By Stephen Kingsnorth
Four Emptied Soles
Wailing, she nestles four shoes, then lays them on poor brown earth, witness to total loss, for these the only graves for three. Rearranging the order, as if seeking for a match, but only one pair present - even shoes sustained a loss. A cloth scrap drapes unmoving, limp-hangs from a single twig, this harvest of the torn tree, deadwood any future growth. Willing that she the victim, the hell screaming from above, the air-strike of destruction leaving only corn and dust. Would those who pressed some buttons, having children of their own, investment in the future, see this fruit of life denied? Surrounded by smashed hovels, her door now the only hinge, dust crumbled village-living beyond this grandmother’s hope.
Yesterday I fished swimming flesh that fed my family of six - my hope ensured for aged care. Now I reel from a tidal swell tuna washed from the outer bay - a rusted can - catering size. No food, but prepared image chunks, yet contents not as on the tin, though telling me the weight, nett catch. Like fairground, a filled water tub, shoal goldfish moulds, to pick them with, kids gather, dabble hook on sticks, Crushed brittle bottle carried milk, is now my daily fishing snatch, snapped plastic, rising dorsal fin. Bleached jetty from short village beach, in past days slippery with scales, piled mud, silt, fictile father’s years. Today slipway packed market bags, the waste of west, once useful, tagged with names from listings, printed pink. Major export, consumer zest, beach balls of microscopic size, now rubbish for another world.
Reading his distinctive hand, folded palm lines, morrow’s plans, his scripted plate, not cupric mined, italicised, unemphasised. Knuckles, ripe brown berry skin, soil from tining under sun, in former census, ag lab tagged, now CO, army in the field. Educated pacifist, tying bass to Ailsa Craig, tranche travels never took him there, but whorled red fruit, homespun hair stems. Under Battle Britain stars, Biggin Spitfires strafing fire, a bombproof shelter under stairs, he slept, roll Ewbank later stored. Never fingered playing cards, rarely joked, no brandy glass - the non-conformist, neighbour tarred, borne retribution, first born died. Jet ink fountain pours the verse, music pieces unresolved, scribe permanent, insoluble, tried faith that future life will probe.
My bits, a scrapbook, falsely named, clipped history, three dimension cut, the leaves my tree, blue willow cup; a matchbox label, cooper Fred, fag lips, unmoved by Kodak box, with Bruno, grandson, my Dad’s ted. Fanny’s purse, simple, so small, cheap, farthings, shilling, no penny room, in service inside castle walls; essay paper, script curlicues, neat set before the Great War called, the grief arrived, trench telegram. Some china pieces from high-tea, with muffin dish and tongs for cubes, pink sugar shaker if prefer; spill jar that caused grandfather’s stoop to touch the smoulder, tamp his pipe; scent flask, glass stopper touched Gran’s skin. Grey oyster shell, to harbour quay, the trawler smells, cage lobster pots, shrimps, first-served, how to eat unknown; fawn knapsack, thermos, dark brown tea, unpleasant drink, poured picnic rug, snap, brother tot, before his death. Mount driftwood, tagged italic script on curl bark sliver, silver birch, craft in title, the imaged eye; clock made as black shirts smashed the doors, its chimed time kept throughout the war, called even me to infant school. As bread and wine reshape a meal, my scrap things bring to mind and soul, a presence, real, the past, today; I, Time Lord by another name, my unknown family space, now home, journeys, Tardis, unrecognised.
Throughout life my relatives, despite arguments and rifts, have always been of blood and flesh (or is it usually flesh and blood?) sufficient as my kinfolk brood - I refer to language, literature. . Now of age, reliability of truisms and (next word escapes) have done a bunk, deserted, though with classic works, my shelving lined, Frankly, I panic, kidnapped germs (I mean terms) have gone AWOL, deserted me (revisit, repeated word unacceptable). My essence since grammar school, (and that reference I realise for some politically incorrect, but that the age in which I schooled), to know my verbal dexterity, vocabulary at call and beck; now why do I, sore, need these bracket bits, apologies let rip, unless for me, new, (what’s the term I want to catch?), parameters, no, paradigm. Returning what I want, no, need to say, (I often wander, lose my way) for fifty plus, since my first poem spoke for me, and master, crimson ink, very moving wrote, though later another master (to him sir) scribed - (and in that foreign land, that’s how we spoke of teachers), at end of essay (creative subject Roads!) he red biros God!, intended Good! (How is biro, branded name, correctly turned into a verb? Hoovers easier by far). Words becoming distant from my grasp, dictionary, thesaurus, life-time friends, from family circle now estranged. I was in bed an hour ago, (for late-night hours unable sleep) but anxious recall would not survive the night, with nightmare wanderings, who knows where? So now my early chiming fears come tumbling with my whisky glass. You may think verbal diarrhoea, but it’s fearsome realisation that my close companions, tools of trade, but also stock in trade of common ways are disappearing, out of reach, and for me that means out of mind. At least currently, I know my currency has short shelf-life, but dreading consequential flow, too soon I’ll fail to find most talk, not now, I mean, not now I think.
Shayne Colaco, lost Tryfan, Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia, Wales - 4th August 2012 We met moor-top one sunny day, three of us raised and with sufficient experience and people-interest to relate beyond silence, gruff acknowledgement, platitude into conversation. So we concede beyond polite fascination, the courtesy finds connections, and unspoken, unconfessed, the sensitive awareness of intellectual compatibility, water finding its own level and finding, as it were, two vessels joined. Was that why he asked if he could walk with us, we think to his benefit, maybe ours? The loneliness was chosen. He walks without map or compass or even plan; was this so the gods could chose companion, rain, sun, heather, grouse, people? And why as several coalesced at scenic viewpoint did he speak with us, when all knew the common vista enjoyment and its fuzzed horizon, rubbed graphite, seeped, too bruised to rely on divided line? We walked and talked, smiled knowingly, admired competency, the linguistic polymath overseas parental-pleasing and expected drive, yet a ghostly wanderlust. Short-term psychiatry appointments. Was that want of wider experience, or simple impatience, or an unsatisfied search? We shall never know. We shared his meagre ration, at his insistence. At ours he returned with us for soup which was not to his taste but of course feigned sufficiency. He signed our visitors book, took a card and said goodbye. The police rang some months later: Shayne missing in the mountains, found the card at home. Our tale fitted the present circumstance. Six years on his death declared, presumed victim of Adam and Eve on Tryfan, beyond Ogwen where darers leap between the rocks, though body never found. His namesake, nightmare novelist writes 'the void of nothingness', as my stranger's alter ego. I wonder if this multi-lingual doctor of the mind, lone wanderer, open to the guiding wind was some kind angel in disguise, missed in mountain mist. Entertaining strangers unawares.