle courtyard.

It let out a noise that sounded like a cat throwing up fishbones that he gathered meant agreement, and shifted obligingly to the left. Rooftiles shuddered beneath its large sharp claws and fell with almighty cracks to the stone courtyard below.

Jesus fucking Christ, Sir Albion said to himself. Fuck these big dumb dragons. He stuck his head out of the window, more driven by his keen sense of curiosity and drive to solve mysteries rather than anything the kid had said. A horse was gliding into the courtyard, a shining white horse that moved like a sleek jaguar. There was a tall slim figure astride the horse, body lit with bright silver armour, and as Sir Albion watched, the figure pulled off its helmet.

Long shining brown hair fell to the figure’s shoulders as she smiled with fierce joy at the people surrounding her. It was Lady Gaewen, and she was twirling a handful of talismans on velvet red ropes from one hand. Just before she was swept inside the castle by her adoring people, she winked up at Sir Albion, the shadow of her cleavage visible even from the height of his window. The dragon beat its wings happily, as if it was looking down her shirt too.

“That woman,” Sir Albion said to the dragon, with grudging admiration. He drained his wineglass, and began to get ready for the inevitable banquet. He had some making up to do.


silent places at night

This was supposed to be a numinous description for weird fiction. I thought of my nursery school playground, through the railings.



When I looked through the railings on my way home, all was still. There was not much to be seen other than two pools of amber light from the lamp posts overhanging the playground, that lay undisturbed and unrippling. There was barely any movement in the air, and the trees that stood around the playground were still, although I thought that I could hear a far-off rustling, as though the wind was coming to find me. The too-bright gaudy plastic of the children’s toys loomed out of the darkness: a small red-and-yellow house, for now free of sticky-handed children and their various crashes and thuds, discarded plastic bats and balls, a blue climbing frame that was shorter than I was tall. From the other side of the playground I heard a faint skittering noise like claws clattering over concrete, but although I stared into the darkness for a long moment I could not see any animals. A fox perhaps, or maybe something as simple as a cat from one of the nearby houses, black fur fading into the lack-of-light like a puff of summer smoke.

The rain had stopped hours earlier but I could still smell wet leaves, that familiar white back-of-the-throat tang of city rain. I thought of it lying thick on my skin, pushing through my front door with me when I finally got home. I wondered if there was any way to leave it outside. I looked at the playground for a moment longer, at the stocky mountain made of broken paving slabs near the fence, all sharp corners and crumbling manmade rock. It was fenced off now, but it hadn’t been when I was young. I was sure that we had played on it, or near it, but could not remember how exactly. There had been a long red tunnel as well, big enough to fit several of us, where we had curled up and pretended – something. Pretended something or other. Made up stories of some sort. I blinked and thought of the swarms of children that would be covering the playground the next morning. The noise. I noticed that one of the swings was moving, very slightly and very slowly. If it had been in a book I would have heard creaking, but I could hear nothing other than the slow fat dripping smack of water from a drain, lodged somewhere that I could not see.


a dream to rest my cheek to

Task: to go to Varsity, and write entering to ordering a drink from the point of view of, in my case, a middle-aged mother. I think she's a few years younger than middle-aged, but largely I was quite happy with this piece. It needs some editing, though. I stole the title shamelessly from Etta James' 'At Last', which just happens to be playing right now. It's a lovely phrase though, and it works.



'A dream to rest my cheek to'



As always, it had taken forever to get the buggy set up with the two of them howling in the back seat of the car. Getting out of the house with young twins was, obviously, a challenge, what with the insanity inherently present when small children were around, particularly when these small children seemed to have a secret language of their own and, more importantly, a plot to drive me crazy. It was working.

I forced their unruly limbs into the pushchair. Ruby had developed this new thing of holding herself completely rigid as I tried to shove her into her seat, while Grace watched on for a few moments and inevitably burst into tears. Today we were a little luckier; she murmured indistinctly about wanting to go in, now, but there weren’t any sobs. Thank God. I was so very sick of hearing screams of what they apparently thought was heartbreak ricocheting around my house. I was sick of my house as well. I’d designed it years before, made it gorgeous and exactly what I wanted, and eventually my son’s toys had faded away and been replaced by football boots and games consoles. And now we were knee-deep in brightly coloured plastic again.

It had been so much simpler with one. That had been fine. Easy, in fact, although I was pretty sure I hadn’t thought that at the time. But I couldn’t recall feeling the heady desperation that had taken up residence in my head, the catch at the back of my throat that made me want to scream sometimes, when I’d finally sunk down into the sofa with a cup of tea and there was a yowl from next door as Ruby sat on Grace or one of them fell off a chair or stole a toy they wouldn’t give back. Having twins was an exercise in military timing and precision, and precision had never been my strong point.

Getting the buggy into the pub was tough, but nothing I wasn’t used to. Open the door with my bum, get the other one with my elbow, pull the girls in, swivel around without knocking over the large chalkboard-style sign that the menu was balanced on, and finally – look up.

Look up at everyone there. Most of them a good fifteen years younger than me, all skinny little thighs in leggings and professionally distressed boots and highlighted hair pulled carefully back into an artless knot which had, I imagined, taken a good ten minutes to perfect. I felt naked suddenly. As though they were staring at me, at my girls, like they were worried they’d start screaming and something terrible would happen and they wouldn’t be able to continue to read their books of poetry and philosophy in that infuriatingly desultory way. The boys had a sort of dopey pleasantness about them. I made eye contact with one of them as he sprang to his feet.

“D’you want a hand with, with,” and he stood there in front of me, eight inches taller, this gangly giant puppy-boy, and he took a moment to gape down at the girls. “They’re so – sweet.”

Yes, I supposed they were. If you hadn’t seen Grace’s nappy explode the previous night, I imagined they could feasibly be described as sweet.

“Thank you.” I blew strands of hair off my forehead. They felt greasy. I hated having greasy hair, hated not having enough time to wash my hair properly. Haircuts were a mistily beautiful thing of the past – now there was just squinting at myself in the mirror late at night, jabbing at my fringe with nail scissors. “We’re all right, thanks. In now.”

He fell back to his table, where a girl took his hand and stared dopily and lovingly at him. Ah, so altruism didn’t really exist, but impressing pretty girls did. It was understandable. Once upon a time I’d sat in pubs, batting my eyelashes to get boys to buy me drinks, arguing furiously with my friends about – something. Communism sounded plausible. This place was not particularly similar to where we’d gone as students. It seemed shinier somehow, newer. We’d gone to places with battered old velvet-covered seats and sticky tables. This place was open and airy, although had apparently attempted to keep some kind of student-orientated authenticity by having a scratched wooden floor and an old battered yet polished bar. The shiny rows of beer taps were familiar to me – I’d spent a while working behind a bar, like most people had, learning to pull pints, the exact amount of force to use in your left arm as you pulled down the handle in a smooth sweeping motion. This place seemed different. More designed, less as though it had fallen into place after years of drinking.

The man behind the bar was staring at me. He wasn’t much more than a boy, really – slightly scruffy little goatee, as though he couldn’t grow enough facial hair to make himself a beard yet, and a cowlick sticking up at the back of his head that reminded me abruptly of my son’s. What had it come to, when I couldn’t see much of a gap between a ten-year-old and a nineteen-year-old?

“Hi,” I began. I was suddenly unsure why I was there, how this had all started. What crazy idea had made me drive to a student pub? I wasn’t one of them. I was just some woman who needed to lose weight and who wore outdated clothes and whose daughters were already starting to make uncomfortable grizzling noises in their buggy.

“We don’t have highchairs here,” he said doubtfully. I wondered if he thought I was crazy. Probably. I wondered that as well. I had the distinct feeling I’d probably flipped at least a little in the last couple of years, and that I might start being relatively normal in September 2012, when they finally went to school.

“That’s fine,” I singsonged. “They can stay in their buggy. Can I have...” I leaned over the bar, an arm going out to joggle the pushchair as I scanned the fridges behind him. I could hear the soft sounds of Ruby and Grace talking. One of them giggled and I felt my face relax into a smile. “Just an orange juice, please.”


February 01, 2010

my monster for weird fiction

Based on a drawing done by class members. I became quite attached to this monster by the end.




I saw it for the first time when I was knee-deep in sickly green stagnant river water, my shirt pulled up above my nose to avoid the stench of stale mildew. It came into view from my left side, picking its way delicately among the tangled bushes. It was what I had not known I was looking for, a sight that stunned me entirely. Initially I had no idea whether it was dangerous or not and I flattened myself against a tree that overhung the river, scattering the green water with browning blossoms. It was about seven feet tall, or at least far vaster than any man I had ever known, and perhaps if I had not seen it in motion I would have found it ugly or at least repellent. As it was, I watched as it moved, utterly silent and motionless, as though it had put me under a spell or curse. The first thing I saw was its great feathered body, reminiscent of some kind of ostrich-like bird, with huge shaggy white feathers that shone silver in the late afternoon sunlight. It had no arms, but occasionally twitched a wing. It was evident that a burning strength lay beneath those deceptively lovely feathers as it pushed aside a deep-rooted tree as though it weighed nothing at all. Its legs were long and very slender, with a webbed foot poised at the end. The foot was split into three finger-like talons, sharp and flexible and clearly, as it moved with ease and grace down the bushed riverbank, very tough. This was a creature clearly equipped for covering immense distances at a rapid pace, who could kick a man and break his ribs. I flattened myself further against my tree and stared upwards at the creature through the drooping branches.

It turned its head then, a sudden flurry of twitchy movement like a shudder, as though it had heard something. I froze, staring at its face. Its head, like its feathered body, was white, but there seemed to be a sort of blur about it, about its vast eyes. These eyes were the sort of shape one would imagine Roswell’s aliens to have on the post-mortem table, slanted and utterly foreign to me, unlike anything I had ever witnessed before. The higher eye was an odd bright milky white, as though it was blind, but the eye halfway down its cheek was the one that induced tremors of an ill-explained apprehensive fear through my spine: it was inky black, with a reddish quality about it, as though it was infused with the light of a thousand dead galaxies. There was knowledge there and something of a humanity, although not a humanity that I felt I could ever comprehend. Its vast domelike head turned away then, and I saw the outline of its pointed nose, where I might have expected a beak. It added a strange human quality to the creature, its manlike egg-shaped face with that great slash of a mouth. I think it was that humanity that made me bolt, the unexpected intelligence, and I splashed out of the river and through the bushes, shedding droplets of muddy water as I went trampling through the thick grass towards the miles-off area where our campsite lay. When I reached the top of the riverbank I turned to look back at the creature. Although I had, in my momentary madness, expected it to follow me, instead it was watching me. It bore an odd air of curiosity, its thick feathers still shining silver, its huge eyes thoughtful as it gazed up at me, at what could, to mortal eyes, only have been my black silhouette against the glow of the sun.


January 28, 2010

each moment is as slow and transparent as glass

So I was debating with myself whether or not to post my Weird Fiction stuff here. And I thought, yes. Yes I will. I am really enjoying Weird Fiction. It's a different way of looking at things, and I have never read that sort of thing before, and the lectures are fascinating, so I'm pretty much loving it. Anyway, we had to do a rewrite of a scene from a book Lovecraft style. I have no idea whether or not I succeeded, but it was fun.


Excerpt from Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife:

“Who’s there?” Clare hisses. She looks like a really pissed off goose, all neck and legs. I am thinking fast.

“Greetings, Earthling,” I intone, kindly.

“Mark! You nimrod!” Clare is casting around for something to throw, and decides on her shoes, which have heavy, sharp heels. She whips them off and does throw them. I don’t think she can see me very well, but she lucks out and one of them catches me in the mouth. My lip starts to bleed.

“Please don’t do that.” I don’t have anything to staunch the blood, so I press my hand to my mouth and my voice comes out muffled. My jaw hurts.

“Who is it?” Now Clare is frightened, and so am I.



My version:


The man and child’s first meeting resulted, as might have been expected, in bloodspill. On her first enquiry as to who was there, upon hearing a suspicious and foreign rustling in the bushes, it was observed that she moved in the manner of an avian creature, something longlegged and long-necked, with a certain perversely irate manner about the way she interacted with the subject (a time-traveller who was, at that moment, hiding nude in some bushes, having with very little warning appeared there; this is without explanation, in defiance of any natural law that I had, until this point, been aware of).

It was unclear whether or not the man’s reply was meant in kind jest, or rather more unkind jeering. The concept of a naked man suddenly appearing next to a young girl is of course deeply wicked and utterly prohibited, made all the more shocking by the blithely ignorant manner with which he addressed the child; although the words, recorded as ‘Greetings, Earthling’, may have been meant in a gentle and humane manner, the way in which he appeared suddenly before the child and then chose to emphasise his alien features rather than offer any kind of reassurance, indicates otherwise.

With either remarkable courage or ignorance suiting her age, the child enquired, “Mark! You nimrod,” an exclamation that did not particularly seem to apply to the naked man who, as far as it is possible for me to be aware, was not Mark nor, until that point, had done much to insult her. It was then that she resorted to violence and blood was shed. One might expect upon seeing the two subjects that he had more physical power and certainly more ability to inflict injury upon her, considering her diminutive size and the animalistic – almost native – qualities present in him, particularly in firstly, his nudity, and secondly, his chosen hiding place.

The chosen weapon was footwear, a shoe of which the heel was pointed and black and made of a hard substance, very probably hard plastic; the upper casing seemed to be made of leather, a traditional but potentially uncomfortable child’s shoe. The injury that was inflicted on the (supposed) time traveller was minor, but the blood that cascaded from a shallow but significant gash beside his mouth in stickily crimson rivulets down his chin indicated otherwise. There was strength evident in the avian-like child that was not obvious when first viewing her, due to the slender nature of her build and the almost gentle way in which she had been indulging in a childlike art project before being interrupted.

The man was clearly in pain, and pressed his hand to his mouth in an instinctive move that, contrary to his previously alien words and the way in which he appeared in the scene, seemed very human. His plea for the child to stop was mild and submissive, calm, and wholly of a benign nature. Despite his nudity, his sudden appearance, her violent reaction and his alien-like qualities it was impossible to see who, indeed, was the leader in this scenario. The manner in which he deferred to the child indicated that he felt in some danger and thus wanted to endear himself to her, in order that she might assist him in whatever he needed to do.

The child was visibly trembling as she demanded another question of the man, one that he was unable to answer fully: “Who is it?”. Both the man and the child were afraid as they surveyed each other, and I felt that perhaps they were connected in a way that others could not comprehend, that their fear locked them together and they could not be prised apart.

This situation was profoundly disturbing to witness, with strangeness evident in both man and child of a manner that I cannot bring myself to describe fully. I hope that one day peace will be restored to me, but fear that it will not.


a little more glue every time that it breaks

So here is this week's bit of prose, first few lines adapted from Stevey's work:



“He’s already told me.”


His eyes were staring glassily at me; I felt my insides quiver away from him, convinced with a heady rush of fear that he was telling the truth.


“He’s told you what?” I lifted another forkful of food to my mouth. My tongue was dry as his gaze battered into me.


He continued briskly, “I want you to tell me whatever it is that you’re keeping from me.”

                                                       

He had stopped eating. Why was I always the one who had to fake it? Pretend I was happy when I wasn’t? It was a form of happiness, pretend happy for when he glared at me.


“I want you to tell me,” he said then, “where you were on Friday.”


The coolness of relief slipped over my shoulders and I twitched my head slightly to one side as I looked back at him. “I was where I told you I was. At Jemma’s house.” It was the truth, miles away from any secrets I was trying to keep.


“I know you’re lying to me.” His lips had gone tight and pale, the way they always did when he was angry and upset. I felt the familiar urge to get up, go over to him, put my arms around him, reassure him and convince him that I was on his side. I had tried that before, but the results had never lasted for long.


“I hate the way you are,” he said, with some savagery that made me look hard into his face before my gaze fell away at the burning anger in his eyes. My stomach flipflopped, back to the fear and concern that seemed to dog me when I was around him. “I hate the way you talk to men, all buddy-buddy and chummy, I’m sick of you embarrassing me, I’m sick of you lying to me.”


“I don’t lie to you, I have to talk to men, I have male friends, I—”


“That fucking pint glass in the bathroom, where’d you get it, anyway?”


“A friend gave it to me.”


“Which friend?”


“Ben.”


Ben. Of course.” There was a slick quietness about his voice, a disgust that scared me more than any amount of shouting.


“He’s just my friend,” I protested. The ground was slipping away from beneath me, and it was getting hard to keep my balance in this conversation, in this life.


“You always say that and it’s never true.”


“It’s always true.” I could feel tears starting in my eyes, embarrassing foolish tears that he would get even crosser about, tell me off for making him feel guilty, for making him get upset with me and crying to try to cover it up, for being a weak woman who always let her emotions take control of her. I hated myself when I got like this. Overreacted. Anyway, I was pretty sure it was my fault somehow, somewhere along the lines, although couldn’t quite remember how.


“Why are you lying to me?” he asked then, misery thick in his voice.


“I would never lie to you. I love you.”


“I love you, too. That’s why I get so...”


“I know. I know. It’s okay.”




And here is the same scene from a stuffed parrot's point of view:




Oh I am stuck here and they are sad again little dribbles of rain down her cheeks that she is trying to wipe off although it is good for the earth it is good for the flesh the feathers. He does not like it when she rains.


I cannot move now. I want to move. I once could move but I don’t remember where how I bent this body into flight I just remember how it felt. How easy. I remember the puff whoosh of pushing myself off the fierce determined joy of being able to do it, oh she should feel it too.


I think, I am her and she is me and I cannot move now, I will hurt myself, my wings are too stiff. The bones will break. She should grow herself some wings and push herself off


(and oh, you will never understand, you will never)


the stretch and the sweep and the soaring


the bat bat bat and higher and higher towards the blue


the easy sweet pull as you let yourself coast on the wings your wings that are stretched out on either side, that will hold you up up up


she should grow herself some wings and break through the sharp clear into the sky beyond. It’s grey now but it will be so bright and blue as she goes upward, her wings


beat


beat


beat


and now, now he has reached over and taken her talon now her wings are folding back in back into the human bones they grew from once now she is curling curling into herself coiling and calling for me, to learn how to fly, but I cannot move. I am here on my high branch and I cannot reach. I cannot teach her I cannot move I cannot fly. I will not come.


January 22, 2010

my ego, it is all consuming

So here are some links to a couple of my favourite poems, along with some of my favourite bits from them. I am sure that anyone who comes across this blog will have read these already, because I am not exactly the world's most knowledgeable poetry fan, but you will just have to cope with that.

The sort of poetry I like? I mean, if I'm honest, it's often a little miserable. Some of my favourite lines - like Edwin Muir's 'Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face' (I'm sorry, I just had to throw that in here because I often repeat it to myself in my head and love the rhythm and words of it) - are pretty happy, I guess, but my favourite fiction and my favourite poetry has this underlying bittersweet quality that I love more than I can say. Great tragedies are heartbreaking to read about, and happy endings are all well and good, but there's a sort of unfinished aching at the end of my favourite texts that really make them for me.


You Who Never Arrived by Rainer Maria Rilke. I often don't understand Rilke's poetry, but I'm trying to get there because the words are so wonderful they make me all shivery. There's something that Hector says in The History Boys, though, along the lines of 'learn it now, know it now and you will understand it... whenever.' And I trust Alan Bennett above most others.

You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don't even know what songs
would please you.


What The Living Do by Marie Howe. I really enjoy Marie Howe. It was hard to find a cohesive excerpt of the poem because it's this intertangled mass of vivid images and the 'everyday we spoke of'. In Tony Kushner's 'Angels In America', a play that I love and obsess over, the phrase 'more life' is repeated over and over, the human drive to live and keep living, and that is echoed in this poem with 'that yearning'. Both are about the AIDS crisis, Howe far more indirectly - this poem is about her elder brother who died from AIDS, if I recall correctly, but it isn't actually mentioned. I love the ordinariness of life as she depicts it here, this everyday dull thing that is so craved when it is being slowly taken away.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I've been thinking: This is what the living do.


The Embrace by Mark Doty. I sometimes find Doty's poetry a little too florid; I like simple pure vocabulary and sometimes his is too dazzling for me to find reality rooted in. But this is all reality, painful aching reality. I have had a dream similar to this in which I got to say goodbye, years ago now, that still makes my eyes fill up when I think about it. When I finished this poem for the first time I sort of cried in an unexpected choking sort of way. The reality of this sort of hurts, but in that way where good poetry makes it worth it.

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you--warm brown tea--we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.


Photograph by Andrea Gibson. I love Andrea Gibson, like I have no words to express how much I love her. This poem is for anyone who has ever thought 'I think of happy when I think of you'. In the link there is a recording of her saying this poem, which is perfect, and which I've listened to over and over, and cried to, and felt to. 'I wish you were here. I wish you'd never left. But mostly I wish you well: I wish you my very, very best.' It was very hard to find a quote to use below because it was all so brightly painful to read, the language so simple and evocative of the bittersweet wistfulness we have all felt at some time.

cause I might be naked and lonely
shaking branches for bones
but I'm still time zones away
from who I was the day before we met
you were the first mile
where my heart broke a sweat


Lit (or: to the scientist I am not speaking to any more) by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. From the lit student to the scientist she is mad at. Things I love about this poem: the geeky awesome literary references, the fact that the irritatingly patronising scientists who look down on arts students are exposed as idiots, and also the turnaround towards the end, the anger and the reasons for it, and - okay, okay. Every line is perfect, it's funny and kickass and then sad and moving on and bittersweet (I think I might just throw in another mention of how much I love things that are bittersweet). Also, it contains the line 'Go Plath yourself.' I fail to see how this could be anything less than awesome.

I can’t believe I used to want to Sappho you, Jason.
I used to want to Pablo Neruda you,
to Anais Nin And Henry Miller you. I used to want
to be O for you, to blow for you in ways
that even Odysseus’ sails couldn’t handle.
But self-imposed illiteracy isn’t a turn-on.


I found many of these poems in a Livejournal blog I follow, Except In Dreams. I think it is a wonderful blog and that everyone should follow it. There are a lot more poems I found there that I love. These aren't even my top five, just the five that first came to mind. I love them. I hope that anyone who reads this finds a little bit of truth in at least one of them. Going back to Alan Bennett and The History Boys:

'The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.'


'she bursts with a kind of madness my well–ordered ways'

So we had to write about character A knowing character B's secret, but like the smartypants I am I accidentally wrote character A asking B about her secret instead. Sometimes how I don't know how I got to be this smart.

In other news, I can't stop listening to 'Cry Me A River' by Julie London. I've also kind of maybe decided I'm going to post my favourite poems on here, because I like to enforce my taste on others, and I can't do that thing that I did to my housemate where I bookmarked about twenty poems on his computer for him to EVERYONE. I also kind of want to post my favourite quotations. I don't know. Something like that. Anyway, the piece of writing. I enjoy writing prose, but I'm not sure how good I am at it.

Also, the title of this is from a musical. Prizes for guessing WITHOUT GOOGLING which one.


“I heard you’ve got a secret.”

Suze’s smile shone like a ravishingly irritating beacon as she stuck her head around the door. Emma suppressed a sigh. “Come in, Suze.”

“I heard,” Suze crept in, in the sort of way that indicated that she thought she was graceful and catlike, “that you did something pretty different.” She leaned on Emma’s desk, and raised an eyebrow. “I think you should spill.”

Emma stared blankly. As a rule, she was not the sort of person who did different things. She felt that she was probably too middleclass for that. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said automatically, and turned her attention back to her book.

“I mean – you guys had to write down secrets in writing class, right?” A confused line had etched itself between Suze’s eyebrows.

“Mmm. What’s your point, lady?” Emma tried out a wide, easy smile that appeared to work, as Suze seemed to relax, flopping down onto the other end of Emma’s bed.

“Well, Rob said he caught sight of yours.” Suze wriggled an eyebrow meaningfully. “He said it’s pretty juicy.”

Emma narrowed her eyes; she suddenly felt very warm, and vaguely sick. “He saw it?” she asked, her tongue thick and woolly, her voice not completely her own.

“Apparently. Ooh, you’ve gone red,” Suze observed, smiling into Emma’s face, deliberately irritating.

“We were told not to look at other people’s,” Emma said. Her lips didn’t seem to be working properly; her hair was prickling, a flat sick feeling in the back of her throat.

“Okay.” Some of the humour had left Suze’s face. “Hey, Em, what was it, anyway?” she said, more quietly. “It’s no big deal.”

“It’s nothing,” Emma said, the words sounding too hard and abrupt after they’d left her mouth. She glanced over at her door; Suze followed her gaze, but did not take the hint.

“Is it... bad?” she asked, voice hushed.

“Of course not. I’m an angel, you know that,” Emma said, more lightly than she felt.

“You can tell me, you know you can.” Suze’s blue eyes were wide and honest as she gazed across into Emma’s, and – suddenly Emma wanted to tell her. It would be a relief, after all, the lifting of a weight from her shoulders, the steady ache that had been there for years finally relieved, that gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach wiped away. Sometimes she wondered if she was a horrible person, for thinking what she did. It wasn’t something she could help, something she could change.

“What if there’s nothing to tell?” Emma could feel something raw in her voice, something raspy and pained. She felt as though the doors to her chest were being cracked open, inch by heavingly painful inch.

“There’s always something to tell.” Suze flashed a quick excited smile, and – oh, that was it. Okay, no. It was a stupid idea, it was – stupid. That was all. Suze was the wrong person entirely, and there wasn’t any point in saying things she had never said before to this empty-eyed girl who sat there craving gossip, something she could whisper to another housemate before grinning exultantly at being the one who got to tell. Maybe someone one day – but not now. Not her.

“Well,” Emma said in hushed tones as she leaned in, pulse going back to something resembling normality, “one time...” She sucked in a deep breath, breaking away momentarily to fan herself. Suze’s eyes were beginning to narrow. “One time I shot a man in Reno just to watch him-”

“Not fair, not fair!” Suze was laughing as she shoved Emma, and Emma was laughing back at her as she pushed Suze away, feeling tension almost completely flood from her shoulders. “You’re not allowed to, like, quote Elvis at me and—”

“Johnny Cash.”

“Like, that fittie Joaquin Phoenix?”

“Yeah, him, except he’s not a fittie anymore, he’s a rapper with a hobo beard.”

“Shame. Anyway, you’re not allowed to quote Johnny Cash at me and just like... I thought we were having a moment.” Suze narrowed her eyes at Emma, something genuinely a little lost and hurt about her face.

“I don’t do moments.” Although she’d laced her voice with humour, there was a certain level of truth to what Emma was saying. Having a moment seemed a bit too much like a fabricated scene of awkwardness and connection in a Richard Curtis movie. She didn’t particularly want either awkwardness or a connection with Suze. They laughed a lot and made dinner together and stalked hot guys together, but that was about it, and she was fine with that.

“That’s because you think you’re tough,” Suze said, half-smiling to lighten the impact of the words.

“Yeah. Maybe one day I’ll go to the gym and grow some muscles to complete the image.” Emma pretended to flex her biceps, Suze laughed, and just like that, the slight tension had melted away.

“You’re okay, though,” Suze said, after they’d both heard a dog yap outside and paused at the noise, “aren’t you.”

“Fine,” Emma said, a fraction too quickly. It was the truth, after all. She’d never not been fine.

“Good. What was it? It’s no big deal, right?”

“No big deal,” Emma assured her, and held eye contact before smiling in what she thought was probably a reassuring way.

Apparently she’d been terribly mistaken, and Suze plunged headfirst into a frenzied state of speculation. “Did you have an abortion? Did you fuck someone’s boyfriend? Are you secretly a Fascist? Did you hit someone with your car? Did you sleep with your teacher? Did you-”

“I don’t understand why half of your questions assume I’m a bit of a slag. Pot, kettle...” Emma raised an eyebrow wickedly.

Suze hissed an inhalation through her teeth, shaking her head at Emma, clearly not offended in the least. “Ooh, you are the worst person in the world.”

“It’s lucky I’m charming,” Emma said solemnly.

“Slimy, more like.” Suze sighed. “Don’t you ever get sick of being enigmatic?”

“I just don’t want you guys to find out how boring I am.”

“Oh, please. Like you could ever be boring. I wish you’d tell me. You do trust me, right?” There was a sudden sort of sadness in Suze’s large blue eyes, a downtilt to the corners of her mouth.

“Of course I trust you! I...” Emma glanced very quickly at the clock. It was almost time to make lunch and by the time she’d eaten it would be half two and she still had to read Othello and a couple of critical essays before going out that evening, and—

“I got off with someone awkward, okay? That annoying guy who hands out leaflets on campus.”

“The church guy who tries to convert us?” Suze asked, looking appropriately astounded and disgusted.

“Christ, no. The guy who tries to force us into going to that random club in Cov.”

“Oh, he’s gross.”

“I know. So, secrecy. Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

Suze looked at her, puzzled. The white winter sun was shining through her messy pale hair. She looked like an anaemic lioness. “So are you going to text him?” she asked, after a moment. “Or add him to Facebook?”

Emma made a slightly sneery face, humour on the lines of her mouth. “I don’t think so. He’s a bit, you know. Face-y.” She gestured to her face, and Suze looked scandalised.

“You can’t say that! It could be a genuine problem! Like a deformity.”

“What, you can’t say people are ugly just because they’re deformed?” Emma laughed over at Suze, who surveyed her wide-eyed for a moment before letting out a spluttery sniff of a laugh.

“You’re a hideous human being,” she said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

“And you are my enabler,” Emma said, very seriously.

“True.” Suze screwed up her lips, making an amused face before stretching her neck from side to side, allowing it to make a hideous clicking noise before standing. “Okay. I have work.”

“Even though you do sociology.”

“Even though I do sociology. Thanks for telling me. I won’t tell anyone else, I swear.” She shot Emma a bright white smile, all straight teeth and shining hair and cornflower gaze. For a moment Emma wondered what it would be like to have easy beauty like that, to be able to wield a smile like a gun, taking hostages along the way.

Suze had picked up an eyeshadow, surveying it before putting it back onto Emma’s dressing table. “I’m going to steal this one day. Okay, I’ll see you later, yeah?”

“Steal it and I’ll cut your fingers off. Um – Rob didn’t really see what I wrote, did he? Because that would be, like, insanely embarrassing.” Emma rolled her eyes self-deprecatingly.

Suze laughed, shook her head slightly. “Nah, don’t worry. He just saw you being all secretive about it and sent me to ferret it out of you. Which I did!”

“Which you did,” Emma agreed, and wondered for a moment about the new moral code she’d apparently made up for herself in the last five minutes that apparently stated that lying to your best friends was completely okay so long as you were covering your arse. Suze threw her another smile and wandered out, shutting the door gently behind her.

There was something to be said about hiding in shallowness, about saying appalling things to distract people from what you were really thinking. If you said something that made people laugh with horror at how terrible you were, it seemed somehow easier to cover up that actually you did think or say pretty genuinely awful things at times. That you did horrible things, as well. Emma was pretty sure she wasn’t a bad person or anything – there were just certain views that she imagined everyone had, secretly, that she didn’t really want to make too wellknown.

Maybe it wasn’t even the hot hideous flush of horror at the thought of other people finding out that was the worst thing. Maybe it was just the wanting to keep something to herself, to have something of her own for once. Sometimes talking things out wasn’t the best option. Emma thought that maybe talking things out just tainted them, spread them around and made them dirty like breadcrumbs in a tub of butter. She was fine with keeping things locked inside her head, weighed on her shoulders. It was familiar at least. Not scary. That was all she needed.


January 14, 2010

Things that happen on the eighth of January

So this particular task was to create a numinous object, in 6 stanzas of 6 lines of 6 syllables. I am not sure that I did (I think I was more successful in the other poem from last session that I chose not to post here), but I am quite happy with this anyway.


"Things that happen on the eighth of January"


The prickle as the lashes
brush together, faces
warm and hot breath between
mouths. There is nothing that
could be closer than this,
with eyelashes tangled.

The small dark eyelash lies
in the crook of her eye
where the shadow hits the
cheekbone, and he presses
his thumb to it, removes
it with some precision.

Make a wish, break a spell.
Wishes are farfetched, set
on a stage with steps too
high to climb. The ship sails
on, as it always does.
She sits among others.

Onboard: eight lashes, ten,
cat o'nine tails, far down
below deck. Later the
welts, the hiss as her shirt
slides down, spiky eyelid
shadows cast on her cheek.

Think of that boat and the
people still there, longing
to climb out of the dark.
The lack of fresh air there.
They're digging their nails in,
remembering those fresh scars.

The lashes he left on
her skin will not go, no
matter how hard she scrubs.
His marks are scarred deep on
her face. She'll glue them there;
will need to remember.


December 11, 2009

And were you happy for her when she married again?

The task here was to jam words together. They were originally supposed to all be nouns but I am pretty wild (that was a lie) and also used a couple of verbs. The story behind this is that a couple got married too young, there was some sort of tragedy (my mind was all 'Death of a kid! Death of a kid!' but my logic took over like 'Lucy, you are a sicko, leave this vague') and they divorced. This is the ex husband at his ex wife's second wedding. Ta-dah! No, seriously, I am reasonably happy with this. I feel like if someone else wrote it I would enjoy reading it. I like awkward bittersweet stuff. I accidentally stole the original last lines from 'Anne Hathaway' by Carol Ann Duffy, because if you're going to plagiarise then there's no better place than from the GCSE poetry anthology amirite, and upon realising hurriedly wrote this GODAWFUL last line that I read out in class; that has gone, replaced by something quite bland that I'm also not happy with but at least doesn't hold toecurling embarrassment. So the ending needs some reworking. I am fine with that.




"And were you happy for her when she married again?"



sweet silk satin

just inches away from something

that's never going to happen

he leans on the table

and tries to pay attention to

the conversation around him

he can smell her

the honeyblossompassion perfume

the losspaint that coats her limbs

leaves her sticky and bruised

shadowdusk around her eyes



I haven't stopped missing you

he says loudly in his head

and she turns to look at him

paperhurt blankness

leaving her mouth vulnerable

danceconfusion in her

slightly twitching fingers

as though she doesn't know

where to put her hands

the foreign objects at the

ends of her arms



he wants to tell her

to wait until the end of the evening

until the partybreath is released

the catpolitics put away

the shadowhistory wiped off

with a damp cloth

balloons released somewhere

across the fields

that he'll take her away

from this satinnormality

this silkimmorality



but lifefade will go on

as it must do always does

the fireconfusion in his guts

will abate somehow one day

and as the marriagedance

sings itself to sleep

he looks at his snowclad sunsmiler

who turned to shatterdust

beneath his too-rough hands

and he will hold her one day more


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