The history of them all

She was right, of course. There’s no way it wouldn’t hurt the man with whom she had shared a life or the woman with whom he had, regardless of what was told, and what was held back.

If he was asked ‘what does she have that I do not?’ he could not tell the truth without goring the wound that he would have just opened up. He could not reply that she had a sense of adventure which ranged across all the facets of her character and meant that at any moment, they might go anywhere, internally or externally. He could not say that she had a raw, poetic sensibility the like of which he had never encountered in anyone else. He could not say that she was an intoxicating combination of strength and vulnerability. That she had a mischievous wit and a philosophical bent that jigsawed with his own. He could not say that she had a freedom, an insouciance, an ability to be and stay in the moment. Because the inference would be that by contrast, his wife had none of those things.

Perhaps all he could fall back on was that they were different from each other. He might say, ‘I’m not the person I was when we met back near the outset of our adult lives. It’s no-one’s fault, or if it is, it’s largely mine, but I’ve grown to be even stranger than I was, on the inside. I’m sorry I lost the ability and the honesty to put that across to you, but in those moments when I did try, I could feel your unease, your sense that I was implicitly rejecting you, without your saying as much.’

Then again, for that very reason, he thought that to some greater or lesser extent, she would know what his new love had that she did not. In her heart, she would know that he had always wanted more than he had. That it was part of the nature of being a writer, of living in the imagination, of spending so much time alone, in your head. The miracle was that he had found someone who responded to those things that he became in his head, because he wasn’t able to become them in real life.

Beyond that, he hadn’t any answers that would stand up to scrutiny, except perhaps the one reason which was beyond reason – love. Even if it was not mentioned, it would be implicit of course, but to make it explicit – to say out loud, ‘I love her’ – would be taken to mean perhaps the most hurtful thing of all: ‘You no longer love me.’ Even if the truth of it was more complex, less black and white, less binary. Because life is not a black and white game, like poker, or a 10 k run. In its grey areas, there are no rules as such. And yes, it would take a book as long as ‘Beautiful losers’ to explain why each of them had broken the moral code which governed relationships in their time and place, but which betrayed wife or husband would ever want to read that work, except in an act of desperate self-laceration?

If he had to say what had happened, here and now, as succinctly as she herself had summarised the dilemma, he might say, ‘I fell in love with her words, and as I did so, I fell in love with her.’ He could not honestly say that he never meant for it to happen, because he was ripe to fall, ripe like a November apple, and he urgently wanted her to feed on his good, green-white flesh while he fed on her sharp, sweet red, before the maggots got to them both and they rotted into the ground.

Ultimately they could not divorce themselves from the catch 22 of their actions. Their long-sustained connection contained within it an inevitable, ongoing reckoning. Either they lived apart, and bore the pain of that, or they lived together, and bore the pain they would have caused to reach that state.

He could hardly blame her for her indecision. By rights, their lives without each other ought to be enough. But the fact was that beneath their surfaces, they were not, and the silvery, moonlit magic that was spun from the pairing of their hearts, minds and bodies would always prove irresistible.

Through the air on the flying trapeze

Should he not.

As he read it, he managed a smile. She wasn’t as rubbish at deconstruction as she thought. And she’d always been good at economy, at saying a lot with a minimum of words. At letting the spaces  between them  speak .

Should he.

He wanted to deconstruct too, to play the same game, to turn it into word tennis, the way they always had. But more than that, he wanted to reconstruct. To know for sure what the meaning was beyond each chosen fragment, when he felt his guess might be falling short of her truth.

And to reconstruct them. To put us back together. He would always want that. Which was why.

I forget what he ate that night.

He didn’t want to disrupt the flow, if the flow was what she.

It was impossible to listen to music without.

Dawn pinked the sky behind the cathedral, without the sun showing itself.

I defy you gravity.

Emerging from 5,000 words, S told him that she now understood why he wasn’t all there sometimes. That it was hard to fight your way out of your interior when it was entirely given over to something, even after you had supposedly finished for the day.

Given over to something, yes, but also to someone, he thought. But of course, did not.

The sun was promising an endless summer on the day my mother brought me home to a house made of suburban dreams, two puzzling weeks after my birth.

S was struggling, she was struggling, he was struggling. It was all about the struggle. One of those words that if you say or type it often enough, sounds and looks odd, so much so that the word loses its meaning. He was trying to help her with the struggle struggle struggle, as much as he could. As much as he could, he was trying to help S with hers.

Shouldn’t he just.

On the way home I passed a triceratops. I kid you not. A model one, on the back of a flatbed truck. And a boat, heading for the coast. The Serenity.

Walking through Woolworth’s in 1927.

Funnily enough (it was typical of them) he had been re-reading Saroyan that very week. Together or apart or togetherapart, their lives seemed to run in patterned parallels. Consciously or subconsciously, they then criss-crossed, and the created web – spider-strong and yet gossamer-fragile – allowed them to judge the weight of the other, as each placed a tentative leg upon it. But after all this time, how could it not be so.

As usual, for a period, the sudden tension snapping the silken guy ropes left him disoriented and homeless. It had happened over and over again and although he was braced, he couldn’t avoid the disorientation, the sense of bereavement. It still took time to surface from the black sea, to regain something like an even keel, to settle on a direction not at odds with the prevailing wind.

For him it was the tawny owls. Their hooting throughout the night, right up to the break of dawn. A chill sound, a mournful one, without much comfort, at present. In the past, a thrill, raw and visceral. Then he had imagined them metamorphosed, a pairing of Strix aluco calling to each other across the blackness, hunting and coming home. He wasn’t sure which tree they lived in, but it was close to the house, very close. Twice he had gone out at night to try and pinpoint it, but as soon as he emerged, as soon as they sensed movement, the hooting ceased. Wise old owls.

She undamned him. She always had, she always would.

Weather girl *

Involuntarily, like the blink of blue eyes –
the emotions of the woman I love
play about her face, much as the weather
that rules the skies above us both

determines the set of the land beneath –
dry, wet, shadowed, sunlit, dulled,
petrichoral after a spell of warmth; and oh,
the clarity of the air after a cold front passes!

When I look into her cumulus, I see it all –
the love, lightning, distant thunder rumbling,
that trace of stone; not knowing what to do
nor even sometimes where to look.

The draw that rejoins our eyes is magnetic –
but the sorrow, the distance, the separateness
makes me wonder, should I finally make
the monumental effort it would take

to let her go, to let her be at one with her world –
watch her melt away like cirrus on a summer’s day.
But then she sunshine-smiles, blows a palmed kiss
and I cannot do it. I cannot be without her weather.


* I suppose that I might have written this poem at any time over the last five or six years. But for what it’s worth, it actually arrived more or less fully formed in the days immediately following Friday 23rd September of this year.

I always have such need to merely talk to you *

I’ve always known who you are. Until you arrived in it, you were the woman I could never meet in my reality, because I wasn’t made or built to attract or draw that kind of attention. I lurk in the shadows, working unseen, by stealth you might say, like a wisteria growing steadily and silently through the day and the night, clothing and then binding your naked body with the soft and delicate touch of its leaves, buds and flowers; or perhaps it is that I’m like a private detective working a difficult case, narrowing down all the angles until there is only one admissible solution (or perhaps two, seeing as how we neither of us yet know the story’s end for sure). In certain lights I must seem as single-minded as a tennis champion or a worker bee, and as maddeningly obsessive as a crate digger or panner for gold. But I knew you from the first moments of reading and meeting you, knew that you would expand to fill the space of my life till there was only you, that good, bad and ugly (or rather, beautiful, maybe not so good, and maybe not so beautiful, and that’s an averaging out my rose-tinted view and your over-bleak self-assessment, by the way), I would welcome you in, make a home for you here, furnished by you and for you. Would give you anything you wanted. I have done so from day one, and I will go on doing so until you tell me, with a conviction that is not to be undermined by the passing of time, no more. But even then, of course, it would continue, because such permanent restraint would also be an act of love.

My darling, there really isn’t anything you could tell me that would make me think less of you. It only grows, this love, and it never crusts. When your thorns prick me, of course I bleed. But this body is still young enough to repair itself, this mind still sufficiently agile. The heart that sends that blood around it beats for you alone, and whether you’re there or not, you are the rhythm of my days, the temper of my pulse, the oxygen that fuels my brain. That is the nature of my love. Undying, unstinting, unyielding. It’s a madness, of course, and yet to wish to stay in that state seems to me to be the sanest response to a world filled with so many other, lesser kinds of madness, and some of those so terrible. The fruits of the fever of love are the sweetest, and besides, no magnificent endeavour was ever achieved, no legendary tale finally told, without a little insanity and some greater or lesser degree of difficulty along the way.

* ‘Wherever I am, wherever I go, I always have such need to merely talk to you. Even when I have nothing to talk about – with you I just seem to go right ahead and sort of invent it. I invent it for you. Because I never seem to run out of tenderness for you and because I need to feel you near. Excuse the bad writing and excuse the emotional overflow. What I mean to say, perhaps, is that, in a way, I am never empty of you; not for a moment, an instant, a single second.’ – Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Vita Sackville-West


Odysseus in the cave of Calypso

“With the passage of translated Homer that we had read the day before in mind, I thought how lovely it would be to stay on here, like Odysseus in the cave of Calypso.
‘Wouldn’t it be lovely,’ Nadejda said at that moment, breaking the long silence of her pose with a friendly smile that obliterated any traces of intensity, ‘if you could stay on here like Odysseus in the cave of Calypso?’
‘That’s exactly what I was thinking.’” – Patrick Leigh Fermor, The broken road

So sweet it has been, here in this cave with you, careless of the hours, days and years which have flown by. You always knew how to turn out a room as well as transfix one, and our living quarters have had every comfort, every item we could wish for. Bunches of toothsome grapes, tubs of salt-sharp olives, amphorae from the best vineyard on the island. A natural chimney and hearth, objets d’art set into shelf-like recesses in the internal rock face, the finest wall hangings from the best weavers in all of Persia, and luxurious divans upon which we have lain in a variety of breath-held poses that would have shocked the most hedonistic of the Gods had we let them see us. But unobserved in our cave, we have loved from dawn till dusk and dusk till dawn, filling the time between our flights of ecstasy with interlocution of the most recondite kind, at one remove from the events which may or may not have been taking place beyond the lip of the cave’s entrance, out there in the ungodly world.

Over time, however, when I looked at you and saw that your attention was broken, unease began increasingly to steal over my soul, a sense that something was not quite right, that I was bewitched while you were not, that I should try to wrestle free of your spell and continue on my journey, or perish with the tasks and stories of a life unaccomplished. It wrenches my heart from its cavity to leave this cave, to part from the heady perfume of your presence, from every good, bad and beautiful thing about you. But – though I will inevitably continue to doubt and debate my actions – perhaps I ought to be as strong and unforgiving as steel, and journey on alone, and you ought to be and do so too.

My stories could all easily have begun and ended with you, in you, but the grain of sand in my soul has like the pearl in an oyster grown so large that it dictates that I must seek to lose it by travelling to other lands. I have nothing but gratitude for you, for the way you held me here in this torch-lit stronghold of love and desire and gave so freely of yourself. Though sorrow hangs heavy about my frame, there are no recriminations, for you have given me something I never expected and cannot ever now be without. You were the woman of my dreams and whatever happens, you will remain the lead actor in them. Perhaps after my travels are done, and the sun has moved around the earth who knows how many times, I will hear you call out, and find my way back to this cave, and we will pick up our loving and our endless dialogue as if it had been interrupted merely by a single day and night.

And in the meantime, these writings will stand as a record of the seven beautiful years we shared in this cave. They will stand.