Jan, sister of the boy who slipped from view, found bed
exerted nothing like the pull
of those bleak hills at night -
of death perhaps (she thought him dead),
as if in some familiar field or wood
he might take shape where he had disappeared.
Then early in the second week and in the early hours
she and the one they called
The Strange One met by Sangster's Copse.
His footpath had come out on hers; they'd stopped
and eyed each other - she suspiciously, but still
she did not take exception when he chose
to walk beside her, tried to keep in step.
The next night he was there. And then the next,
and every night from then, no matter what the hour.
He'd sidle up as if he knew her brother's whereabouts or fate.
One night came partial clarity: an understanding, not
of how, but consequence, of end result, that she it was
who'd waylaid him that night. And more: that each
time either took a dark walk to the copse,
the other would be there, would wait. They'd meet,
no customary time in mind and never by arrangement.
So much about them has not been explained,
perhaps is inexplicable; their rendezvousing just
the way they did; and how, like lovers almost, they
could understand, instinctively, the other's needs:
some warmth or tenderness, perhaps; some
privacy or solitude. They neither of them spoke
the other's language, but by a certain look, a side-long glance
from those green eyes, a murmur as of heart,
or by his yawning silence, she would know.
He'd hear the sounds of simple words,
their tone, that charge of feeling that non-lovers
misconstrue, then take unerringly
the next step in their primal dance.
If you had seen them walking on the hills - which no
one ever did - you might have thought them lovers, though there'd be
the odd occasion when he'd vanish from her side -
heard something in the bushes (or the ditch), the murmur said -
to reappear almost at once, with blood around his lips. And once
her parents, over breakfast, asked
about the blood trail down her chin.
"A nose bleed, nothing more," she said,
who'd never had a nose bleed in her life.
High in the hills on Three Cairns Way they'd hear the strains
of Miss Melissa's violin. Her Motifs Interlude, interminably
played beside a window open to the hills. He'd feel
the strain and howl in pure frustration or in fear, his mind
for one brief moment, turned - or as Jan often felt, unhinged.
For her part, Miss Melissa claims she did not hear
those wild, unearthly wails. (An oddity of nature, is it not,
the way sound scales a cliff face, but will funk it coming down?) But be
that as it may, the sounds of voice and violin
would thin at those times, lose their body, seem
to be in dialogue or difference. But when
the night was cold and Miss Melissa had her window closed
Jan let her mind lose on the neighbourhood. Then, looking down
she'd see the tesselated fields arrange themselves more formally.
In chess board style, her brother's board... it had to be...
the ponds and pollards, burns and barns his pawns and pieces... half -
just half - a kriegspiel game. The scudding shadows thrown by moon and
were pointers to the moves he'd made: a field he'd crossed; a coppice
Pawn to king's knight four. Illegal move...
But somewhere out of sight, she knew, were other boards:
his adversary's with his adversary's pieces;
the umpire's with an umpire's overview.
And that was how she saw things from the hills,
and seeing them the way she did, her mind, as if by fate, was set
to find the umpire's board, its insights, full position, black and white;
and lastly to wind back the game, back to that first forbidden move;
and set the bad position straight.
By early hours she'd feel the lack of sleep, they'd nod good-bye
and turn for home. As like as not she'd see the Mallows on the path
that climbs up from the bay where Sea Sprite spends her days,
too far away to speak, which pleased her well.
If you had asked about the sack that weighed them down,
you might have heard of fish that swam by night out by the bank,
of a good catch, and then of how they'd caught that Jan,
not only trespassing, but spying on their land,
and how she was at risk and ought to be in care -
and no doubt "will be when The Social's told".
Just once she took her Strange One home.
Her brother's birthday treat. She gave the surrogate the gift
he should have had, a school cap like the one
he'd lost - now something to be worn next time they met.
They shared a cake and spent the night (not quite) together in
the garden house, her brother's trains and model boats between them on
By morning he was gone. They found her late that evening,
laid (or so it it seemed) to rest in Badgers' Brook.
Savaged was the way the press described her death -
though no one thought to mention (either then or later)
that on her torn breast lay two sprigs of mallow crossed.
The farmers organized a shoot to cull the local foxes.
The moon petals the sea. Rose petals the sea. Stone sea. Stone petals. Rose petals of stone. Stone rising before me. Sea moves. How moves...
It all depends, you see, how you go about it. And that I cannot tell you, for that will be dictated by you and by you knowing your friends...
extract from the poem Koi by John Burnside All afternoon we've wandered from the pool to alpine beds and roses ...
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This post has in a sense been handed to me by two or three responses to my post On not getting it. In the course of discussing how a reade...
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
The Almost Lovers
It was something of a surprise to get comments and emails asking for more information on my poem A Tale for Today. I did not have any further info' on the story. None that would have satisfied, that is. In a moment of weakness I mentioned the possibility of a sequel as a way of unearthing more. This is not it, but is... could be... might turn out to be... don't hold your breath... a step in that direction. Think of it as a possible presequel. It has not come as the other did, as a gift from heaven - orsomewhere. This one I have had to work for, and I think it shows. But like A Tale for Our Time it is not a final draft. However, if any good person feels inclined to offer a critique, I would be very happy for it to be written as of a final draft. This way of writing is new ground for me.