… do not always die with the dawn, it seems.
My mother has always teased me about being slightly clairvoyant. This apparently stems from a knack for finding cash on the ground, of always seeming to “know” when and were to look. Personally, I’d say it is something that anyone is capable of – especially when they’re forced to assess the stability of cobblestones, as I so often am, or to watch out for the Lesser-Spotted aqua-crater, which likes to disguise itself as the more common “pothole” (a thing of shallow nature, incapable of holding the gallon or so of rainwater necessary for a dark heart.)
With my eyes flitting between ground and sky, caught on the crosswires of plane-trails and clouds, cobbles and craters, it is perhaps inevitable that I will at some point fix on a shining coin or dropped bank note.
Dawn on a Sunday morning, can resemble New Year’s Day. The teeter-totter empties set out in untidy rows on each lonely doorstep, the wind whipping up a miasma of cartons and kebab wrappers, will tell you all that you need to know about the city’s Night Before. Hair drifting to and fro on a park bench, with a crooked elbow wedged beneath a face cradled in sleep, the eyes glued shut with alcohol. Depending on the clothes, you can have a fair guess at who will be the ones to wake and look about sheepishly, rubbing a pale cheek; rummaging for
– such a burst of relief, in that sigh! –
their belongings, before pulling on heel-slack shoes, to pick carefully out of the park…
…and who will be the ones to stay put on that bench for a little longer, staring into the sky that holds nothing but a new day, a few hangnail pigeons, maybe the arcing wing-wheel of a red kite, all loveless talons.
These, I walk past in the same way I would walk past any slumbering figure: with the greatest care, on feathersoft feet, for we all of us deserve to remain in the safe haven of dreams for as long as possible.
And whenever I find bank notes slippery with dew, or coins flat as the pale sun in the silver-gold mist, I will leave them beside the hand that is cool as marble, or sometimes curled like a kitten around the mouth. It never fails to stun me into silence, how we resemble our child-selves in sleep. Goosepimpled skin gains colour with a cup of fresh coffee, or a bus ride home (if home is indeed an option.) I like to set aside a fantasy, too, that some will use the money to call a long-lost friend or lover; to speak to them in the way they should have many years ago, to say what couldn’t be said then, when life got in the way; to hear the sound of surprise, and a sentiment unchanged. For dawn is that time of purple wine-lips, the quiet before the hangover-storm; there is still that Invisibility Cloak of the night, when we are more apt to say what can’t be found in the full flare of daylight.
Ja, I am a hopeless romantic. This tends to come out more when I am drunk, and the stone walls of reality are worn down to allow dreams to escape. Taking a taxi home on the Friday night/Saturday morning just past, I was brought to a stillness of silence inside, while gaping out of the window at the black-diamond beauty of the City. London, for all her daytime grit and skirling leaves, traffic cones and the thin blue-brown veil of the horizon, is effortless in elegance when found at night, in the quieter hours, when most everyone has passed out in their own bed or someone else’s.
I know I will live under that glittering cloak one day, in a lamplight haven that resembles no other. There will be so much in between, though – yet more change *sigh*
But this seems to be the running theme of the moment, and for once, it is not unwelcome – but a long time in coming, or so it feels. I can hit the ground running … when I’ve had enough sleep.
Where religion is concerned, I will take a look at anything, with divisions of interest. Opinions – everyone’s entitled to one, just as they are to a belief, a theory. So long as no one feels that they have the right to –
Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.
So why I should feel bound to walk beneath the grey stone arches of my local cathedral – into the dusty stillness of ages that will probably last beyond us, beyond the very structure itself – to offer a prayer for the lives of those suffering in Ukraine and Russia with the current unrest, is anyone’s guess. While outside, in the familiar chill of the wind that smooths over the engraved tomb stones and marble angels with an indifferent hand, I felt my heart contract with something I’m not sure any faith or scientific theory could help to explain.
There was the unicorn, watchful as ever and set above the double doors; a trick of the light (isn’t it always the way?), how she seemed to flicker with a wink, a stir of motion, when the light ceded to shadows and the day to dusk. Her iron strength and seashell elegance, create a pearl fire.
I went inside. The cool quiet is, whether you hold onto faith or not, a haven for the mind. All the hive-thoughts were set to rest, like a damp cloth placed over the sifting dust motes.
I wandered here and there, up and down the aisles, between pews, touching glossy wood of many whorls and colourations; craning my head back to take in the mighty rose window, which replays itself in a kaleidoscopic rainbow on the stone floor, where more scriptures can be found. Candles whispered at my passing, and I was reminded of a favourite hymn in school; a silver-black message of flickering candles in the night, of darkness turning into light. Less of a poignancy in the words, than the melody.
Still, my own darkness would not shift, and I sought some quiet corner to be alone, to speak aloud, for sometimes this is the only way to Know yourself in the world. I do it so rarely these days, that to hear my own voice often startles me, in the same way that hearing a full name can spell Trouble – when you were small, and the culprit.
Away from the crowds of a sunny Sunday afternoon, those vaulted ceilings sang back the whispers and shuffling feet of fellow wanderers.
I finally found a corner of half-light, shifting dust, and the rippled colours of a glaze window. I let the rising ache of my voice go, with a whisper that came from nowhere and seemed to land as such, in empty space, for anyone to hear or none. I could care less, really – it was the act of getting the words out, of knowing they had been said, which left my chest free and empty at last. I so rarely pray, it always feels as though I am taking what is not mine to have. I certainly didn’t see the light. Yet in those moments when reality merges with a recurring dream – or in my case, the nightmares of childhood, now seemingly brought to stark life – we sometimes fall back on what we have known. I was raised in a casual-Christian setting. My grandmother is quietly religious. A cathedral holds serenity at its heart, as a lake holds green-black silence.
It’s a refuge.
I don’t pray for my own actions, for they are my responsibility. But to watch what goes on in the world, is to feel alone. I felt it today – not in the sense of longing for company, but in the knowledge of my own insignificance and inability to help. So it goes with any conflict – watching the scenes in Ukraine, for example, with a dismay tainted by coppery anger, for the wrenching of power and the reticence shown by those who could do a damn sight more than I ever can. But nothing is ever so simple as just picking up sword and spear, riding or walking out to the boundary line and facing off with whichever intruder creep-claws over your wall.
So I was more than a bit perturbed to turn my head and find a man crouched just outside of the diamond-facet light, half hidden in shadows, to watch my whispered words that were meant for no one in particular, but perhaps were seen as the mark of a faith he wished to capture in the lens of his angled camera. A nice Kodak, too. Maybe he was trying to reclaim his own belief, in the epitome of pathos. Or he thought I was posing.
When I am trying to have a quiet cry that has appeared from nowhere (and they’re invariably brought on by helplessness, an inexplicable overspill, these days) the last thing I want is the feeling that I have somehow set up the scene. There was no wish to appear blessed by some invisible hand. I certainly don’t want to appear in an updated coffee-shop table version of Pilgrim’s Progress. I bit my lip on a storm of words; frustrated, not only for the sake of those I spoke for, but for this world of collapsed privacy and solitude. We are accordion-pleating on ourselves. Sometimes, it really does feel like there are too many of us around.
So when I walked away, it was with a lighter heart and a real desire to utter expletives on holy ground.
Swings and roundabouts.
On the way out, I stopped by those flickering candles, and a small pinboard where people passing through can leave their thoughts and prayers if their voices fail them. Like a rebellious child at the Headmaster’s office, I hung back, reading those sprawling notes with a sideways glance; just as I had assessed the paintings in the Rothko room at the Tate modern, which are so organic and composed in their dominance of the walls, that to try and contemplate their presence full-on is to feel diminished (and sullen with it.) But I will always cede to grandeur that is deserving of respect.
When those with the clickety-click cameras and shuffling steps had passed on by, I scribbled out a quick note, and tacked it to the board. There was that push-pull instinct again. No one’s troubles are any greater, or less than another’s. Our worlds are our own. Ripples.
To stand inside that cathedral, is to step outside of Time, through the clock, to a place where we may go to be at once exalted, and diminished. Humbled by tears and reflection, proud in the knowledge of ourselves, whether through faith or the sheer presence of the structure…
…before stepping back outside, into the slanting gold evening and the quickening breath of the wind over gravestones; back onto the endless road of reality.
N.B: Not all of my dreams appear without stimulus. Only the other night, reading about the beloved old Routemaster, I then fell asleep and had the strange pleasure of a tour through the midnight streets of London. Crystalline air sang off the Thames, and the open platform’s bar was cold as starlight in my hands.
Make of that what you will.