Saturday, 12 September 2015

"I want to see the Kingdom come / I want to feel forever young..."


A twist of red and gold in the leaves of the tree at work, this week; a blazing helix winding in the green, a spiral of fire and heat. Cold lungs in the morning, and frost underfoot, a lace that glitters and crisps where I step. Webs in the fences, the hedges, the gates, stars of silk strung bright with rain.

A time of turning, this. The trees to fire, the skies to ash. The clocks turn, too, their fingers spun back an hour into the past. The nights turn cold. Breaths turn to smoke and hang in the air, rolling and fuming like genies let out of their bottles at last.  

These days of wiltings and woodsmoke, wool gloves, and leaf-drifts, stars and fogs and fires. The closing out of the old year, a quietness, a settling. It always feels like I'm resting, here, like a bear gone to bed for the season, snug under rugs of earth and fur, dreams full of sunshine and sea-salt and freedom.

The pull is too strong to wait for that last night of December, with its lists of musts and wills, its skies ablaze with noise and colour. The reckoning begins now, for me, as it does each year. The past months gathered in my lap like flowers. I sort with practiced hands through roots and blooms. Some I keep to press into forever. Some I toss, too bitter for permanence, too faded to brighten a future hour.

This, this life: like tending a garden. What do I want to plant in the clean  Spring rains? How will I weather the Winter? I cut and prune, and plan for the coming calendar.

The trees cast off their old greens and burn, and I, too, feel called to change. To rest before the next rising. To contemplate - with clear eyes and a quiet heart -  the next turn.


Saturday, 29 August 2015

"Autumn days when the grass is jewelled, and there's silk inside a chestnut shell..."

A walk home from work on Wednesday this week, a walk through the alley overhung by trees. I watched my feet move, dappled with light, sun-coins scattered over fans of bone that flexed and flashed, then flexed again. Then a breeze, and a drift of leaves - and the sudden shock of the falling colours, all yellows and bronzes and reds. Who stole the greens overnight, left changelings rusting in their place? Who took the softness, left parchment-paper sheaves?

I am a watcher, a notice, by nature. I see when the stars begin to hang colder, hang clearer. I notice, every year, the first bluebells chiming quietly in the garden. I see the first breath of frost in the grass. I watch the seasonal clock tick steady, even, through each neat quarter. And so I don't quite know how it happened, this year. How Summer faltered right beneath my nose. How brassy Autumn saw her chance and leapt.

How I worried about turning thirty. About leaving the word girl behind like a clue for someone younger, like dinosaur bones laid down in the dirt, the ghost of who I was preserved under fathoms of fragments and dirt. How I worried that I had spent the best of my days, my twenties, in one wild spree, that all that lay ahead was wistfulness, and thickening hips, and a hairshirt of nostalgia and fond memories.

The truth is: the only hurt of "older" is the seasons turn faster. And each one is sweeter and harder to part with than the last.

The truth is: the only thing I lost in my thirties was my heart.

A reminder to myself: Attend to the moments. The moments are important. They keep the stars, and the Poles, apart.

And so I write it, I set it here. I cast for moments, and I catch them: a wriggle of glitters, like fish in a net; a line of lights in a softly glowing string.

I realise now that the moments are the bones. The heart's-blood, the breath. The moments are the molecules and the moments are the cells. The carbon and the stars. The real, secret shape of every living thing.





Sunday, 19 July 2015

"I come into the peace of wild things..."

I live, now, in a city, where the buildings nick the sky, and the streets are quick with chatter and with feet. I live among a million shades of grey, the primary colour of every city - grey pavements studded with gum, grey pigeons with petrol-spill skullcaps and pink club-feet, grey cigarette smoke curling and drifting up to grey dishcloth skies, grey tramtracks in their clean steel lines, which make me sad, sometimes, the way only an incurable romantic can be sad - the way they run alongside each other from beginning to end, but never, ever, get to touch.

I love it, mostly. The lights, the noise. The way the sky looks like a mosaic between the officetops, cut into patches and boxes of blue. But sometimes my heart swells for the quiet, and I ache for wildness and green, crave rolling views of cool blue mountains, water braiding itself neatly over stones.

I forget sometimes how close we are to all of that. Just half an hour on the train, and it's like Alice stepping through the looking glass - everything reversed, the same world, but not the same, full of light and colour.

Yesterday, we went out to where the villages sit in tiny clutches in the folds of the hills, velvet folds of green and gold and brown, patched all over with heather, bright purple. We walked where the air was so clean and clear, it made our shocked city-lungs sit up in surprise, and the water was bone-cold, weaving its gold-green way through the fields.

We drank beer that tasted of lemons in a tiny pub with views as far as the eye could see, and I felt a sudden surge of love for it all, for everything. For C, his hand resting on my knee, traces of silver powder from his work beneath the crescent-moon of each fingernail, so that it looked like he'd been handling frost, or making constellations. The air that made every breath feel like a gift. New freckles like stars on my sunkissed shoulders.

I write these posts, sometimes, and I wonder if I've anything left to say. It's not that I don't love writing them, because I do, truly - stringing the words together like pearls, polishing them until they gleam - but I wonder how many of you still find them interesting to read. Is happiness - the calm, quiet kind that you live in day after day - remarkable enough to read about? Once I wrote like a hummingbird, all frantic beating, wild colour, and fervent heart. Now I am more like a Jersey cow - sureness and solidness, quietness and calm.  

I am at home in my life, and happy in it. It is more than I ever hoped for. But my writing style has changed because of it, has lost its edges and sharp corners. Writing fiction, writing poetry - those things are different. They have their own sharpnesses, their own characters, their own clean points and lines. But I feel like my blog posts have softened like butter left out in the sun, melted into one long lovely golden smear, the same words carrying from one to the next like a smudge pulled by a thumb: I am happy; I love him; I am full of hope.

Blue dusks and gold dawns, early-morning mists that wrap bare ankles like cats, or smoke. Beer in the sun so the glass glows with light like a lantern. His hand on my knee. All the words of the world in my throat. I want to do this forever, even if the readers peel away, in time, like birds in Winter, tiring of the same words, looking for different skies.
I want, almost more than anything, to touch people with my writing. I want to leave something beautiful in the world. But maybe that will happen through writing of a different kind. I write here hoping that people will leave with something - a scrap of truth in their teeth, perhaps, or a thought clutched in a fist - but ultimately, I write for myself - for the pure joy of it, but also to keep something beautiful to look back on from my future, like roses pressed between the pages of a book - yes, look at the petals, I remember this; I can still, if I breathe in deep enough, catch the scent.
Maybe it's her I write for most of all, that future self. I know how she will treasure the moments her own ghosts trapped and kept - the words in the library, the bones in the cool museum halls. This is my way of preserving my life - like butterflies in frames, like diamond-hard beetles pressed in amber, pressed in jet.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

"Into the blue, into the blue blue blue..."

Summer this year is the X on a treasure map: a spill of light and gold that we know is out there, but is proving impossible to find. It is buried under weeks of stone-greys and mizzling rains, the occasional glint of a sunny afternoon like a lone coin under a boot-heel. Where is the prize? The cache of gold mornings, the smelted afternoons, the doubloons of a hundred suns, glinting, glinting?

There is a heat that runs beneath the surface of the days, but the sky remains cloudy, and blank as a slate. It feels like living in the space between one thing and the next, the white empty place between parentheses. It feels like being the open eye between two blinks, looking and looking and seeing only the same grey horizon, never any closer, never any further away.

There are moments of loveliness. Golden hours scattered here and there like clues along the trail. Last night we sat in the fields while the sun blazed, watching the trees scatter light across the grass like breadcrumbs, like petals, like flung gleaming seeds. We drank beer and toasted, at last, to Summer. We sat until the evening deepened into dusk, and the birds quieted, and the bats came out to replace them, cleaving the air with their quick slicing flight until it seemed that the whole sky must rain down in a tatter of confetti, a shredded shower of stars, of night.

C asked, What is your favourite thing about the Summer? I knew, immediately. Those hours, early evening, after a long, hot day, when it's just beginning to blue and cool. The gloaming, they call it. A sort of early twilight. When the sky deepens into the most gorgeous, radiant blue, a blue I've never seen anywhere else in life, that I don't believe exists anywhere else - not in a Grecian sea, or on a butterfly wing, not in a pottery glaze, or the painted folds of the Virgin Mary's robes, or the gas-flame blaze of a lit Christmas pudding.

I said, simply, The evenings. When it's blue.  

I saw a fox once, on one of those blue evenings. I was waiting for the train in the richness of that light, the hush of the notquitenightnotyet. She detached herself from the shadows between the tracks like a flame peeling off from a fire. Nose testing the air. Delicate steps, like a ballerina. I stood like stone, the only thing moving my hummingbird heart.

What can I tell you about a moment like that? The world compacts. Two points on a compass. Two creatures under the same sky breathing the same blue dark.

And then the train came, rattling the moon, and shattered that brief and blinkless world apart. I remember looking away for a second, looking back - and the wild thing was gone, dispersed like smoke, back to her nest of earth and birdbones, her cellar of tree-roots, her ceiling of moon and stars.

These are the moments I remember when the grey days smear and blur. The splashes of colour, the glimpses of treasure - red fox, blue dusk, bonewhite moon. The lovely hum of magic in the air.


Sunday, 28 June 2015

"Give wine. Give bread. Give your heart back to itself".

The same question I asked last year, and the year before that: where do the hours go? And the weeks? And the months? Sometimes I feel like my life is an abacus, with a child in charge of the beads, slinging them from one side of the frame to the other so that the numbers accumulate so much more quickly than they should. Or a handful of sand that won't rest on a palm, but lifts in the wind and is gone in a spin of scratch and glitter.

I went to New York in April with C, for two long, beautiful weeks. We walked the grids of the city until our feet were threadbare, drank American beer in the park with the grass wrapping our ankles. We spent hours inside the 911 museum, and I left salt tears on the floor there. We drank Manhattans in a bar above the skyline and watched the clouds turn pink and gold; saw seagulls wheel and scream from the boardwalk at Coney Island. I took photographs of everything: the oysters we ate in a rooftop jazz bar; the Brooklyn bridge spoking out against the sky; the seats on the subway, the colour of Spanish oranges; the elegant brownstones frothing with magnolia flowers, miles high.


What else?

I've been writing. Writing hard and fast. The cheap book, the one I've pinned my hopes on like a flower pressed between pages. Between a wish and  dream. It's not good, exactly. It's not the poetry I want to write. It's not careful or elegant. It doesn't make me swell with pride. I won't even write my own name on the cover. What it is, is easy. What it is, hopefully, is a means to an end. And so I keep on, and my heart is on pause, and the words mount up, a pile of pebbles building a little bridge.

And also.

Sunday lunches with cold beer in the sun. Writing poems on the train trips home, as the city recedes and fields flash by full of cows, full of wheat. Friday nights in pyjamas. Bottles of wine. Long, lovely Saturdays where he works and I write, he sunk in his passion, I in mine. Impromptu trips to countryside farm stores to fill our basket with garlic-stuffed olives and elderflower wine, and cheese, and smoked meats, and eggs, and fish. Movie nights under blankets. Playing rock paper scissors on the weekend mornings to decide who gets up to make the coffee. Painting the walls of his house, room by room, so that when I move in, it's new, and ours, and clean, and shining like a newly minted coin.

And then.

Sending out poems, like casting glass bottles out into the sea. Waiting for the emails and the letters to return with a yes or no. Waiting for the journals and anthologies to come with my words pressed into them like footprints in snow.

These are the simplest and happiest days of my life. It's not about having money, or silk skirts, or clavicles so hollow that rain can collect there. It's the quietest things: good food. Enough sleep. Reading until my eyes are so full I feel they could burst, and send sentences out like confetti. Kisses goodnight and good morning. Corralling wayward paragraphs to make a book, like herding sheep after errant sheep until finally they co-ordinate, a single, substantial flock.

If I could wish, now, for anything, if I could rub my thumbs on a genie's brass lamp or spy the wink of a falling star, I would wish only for this. To keep making these quietly shining days. To collect them, like lights on strings. Like pearls at a throat. Like fireflies burning moon-bright in a jar.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Strange Little Poems

NaPoWriMo begins today, and continues through April. I do this every year - come here, to my laptop, with the intention of filling the month with poems - and every year, I work through the same sad cycle. I write, at first, at a glorious white heat, all flash and fire, all struck spark. After a week or so of a poem each day, the heat goes out a little, and only glows. Then finally, by the end of the month, there's little left at all -  just a slow gold smouldering in the grate. A line here if I'm lucky, a single image there. An exquisite state of frustration every writer knows.
How to find the minutes, when the hours slip through the fingers like small change. How to find the words, when the brain has gone mute. It feels like waiting for lightning to strike. To be scorched by it; to be that lucky.
I wanted, this year, to create a space specifically for those April poems. An empty space I cannot help but want to fill. A space that is invited-readers-only, and therefore, somehow, safe. A way of holding myself accountable. An organised base from which I can link to the blogs of other NaPoWriMo writers, and read some new poetry. 
Maybe it will help keep the momentum going. Maybe not. Maybe the words will still leave at some juncture like the snow geese heading South for Winter. But I hope not. I hope.
If you're interested in reading, if you're participating in National Poetry Writing Month yourself, if you want access to the poetry I'll be putting on the new blog, please leave your email address in the comments so I can add you to the list of invited readers. I don't want the blog to be public as a lot of magazines and journals won't publish poetry that has appeared on open blogs as they consider it 'previously published', but I do want to share NaPoWriMo with as many of you as possible, whether you're along for the ride or just enjoying the view...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

"And in that moment, I swear we were infinite..."


When the weather is grey and wet, this city is a mirror. Rooftops slick with rain throw back the sky, and the sky returns the world a thousandfold in its drops. You can see the stars in the street: I love that. I walk through puddles just to shatter constellations, stand and watch them shiver, break apart. They recover, eventually. Everything does. The ripples stop sending themselves out, and the water settles, and there is the whole universe again, burning steadily underfoot, at once infinite and the size of a fireside rug.

Sometimes I am so struck by wonder that it feels like a bruise. Water, and light. Stars, and darkness. Moons, and poetry, and love.

These sweet weekend mornings, when I get to wake up with C, and he absently threads my hair through his fingers while we talk in that soft slow intimate way that you have when you've just swum up from sleep, and snatches of dream are still tugging at your ankles like underwater-weeds.

The long blonde slices of light the sun sends through the blinds to stripe the wooden floors like sleeping tigers.

Those rare days when the sun is snuffed out like a candle-flame between finger and thumb. I stood in the dimness of last week's eclipse, struck dumb by the oddness and the beauty of it all. The light was tea-coloured, and everything was strange, and it felt like the end of the world. I thought,  maybe I've died already, hundreds of years ago, and somewhere in the future, my daughter's daughter's daughter is holding a sepia photo, fingertips finding her shadows in my face, and the bit of me that lives in her, the cells in her blood, the strings of code in her bones, is calling back across the centuries like an echo: hello, hello, hello.....

It seems that magic is everywhere. It is hard to explain. Its not that I'm in love, which is its own wonderful thing and has its own sort of magic, but also has its own particular trail of fears foaming in its wake (what if I lose him, what if my heart breaks, what if I hurt him, what if he doesn't stay). Its not that I'm happy, because happiness, I know, comes and goes like the light does, like the rain.

It's more that I feel whole, somehow. And not from being half or part of something else. I am whole in myself. I'm not sweeping scraps of myself under rugs, or chasing thoughts, like spiders, into corners. There is light in every nook and there is light in every crevice, and if it shows up the dust sometimes as well as the good, at least it's honest.

There are nights when I wake and worry, still, and the second between each clock-tick lasts for days. There are times when the mirror isn't kind, and the old ghosts clank and rattle their chains. But mostly, I am good. Mostly I am grateful.

For the breaths, and the words, and the breakfast eggs. The kisses. The glasses of wine. The church bells that come through the trees on Thursday nights when the ringers have their weekly practice. The scented candles, the sweet plum tomatoes clustered on the vine. The daydreams. The poems I read that go off in my mind like tiny fireworks, glittering, gold.

Today is cold, and the sky is wide and white like a sheet. The rain is flying, a hundred thousand scattered beads, and my wellington boots are on. I have my keys, my woolly hat, my purse.

Contemplate the wonder of your own life. I'm off to shatter the Universe.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

"There will be time to wonder, 'Do I dare?', and 'Do I dare?'"

I'm meant to be creating today, but the words won't come. Instead, I lie under blankets on C's bed while he works in the corner under one of those desk-lamps with the flexible neck. I link from blog to blog, looking for new words to love. I like the beautiful ones best, the ones that string sentences together like pearls.  I want to wear them on the shelves of my collarbones, the two moons of my breasts.

I have books, plural, in progress. Pages and pages of words I have coaxed and clipped and pruned into blooming. Like orchids, they are difficult to grow, even harder to keep alive. But I try. I try. Meanwhile the years keep passing and there are no spines on the bookshelf lettered with my name.

I dream of a neat little cottage in the future. A well-kept garden with radishes and beets. In it, a room full of pretty things - cushions, flowers, sun-filled lace - where I sit to write (and write, and write). All the words I've collected over the years, all the words I've dreamed, free to spill on to page after page, unkilled by hours in strip-lit offices and steamy canteens, unkilled by mindless hours in front of flickering TV screens.

I think I've found a way to pick that future's lock. A way to open the door to that room where I can sit and write the things that make my heart fill and swell. I must write, I decided, something fast, and furious. Not the book I want to write, not yet; not the poetry, not the sentences that sweeten into something golden and fine. I must write something quick and cheap, something that will sell, so I can leave the creativity-killing nine-to-five behind. Goodbye buses, and vending machines; goodbye logins that change every thirty days, and mechanical window-blinds; goodbye, air conditioning that is always too high or too low, so we roast like chickens on a spit in Winter, and shiver till our teeth rattle in the Summer.

It sounded easy, and it is, for the most part, it is. The words come freely when I'm not being selective, when I'm not choosing based on how beautiful something sounds, or if it holds truth. This is a different kind of writing than I have ever done, all cliffhangers and wordcounts, and the battle is being won. Even if the book feels a little shabby, a little thin. It's a bit like dressing in grubby, secondhand tweeds after years in the fanciest and riches of  silks.

To write fluff now so I can write gold later...does that make sense? I think it does, but I can't help feeling oily of hand, sometimes, shifty of eye. I go back and forth: It is necessary; a stepping stone for the future. / No, it is a waste, and mercenary.

I know what I want to write. I want to write about things that live beneath the sea, mermaids with silver tails like apostrophes, selkies that peel out of themselves, heel to skull in pale curls, under full, complicit moons. I want to write about love, and death, and every hidden fathom of the human heart. I want to write about light: the way it moves on water, like a scattering of sequins, and the way it falls through lace curtains to trace florals on skin. I want to write about a girl saying yes for the first time, about the boy she lets touch her with trembling hands.

I want to write and write of all these things... but instead I am writing sloppy mass-market fiction with haste. This is the risk: if it works, if it sells, it will all have been worth it. I will sit in my lovely rooms, and drink lemon tea, and write all of the things that live in my heart for the rest of my days. If it doesn't, then it will all have been a waste. But what will I have wasted, really? Only, I suppose, a handful of weeks. Not even a full turn around the sun.

I've never tried writing like this before. Forging words from speed and fire, lines from time and heat. There's that, at the very least, to gain. The chance I've never taken. The dice I've yet to cup in a hand and cast. The newness of the experience for its own sweet sake. Maybe it's worth persisting for that alone. That, and the hope it can't help but light in me, bright as a newly-minted coin of moon.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself..."

Another February gone, with its frosts and mists. Gunmetal ground, and stars like cold fire. The white shoots of snowdrops. The Valentines flutes full of bubbles, full of hope. Another striped candle on the sweet, sweet cake. A wish expelled in breath and smoke.

I sit and type, and rain flies at the window like handfuls of sequins flung at a bride. The wet slate roof throws back the sky. This is my life. My beautiful life. In all its wonder and all its normalcy.

It seems just a moment since I wrote I am thirty three. Wrote of journeys, wrote of plans, and dreams, and the slats disappearing beneath the path of a train. And now I am thirty-four, another oak-tree-ring circling the shafts of my bones.

Twelve months. A handful of posts. Words scattered like breadcrumbs across the screen. I find the ghosts of my selves in the spaces: remember that girl; the one whose heart was crushed like a flower in a fist? And that girl, too, a flat balloon,  filling, very slowly, with warm air, new faith? I remember that perfect moment, and the moon. The gardens in Summer - squirrels, pinecones, wine on my breath. I remember the notes I took. The fingers that read the Braille of my spine like the dimpled print in a special  book. The seasons that spun in their slow carousel: light, and air, colour, heat;  new buds, old bones, sunlight, snow.

I have learned to let go, this year.  I have learned to breathe before letting out the rush of words. I have learned to be truer to myself, more clear about the things I want and don't. I have learned that I don't always know, and that that's ok. I have learned to say I'm sorry; I love you; I'm afraid.
What else?
Oh yes: that there are more chances than stars in the sky. That you can love without losing yourself to the process of loving. That you're never failing as long as you try.
I have learned to treat my life like a garden: to protect and to prune. To water what is good, and full of life, what helps me grow. To cut off the rest at the root.
I have learned that change doesn't happen overnight, but that I can chip away at the cliff face. I have learned that, ,through everything, goodness runs like seams of gold through old rock. That sometimes it glitters, right there for the taking, so beautiful, so free... and that sometimes we must sweat and hack and chisel for it.
I no longer look at my age and frown. I look at the numbers and marvel. I wear them like a prize. I still can't French-braid my own hair, or draw on eyeliner in perfect leonine sweeps. I still haven't finished the books I'm writing, or grown my own tomatoes. I still haven't tasted lobster, paid off that loan. But this is the thing I have come to understand: all those things, they're the patchwork pieces. The bits of your life - the experiences, the lovelinesses -  that come together gradually, over time, to make the whole quilt. The things we piece together, the experiences that give the thing - the life - its patterns, its colour, its heft, its shape. And my whole life is about finding those pieces and putting them together.

But so far, my thirties - though not without the most gorgeous of patches - has been about something just as important, and thus far lacking. The stitches and seams. The things that hold the quilt together, give it cohesion, shape and beauty. A sense of self, which I've found after years of working and searching, and which I'm grasping as tightly as a kite-tail in high wind. An independence, like sediment, at the seat of everything. A sweet sort of surety; a certain calm.

Life is a process, not a destination.  I forget who said that, although I've quoted it before, but never has this been clearer to me than now. Another year struck from the calendar. Another beautiful square sewn into the quilt. I can see, already, the edges of the next one. Gold like sunshine, like honey, like hope.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

"Be in love with your life; every detail of it..."

Those days, when the tides inside crest and swell, and your soul, like the foam on the curl of a wave, rides it all out, in the simplest of joys, high in the blue, close to the sky.

Those days when bad luck or a black mood is nothing but the vaguest memory, nothing but ash in the fire of your cairn, and you burn with absolute clarity, you burn with focus and calm.

Those days when the words shake out of your fingers  like grains of salt from the cellar, and you lick your fingertips, you press your lips to your palms, and you taste of ink, and sweat, and you feel the heat of your own blood moving beneath your skin, and you've never felt so real, so alive.

These days, these days...I wish I could cast them, now, as they happen, cast them and press them into glasslike beads. I wish I could wear them in a rosary or rope, a string of my longest, most beautiful days spilling over my collarbones, over my breasts.
To handle them over and over, and return to that wonder. To roll each moment in a thumb.
I want to be higher, and better, and that part of me says Love every second...then let it go.
But the human part, the girl with a heart so soft you could nudge it, knuckle it, knead it like dough, says, Let me hold onto this for always; let me take my time with it, slow, slow...oh, let me keep this rush of love, this sudden golden flood of hope, of grace...