….It all just falls apart

But when I look into your eyes, it pieces up my heart.

My answers are almost lost in the haze of the rain, of what this year has said and spent. It’s been –
“Learning curve” doesn’t quite cover it.

We only learn enough from the light, to know ourselves blind. Stand in the darkness, liebe, and cry, and feel it all as a bullet hole in the chest. Memories fill it up again, and we walk on.

Time doesn’t so much heal, as stitch the pieces back together, or fill in the gaps and the splits with seams of gold. But you’re never quite the same, again.

I took a blind man by the hand, and led him away from the sunken well, where he’d been trying to draw water from a dry and empty laugh. The thick smell of damp and lichen made us cough, and we staggered a-ways, with his gnarled hand on my shoulder. I let him loop it about, because I was no longer afraid of the Touch of others.

He became my eyes, in the dark. My senses were blunted from years, decades, millennia, of wandering with my mind fixed on the ground.

I thought we’d leave this for ourselves a hundred times before
But I guess we’re always leaving, even when we look the same
And it eases me somehow to know that even this will change.

Here we are, in our Now, with the pain of what came before and the wary knowledge of what is to come. Hit the ground, and run.

Except I won’t. Not this time. I’ve spent too long running, without stopping to wait for others; for feelings, for thoughts that might anchor me or hold me down … or hold me still, long enough to hear the whispered words on silvered breath.

Fierce and light, and young.

So we kicked up the yellow leaves and the dulled moss, the forlorn stones and the wires of flowers long-dead. The sky was a stretched skein of grey, a heavy head; the sun, a lowered eye. His shoulders slumped with the weight of it all, and I urged him to lean a little more.

I laughed so hard inside myself, it all began to hurt.

No one sees the salt that slides between the cracks on the clown-dolls’ face. That smile is a painted bridge between what is, and what must be. A coda of pain and hope. A web wavering in the winds that bring storms and rain.
A well uncared for, runs dry.

Have a care, world. We’re not all hungover. We’re not all lost, those who wander. But we are all here, and awake, and aware, and laughing with barbed wire.
Nothing worth knowing, is ever what it seems.

If you’ve still got some light in you, then go before it’s gone
Burn your fire for no witness,
It’s the only way it’s done.

When the light changed and the world moved on, we looked back. I showed him the path we’d made through the leaves, with my hand, brushing the silt and the sky from his forehead. One pass should do it; he won’t see, I’m not a miracle-worker. But he’ll feel it.
He’ll feel it.

October

There’s something about the changing light in this month – the pale mornings, the brassy texture of the sun as it eases into age – that fills me with a nostalgia born of melancholy, thoughts on a year’s weariness. All those goodly things thrown into the mix; stirred up in the creaking branches of a storm, the white splinters over a midnight sky; the bone-rattle-hiss of burnt out grass, and the croaking of ravens wheeling over a pastel twilight, wings blotting out the threadbare sun.

We’re not quite at the end, but it already seems this way. My thoughts turn to the new year, and in this case, it really can’t come soon enough. 2013 was difficult on personal terms; 2014 has shown me the multifaceted pain of a world I hadn’t recognized, known about to explore.

I’ll remember it for the words, twisting back on themselves; for the riddlespeak that was mine and not mine (such an early arrogance, to think I alone knew it), pain of the point pushed further and further in, until I wondered if my mind or spirit would break first. The ocean seemed deathless and without end, until I hit the bottom and waited to see what would happen next.

As it is, I found out in a packet of pills. Prescribed, at least.

I’ll remember it for the way I thought I would never let go, until the thorns shredded my skin, my ego, the pages I wrote upon. The voice in my mind found a soul mate.

I’ll remember it for the way a blue petal fell, turning black on its descent, to land at my feet in the toxic rainbow that sifts gently down to the drain.

I’ll remember it for the way I woke one morning without burning eyes. For the way I could breathe again, no knot in the chest at the thought of Alone.

I’ll remember it for the ocean eyes, for the wanting and the need and the knowing that when worlds collide, the fallout is a child’s dream of home.

Most of all, I’ll remember it for the way Responsibility became not only my friend, but my standard, after years of fleeing this mind-numbing foe.

I have been many things – names, people, animals, swear words, poison; I’ve been heartless and so full of Lionheart, I wanted to die rather than acknowledge the fact that what I clung to, would keep me down on my knees (clinging to that standard still), head lowered. Depression is knowing that what you hold dear, will make you come undone; it’s disregarding other’s fears and cares and words, until only your own voice is the piping in a blue wind.

It’s finding the grace to let go, without a name given, without a name taken. I was nameless, and not blameless.
I was myself, until even that wasn’t good enough. Maybe it never was.

You were the King of Swords, upright and inverted both. I was a dreamer – and we know what happens to those.
They see things in the stars.

One year on from a message sent in friendship, sympathy – empathy? – perhaps more; it was a difficult time, and I didn’t know myself. Didn’t really know you, either. That was the point.
Should I have just walked on by?
There’s a question only the October song knows.

And still, one petal blue. Because there are no happy endings, as nothing ever really ends.

A life in cats

My childhood was filled with cats, of all varieties and many personalities – the tame and the feral, the disenchanted and the loving, the broken and the pampered. My grandparents, to this day, run a cattery and boarding kennels in the south; though it no longer falls under their jurisdiction to do so, they would take in stray dogs and cats brought in by the local council workers, and any concerned civilians. I grew accustomed to the sight of a cowering shadow in the back of the white van, specially painted with their company logo, for – when still able to do so – either Nanna or Granddad would go out on round trips of the county, picking up the abandoned results of a call-out, to bring back to the safety of the kennels. There were the dogs who snarled through terror-rippled lips; the cats with needle punctures in their necks, after being used for practise (or fun) by addicts. There were the raw bones and the foamy mange, the ticks and the fleas, the wide eyes and the dry mouths. These were the strays, the unloved animals; some were in much better condition, but bereft of a human companion all the same, if an elderly owner had passed away.

After a visit to the vets, the unfortunates were made to feel at home. There was no discrimination between breeds, except in terms of size – Granddad built everything by hand, and the sprawling outlay formed a warren of runs and kennels and hidey-holes, perches and scratching posts. I can close my eyes and remember it all, so – the moonlight slanting through the small-hole wire, licking off a wary eye peeking back at me from inside a boxy house. Heat emanating from the overhead red bulb on frosty days, and the fitted electric blanket lapping up in woolly waves to the Hobbit-hole entrance. No visitors allowed inside without permission, and then only to keep those who had once known owners accustomed to the smell and touch of humans. That being said, the kennel maids working for my grandparents were so easy-going, I was often allowed inside with them (so long as I kept myself a shadow along the wall) when they went to turn blankets and pick up litter, sweep the granite floors. Those runs and houses were spotless, with no cloth used twice, and each brush head disinfected between shifts, to avoid cross-contamination.

Feet bare on the pocked floor, hands by my sides – often crouched low, because I was learning to read, and had picked up on the fact that animals will trust you more when on their level – I waited. Reaching out a hand, I offered my fingertips to the little pale nose. This is how you must introduce yourself to a cat, with or without the aid of T.S Eliot; scent is the first port-of-call for bonding, and a cat will grant you leave to touch it if the situation appears non-threatening. No staccato sounds or movements, and I had somehow picked up on the fact that cats – like dogs – seem to dislike being stared at. Perhaps this is the real reason why I find it difficult to look anyone in the eye.

My grandparents took to breeding cats and dogs – British Blues and German Shepherds, respectively – and it was through this that I learned about pedigree and bloodlines. I have no preferences, except where personality and coat are concerned. Growing up around larger dogs (trained in the lower fields to perform for shows), I developed a respect for the canidae, if not as close an affinity as with the cats – dogs always came across as being rather wet, easy to read and to please. Slobbery tongues, prone to noise. The cats that wandered about the outhouses and bungalow, on the other hand, were evasive and mysterious as the twilight that made their eyes glow, the tapetum lucidum. They would disappear down sunstruck alleys, over fences into fields of lush green grass, and – try as I might to follow them around the corners of the world – I could never quite squeeze through. A slow, creeping hatred for my own form took hold around age 6-7, and I longed for the curved bones and dexterous spine of the cat, if only to walk where they did – to find those secret places.

Still, there was nothing stopping me from imitation, and I took to wearing the trailing black tail and tall ears, hinged to a headband, that my mother had made for my “cat dance” with the local troupe. What the neighbours must have thought about me hanging around in the bushes bordering their gardens, God only knows; but it was fun to jump out at my older sister when she walked up the drive with her bike, or to swat at her head with a lazy hand while lying along the low-slung branches of the gnarled oak in our back garden. Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed. But she also couldn’t climb.

It was on that oak that I taught my babies the fine art of elevation – or at least, that’s what I told myself, aged 7.5 years, the proud “mother” of two scraps of black ‘n white fluff. Chloe and Jess came into the family on the tail of my first cat, a rescue from the shelter, who was originally called “Blossom”; she would through no less than five names in the first week, before my exasperated mother clamped down and decided on “Zoey.” My heart breaks a little to think of her, those lean paws and the streamline tail, the tall ears and bright green eyes, which earned her “Gooseberry” (the third name.) Poor little mite was just over a year old, and had been with us for around six months, when a hit-and-run took her out in the pale morning. It was the day before we would move to the new house (my brother was on the way), and I came home from school expecting to pack the last of my books up – not the cold body of my cat in a cardboard box, to take with us for internment in the back garden. That was the first time I ever saw my father cry, in his quiet way. It’s never left me.

I have one photo of Zoey, eyes ablaze with the flash, stuck into my memory book. It sits alongside cut-outs of the innumerable pictures taken of the cats that would follow her – Jess and Chloe, the afore-mentioned babies, who were brought in to ease the sting of loss. I chose Chloe for the way she put that little triangle face to one side and mewed up at me, the first kitten to come running to the door when we went for a viewing of the litter. My sister chose Jess, curled up in half of a football, fast asleep and twitching her fluffy tail in a lively dream. They grew into crotchety sisters, with feline life imitating human art, and the four of us chased each other up and down the garden on long golden afternoons. Jess developed a habit of sleeping on the compost heap – not useful, given her semi-length coat – and would trail twigs and moss into the house with the sleepy wistfulness of her nature. Chloe was a bit dim; I’m sorry, that’s the only way to put it. She took to watching the washing go around in the machine and walked into the sliding back door more times than I count. Glass appeared to defy her perceptions; but the part that made my sides ache (and still does, in memory) came when she would sit back in stunned silence, before jumping up to do it all over again a minute or so later.

The Birmans were something else entirely.

I had started to collect Your Cat magazine, a monthly publication, the glossy pages of which filled up my childhood with author interviews, articles, problem pages, fiction, merchandise – all devoted, of course, to cats. I learned about kitty hygiene and territories, the various means of marking; and thence to cat shows and breeding, pedigrees, elaborating on what I’d picked up from my grandparents. The British Blues were friendly and loving, with large copper eyes and plush fur, rounded bones; but it was the Birman breed I fell in love with, caught between the pages of the 1995 June issue. An article-interview with a breeder, demonstrating how to wash her blue-point Birman kitten Willow, prior to a show. I was hooked. Those gorgeous baby-blue eyes and slate-coloured face were like nothing I had ever seen. The idea of a cat wearing a mask intrigued me, and I soon learned more about the “Himalayan” points of various pedigrees (usually comprising face, legs and tail.) But what really set off the picture, were those snow-white gauntlets and gloves on her paws. A cat wearing mittens? Too good to be true, surely.

Attending my first show in December (it would become an annual tradition with my father, cats being one of the few things we could agree upon and discuss at length), I was faced with reality – row upon row of it. Cages filled with every conceivable colour and point and coat, with personalities mixed as a bag of marbles. The names themselves are delicious to pronounce – Egyptian Mau. Norwegian Forest (or “Norsk Skaukatt”.) Persian. Siamese. Bengal. Tabby. And of course, the variations in coat markings – tipped, spotted, smoke, solid, cameo. These are the details that have never left me, despite all else I’ve lost grip on. My middle school Maths teacher once remarked that if my sums were anywhere close to the doodles and scribblings in the back of my exercise book – Nile eyes, scrappy poems – I’d be flying ahead. This seems to have been a life-theme.

Determined to become the youngest Birman breeder, by age 11 I was the proud owner (and exasperated “mother”) of a 12-week old Birman. Willow gave me a run for my money, with the sort of intelligence that defies gravity, and systematically reduces nerves to shreds. By her second week in the house, she had learned how to unlatch doors, reach the highest branch of the oak (usually before I was due in school) and had eaten an entire block of Cheddar, roughly the same size as she was. You’d have thought this would warn me off – but I recognized a kindred spirit when I saw it. That bratty kitten wasn’t about to grow up in a hurry, and into her adult life, she continued to give the run-around, by introducing live and half-alive mice to every room in the house.

Fern, her half-sister, turned up a year later. Fern was a sneak; there’s no other way to put it. Stealth lived in her little bones, and because she didn’t grow larger than a stoat, she could get into the sort of places her cobbier companions couldn’t. So we began to lose chocolate muffins and biscuits – listening for the sly munching, we’d find her wedged behind the sofa, wrestling a cake into her mouth as quickly as she could. The best moments came when she had already done the deed, and – when confronted – batted her blue eyes, and declared herself indignantly innocent. All the while, licking crumbs from her flaring whiskers and soggy chin.

The worst times came when she developed FIP, or Feline Infectious Peritonitis. A horrible illness, it generally strikes most cats before they turn four – Fern was three days shy of this birthday when she died, a wraith of her former self (and she didn’t have much to lose as it was.) My last memory of her is that little head resting on the rim of the water bowl in the garden, chin dipped into the water, mouth closed. She was too weak to drink. I took her in my hands and, dipping a finger to the bowl, drip-fed her. She died that evening, under a sky the colour of her golden-cream fur.

A long period of my life passed by without the presence of cats. Anorexia had rammed itself into me, to the hilt. I lived from day to day, barely able to function, let alone care for another soul. So when recovery glinted in dawn-hues on the horizon, and I landed my first full-time job in 2007 – finally well enough to work – how better to celebrate, than to re-establish contact with the feline world?

Kaiser was born of a seal-point Birman father and a silver tabby Persian mother. From the former, he took the beautiful Birman form and his red points; from the latter, the docile nature and gacky tear ducts inherent of certain longhairs. Already too long in the bone to sell easily, he nonetheless had the winning smile of a kitten who knows that his future lies outside the door – curling up in my lap when I sat down, cross-legged as ever, he began to purr.

Take me home with you. Take me home.

I’d had my eye on a four week old bundle of blue-point fluff; a half-brother of the lean, ruddy tom clambering up to paw at my neck. By the time he had started whispering sweet nothings into my ear, that unique kitten-speak of purr and mrrowl, I couldn’t remember why I’d had an aversion to red points before. Some of the cobby lads I’d seen on the show bench had put me off – staggering in their massive sweep of cream and apricot, they seemed at odds with the white socks and startling blue eyes of the breed. Kaiser was different. His fur, even into adulthood, clung low to his body in the manner of a Burmese; Fern’s coat had this texture too, and I do wonder if there are in fact two types of Birman fur, that I just haven’t read about to confirm yet; for it seems the other “type” falls into the “woolly mammoth” style, with less of a silken sheen than a hint of wadding.

Whatever the type, Birman fur sticks to any carpet like cotton wool. My mother forked out on a specially-designed vacuum cleaner, just to bring up those creamy guard hairs, which Kai was fond of scratching out when he’d been into the garden and collected a goodly assortment of detritus. Burrs, caterpillars, leaves, soil – the cat who had once refused to accept that the stairs had a connection with the ground floor, soon progressed into a mini monster with a vast territorial eye. His favourite tree was a somewhat stunted specimen, but its broad sweep of branches meant he could lie low for an afternoon, blinking in the sunlight and keeping a half-eye on the blackbirds, with their cunning beaks and sharp-shine feathers; the pigeons, with their docile skirling swoop over the grass, and the squirrels, who swiftly became his nemesis. Other cats, however, filled him with a fear that saw the monster become a wretched yowling soul, calling from the depths of Dante’s hell; I’d listen to the distant echoes ripple closer and closer, until at last, through the back door and hurrying up the stairs with a bonfire tail, he’d cower on Ma’s bed (or under mine), swearing under his breath. Hunkering down to peer at him, I’d be met by a pair of blue-black eyes, and a breathless little gasp.

Going to eat me, Mum.
No they’re not. You have to stand up for yourself.
But they’d still eat me.
Well, you could choke them on the way down.
Hm.

He was a curious little tom, in all senses of the word. Wrapping himself around my neck, more boa than feather once he’d attained his full weight, Kai would whisper editing tips into my ear as I typed. If you’ve never had a cat insert fish-breath into a sentence, then you’re missing out on a crucial sensory trick. That being said, he did like nibble my hair thoughtfully, or bat at the strands when I paused to think-twiddle them around my fingers. Another quirk of his was less a curiosity than a cunning ploy to keep me young – or old, I never did work out which. When my alarm went off at 5am, I’d crawl around my bedroom with heavy-dark eyes and fumbling hands; he liked to move things just out of reach (keys, make-up, hair bands), while offering me breakfast from his own tray.

Go on, it’s good for you.
I can’t eat that. It’s yours.
D’you want to get up the hill or not?

This, while slipping out of the room with my access card dangling between his teeth. He had something of the canine spirit about his mouth. When Ma introduced him to helium balloons, it became a common sight to see the small apricot body proudly trotting about the house, a coil of shiny ribbon taut in his teeth, the red or blue ball of air bouncing happily above him – occasionally batting against furniture with a sound I imagine to be like sand sifting through an hourglass. Of course, one burst on him – it’s the old biker’s joke, you’re not in until you’ve come off, and got back on. Kai did get back on, though it took a few hours to convince him to come out from behind the sofa, to sniff dispiritedly at the sad little lump of jellied plastic on the carpet.

We bought him a new, extra strong balloon.

If I could be granted one wish, I’d have also bought him an extra strong heart. Things creep up on us without warning; what seemed solid and filled with forever comes apart with the weave of time or irrationality. No one could have predicted that Kai was born with a defective heart – certainly, his breeder hadn’t noticed any problems. I’d first put the raspy little cough, like dry snowflakes, down to his gacky tear ducts – maybe they were impeding his airways. But no, even when clear, he would occasionally put his head down and struggle. This came on with a suddenness that swept away all annoyances, irritations, concern for the world. I no longer called Ma’s house home, and the distance was all the more unbearable for it taking 2.5 hours to get back, a fair wadge of money, and repeated calls to my employer to actually scrape together some time off. I’d started to consider myself jinxed where Birmans are concerned, having already lost Willow to stomach cancer three years before (she had gone to live with my father and brother, to become queen of her own little territory of flower boxes and pristine lawns) and Fern, who had barely begun her adult life before fading out into evening. Still, she had clung on for far longer than the vet’s estimate, and so it was with Kai – fully a year after his diagnosis, he was still with my Ma, though creeping about the house like a little old man, rather than the proud strut of a boy with his string-tow toy. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t there at the end, though – in my selfish way – I would rather hang onto the memories of him, splendid in the sunlight of a windowsill, chittering at the flies and birds with that open-mouth staccato of a hunter. Or watching, waiting for me on the top step when I arrived home, back bent and legs weary from cycling; those ears would appear like twin shark fins, the blue eyes turned to black moons; his spine was a ridged mountain range. I’d hear the swishing tail slipper-slide against the wall. Forgetting my burning calves and thighs, I’d crouch low – lower – and prowl up on hands and knees to meet him –

Receiving a swat from a well-to-do glove for my trouble, and a fiend’s grin, before the red tail sailed like a flag in my face, as Kai dashed into my room to hide under the bed. He tended to forget that I could easily crawl in after (a necessity when he was a kitten, and prone to hoarding food), but I’d give him the goal, since he’d caused me to crease up after a long shift – something only a cat should attempt, and invariably pulls off. Shucking off my bag, I’d listen to him whickering under the bed, pleased with his joke; for a punchline, he’d sometimes dash back out in a whirl of cotton and teeth, to nip at my bare ankle, before plunging back down the stairs with the feet of an elephant.

I never did teach him the fine art of toe-walking.

This month marks a year since his death. The event itself was painful, something I don’t think on, because it stuns me to silence. My Ma called me at work. I remember how cold the bricks were at my back, leaning up against the wall on the stairwell. The wind was whipping leaves, great coppery wreathes. I’d known it was coming – she had warned me over the months, how much his health had deteriorated – but it had been the lengthy process of snakes and ladders. Each time we thought he might go, Kai would suddenly develop an appetite; when it seemed he might see another year, his fur fell away into tired rags. Running a hand over his back, Ma described it as a series of knots. His tail, that ostrich-plume sweep, became a blank exclamation mark. His eyes – those were probably the worst, apart from his heaving ribs. Ma said he would spend hours staring straight ahead, at nothing, at everything, at a world he was leaving, at the place where a cat goes to purr when in pain.

Oh yes, cats purr without pleasure, too; a grim smile of a sound.

My friends on Twitter were unique waves of comfort, keeping me afloat. I don’t remember much else about that day, except how my fingertips turned white when I went out for a walk.

It wasn’t a peaceful end for him. That thought alone turns me pale; heart failure is as shocking, as undignified and full of pathos as any death can be, and I wish to Whoever that I could –
At least have held him.

He sits in an urn now, on Ma’s mantelpiece, still lording it over the fireplace; in front of the rug where – sprawled out to catch the best of the heat, as only a cat can – he would disappear among the pale fluff, with only the occasional twitch of the apricot tail to break up the lines. Ma no longer lives in that house – over a decade, a divorce, my hospitalization, a staggered relationship and finally Kai’s death, she left the ghosts behind. In her new house, with its flag floors and stout doors, sprawling garden and sunswept views of fields, she has a man who has made her happier than I could possibly hope for, a dog and another cat. Arthur is a red point Birman. He has the lean lines of Kai, but the noseguard of a Norwegian Forest. His temperament is best described as Lord of the Manor, with teeth. Less malleable in cuddles – you can’t flop him in your arms, as Kai would loll with his head down – Arthur is nonetheless my Ma’s boy.

I miss the company of cats, for their furred presence and livewire chatter; the introspect of a rainy afternoon, curled up on my bed with a purring bookmark (Willow liked to save pages for me, with a twitching paw, flipping back over to point out useful quotes for school essays. That was her argument, anyway.) The fluid time of a summer afternoon, sprawling on a thin bed sheet with a warm lump at my back, to form a Yin/Yang. The whisper of paws denting an idea into snow, each step another thought
…..

Maybe when I am grown into myself, as a writer, and have earned enough to establish a working space filled with what I’d like to keep about me – Art Deco designs and paintings in Tonalism, seats of cigar-coloured leather that creak with antiquity, a desk scarred by children’s pens and tattoos of old ink, large candles sifting streams of frozen time down wine bottle necks – I’ll own another cat. We’ll hunt each other through the sly shadows of a study, over thick-piled carpet, to perch side-by-side on the moonlight sweep of a bay window overlooking the monochrome lawn. Snow under lamplight, orange haze and talon-trees; blue shadows and the smell of white musk. We’ll watch the foxes hunt rabbits in a light dusting of new fall, breath turning silver against the black – and find our reflections in the glass, one cat, one woman, and a life-age mixed somewhere in between.

baby birman

Riddle-Speak

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter
It’s isn’t just one of your holiday games…”

So said T.S Eliot, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Three names apiece, one of which “THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess” – I have enough trouble remembering my own, what with all of these trailing diminutives; feathery scraps of childhood.

There are many things to love about the felidae. The light behind their eyes, that tapetum lucidum, so as to to see between worlds. The way they will greet, not with the wet manners of a dog, but with a dry nose and tall tail-tip. There is a certain pleasure to be had in noting the pause, the wavering head, as they watch for your approach with open hands and blue-black tone. Even the most docile feline carries the glint of a smile.

Creatures like the crocodile and the hawk were worked into the pyramid walls of ancient Egypt, were known as gods and goddesses under the papyrus light; surrounded by hieroglyphics simple in their elegance and, at times, complex as data encryption.

sobek horus
http://www.123rf.com

Horus and Sobek and of course, Bastet – the cat goddess, cast in the half-light as both protector and warrior, associated with the sun (as the daughter of Re/Ra) and the moon, via Artemis and the Greeks. Whatever can be taken from this mythology, it’s certainly a truth that cats are crepescular by nature, at their most active in the pale thresholds before conscious thought, when all lines are blurred as a Nocturne.

Firefly Glow
kfrose.blogspot.com

A cat who would speak with you at length, speaks through the riddle-dance that is appealing in its vagueness. Easy to lose yourself between the muted lines, to forget what it was you were meaning to ask. This is a preferable state when running from details, responsibilities, predictabilities, but the adult world is seemingly governed by such tedious moments, when only the finest-nib clarity will do. I’ve caught myself laughing (rueful rub of the cheek) at my own frustration with an Access Denied. Encouragement reaps its own rewards.

Who would go so far as to break his own limbs to walk as a cat, when no cat would wish to walk as a man?

“Whatever the Alchemist had turned itself into wasn’t a cat.
Half clothed in mist, it trudged painfully towards them from some lunar distance, supporting itself on a staff made from the leg of a panther… Lost in a maze of ruptured highways – burning with rage and desire down every wrenched, coppery perspective, tottering through constant darkness towards every gleam of daylight, deluded by mirror-images, led astray by the very mathematics that had allowed it to penetrate the Old Changing Way: deceived, dazed and disorientated – it had begun to disintegrate. Where cat and catskin had once run seamlessly together, all was in rags.” – Gabriel King, “The Wild Road.”

Crippled by his own hand, each limb contorted and tortured into the supple lines of the feral way, the Alchemist is infused with the energy of sacrificial victims. To control the Golden Cat – that symbolic focus of all natural life – he would walk the wild roads, tying them up in agonized knots, to gain power over this world and the next. We know the highways as “leylines”, in folk lore; but King – the pseudonym of writing pair Jane Johnson and M. John Harrison – employs a lexicon and syntax reminiscent of the free will carried in all wild things, taking the audience between transitions of wary poise, spitfire instinct and playfulness. On the ghost-roads, the smallest feline casts a long and sabre-toothed shadow.

It was through The Wild Road that I became aware of “narrative voice” as something distinct from my own, or that of authors I admired. The protagonist, Tag, is a Burmilla kitten whose movements leap out from the page in keeping with his thoughts:

“‘Alone”, thought Tag.
He tested this idea until sudden panic swept through him. He ran round and round the lawn until he was tired again. He licked his fur in the sunshine for ten minutes. He couldn’t think what to do. He jumped up onto a windowsill and rubbed both sides of his face on the window pane. “Breakfast!” he demanded. But clearly it would not be feeding him today…
He had a new idea. He would feed himself.
“Eat a bee,” he thought.
He thought: “Eat more than one.”
And he tore off excitedly across the lawn.’ – pg 20

This staccato style would quickly become tiresome in another context. This is a life lived close to the ground, defined by the smallest details: that which only a cat would notice and remark upon. Dappled with feline lore and mythology, the novel is narrated in the singular (Tag) and the plural – the nine lives of the cat – infused with the innocent-arrogance of the species.

“Those families bade us welcome and we went into their homes of our own free will, and stayed on our own terms. They treated us like deities, each cat a god in its own house – gifts and offerings, and prayers for a share in our fertilitiltiy and health, for they were a sickly and superstitious lot.
Before long, they were raising temples, drawing our image on the walls like their ancestors before them. In the new drawings we were guardians of the doors of night, guardians of the realms of the dead. We sat at the frontiers of the shadow kingdom; we watched over the spirits of the dead, to guard them in their long sleep.
The same old fears, the same old hopes.” – pg 172.

Each twisting strand weaves the historical with the modern, passing from Bubastis through London to Tintagel head, along the ghost-roads where nothing is quite what it seems. It hit me between the eyes. Aged eleven, seeking something more than the well-shaped but quaint books that had papered my childhood thus far. They were too obviously human. When Tag chases bubbles around his home, he is “as leggy and unsteady, as easily surprised, as easy to tease, as full of daft energy as every kitten”, progressing from this haven of soft humans and pale light into the wider world; drawn on his quest by a mischievous magpie with an agenda, and a one-eyed black cat with a life layered by papyrus, frost and fire. As even the Majicou knew, through his collective lives as keeper of the roads, the power to move between the primal state and the domestic one comes with a price:

‘”So”, he said, “what am I to tell you, Tag?
That if, as the pretty myth has it, cats are allotted nine lives, I have lived out eight of mine? It would be true to say that. That I am as old as the highways I care for, and which sustain me in return? That cats once got up on their hind legs at night and held not just a parliament but a just parliament with human beings? Ridiculous. No cat has ever wanted to walk like a man. Yet it’s a pity we can’t talk to them, Tag.”‘ – pgs 135-6.

Such a care, to know what you cannot speak of.

Peter .S. Beagle’s story, The Last Unicorn, is a work of art coloured bittersweet with a love transcending shape and time. The scars on the face of a warrior, the marks on a wizard’s hands, map their own stories. Even as the unicorn leaves an inevitable trail along the roads of mankind, so the world of mortality marks her in turn with the necessary lessons of care and regret; a heavier burden for one who had lived pale and distant as the moon.

“The sky spins and drags everything along with it … but you stand still. You never see anything just once. I wish you could be a princess for a little while, or a flower, or a duck. Something that can’t wait.” – Molly Grue.

When changed into a woman by the well-meaning (somewhat undisciplined) magician Schmendrick, to save her from the Red Bull, the wilderness lives on in her eyes, for a time at least; but the grey world heaps dust on the memories of wild beasts and woodlands, and that aching fear for her people which began the quest, begins to fade:

“Now I am two – myself, and this other that you call ‘my lady’. For she is here as truly as I am now, though once she was only a veil over me. She walks in the castle, she sleeps, she dresses herself, she takes her meals, and she thinks her own thoughts. If she has no power to heal, or to quiet, still she has another magic. Men speak to her, saying ‘Lady Amalthea’, and she answers them, or she does not answer. The king is always watching her out of his pale eyes, wondering what she is, and the king’s son wounds himself with loving her and wonders who she is. And every day she searches the sea and the sky, the castle and the courtyard, the keep and the king’s face, for something she cannot always remember. What is it, what is it that she is seeking in this strange place? She knew a moment ago, but she has forgotten.”

She turned her face to Molly Grue, and her eyes were not the unicorn’s eyes. They were lovely still, but in a way that had a name, as a human woman is beautiful. Their depth could be sounded and learned, and their degree of darkness was quite describable. Molly saw fear and loss and bewilderment when she looked into them, and herself; and nothing more.’ – Ch 10.

Yet it is the cat of King Haggard’s castle who knows her for what she is. Bound by his own language to speak through the twisting riddles, of what is and what might be, his truth is never more than an eye-glow.

“How do you know she is a unicorn?” Molly demanded. “And why were you afraid to let her touch you? I saw you. You were afraid of her.”
“I doubt that I will feel like talking for very long,” the cat replied without rancor. “I would not waste time in foolishness if I were you. As to your first question, no cat out of its first fur can ever be deceived by appearances. Unlike human beings, who enjoy them…. You have very little time. Soon she will no longer remember who she is, or why she came to this place, and the Red Bull will no longer roar in the night for her. It may be that she will marry the good prince, who loves her…”‘

“When the wine drinks itself,” he said, “when the skull speaks, when the clock strikes the right time – only then will you find the tunnel that leads to the Red Bull’s lair.” He tucked his paws under his chest and added, “There’s a trick to it, of course.”

“I’ll bet,” Molly said grimly… “oh, cat, wouldn’t it be simpler just to show me the tunnel? You know where it is, don’t you?”
“Of course I know,” answered the cat, with a glinting, curling yawn. “Of course it would be simpler for me to show you. Save a lot of time and trouble.”

His voice was becoming a sleepy drawl, and Molly realized that, like King Haggard himself, he was losing interest. Quickly she asked him, “Tell me one thing, then. What became of the unicorns? Where are they?”
The cat yawned again. “Near and far, far and near,” he murmured. “They are within sight of your lady’s eyes, but almost out of reach of her memory. They are coming closer, and they are going away.” He closed his eyes.

Molly’s breath came like rope, fretting against her harsh throat. “Damn you, why won’t you help me?” she cried. “Why must you always speak in riddles?”
One eye opened slowly, green and gold as sunlight in the woods. The cat said, “I am what I am. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, for you have been kind to me. But I am a cat, and no cat anywhere ever gave anyone a straight answer.”‘

The cat knows what it knows, and will continue to look on our world with a crooked head and a mutable smile. We’re still new to the game, after all.

Dreaming of Mercy Street

I knew where I was going, once. Had some sort of a plan, a topic, a novel, a vision – and a hell of a lot of rum.

Now, I have two children who are not mine, who I adore but would like to press Mute on for two hours in the evening … and shifts that are sapping the life out of my mind. Blah fucking blah. Same old story.

I want to get out of here. See Germany, see France, Belgium, Austria, mountains chained into diamond teeth, a hard blue sky and fierce-scented forests. I want to break out of this block that holds my head like a vice, out of – what – weariness? Spite at myself? Fear of failure?

It’s the same song on repeat. My past never left, and hunts me still. At least I sleep through the night, for now. The last bout of insomnia was a bitch.

Sorry, this is a protracted whinge. I can’t seem to find the words elsewhere. I use pictures to detail how I feel, and am more reliant on these than ever. It’s 8pm, and I have only just sat down.
Where is this all going?

To sleep, with any luck.

Let down at work. Nothing I can go into, but suffice to say, I’m screaming into thin air. And getting through a lot of chewing gum.

These words at least, come easily enough. Nowhere else to lay them out, to put them down. Glance over and be gone, it’s all one to me. The other blog post will have to wait until … some kind of coherency returns.

I can’t change my style, anymore than I can change my blood type (A-)
I still walk bare foot in the rain on sunburnt tarmac, and look for the last hidden corners of the library, out of the sight of teens and away from the burring computers that riddle up my bones with current. The view from that wide-eye window is magnificent; one of the last I shall remember. The lady cathedral in dexteree, and a sprawling canvas of blue-green towards the silver ocean of sky – planes from the nearby airport, swimming with the dreaminess of carp from one cloud to another.

And to sinisteree, the flat rooftops where cats lollop and play, sprawl and wail, and chase with curved backs, over the baked bricks. I had a dream of following them, once, as a child. There was always time to hide in the hedges, jumping out to scare my older sister; and teaching my younger brother how to wait, silent and still, in the green-black shade of the tallest marigolds you ever saw. Three feet, those damn stems grew to. Only my mother could manage to tame so fierce a jungle in our back garden.

Seven trees, lined up like soldiers – one beech, three larches, two willows, and a stately grandfather oak. It was on the latter that I taught my kittens how to climb – Chloe took to it readily enough, having less fur than her sister, Jess, to weigh down small pinion-paws. Poor Jessie would take a running leap, make it halfway up the trunk (digging into the crusty bark), before flailing back down, arse first, in that inconsistent way of cats. I wished for her to have Norsk Skaukatt in her blood, if only for the long “nose-guard” profile reminiscent of the Viking helm, and that singular way of descending a tree, head-first, in a spiral, as in the way of the Nuthatch bird.

Certain breeds have their own peculiar traits. The Skoggy, with its spiral-descent; the Siberian, with its triple-layer fur, allowing it to become a snow-plough; the Ragdoll with its “flop”; the Siamese its shoulder-riding (although my Kai, a Birman, was also a fan of this); and my personal favourite, the Turkish Van – one of the very few felines who will readily approach water for a swim.

Ja, if there’s one thing I can go off on one about, it’s cats. As a kid, I collected relevant books, ornaments, toys, jewellery, fiction, poetry – wrote some of the latter myself, where did that all go? caught between the pages of some ink-stained notebook, buried in a suitcase – and pretty much lived my life in trees, down in the long grass (running from spiders), in the hope that one day I would wake, and no longer be human.

Still waiting.

This staccato voice, and aversion to loud faces, and arrogant-innocent nature, are all born out of that child’s dream. There are some mornings when I wake and watch the sky, and feel so much myself again that it seems the world had never moved on, and I had never grown and seen the patterns of my mind shift, the days blur into years. I am walking the highways again, lost in a silver-blue mist that began around my ankles and stirred up to the height of the hawthorns, and there are no thoughts of home. Of paedophiles and murderers. Of watchful, waiting eyes. Of anything beyond recall.

Just the night, and my feet at their softest, and ice-rimed leaves crackling still – because no human could ever learn to walk like a cat.

Not even the Alchemist managed that.

I should reread the Wild Road, really, and find myself again.

the wild road

Well. That’ll do for now.

Lampenlicht

Another twilight, another moss-covered wall; another lampenlicht walk, under a sky threatening to split with the weight of its thoughts. Conflict, my dear friends … it is the word of today, tomorrow, forever. It doesn’t seem to end, so much as stir from one ripple to another. To another, to another.

We have slipped beneath its dark surface again, tinged by the reddening sky; and in all my fanciful dreams, all those silent-screaming thoughts of the night (only a handful of months ago, and somehow another time, another place already), I could not conceive of it all. Such sights. Things I, and other unfortunates, will never be able to erase from under the eyelids. Such white-out times of pain and loss, for those hounded across ancient diamond teeth.
And the long fingers of evil stretch further, and further across the walls of the land, slipping between the cracks of history, to rear up

– sudden and swift

against your own tomorrows –

Into today.

I dislike using the word “evil.” It is too easy, too sweeping; it does not allow for coherent debate, for the flip of a double-sided coin. No positive argument to make, though, for a head on a pike. For a child, spilt like a misspent word into the sand, into a timeline. Into the world, passing from one to the next, until the life is an image of itself.

No, I won’t forget you. I won’t, and never want to; because for all that your identity was stolen away in blood, your innocence, the new light in your eyes … You were a life, and you were someone’s beloved.
No, I won’t forget you. I wish we had met under any other circumstance but the baseless, senseless defilement of that symbolism, for all that the perpetrators had to go upon. Religion is not theirs to keep; the flame goes out in hands too cold to know life, reason, and love.

Oh my friends – we hold each other in these white-out times; we keep our minds cradled in the lap of knowing the other’s despair;
And oh my foes –
I know your shadow-name, and I know you for what you are.

beetle black

I fear for this world, and am trying to find myself ready for it. Insofar as anyone can be ready, setting their face to the sky, to the watchful sun; to the circling pen-mark of rooks on the wind; the haggard trees, the lampenlicht nightwalk, and my old comrade-in-arms; the Lady Cathedral.

cathedral girl

lampenlicht

Tonight, I listened to the piping sweet-bell language of the bats, and knew the changing of the watch. The leaves are burning up on the buildings, scarlet as the mornings and ragged to their tips, like the wings of the rook, like the frayed ends of my hair.
It is almost blonde again; that brown-gold colour of youth. Combined with a near-normal body, I am slowly coming back around to what once was, while keeping these gentle lines about the eyes, these freckles on my nose; this somewhat yellowed laugh, like a papyrus scroll unrolled, filled with spider-black lines.

Uncover our heads and reveal our souls; we were hungry before we were born.

The past catches us up in the end. Run as hard as you might, and you run only from yourself.

I am quitting this blog tonight. It is too full of last year, which was painful, and still aches to the touch. There are places in town, across counties, which I still cannot enter, for the ghosts that run past me, trailing thoughts and feelings in their wake. Each time I think myself known in this new life, I am somehow only my own shadow, crawling up the wall.

You, Nosferatu; you long fingers, you smiling-abuser, you – with your burning touch, who would not let me go. Who still find my dreams, and riven them all around with brambles, choke me in mud of the past, until I am fighting awake and screaming for air –

And it will not end, until I turn and stop running. Stop running, and turn, turn about again, and find the light in all places, the one which will never go out. It has been here before, has come again; a different intensity each time. It is life, and love, and knowing that these claws sink only so far; that the nightmares will die in the day, with the dreams.

One coin, two sides.

I am wondering at the validity of this therapy. For all that I used to come awake and know myself frayed, frail, parched in the throat, dying a little more inside, but still alive – now, I find it difficult to feel anything at all.
To connect one thought to another, to find the patterns that were constellations. Or perhaps this is end-game after all, and I am walking ahead.
I see nothing but darker days, as yet. Anyone could tell you that, I suppose. You only have to look at the pitfalls awaiting the Eurozone; at the blue winds rising over Russia and Ukraine; at the red-rimmed eyes of the sun, the morning that fades a little more with each breaking heart.

I had thought myself paled into Forever, and had all but decided to disappear, back up into the tower of clicking needles and spinning thread. Those red-black stones called; the brambles lashed against the sky, filled with an everlasting storm made of torn angel wings, and a man’s blood on a knife clenched in her hand. That was a story and a song of long ago, when I was … about thirteen, I think. I had forgotten it, until now.

“You should never run from anything immortal, it attracts their attention.”
or indeed –
“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”

Shorn wings, and the silver-fire cage of an Ever-Storm; that angel learned what it is to love a mortal, to feel the chillness of steel on bone, marking her as one like him after all; while forgiveness and punishment found her still, huddled into the rain-fretted mud, as one of His own. No love goes unacknowledged, no tear is forgotten. Silver and white, and blue and black; red as the life on the long thistle-song.
Jealousy reaps its own rewards.

barnes elias

But then came this, the lark’s rising song in the voice of Vicky Beeching; and I found myself able to cry, and to know colours again, and – while still alone, without touch
(which comes closer to a feather-trail of memory, every day)
I was awake and aware, and feeling what should be. Rubbing my cheek, and drinking a black-hearted coffee, and going on with a smile.
Such bravery in the writing, you would find in the heart of a unicorn, for all its ageless pain and wisdom; the ability to touch so many, to lift them from the dark place where we may go, from time to time.

Oh Robin. If only I had such words as these, by the inimitable John Underwood, to set the last bar. You were a dear childhood friend, known on a soundtrack to my RAF youth; found in a film for the rough-ready teens; and a summer sun of adulthood, which will never die.

apola sun

Keep the streets empty for me, Liebe.
Now I know your face, and I know your name
(the one you will learn; we are roles reversed, through the clock)
May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
My King of Swords. Cut which-and-every-way, the song remains the same.
Dreaming of Mercy Street.

Shadow, thorn, and one blue rose

I find myself frequently bemused by this face.

Looking into the mirror as a child, I would stare hard until my eyes bled out tears; until the small, fine lines swam into adulthood – until an image of who I might one day become, was an image grasped in the hand of argent moonlight, riming the effortless sheen.

“I disappeared the lines – as memories came flooding in, the tears blew out my eyes.”

I am not so much who I thought I would become, as an evolved form of what once was. Older and quieter, arrogant still; believing herself to be above the world, even while walking at its feet. This is what sets me apart from those who are documenting what conflicts rip open the threads of humanity, bringing the truth of the world to unresolved eyes, to hearts that have learned the riddle-speak of care and continuity.

I still have far to go. Inhibitions are invisible manacles about my feet, and the years are heavy yet. But they will break. They must break, because I will have no one but myself to blame if they don’t. We are the successors to our own tenure, coming as going – or the flatline of Existence over Life.

I am thirty years old next April. This only bothers me in the context of what I have not achieved, may never achieve, if I don’t find the willpower to focus my voice; to know what it is I wish to talk about, and with whom. Right now, I dither from one place to one more commission, to one more job. There is freedom in these scrappy lines; I am able to up sticks and leave whenever I choose. But as Dido once said – and I do believe in this song, if no other – “But if my life is for rent / And I don’t learn to buy / Well, I deserve nothing more than I get / ‘Cause nothing I have is truly mine.”

I am still afraid of plans. Of setting down roots, of putting trust in anything longer than it takes to change my mind. Why?
Because I have felt the breath on my neck, of one who does not wait. Even as I try to slow down to enjoy things – food, company, a book, a life – I am aware of those thin spinning fingers, and the whispering echo, and the way it all came so close.

But what is a life, of a thread pulled taut?

Grandfather Time, within your tower
– Darkened brick and filled with icy
Breath of ages, standing still –
You hear my voice
You know my name
You watched a lifetime dialling down
To needle clicks and spinning threads.
Now pointing west, the arrowhead
Is finding love that cannot lie
That will not sleep;
You know my choice
A shadow, thorn, and one blue rose.

He bids me rove. There is still much to learn; to be accounted for.

King and Lionheart.

I had locked him away in a pillar of ice, hoping to set his heart free, so that he might return to his duties – for are we not all bound in such ways? Certainly, no royal can remain asleep forever, even while touched by the tint of a blue rose – and this heart does not lie easy, for knowing its shadow falls on a picture painted elsewhere, in another realm. I had hoped that by stifling his voice, so full of thorns, I might return to my own barren ways, this wild wood, this writing in black-gold … but it’s never so easy, is it?

Summer sun and winter moon
I have forgotten who is who
And still we chase, across the sky
The one to live, the one to die.

His blue-black shadows of doubt, for this lionheart. His dark water for my fire. I stride forwards, even while falling back; there is no letting go, though the words meet my eyes as thorns in the palm. I cannot deny what has not been done. Just as I cannot let go of what has not yet set beyond the horizon.

The sky is filled with both moon and sun so rarely; it is these times I cherish, with the world held between, a little black kitten with ocean eyes. We are the balance, do you understand?
I am tired, inside and out. Even this heart grows weary of pain, though she cuts open her own lip so frequently, on a wire-grin.

I live for pain. To feel alive, to know that I still exist. That I am not merely asleep. This once took the form of self-harming, hot needles on the skin (irony lives in fear of contamination, even while drawing blood.) I once danced my legs down to the knees, and trained beyond the gravel-pain of heartbeats in the throat.

Now, I set the moderation bar, and try to remember that to live is to know peace, too. Quiet. Sifting dust. Just because I am awake and aware, does not mean that I must push to the very last breath –

– before fading out.

These are but thoughts, as ever. I have been called many things recently – “wise”, “adorable”, “arrogant bitch.” I would say, put in a blender, they might summarize someone I would like to be. Who I thought I would know, when “all grown up.”

Instead, I am merely blinking away tears in front of the mirror, trying to resolve a firm image of the person staring back, with water-dark hair and freckles that have seemingly appeared from nowhere. I never had them as a child. But they are a good find.

I like tracing patterns. Stars, algorithms, the flecks of a magpie’s wings against a gunmetal sky, in accordance with the turning pages of a book, clasped in the hands of a hurtling-home commuter.

I can pretend to be cute, for all of an hour, before growing bored and wanting the serious façade back. Then this will be dropped too, in time for a giggle over a colleague’s terrible mug of coffee.

We are only a collective of emotions, rick-rolling from one situation to the next. I used to believe that I had to be same person for each, a static entity, so that no one would doubt my credibility. But this is boring as whale shit, and not sustainable. Mutability lives in the fire, stirred up by the rising air; water flows to enjambment –
And earth clings to the shovel, digging your grave.

I am a nonsense of words tonight. Just flexing these fingers, after all – a warm up, before chasing the sun back across the sky, as Celena, as Gaia, as the pseudonym made up at age fifteen, with no clue (then) of what significance it would come to hold.

Here, fire lights upon the ice
The shadows thaw beneath the smile
Of summer’s name, now caught between
A sea of stars, to call you home.

Trust in this, if nothing else.
Tattoo