A Welcome Round Table

My mother has this Christmas tradition that, when we have all taken our seats and just before we have taken our first bite of a long-awaited roast dinner, we raise a toast to the dearly departed, to those members of the family who are no longer with us and to those friends that no longer accompany us throughout our life journey.  It reminds us, the living, to be thankful that we are seeing the close of yet another year together, to remain thankful to have known the dearly departed and that we remember them still.

The fact that this takes place before we have tasted our food is of the utmost importance.  To say thank you on an empty stomach is to accept that we have lost those that will never be by our sides again, that we will never break bread with them and share our laughter and sadness across the table.  Our eyes will never again catch theirs.

I sometimes like to imagine where the deceased are now, as if their memories have somehow broken free of their corporeal remains and drift uninhibited across the globe.  It can be difficult to think that all that we have ever known and all that we have ever loved and experienced can be so self-contained in our floating globe, silently rotating in the great big soup of the universe.  But it is and it must be, that is why we remember and why we say goodbye once again at the close of the year.

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Three Books of a Kind

In the past year or two my fiction and non-fiction reading has generally tended to become focused on the Nordic and Russian/Slavic countries, by pure chance, and I’ve unearthed a great wealth of rewarding material.  For example, my interests in Russian and Soviet history has dovetailed greatly with the rich and rewarding trove of literature that the citizens of the east have produced, and continue to produce.  The latest novel that I find myself reading is the Soviet-era classic Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, a thoroughly documented and powerful kaleidoscopic panoply of a Soviet society which finds itself engaged in total war with the fascist threat from Nazi Germany and her allies.  It is a novel which very nearly did not see the light of day due to the harsh censors of the Soviet Union, but thankfully the volume was smuggled out and printed elsewhere.

However, it is a little collection of books that I’ve read recently that remind me that fiction and reality aren’t always so clear-cut, and that they often inform one another with varying viewpoints.  I had the pleasure to read one of my favourite travel writer’s recent publications, Horatio Clare’s Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North (Penguin), over the festive holiday and was ably transported once again to somewhere quite new (and rather cold) as he undertook a mission to accompany a Finnish icebreaker crew.

Another recent publication is The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat & Other Stories (Puskin Press), edited by Sjón & Ted Hodgkinson, which brings together a wide range of Nordic writers producing short sagas set in the fantastical north.  This reminded me of a volume I read a few years ago which was entitled Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov (Penguin), edited by Robert Chandler, which took a historical approach to understanding the cultural importance of magic tales that underpin Russia’s literature over two centuries.  This is an exquisite volume, one that allowed me to appreciate the form and beauty of often simple moral tales which bled into the surreal via the use of anthropomorphism.  This can be seen in some of the works produced before and during the Soviet period (Platonov’s ‘The Foundation Pit’ say, or Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’).

This was just a quick view into some of my recent reading habits and where they have led me.  Let me know below if you’ve been having fun exploring literature and fiction from around the world!

Vote, Vote for Us!

The state has abandoned you, the forests are on fire.  Your material possessions will not give you comfort nor rescue you.  Where are you representatives now?

The Nationalists are here, the Centrists want your vote.  You are of the wrong skin colour, the wrong heritage.  Vote for us or your body will line the unmarked graves that we have prepared.

Your voice has been silenced, the villages are burning and will never be re-built.  The sun does not forgive, your body will dry out in the desert.  The oceans are acidifying, the animals are dying.

They are perverts, scum, ignore them and vote for us!  Watch as the poor burn in their vertical prisons.  Watch as the taxes rise and the services are cut.  Watch as the rich profit from the misery of the poor, and the ill die in corridors.

Become one of us!  Rip your heart from your chest, castigate all that you love, throw away any semblance of charity.

Join us, become us.  Give up any hope of hope itself.

Shot on Lomography Lady grey film using a Pentax S1a. If shared please credit as appropriate.

 

Blue is the Dream

Blue is the colour of my dreams, the inside and the outside worlds tilting but never quite fully falling over.  The flutter of the leaves in the wind and the beauty of the sky’s colours urged me to look up, to embrace the vast emptiness of existence.  No comfort was found, history meaning nothing to the future, but no comfort was needed.  It wasn’t that life is on a constant knife-edge of imbalance, when is it not?, but the fact that I could embrace the now, the cold comfort of the wind and the cawing of the birds as my own.  Distinctly my own, this moment and nothing more.  That nothing, or rather no moment, truly mattered or matters in the great cosmic life course of universal matter.  We were born and we will die, from whence we began we will return.

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Photograph by the author using a Pentax Super ME camera and Lomography Lady Grey film, coloured using generic software. Please attribute if used elsewhere.

On Love: The English Patient

I have been away for a while but nothing much really changes within the hearts of humans.  We are all flesh, we all feel, love and grieve, and we are all united by life and divided by it:

“What you find in him are cul-de-sacs within the sweep of history – how people betray each other for the sake of nations, how people fall in love… How old did you say you were?”
“twenty.”
“I was much older when I fell in love.”
Hana pauses. “Who was she?”
But his eyes are away from her now.

Quoted from the novel The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje.

The Corridor

I love you and I need you, I wish that I could see you.  I’m travelling down this corridor alone, strapped to this trolley with doctors by my side pushing through door after door.  I can see the light shining but I’m not sure if it’s for me or if it’s for everyone around me.  I cry out, not pain not in horror, I cry out in confusion.  I need you and I want you, to be by my side again.  Memories flood my frazzled mind, a skeletal hand clasps my own and tells me it will be alright, it will be okay.  I can help but feel that this is a denial, that my body is failing even as I flail in the half-light of an under-funded hospital, staffed by sleep walking staff with the warmest of hearts.

I need you and I want you, I can hear voices in the corridor, not my own or those around me but others, crying out in equal pain or in anger at the wait.  Where are my sons, where are my daughters?  I wanted to say to grow up in peace, to love your family, friends and neighbours as one, to move on or to leave if you need to.  We understand, we want you to be happy, we need you to be with us.  I love and I need you, and I wish that I could see you.

The final corridor, my body is checked in.  Checked once that I am who I say I am, that the arrows painted on my limbs are correct and that my brain is related to my body and my body is related to my name.  I say I am who I am and they take it on board, and I’m made to wait at Heaven’s Gate.  Two blonde angels guide me, make me comfortable on the slip green sheets which matches their sleek outfits.  Only bras and knickers must be under their gowns I think, wondering who they share their bed and younger, supplier bodies with at night.  My own is broken, battered and torn.  A mess of surgical scars, shortened limbs but above average, well we won’t go into that but it is according to a litany of my previous lovers.

I want you and I need you, I wish that I could see you.  I laugh, laugh at the futility of it all.  The drugs, I yearn for the warmth of the morphine, of the wicked sleeping potion to crawl up into my veins and up into my arm and to flood the chest cavity and consciousness itself.  I yearn to sleep with no dreams, where the minute that passes is not a minute but a moment between awake and awake.  My eyes linger on one of the angels, filling in the paperwork in the corner of the room, haloed by broken bodies on stripped back beds.

I need you and I want you, I wish that I could see you.  I’m moving, I’m moving, but I’m not moving, there are no words for this.  Through the first set of doors I am pushed, name confirmed once more.  Am I aware of what is going to happen to me and why it is happening?  Yes, yes I scream still dreaming of the green robed angels in the theatre waiting room.  Just do it, yes the heart always beats fast.  I need you and I want you, but I just can’t seem to see you.  I stare at the anaethetist’s eyes as the plunger is gently but firmly pressed down, a milky white liquid seeps into my own bloodstream diluting reality.

I needed you and I wanted you, but I just can’t seem to have seen you.  I wake as if I have been asleep for years.  I crave water, yearn to drink a thousand litres of the freshest water available.  I want to drown in crystalline lakes and to never wake.  A tube has been down my throat, a mainline into the neck is still present.  I wish that I could have seen you, I’m sorry to have left you.  I close my eyes again.

Clock In, Clock Out

The office I worked in dealt with applications from students and our daily targets were monitored and recorded for prosperity, and to check against what was and what wasn’t correctly documented in our individual tally sheets.  Of course these sheets were digital spreadsheets that were specially formatted for each different piece of work that was allocated to the worker.  The spreadsheets highlighted how much allotted time was given dependent on the category that the piece of work fell into, whether we’d have five minutes to complete it or ten minutes.  Simple pieces of work could be given only a few minutes whilst more complicated pieces, such as responding to emails with extensive trails or queries, were given a timing of a quarter of an hour or more.  We felt that luck was on our side when one such piece of work fell out of the electronic basket and into our caseload, we had time to breath, to relax, to look into the faces of the person sat beside ourselves and to realize that we each went through the same, day in and day out.

Many kept to this electronic tally, toting it up at the end of the night by memory or by scrolling through the master sheet.  I, unlike many of my work colleagues, kept a ink tally in Roman numerals of each type of piece of work that I had completed that day.  Towards the end of the evening, when we each heaved a sigh of relief and gladness that the working day was over, I looked down with fondness upon my scrap of paper to find an ever changing squiggle of lines, crossed and solitary, segmented by type and time.

It was the last action of the working shift that so pleased me, that I could scrupple up the piece of paper with my jottings on, tear it in two if needs be and thrice more into smaller pieces so that no readable piece remained, and declare that I was the master of myself once again.  No greater feeling of satisfaction came with the job then that final action of labour destruction, or rather rapprochement that my work towards the whole could be so simply and so justifiably torn up.  That my value as a worker was counted as so little that I needed to be constantly monitored for each and every movement within the workplace, each piece of work accounted for and judged against the character of my soul.  The residual of feeling of loyalty, that thinning pool of employee liquid that had somehow lingered through the various turbulent governmental changes and process improvements, now felt at a very low ebb indeed.  It could evaporate at any moment.

My action was, in its way, a minor everyday rebellion at the absurdity of employment itself.  That each man and woman shall spend a third of their life strapped to the face of labour so that the other third can be slept through and the final third can be lived in a state of fretful suspense.  It is perhaps not fair to categorize in this way what so many want, what so many need, but for me it is not enough nor is it a rightful use of the labour market.  To rebel, in whatever fashion is feasible or at least in which way is not detrimental to your standards, is to acknowledge that you recognize that this is so.  Such is life.

To Pity the Fool in Love

No-one ever expects that they will walk around a corner and find the person that will become their significant other lingering there on the street before them.  How we meet our partners, our lovers and confidantes, becomes a personal legend shared between only ourselves in truth, embellished by time and by the ebb and flow of emotion.  Love can be a hard emotion to describe, to quantify or to qualify, to articulate to each other and to one another.  That drunken and passionate kiss goodbye, the result of a haphazard opportunity presented in all of its glory, sits side by side with the memory of a slow burning romance experienced in our youths when we fumbled anew under covers soaked in teenage sweat.  Experiments of connection and of lust, of two pieces of lego mixing and matching to form one.  As time recedes the flashes of faces become a Rolodex of past conquests and imagined hurt, often sitting uncomfortably close to one another.

Lust, as a rapid fire launchpad to the past, operates on much the same lines as those random encounters experienced during the vicissitudes of youth.  In moments of relaxation you are comfortably entertaining yourself, your thoughts ensconced on a particular moment and how it would play out in your mind, perhaps how you would make the move and seal the return of the love and physical intimacy as given in your affections.

Yet still, how the mind can shock and shake the very foundations of your core!

No longer are you in the throes of doubled or singled passion, your senses are startled and your hands are instead given to fumbling lamely against the body of skin and flesh before you.  No more thought is given to reaching the apex of sexual arousal.

You are instead seeing the failures of your past mount even as you have failed to.  The chances lost of forming romantic entangles in the freshly cut grass, of bridging the gap between brief fumbles on the sofa and maintaining long-term relationships.  The thought is half formed, it ghosts across the mind but briefly as you lie there on your bed, shivering in the warm night air.

To walk around the corner of the street you inhabit, to cross the road at just the right time, to be there to answer that question and to form that connection as the eyes meet, the pupils dilate, and the lips curl into a smile.  The heart that jumps a beat and resets into a rhythm of two.  To miss those opportunities.  To wait upon a table where the food of life will never be placed.  It can be a hard thing to think about in the moment of your greatest conquest, of a solo ascent.

The Spider

I remember as if it were yesterday, the thick legs creeping slowly around the side of the cobwebbed decorated bag with all the inevitability of death itself.  I howled, even as I jerked the bag onto the surface of the bed and I could see for the first time that this large spider was aged, weary of life.

It had none of the vitality of its younger form; it didn’t embody the free spirit of jazz scuttling here and there, enticed by the possibility of finding a mate.  It was stately, as if to query who would dare to wake it from its slumber in the bag I had so little used and within which it had made its final home.

I crushed it quickly and fully, the circular body being beaten flat with the legs retracting close to its lifeless form.  I covered the body with a cup, afraid to see the results of my own actions.

In my dreams it haunts me still.

Holiday Wishes

Give me a sign so I can start the healing,
We shared the wine around the yearly meeting.

As I don’t want to be lonely this holiday,
I’m taking off my shoes and giving my body to the homeless.

I’d give you my remaining years to be alone with you, for a minute of your time,
To give you one last kiss goodbye and a warm embrace under the leaf dappled light.