A test read through of the first couple of stanzas of my new longer poem 'What the Tree Said'. I read a very short version of this at the Blue Bus in March. I will read the full poem at Storm and Sky held at The Caledonia in Liverpool, 30th May, where I get to read with Rhys Trimble!
I originally conceived this as a sequence of short poems but it soon became apparent that these were working as stanzas rather than separate poems. 'What the Tree Said' will form part of a set of poems I am composing for my research project. I owe thanks to the poets whose work I'm studying which has been helping me along the way to making my own work - Maggie O'Sullivan, Bill Griffiths and Geraldine Monk.
(I hope the red filter isn't off putting - looks like I've been out in the sun too long!)
As I come to the end of marking poetry portfolios I came across a short story I wrote at the beginning of the year. Thought I'd post this in honour of the clement weather and as a reminder that as much as I love it, somewhere in another dimension I am doing something other than just poetry!
Delicate in their bridal fresh and white, the tiny Elderflower blossoms are weaving honey-scented trails through the soft spring breeze that is catching at them and is stroking their sweetness around the figure of the woman. Marching with intend along the hedge-lined path through the park her striding motion is flapping her long skirt, causing a drier plainer air to be stirred into lifting a mustiness from the winter-damp ground. This other air is sulky in its odours and suffusing any stillness, it is stubbornly maintaining pockets of rottenness. The woman, her arms swinging and breathing heavily, is buoying herself along the dry grey path that wisps through the park. The uneven aged pathway is lined by slumbering flora, whose signs of imminent wakenings are showing in the gatherings of buds, various in their sizes and degrees of green, pimpling the bare branches, signaling a vibrancy occurring beneath surfaces. The whole of the air is being punctuated by bird songings. What Hannah is thinking coming along this way, she just wouldn’t be able to say if anyone did want to stop her and ask her where is she heading this late spring morning, then she’d have been reddening disastrously, and mumbling, would be setting about her usual stuttering at them, too. As it is, this being the lull in the morning time, the period after the rushings to work and to school, the second cup of tea time before the leisurely heading out on errands, Hannah’s way is unpeopled.
In casting her eyes away from the uniformity of the path unravelling before her, there on her right, she spies the grey squirrel, as a frozen statue, posing proud there in the undergrowth, sitting upright cupping an acorn in both sets of delicately sharp claws, staring. In its alert stillness the creature is hypnotizing Hannah with its black marble-eyes stark amidst the leaf mould. The creature is unblinking. Then, without reason and in a twitch of its nose it is breaking the spell and darting up the damp knotted trunk. Hannah is shaking herself out of her stilled attitude, is resuming her calf burning pace of movement, is keeping her eyes on the breaks of blue sky visible for now around the tree skeletons rising up ahead. Hannah my dear you really should not listen to friends like Cate. That’s her mother speaking. Hannah is forever still hearing her mother speaking. From the beyond, not being confined to the space of her grave, rather, haunting Hannah from a somewhere unseen and insistently inside Hannah’s head. The voice of mother reminding Hannah that she has limitations, which at her age now she really must have begun to accept and very much needs to stop pushing against. Futile. What a foolish idea to embark upon at your time of life. Turn back now Hannah before it’s too late for you and your silly whims. Hannah feels the prickling flush, hot and hot, traveling from her chest up up through the roots of her hair. Burning so across her cheeks, she rests the cool back of a hand against one. So welcome a distraction comes the child’s whoops of joy shooting through the hedges to Hannah’s left side. Amidst this commotion Hannah is needing a moment to think. She is passing through a bald spot in the wall of hedge.
In its splashes of primary colours the play park is announcing itself giddily against the greening background of grass and trees and hedges and the fresh baby blue sky. There are two figures, a tall slender woman and a small girl there on the swing who it must be has been making all the fuss. Evidently about being pushed energetically, by the strong lean arms of the young woman. The healthy glowing of their recent excitements is written in their rosy-faced relaxed attitudes. It is easy to see that the girl has been swinging high, emitting those whoops once the fleeting moment of breath-holding fear had passed into that self-hugging pleasure Hannah used to see in her own children. Easier when young to encounter opportunities to embrace the innate, and life giving, needing to go testing out the limits of your existence, the how far, how high do I dare to venture. And afterwards, the laughing with satisfaction because you have proven to yourself that you can succeed, that you know when to endure the discomfort of the new and the strange because it will become exhilarating. Fearless now, fully stretching out her arms, the child is leaning far back on the swing as it is cutting arcs back and forth in the soft fresh air. Closing her eyes, Hannah is feeling the air passing her own ears, muffling sounds, is feeling the coolness on her flushed cheeks and the lurch in her stomach being the memory of the sensation of swinging back to centre where gravity is tugging at her core. In this mid-week early morning, in this slice of stilled life, the world is paused and Hannah is just nestled on this bench, anchored here in a place to a tangible object, to this bench with its brass plaque dedicating it ‘To the life of...’ And all along the wood has been taking the heat from her burning thighs.
‘To the life of...’ has caught in her brain, is thrusting a hurt of memories into motion, causing Hannah to be seeing herself from outside, as a woman alone on a park bench. Being unable to endure reading the names inscribed, names making the inscriptions actual people and not just letters on a plaque, Hannah is defaulting to letting herself fall away from the world surrounding her and is escaping to a somewhere inside.
In this time Hannah sees two small children jumping pushing swinging running as they hurry to try out every piece of apparatus contained inside the playground as if fearing time will dissolve before they have the chance to experience everything they desire to their hearts’s content. Primary colours in bold lines are swirling in over around Hannah.
Now the park is in the full bloom of mid-summer. Hannah is skipping along the path, holding a hand of each child tumbling along beside her.
‘To the park, to the park,’ they chant and the dogs trotting in guardianship beside them are variously barking, growling, yip-yaping, in shades of greetings and warnings to all passers-by.
Her children are calling to her to watch them perform a daring leap, a climb to the highest branch. Hannah laughing, praising, encouraging, occasionally holding her breath with a hand placed over her anxious heart.
But now leaves are falling, collecting in corners, contrasting in their dull browns to the brightly painted play park. Hannah, passing by with no reason to stop there, glances across. She watches a moment. And while children jump push swing run, the parents are spending their time phoning gossiping complaining rebuking, are having to be going elsewhere now because because because...
It is done and Hannah is stretching and is yawning covering her mouth with one cupped hand. She is beginning again with an answer; she will get a little dog like Cate had done. Cate. Calling Hannah to come and see the new addition. The overly warm room, the pastel pink fleece blankets, the teething toys scattered, the proud mother cradling the warm bundle and the insistence on conversing in whispers. The bundle being a puppy now deposited to be sleeping on a cushion draped with a crocheted blanket. No. Even putting aside her mother’s easily imagined ghostly acid, Michael and Amy would disown her. Mother, you’re not being sensible, how could you come to us and look after our children, your grandchildren, when we need you to, if you have taken on other responsibilities? We are your children, you’re too old to take on any more.
‘Down, down Frankie.’
The yip-yip yapping speck of a dog is having to be kept on the outside of the children’s play park railings. Hannah, being a person who usually likes dogs very much, is however finding this tiny canine creature, so aloofly aware it is wearing a human styled mint green coat, to be splitting her skull with its shrill demands. At the other end of the animal’s leash the petite woman is wearing a beautiful mint green mac also. A-line, buttoned and belted it is effecting a youthfully feminine silhouette. Hannah is seeing a mirror self, another empty-nester, wondering what the predicating children have been like. The woman is kneeling and scooping the creature to her shoulder, it is nestling into her neck. Smiling.
Shivering now and uncomfortable, Hannah is glancing at her wrist watch, and she must be moving on the instant or else she will be making it becoming past the time and be having to go missing it again and being ever so sorry about that Cate. See Hannah you will be having to be making your way back, forever, not having ventured any further. Because nerves can be funny and various and tedious creatures. And Carlos is such a mover Hannah do come along and join the class. Carlos. Cate. Mother. Never having been inclined to entertain the reality of displaying any of the movements of her body in public, Hannah is somehow in this moment still feeling curious enough to be taking up Cate’s invitation to show that she isn’t just a boring stay-at-homer. It is to be deciding here and now to be chancing just this once attending the dance class. Hannah is rising from the bench, shuddering off being a little chilled and gently stretching her limbs to effect an unstiffening. Hannah is buoying herself, breathing in for 6 and out for 5, in for 6, to steady the arrhythmic beatings which are not going to be allowed to be reasons to stop her attending, in fact are very reasons for her to go joining in.
Counting her breaths and steps Hannah is losing consciousness of her well known surroundings as she is soldiering onwards treading a familiar old route through the park. This becoming lost inside thoughts, this being propelled toward a once often visited address, is effecting an erasure of Hannah’s consciousness of time, of her passing any thing, any one...
A lorry is rattling over the worn surface of the main road which is making Hannah open her eyes and see that she is out of the park. Being now arrested, being jolted into recognition of actually existing out in a place and walking along the bustle of it, is being stirred in Hannah. Here, is music falling from the open window above and filling the air around Hannah. She is entering the building through the open door, taking the stairs in twos, so easily, yet gasping and being greeted by the scent of old warm wood, sweet and musty the paneling, and the banister, floor, another door, opening, Hannah stops.
Carlos. He is not sounding at all Spanish as Hannah had been expecting.
The heat begins rising up from her chest, neck, jawline, ears as Hannah is standing hesitating in the doorway of the long narrow ante-room. She is weighing up the inside, with its rows of green iron pegs with coats on and a low bench running along, underneath it a fat pipe carrying heat, next to which shoes have been abandoned at random. This room and its objects are conjuring small ghosts of the times Hannah spent here, long ago, when as a young child, she had attended the ballet school that this building used to harbour...
‘Hello,’ Hannah is extending her hand, ‘I’m Hannah, sorry I’m late, I’d like to join.’
He is telling her there is paperwork to complete and a handout for class times and safe dancing tips. In bursts, music and voices are drifting through the glass doors behind Carlos.
‘My friend, Cate, invited me.’
He is selecting sheets of coloured paper from a scruffy brown satchel.
‘I’m glad to have you here,’ he is looking up suddenly, catching her as she is straining to see over his shoulder into that other room.
She is frowning in an awareness that he is for some reason finding her to be an amusement. ‘I can’t see her.’
‘Ah, yes, Cate called to say she can’t make it this week.’
Every pore on Hannah’s body is beginning to prickle in discomfort. No Cate? Why didn’t she tell me she wouldn’t be here? Hannah is taking a step back putting a hand on the door handle behind her.
‘Do you need a pen?’
Carlos is holding the papers up, waiting for her to take them from him. I told you this was foolish Hannah. They’ll never give you the part. We’ll make an excuse to go outside and we’ll go home so you can stop making a fool of yourself. And of me. You have flat feet, no rhythm and heavy bones. You’ll look like a goose trying to be a swan...
Oh shut up mother, Hannah is hearing herself shouting to quieten the voice in her head.
‘Did you bring someone else?’ Carlos is peering querulously past Hannah’s body.
Of course it comes from living so long alone and she hadn’t been meaning to say those words out loud. Avoiding her eyes, he is staring at her body. Is he thinking she is about to go producing her mother out from under her mac or something? Mother would be so pleased and Cate will be embarrassed because now it seems she has gone making Carlos begin thinking she is cuckoo. Being rooted with mortification, and having made an effort to finally get here, Hannah is finding herself unable to leave. And now women’s laughter, not mocking, but joyful and free, is peeling in from that other room. Perhaps just one time. She is smiling because she will trust to her own voice for a change.
‘Sorry, no, I was just thinking out loud.’
‘Perhaps try some dancing also?’ Carlos is smiling. ‘You can leave your shoes there, bare foot is best.’
He is turning his back on her and Hannah is watching him, mesmerised by the fluidity of his body, as he is shimmying away from her towards the music in the next room. Hannah is left standing alone again, in this ante-room, where there are only disembodied voices and sensations of air and movements, coming from a place that is just there and yet is feeling beyond her reach.
Being surrounded by a warmth, not burning, Hannah finds she is sitting on the low wooden bench, receiving memories of the ballet school in sharp little pulses of vividness. Not ever having liked her rather broad feet she is being reluctant to remove her shoes, is preferring to begin thinking up some excuse that she must be having to wear the neat black pumps she has in her bag. Knee to ankle she unzips one boot, then the other. The brightly coloured character socks are being revealed, adorning her feet ever so (Hannah is wincing) age-inappropriately. You can’t be let out in public Hannah, always making a show... And that voice is being turned to silence because somehow it has become that Carlos’s breathing is in her ear. His breaths are forming pleasant warm sounds. Only begin when you are feeling ready Hannah. Heat is covering her face. He is telling her to wait. Wait until the music catches you, then go with it, let it infuse your body. In a consciousness only of sounds, Hannah’s understanding is beginning to sense that a hand, solid, is on her forearm, she is feeling herself rising from the bench. The hand is guiding her to her feet and through the glass doors, they are flowing into the other room, she is being buoyed along with him, her whole body is pulsing. The pressure on her skin is releasing, he is retreating, joining the flowing and twirling of bodies, continuing across the wooden boards, that Hannah can not form into the shapes of singular movements.
Hannah is standing confronted by being in this room now seeing all in full focus. Apart from Carlos, the figures are all women and are seeming from the usual tell-tale appearances, to be of ages around hers and older. All are bare foot, all gliding in fluid movements, all keeping time, all are perfectly being swans. How on earth is she meant to be carrying off moving in that elegance herself? That, her entering this room before, had not really been her, it was just the creating of an illusion by Carlos managing her, leading her. Continuing to watch the others Hannah is breathing 6 in, 6 out, is letting the music establish the rhythms of her breathing. Now, closing her eyes, she is feeling the beats and the rhythms of other naked feet on floorboards, is feeling the air swishing with materials tracing the movements of bodies. Hannah’s toes are rippling across the vibrating wooden board. In time to the soft bang bang-banging of footfalls Hannah is raising one shoulder, then her other. Her hips are making a swinging left, circling right. Edging toward the ribbonings of colour and movement she is throwing in a leg extension, a curling motion along her arms is bringing her folding hands to her ears. Hannah is becoming a part in the swell of bodies, is breathing those rhythms. There mother, no goosey waddling, no heavy boned banging. A fluidity. A suppleness. Hannah is fusing into a consciousness of the room and music and being among strangers but her body is undulating deliciously and is refusing to stop. Noticing that Carlos is watching her, she is seeing a teacher’s critical eye, and she is feeling the searing rising from her chest up up through the roots of her hair. The music is fading and she is pausing by the open window and a wave of cool fresh air is relieving the burning. Below, the street, seems to be alive with movement and rhythms. In the room where Hannah is just catching her breath, the music kicks up again.
Dancing in her own body, dancing for herself, Hannah is finding herself continuing...