Momentum

Opposite my window lurks the gaunt, grey shadow of the old people’s home. I look straight into their dining room, lit almost every hour with dim, soothing lights. The glint of ready cutlery. There is one woman in particular who sits out in the garden when she can, and always on the second-floor balcony at three. She wears a white dress and has beautifully styled hair the same bleached linen colour. The White Woman. Last time she was sitting out there she had a birthday balloon tied to her chair. My neighbour and I were going to take some roses around, but we got drunk in the afternoon and forgot.

I feel like pounding my fist against the door with a question – what the hell happened to me over the last few years? Too much solitude, the keyhole whispers. That long, dark brain of yours ate the silence and then it ate you. I ended up hating this pretty town; endless rainy pavements mocking every step, the ocean’s whisper sultry and lethal: ‘Come away, come away with me.’ I was most happy – back to the question of happiness – on a little boat, surging out to a jagged full stop of an Irish island, salt-fresh, lungs expanding. The sensation of movement (this is also why I adore trains). I clung on to some railings with the flute strapped to my back in case we sank and smoked cigarettes with a cable-knit man, so massive his shoulders took out the last view of the vanishing mountains. That was happiness, simply moving forward in no-place, no-time. A speck of flesh with momentum. The sea is so hungry and deathly and uncaring and obsessed with its own momentum too. I didn’t rate my chances if we flunked it, smooth as it was that day. The sun beating it into diamonds in a second when earth takes a million years to be so intensified.

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The Glass Boat, 2009

And then I was back, heavy again. Back into the world of execs quibbling over cab fare, back into the world of birds that sing only when the traffic dims down its white-noise mechanical hum at the close of day, or the opening of it. Back to the world of the communal (yet also of the solitary and desolate, as without action the relationship between you and the other lives stacked up above and around and below would remain passive and insensate). It’s too peculiar. I can feel the splinters of other lives in the walls working into the skin of my own, getting under the cells and itching there, like a piano being played atonal in the next room.

I said once to him that other people’s lives picked me out like torchlight; a beam slung under a canal at midnight, and all you can see are skeletal shopping trolleys and the dark, rainbow obsidian gleam of dirty water. Toads, reeds like green razors. Broken radios that have stopped talking about stranglings in basement flats and other unfortunate things that end always, always, in boxes being lowered into the exhausted ground. One of the windows opposite has been dark for a while, a tiny postage stamp of black. There is no wheelchair patiently parked on the balcony at three. I don’t think the White Woman is coming back.

Vampire Hunting in Paris

There are places in this world which split you open, in awe, joy or sorrow; gardens, ruins, stone circles. There are cities that cleave you like a ripe fig; alive and all millipede feet and heavy breathing. They are aware.

Paris is such a city for me. A great leopard with filthy paws, Paris unpacks my loneliness with my shirts and shakes it out.

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I couldn’t tell you why. It might be the long streets tapping with the ghosts of a million famous footsteps, making me long for the past, a trick of nostalgic light. It might be the solitude, having no one to share the breath of this city. It might be the swarming crowds; each citizen an arrowhead, focused, determined. I merely wander cluelessly from my moorings.

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The romantic in me can’t have it both ways; I love the solitude, the melancholy. Watching the moon rise over the Seine, I know the glimmering perfection of the moment would be lessened for me if someone were to run up, laughing, and clasp my hand (Really? Are you lying?). My most profound and bittersweet moments are only experienced alone. The city winks back at me from silver-plated water. She understands. She embraces suffering like a martyr, a mistress of mansions and garrets.

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I am fortunate enough to catch Vespers in Notre Dame, the call and answer of prayerful melody; a vast aviary of devoted birds. There is one woman close to the altar, decked in blue and white like the Virgin. She raises her hands in ecstasy when she sings, she is transported beyond her body, her hands full of stained glass light.

I wonder at her life when the music stops. I wonder if carrying such a faith, she is ever lonely, too.

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I walk slowly through the streets back to the hotel. My train leaves for the South in the morning, there’s no point ghost-hunting my heart in this place with one turn of the clock left. I need more time! Paris lets me know she will be here when I need her, she sends a gentle rain to freckle the long avenues. The smell of wet pavement rises, mingles with the frankincense still tangled in my hair; they say when a holy scent follows a prayer, then that prayer is heard.

La Sirene

Waxed leather; a shooting jacket. The smell of it was like laying back in a mouldering armchair. In the dim light of the port, I thought he looked like a spy. The drained vessel of my body is docked in the crook of his arm.

We half-wake, unconsciously shifting closer together. We have both sealed up our bodies against the whipcord of cold. The ferry will not be here for another five hours. Trembling fingers have long lost their grip on cardboard coffee cups. I have forgotten where I am supposed to be going; I have already reached the destination of this unfamiliar man.

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My head lolls on his shoulder; his skull is flung back, resting against a dirty holdall. We are in a grey desert beyond tiredness; when I open my eyes the world has no definition, only a thick mist over the water. His hair is long and dirty blonde; it tickles my frozen cheek. Somewhere in my chest, I feel infantile sobs cracking like ice. The glare of harsh overhead lights is reflected in a dozen windows, a blinding kaleidoscope. Safer, better, to close my eyes again.

I imagine my fingers curling over the rail of the ferry, leaning forward to watch dark water churning below. I laugh because even the dull metal belly of the boat has direction when I do not. My hands grasp at unravelling thread in a monstrous Labyrinth, the bellow of the Minotaur sounds a long way away. Hansel’s white pebbles beckon my feet down a crooked path; the birds that fly about the wood have eaten all of my cunning crumbs.

Ghosts of the Olive Grove

The outward train is booked. I am finally going back to the south of France, where the dusty soil, little olive trees and vast, dense forests dotted with red roofs speak of enduring and primitive beauty. There is something savage about this part of the world; bloody and heady and plated gold.

I miss awakening to the birds, and drinking sweet wine at breakfast before the sun climbs to its searing zenith; tearing chunks of bread and smearing them with rough duck pâté . Walking in the dawn at the edges of the forest populated by iron-grey boar; crushing wild Thyme between my fingers.

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Going legend hunting this new year. It is still fairly unusual to meet people here – apart from expats – who aren’t Catholic, in the rich, blood-and-bones way of rural Catholicism. I’m sure the little towns and more isolated villages have tales of vampires and werewolves galore. White-gowned virgins spirited away, returning thirsty; or warding off a risen evil with a litany of prayer spilling from rose-pink lips at the altar.

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The soil strikes me as unquiet. It is too vital, too alive, to hold the damned for long. I watch the bulky bodies of the wild boar shouldering their way through the olive grove. This is a place where full moons breed empty beds.

Prometheus

I tell them in my letters that I am well, that I am eating properly, that I have found a modest little job which covers a modest little room where the crime rate is low and the streets are lined with whispering trees. I tell them I have made a few casual friends, in cafes and music venues. I talk about health food shops and real coffee. I sketch out for them in ink the warm cream pastries of the bakery a mere two avenues away, slow walks along the sea’s shifting edge.

There is a lot I do not tell them. I think how stupid it is that so much of my life, so much of importance, has to stay hidden like incriminating photographs. There is Will. I can tell them about our public transport system but I cannot tell then that Will has become my life. That I have given up the drugs and replaced them with Will. That a bold knight errant has weaved himself into my life tapestry, with his clever sculptor’s fingers.

The sun rises, throwing ethereal steaks of pink and gold across the sea; angels dancing in the morning waves. I smoke, continuously, savouring the dawn silence. Later, when I get back to the flat I will clean my teeth as though possessed, trying to erase the smoke gripping them so that my tongue is sweet and fresh for him. Not that it matters, if there is anyone who smokes more than me it is Will as he paces his studio floor. He exhales like a dragon, a fine bluish stream rolling from his nostrils.

The studio is bright,  sun pouring in through two tall windows looking straight into the sky. If I twist my neck I can make out the spidery sprawl of the rooftops, the outline of the city. I pull the windows open on Sunday to hear the church bells for miles around piously singing. Then I become angry, and clap my hands over my ears to block out the gong and hammer of weekend praise. Will gently picks apart my distress, deftly reworking a tight seam. I clasp his strong fingers around my wrists, handcuffing myself.  The muscles of his arms are well-developed from practicing his art. He is slicing away my exterior, setting free the minimal thing that lurks beneath the crude outer layers – all clean lines and near-transparency.

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I taste fennel on his breath. He is Prometheus, fashioning men from water and earth, and giving me the stolen fire through that mythical spice on his tongue. He presses the taste into me, and makes me immortal, immortal.

Sometimes, on a grey day, I see him staring out of the windows at the heavy clouds, booming overhead, storm-pregnant and lazy. I imagine him reaching up and up, working them until the texture and form of the very atmosphere is different. Sculpture is a strange discipline. Will’s work squats defiantly in three-dimensions; drawing the gaze the way a black hole pulls in the universe, eyes orbiting his creations like stars about to make that irreversible leap of faith.

Later, we will drink rum and work; his fingers deep in the damp clay, my pen leaching midnight blue. I will watch the cigarette smoke hit the mirror glass and vanish, as though it has passed through the silver into superstition. I smile secretly, turning suddenly at the sound of my name. Will is there, watching me spin under the bleeding trees, and I am eager, very eager, for him to continue his work; until the sculpture emerges from my centre. A masterpiece that echoes down our lifelines, replete and terrifying in its fulfillment.

Wanderlonging

I’m pretty partial to melancholy. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say that melancholy is partial to me.

I spin the globe around and around; suitcases, bags and boxes at my feet. Moving, I remember, rubbing my swollen ankles and my aching back, is acutely stressful. I dream of landing at some anonymous airport, at the beautiful Gard du Lyon, stepping off the train at dusty Draguignan or glorious, sensual Rome; leather sack bag slung casually over my shoulder.

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I offer my morning Frankincense to Our Lady pondering the strange twists in the knickers of fate that lead us along one path or another. Prague. Florence. The winding, reeking canals of Venice. The rich loam and sheer black cliffs of windswept Ireland. The flat plains of Poland, Granddaddy’s country.

I miss the urgency of travel and the way it forces you open and spills all the colourful wonders of the world into the empty vessel you become hopping train to train. Today perhaps I am a little sad; a little self-indulgent, restless and hungry for the richness that life offers us when we have the courage to step out with a light bag and a lighter heart.

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Soon, I tell my compass. Soon. Let me hang in comfortable suspension a little while before you spin again, my tiny wheel of fortune.