Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The man in the grey suit.

He haunts my dreams, the man in the grey suit.
I saw him first in the corridors of Belarus.
Long, unending corridors whose stench holds the key
To the countless cruelties that sadly linger on.

I wake one night, steal quietly out
sleeping bodies safe in their other-worlds.
Out in the dark passage, suddenly arrested,
I glimpse a figure, tall, cold, brooding.

Grey-suited he was, but then he was gone.
In the stretching corridor I'm left alone
With flashing chargers from flashy cameras
That capture but a fraction of time and place.

I've seen him since, the man in the grey suit.
He chills me still, for I'm plucked from ease
against my will. To the horrors within those walls
thrust upon so many. I shut my eyes.

For what can I do? But I'm not absolved,
Cannot forget. And if I nearly do,
Deja-vu: I find myself running, like Sysiphus
Pushing the stone. The grey-suited man.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Those mad days

His friends are so weird! They think their lives are so important. Look at them there, self-conciously trying to have fun, take some time out. Awkward. Not kids anymore but trying to remember how they used to play. Yellow meadow with long grass, golden sun, birds flying freely overhead in the moving cloud shapes. The setting is perfect. They even bring along some balloons, just so they know their intention is fun. And then a camera to record it all.
"Remember what fun we had that day in the meadow?"
"Oh ya! What a great day!" Heads all nod in enthusiastic agreement.
Fun, fun, fun...what great fun!
Reunited after their first year in college, they go up Tailor Hill, where they used to hang out, drink out of cans from Smoky's 'offie'
But the darkness that lurks inside each of them, even as they play, make light, have fun will never be mentioned. Maybe that's a good thing? But maybe not.

He brings along a skateboard just so his friends don't think he's weird. He feels alienated though, and thinks he's alone. The naivity of his friends irritates him. Big smiles, hearty laughs, hugs all around. Why pretend? The blackness is all he can see now. Blackness first thing in the morning, blackness last thing at night, and a sort of smoky blackness all through the day. He's ok with this, as long as he's not surrounded by people who only see sunshine. He's ok, now that he's made friends with the blackness. He sees it in others too, even if they don't see it themselves. Or pretend not to. He doesn't know which annoys him more.

But here he is today, pretending with the best of them. He smiles back at them, laughs at the proper moments, accepts their hugs. And for a little while, he forgets. Crouching in the prickly grass, hands caressing the light balloon, something moves in him. He's not sure quite what, but he feels fragile. The weightlessness of the balloon makes him feel floaty, dizzy, like he's not in command of himself, but some other, greater force. Stilling himself, legs crossed on the grass, he regards the others. For now there is silence. Jessie, obviously not comfortable with this says "Who's seen the new Harry Potter?" And this draws out a whole new conversation, which lasts for surprisingly a long time. John has nothing to say. He hasn't seen it, nor does he wish to. Why is it important? He stretches himself out flat on the grass so he can only see brown blades of grass surrounding him, clouds overhead. They have become invisible and even their voices more distant. He feels better now, more at peace, grounded...

"Hey John", Sue's voice drawls above him and he feels her toe nudging his elbow. She looks so huge, lurking above him like that. "You're very quiet?"
He hears the birds noisily caw as they propel forward in the evening sky. He closes his eyes to her looming presence.
"I'm just tired", he says after a pause. "Just want to sleep". That's all he feels like doing these days, and it's the truest thing he's said all day. He's not in the mood for this "playdate" or whatever it's meant to be. He feels stupid carrying around his skateboard. The balloons, red of all colours, just say it all.

Conor would have coped better with this. He didn't need to pretend. He got the madness of it. Conor was mad. He was his own man: unpredictable, non-compliant, he did what he felt like doing, with little regard for consequence. And he usually got away with it. People made allowances for Conor because he was Conor, the mad one. And then he went away. Last summer, instead of going to college, he took his rucksack, a pair of boots, and got the hell away. Nobody heard from him since.

John would have liked to do that. Conor was the only one ever that John felt at home with. Because behind Conor's madness, he was the sanest, truest person he knew. He was sharp and incisive. He saw things for what they were. But instead, John was left with the blackness, and Conor was gone off to discover the full spectrum of colour freedom had to offer. He admired him for it, but he also hated him. He had suddenly become the interesting one, the nomad, the free spirit, leaving John as...what? He didn't even know.

Sue had planted herself on the grass beside John. He knew she liked him, for whatever reason. But he wasn't interested. He squirmed away, feeling her eyes on him. He just wanted to get away, have some time alone. More time alone.

He didn't know what was going on in his head. He didn't know what he wanted. He felt numb. He would go home, to his room, put on some Stone Roses and smoke a joint. What a fucking cliche.

He slowly sat up, took his skateboard and balloon, and said, "Hey guys, I'm gonna head. I'll catch up with ye soon".
"No, John, hang on...we'll come too", they say, gathering themselves up. With his back to them, he rolls his eyes, though he isn't surprised. They follow him like sheep, the only sound the scraping of the long grass as they trudge through it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My friend, the sea...

What does he see
As he looks at me
Perched over the railing
Staring, staring
The sea, roaring?

Like my raging mind
Ebbing and flowing, to-ing and fro-ing.
Angry thoughts at war
Like waves crashing
Beneath the calm serene sky.

My gloved hand clenched
Around the cold metal rail
Betrays my disarray,
My oneness with the sea.
Does he notice this?
Can he see me?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Every Grey Day

Alone. Morning. I just keep waking up. Why? Day stretches ahead of me like a yawning mouth. I don't bother to pull the curtains. I know it's a grey day. These days are all grey.
I heave myself wearily out of the bed, and pulling my nightgown around me, shuffle down the stairs, blindly making the porridge. Which too is grey. And tastes grey. The radio spurts out words about life outside like spitfire-too alive for me to catch or care. The kettle swells and bubbles to the boil and I pour the water carelessly over the grey wilting teabag, and with the rusting spoon, crush it against the side of the cup, extract it and dump it into the dirty grey sink. I take the milk from the fridge, noting the paltry, staling items on the shelves: a few browning bananas, a bowl of mashed potatoes from two nights ago, a few yogurts brought by my daughter about a month ago, a packet of unopened ham, and a half a block of cheese. I slurp my tea down, as if I'm in a hurry, and looking at the ring of old tea at the bottom of the cup, wonder what to do now.
I leave my bowl and cup in the sink, along with yesterday's delf and carelessly pour some water over them to soak. I don't bother with wash-up liquid. I plug out the radio and am hurtled into the assaulting silence, each movement seeming to echo too loudly.
In the bathroom, I look at my ashen face in the mirror. I see an over-familiar piece of furniture that just wears with time. I draw my hands over my grey stubble, but don't bother to shave today. I pull on yesterdays clothes that hang limply over the chair at the end of my bed, and sit back on the bed, wondering what next.
I sit there, wondering how I can fill my day today, and nothing happens. I lean back and open the curtains, greeted by the grey droplets sitting on the window. I see the rain dropping into little puddles on next-door's roof extension. It's too wet to go out.
My eye is drawn to the smiling photo of my wife on the dressing table. It's covered with a film of grey dust. I accept the dust as the ravage of time. Its thickening coating puts more and more distance between us. I usually glance at the photo, and look away again, thinking it better to get on with my life. Fine job I'm making of that!
Today however, something draws me towards it, and sighing heavily, I take the frame in my hand. I pull it closer to me, noting the life in her beautiful face. I rub away the dust that occludes her face, and see her bright green eyes, and laughing red lips, the top of her nose wrinkling in that way of hers as she laughed. Pulling the sleeve of my jumper over my hand, I wipe away all the rest of the dust, trying to remember on what occasion that particular photo was taken. Certainly it was on one of our holidays, for we rarely used the camera for any other reason, but what was the particular occasion? What was she laughing at? Who was with her at the time? I cannot remember at all! Several years blur into a grey fog and I feel robbed and violated of a happier time. I feel angry at time for what it has left me with.
As I gaze at the picture, I think of the grey ashes that I spread over the cliffs of Dun Clochar that November morning, the sky heavy with black clouds. I watched them swirl away with the wind as I emptied the wooden box, some landing on the blades of grass underfoot, others carried by the wind to God-knows-where. I remember how surreal it all felt: this ash, this grey cloud of dust was my wife! She was here with me, barely three days before, talking, breathing, moving... And now?!
After watching her ashes disperse, I walked back through the fields, and finding a stone wall, sat with my back to it, gazing at the wasteland ahead, and the bare tree in the distance. This is where my wife grew up. She would walk through these fields towards the cliffs as a child for family picnics. The cliffs are where she would come all her life for peace and inspiration. Where was she now? My heart was squeezed flat with sorrow, so utterly alone. Yet I remember as I sat there, I could not cry. I felt the clouds bearing down on me. I envied the crows as they returned to their homes in the tree. I sat there all day, unable to move, hardly noticing evening falling. Then, something strange happened: As I looked ahead, into the grey emptiness, a picture of my wife flashed before me, and just as suddenly it disappeared. It appeared so clear against the muggy clouds and stony ground: my wife as a child, her long dark hair tied over her back, her large, clear eyes taking everything in, always a dreamer. I continued to sit. I didn't will the image to return; neither did I reject or deny it.
I continue to look at the photo, wondering, not for the first time how someone with such life, can be rendered so dead? Ashes! Why her? Why not me?!
As I gaze at the picture, I realise that I am dead. I'm dead to life. I don't know how to go on. Each day has become an exercise in trying to shorten the long, empty hours of the morning and each nightfall brings with it a sort of relief. How am I meant to go on?
I draw the picture to my lips, feeling the cool glass against the cracked, dry flesh of my lips, and kiss it with all the tenderness that I can. Placing it back on the dressing table, I open the creaking door to face another day.