Apr 302008

It won’t work, he said, but the constriction in his own heart had falsified all the words he had by now said to his two friends, he was not convinced by any of them, or any of the reasonings he had provided them on how to avoid further conflict and violence in their lives, none of it convinced him, and he had a growing sense that he was only making things worse.

Why, they asked, Because, he began, and he knew that all his copious explanations amounted to the same one sentence.

It was a sentence of two halves, Because, he had begun to answer, I am in control of my life, was the first part, and, I am under the direction of a Higher Power, was the second, and their opposites, I am not in control, in the first part, and, I am not under the direction of a Higher Power, in the second, and his mind had spun off down all the pathways that led away, scanning the 55,000 versions which had arisen, in the process of trying them all, the assertions and their opposites, the positives and the negatives, and every combination, the plurals and the singulars, the shifts of tense and the changes in grammar, and all the nuances of tone and voice, but it did not matter which choice he made, he already knew that none of them worked. It won’t work, he had said to his friends, Why, they had asked, a mirror being raised up in front of him, a green light of unimaginable brilliance, at that very moment both the influence he could feel to keep silent, something in his mouth stopping up his tongue, and a terrible pressure being exerted down upon him to blurt out the next words, fate, at the suffocating point where there was no space in the sentence, the seamless point at the junction between the two parts, for which he lacked an iron bar, or any other instrument to prize open or apart, so that he knew it was impossible to move forward or to move back, to say another word, or to unsay the question which had now been asked, and the answer he had begun, Because.

There was no space and, the conflict and the violence of human relationships, it was fate. Something to tilt the words sideways, what it needed was two walking fish, 20072008_288 he found himself looking at the explanation which had been printed and pinned to the end of the bench on which he was sitting. He looked up at the space above the door, the Tympanum as it was called, What it needed was Saint George, it was the Crusades, a decisive battle was in progress, a subduction zone bathed in rays of green light, and his life was about to end. He found himself searching for the subject, looking from one side to the other, was he one of the two people, his friends, kneeling to the left of the door with their weapons temporarily put to one side, their arms hanging limply by their sides, alive but unable to engage in the unfolding struggle, or was he already lying among the dead on the right-hand side of the door, dead and thereby oblivious to further suffering. The text asked him to believe he was on the left, among the living, among the survivors, the saved, but it wasn’t true. So where was he. He found himself searching for the subject and not finding him in either place, among the people to the left or to the right of the door, he was not there, and he knew he was not the mighty figure on the horse emerging through the dazzling green light, that was unimaginable. 20072008_290 Slowly his eyes followed the terrible diagonal down from left to right, penetrating into the mouth of the struggling, kneeling figure whose lance was breaking behind him, the iron bar itself entering and filling his mouth, snuffing out his life at once

,his own,

and at an instance emerging from his throat, the voice was streaming out of his mouth, the direct line projecting the slogan on to the clouds in the sky, the pennant waving at its end, a great shimmering sea-blue shout encircling the circle of green light.

Losing my way

 Posted by at 12:10 pm  Atelier, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Apr 302008

I can lose my way any old time of the day. It might happen as I eat my breakfast porridge or drink my breakfast coffee whilst reading a newspaper or journal. There are the rich sensations and pleasures of eating; there is the impact of this or that writer’s mind. The fact remains that I was on a path, worked on by the effort to free myself from sleep, from dreams, to mobilise my physical being: to ready myself for the tasks of the day, and whoops, I’ve wandered off into some country, pleasant or unpleasant. And it’s a while before I notice because I’m held under the spell-like belief that I remain on the ‘correct’ path.

By the time I do realise the errors of my ways, it is too late to pick up the threads of the path, but rather I must attempt to adjust my route with the aim to intersect the intentions of the earlier path – if I know (or remember) what those intentions were. This is often too difficult or even impossible, so I am left to do the ‘best’ I can. A strangely unsatisfactory experience.

It’s no wonder we organise ourselves into teams with an elected or imposed leader, who, we hope, will remember the way we should be travelling. But check the news: they never do.


 Posted by at 11:41 am  Atelier, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Apr 232008

It is simply true that life is big and we are small and we have to find ways of managing that discrepancy and the resulting tension.

Excuse me, can I help you?
Are you lost?
Of course he might be mad, I thought, perhaps too late, as I attempt to ascertain the degree to which I’m already committed, already trapped. How much wriggle room is there?
Whose voice is that? The voice that says, get out, extricate yourself, don’t be a fool, you’re challenging the wrong person.
But it’s not one voice – it’s a whole chorus. The usual suspects.
He turns.
He’s much too big.
Too big for me.
A glowering hulk.
This is the stuff of being torn apart limb from limb. Trampled. Gore all over the place. Smashed flesh. Pulverised bones. Trampled into the earth until what used to be me is indistinguishable from the dust.
I just wondered if . . .
He turns from me as if sniffing the winds.
I take a breath and prepare for flight.
He returns his gaze to me like he’s checking out my cellular activity.
I stop breathing.
He takes a step towards me.
He’s as big as a block of flats.
I’m rooted to the spot.
In awe.
In a rush of panic and excitement questions flash and ricochet through my mind. I have to find out about him before it’s too late. I have to find out why he exists. What his story is. I have to get him on the TV news.
Then into the darkness, a darkness that’s full of glaring lights and harsh voices. Have I fainted? Systems overwhelmed, I’ve cut out. When I come to I can find no bruises, no broken bones. Nothing. Merely curled up, foetus like on the rough broken ground, all soft flesh and fragile bones, eyes inches from footprints the size of football pitches.

‘Complex Questions’ from Russia

 Posted by at 12:33 pm  Atelier, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Apr 222008

Complex Questions from Russia, Dance_hermitage waiting under the huge poster hanging outside, full, he remembered a phrase that Marx was said to have used, with theological niceties, the task was to walk though the nine exhibition rooms which had been filled, still only a fraction of the vast collections, with the works of monumental art, or as some would say iconic representations, standing for 20 minutes in the morning freshness of Matins, in the quiet crowd. What did they expect to see, he wrote down, a melodrama, some proof positive, or pehaps an interpretive turn, the withdrawal of God, or His harrassment, he wrote down.

Under Tatlin’s Tower, he noticed again the family that he had first seen looking up at the painting of The Dance, an elderly man and woman with their two grandsons, the boys, both of them under ten, held pencils and paper on which certain questions had been printed by the Academy, and the woman was encouraging the older of the boys to look but he was reluctant, turning his face away from the enormous green, blue and brick red canvas in front of him. Tatlin_towerAll of them were looking for the same old Complex Questions, he wrote down, and trying to force out answers with expressions of joy, all of them, the strange men with blue faces, and those sat almost naked in their underpants, holding musical instruments but refusing to play and looking at us with insolent faces, and the women, the beauties, all of them too, and their creators, the composers, the artists and the poets, all of them or nearly all, with only a few exceptions, meanwhile the grandfather had moved off to search for the younger grandson, who had slid away into the crowd, leaving the grandmother and the older boy hand in hand looking up at the Tower, the headquarters of the Comintern, diagonally spiralling iron framework, intended to be a powerful symbol of dynamic progress, within it three enormous glass spaces, rotating at different speeds housing the executive, administrative, and propaganda offices of the Comintern, intended for a site in Petrograd or Moscow, a radio station would broadcast to the world, and an apparatus would have projected slogans onto the clouds, words which he copied down from the wall plaque.

Or was it steel, the grandmother asked, Not iron, it needed steel, all the steel in Russia. Steel, the stranger standing beside them agreed. There it is, she continued, And that is an aerial view, like the Wembley arch. And there it is, she repeated, It really looks, it is there. The three of them stood looking up, something like a charge of electricity passing between them and through them, the woman, her grandson and the stranger beside them, an excitement, and they began to laugh. Steel, he said, It was a mistake to have written down iron, bars of iron could not have held up the revolving glass spaces and the offices of the new world order, it needed steel. Anyway, the grandmother said, It never got built, and there was a pause while the three of them laughed together at the joke, continuing all the time to look up at the vast construction rising up in front of them, almost twice as tall as Eiffel’s, right there in the centre of the great city, There it is, she said, the Tower.

With the radio station that broadcasts to the world.

Apr 102008

1. Past the city waterfront development, past the reflecting glass and the entrance to the jardin de la mer, from which three of the large black letters, d-e-a , were missing from the sign, gouged out, he wrote down, to adorn a young man’s wall,

Walking on to the soft sand, into which his shoes sunk deep, out past the old military vehicles, now put to peaceful use, bussing visitors there and back, besides the concrete pavement which had appeared before him, as if rising up out of the sea,

The rhythm beat out by the heavy pneumatic hammer striking the ends of the piles, echoing out from inside the harbour walls, at the lowest point stepping over the fast-flowing ford, And God parted the waters, he thought,

Or were the three missing letters, d-i-e , he had forgotten, treading on the bones of the dead, scattered whelks like black coins on the pavement, and the abandoned broken baskets, only the one o’clock gun ended it.

2. Where have I seen, written down, the word hunger, he asked, alone and barefoot, climbing the cold, steep granite steps to the small chapel on the rock, and sitting on the concrete ledge opposite the saint’s ancient stone bed,

Sounding the breath, Om and again Om, the echo that was also the drone of the light aeroplane overhead, the young girl entered silently, and then her elder brother looking away, Hello, he said, Sit down here, and then the children’s mother as well,

This is how it is done, he said, singing into the throat of the rock bed, since ever it was, as if it was the Creator himself there, growing the sound of the rock to the silent girl, sitting beside them, the brother, and the mother on the other side,

And he asked them to show him the other way back, it was a good exchange of gifts, this Mass, which all of them would remember, recalling for ever the mud-spattered dog tied to the metal railing at the bottom of the stone stairs.

3. Back past the other castle visitors, the grand battery, and the museum of cannons and wars, round the village green, inside the walls and battlements and the military hospital, and down the sunken road past the gone-over daffodils,

A man stepped out of the gatehouse, Hello, he said, we don’t allow dogs into the castle, the friendly eyes of the man looking straight through him, I will remember that, he replied, raising his right hand in an almost salute, Next time,

Walking back, knowing that the man would kill without any hesitation, with the same smiling face as he pulled the trigger, if he was ordered to, on the concrete city pavement which was now almost sun dry from the outgoing sea.

Listening and not hearing

 Posted by at 11:25 am  Atelier, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Apr 072008

I don’t mean bloody mindedness, rather the rhythms of attention; where and how it moves. Writing in a cold garden in Rome a couple of weeks ago, I discover that I described something of this movement:

Lemon Tree

If this goes on
If I let this go on
If I don’t break the spell
Or do something our of stupidity
Or clumsiness and a lack of skill
Each item of treasure will be revealed to me
One at a time
Hidden princesses giggling in the shadows
Hidden in the foliage
Covering their mouths with their hands.

I listen for the intrusion of bird song
But it starts with human voices from an open window in a nearby apartment block
Cynical and jokingly callous male voices
And then I am allowed to hear the bird song.
One, a busy, hectoring, insistent little ‘woman’.
I imagine a tiny bird somewhere behind me
Out of sight, the other side of the wall.

And then there’s a retreat into background noise
A blur of traffic, voice and bird song
No sound leaps forward
Demanding recognition

The air is cold
Anticipatory of your acerbic jests.


As to the question, am I depressed? There’s much laughter from the back of the auditorium. They’re probably rolling about in the aisles back there. Do we have a spotlight that can pick out those fools?


 Posted by at 9:35 am  Atelier, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Apr 042008

Arriving at Fiumicino, arriving in Rome, all the practical details of the journey had so far worked smoothly. The next stage was meeting whoever it was who was going to drive me into the city. They, the waiting collectors, scan the arriving bodies; we, the arriving bodies, scan the faces and the cards held up with the names of hotels or travel firms. A mutual examination.
My collector had set himself in the second row and he wore a grey baseball cap. I was there and he was there. We met. Did I laugh nervously? I can’t quite remember, though I feel I might have done. He said he had noticed me, picked me out as a possible candidate. He used the word vulnerable, a certain vulnerability. That’s probably right, I thought. Living in a small Devon town and rarely travelling, I haven’t developed the brittle defences of the seasoned traveller. At least that might be a part of the surface aspect of the vulnerability.

As we drove into the city from the airport he pointed out the edifice which Mussolini had planned as a mausoleum for himself. Such absurd grandiosity! I remembered that he had been hanged – was it a lynching? by partisans? Hanged from the proverbial lamp post? My collector informed me that it (the intended mausoleum) was now used by the Franciscans.

I was ready for something, but was I ready for what was going to happen? And what sort of language do I need to use to get at what was going to happen?
Take, for instance, the fact that the dominant pattern to the weather ( despite the sunny optimism of the arrival) was heavy rain and thunderstorms. Lightning split the sky. And storm is a word that insinuated itself in my mind to indicate what was building internally as the days passed. Although it was only when I got back to England that I pinpointed that particular word.
Face to face with a storm.

Listen, Listen, Listen.

 Posted by at 8:15 am  Atelier, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Apr 042008

He had been working in the territory of hospice care the last year, and he had expected it to go on for another two, but it hadn’t, and these last three months he’d been living with the disappointment of losing his job, and also nearing death awareness, which he had learnt from was about journeys, meetings, and confusions, or as he preferred to put it, narrative disarray. On the subject of nearing death awareness the dying are our teachers, or so he had read, while Joey McCann had said that it was about the petit objet a, which, he then added, was always to be written in italics, and translations were not to be attempted, although everybody tried, the incessant asking what does it mean, the thing being what everybody ultimately desired.

Don’t try too hard, had felt like sound advice from one good friend, and better than hers, Are you depressed, she had asked, perhaps you need to see somebody, and the day after he had joked at that suggestion with another of his good friends. That was at one of their regular meetings and his friend had said, Maybe it is a spiritual crisis, What happens in a crisis, he thought, Yes, that’s right, you organise crisis meetings and you sort it out, which was the last thing he had in mind at that moment, his intentions like the stories he had tried to write being in disarray, and he was doing nothing about it at all, if crisis it was, nothing that is apart from listening, except like Joey McCann had said, Although the ears, unlike the lidded eyes, appear always to be open and unsheathed, it didn’t happen that way, things got in the way.

That was the work.