Fluidity of Lines

You know how something comes along to take your mind out of its grey haze into a place of stillness – where the next breath is your life, recharged? No, I’m not talking about A&E, but those sharp moments of clarity when the kaleidoscope twists, and your sense of Self makes sense again.

Walking in the door tonight, I found my landlady sorting out her kids’ books. She was weary and apologetic, having a need for the whisky I keep to offset the blue edge of a mood. We borrow from one another all the time, it’s an interchangeable relationship not unlike mother and daughter, sometimes friend to friend, sometimes boss to employee. A slow surge of emotions (from various pressure points) had left her reeling; her losses have created a diamond, but still, the diamond is multifaceted and stands alone. I do what I can, and it’s never enough, but she is one of the few women in my life that I understand.

We share an enthusiasm for nurturing the physical form. As an osteopath, it comes with the territory, but I get the sense that her upbringing and shadow-rimmed life experiences, have had a profound effect upon her appreciation of what true health means, inside and out. She cooks for her children in the way a painter adds texture and layers to a canvas; their activities take them beyond screen-absorption (TV and computer use are carefully monitored) and their bedroom carpet resembles that of my childhood home, in a jungle of animal toys and books. The little lad is defining himself with a wick-slip humour, and has already mastered the art of getting under his sister’s skin; she in her turn, knows how to draw him out from the dark little place he sometimes goes to, curling inward like a leaf in frost.
Night and Day.

Not so long ago, she introduced them to dance – specifically, ballet. Gender stereotypes have little place in this household, and the boy is as entranced as the girl (though he’s more prone to break-dancing on the lounge floor than attempting to heft up on tippy-toes.) Watching their faces shine in the light of the screen, I was taken back to the first time I saw Swan Lake, at Christmas in 1993. A slight snobbishness has prevailed since; no amount of patriotism can bring me back around from regarding the Royal Russian Ballet company as the axis upon which the world of dance spins. There’s a ghostly elegance in every performance I watch, which riddles up my skin – yesteryear and tomorrow, silence and fine faded curtains, solemnity and real fervour crystallized in posture.

Seeing the tired lines ease in my landlady’s face as she described a video she had watched earlier, I had the sense that she’d found something within herself to feel calm again. To feel alive. We all need an emotional adrenalin-shot like that, now and then.
She left me alone in the kitchen to watch it on her laptop, with only a snippet of information – “He was the youngest dancer to go principal [lead] in the Royal Ballet company, then quit out of the blue.”

That was enough. I knew exactly who she meant, and to get some perspective on his talent, there’s this from the artistic director of the Stanislavsky Ballet, Igor Zelensky: ‘Talent is very rare. Margot Fonteyn is a talent. Maya Plisetskaya is a talent. Baryshnikov is. I don’t want to go on too much about Sergei. But it is inside him. He is unusual. Unbelievable.’ Which is one way to sum up Sergei Polunin, born of Kherkov in Ukraine, whose career has taken him through significant highs and lows that have nothing to do with his talent, and everything to do with his sense of Self. In an 2013 interview with the Daily Telegraph’s Sarah Crompton, he described the personal troubles that beset his experience of the company: “I was not able to put things together. Dancing-wise I didn’t feel I was in charge of anything… It had been an amazing place, and I had worked with amazing people but you pay a price of not being in charge… I moved up quite quickly so I didn’t make many friends. You are on your own in that sort of place.” After his abrupt departure from the company, with the following months spent adrift and out of sorts, Sergei was taken under the wing of Zelensky, who settled him into the Stanislavsky Ballet in Moscow. From here, he had the opportunity to explore guest performances around the world with Zelensky’s mentoring: ‘You can call me anything you want: director, father, brother, friend… But I really worry about him, what he eats, where he goes, what he is doing. Because he needs a shoulder.’

The video, directed by David LaChapelle, is clean-cut and filled with white and gold lines, like embroidered silk. Skilful editing makes full use of the interior of a beautiful structure filled with life and light, unmistakable in its resemblance to religious architecture, and standing in contrast to the darkness of Hozier’s “Take me to Church”. The central themes of denied love and oppression are reinterpreted through Polunin’s facial expressions and sometimes agonized contortions (which still retain the supple grace that defies gravity and defines dance); there are those rare moments of synergy when sound and sight form a seamless atmosphere that social media sites like Youtube are made for.

I simply cannot stop watching this young Ukrainian throw, loop, leap, bound, tear himself through a dance that is less choreographed routine than a fluidity of lines. The look on his face goes beyond the process – he’s somewhere else, translating and sketching the lyrics over the air for us to see. Try to comprehend how a human body can send itself down to its knees on a stone floor; how bones can arc in seams of gold through careful camera angles and sunlight (if we want to ground ourselves and get prosaic about this. But what the hell, it’s as stunning an image as you’ll see this week.) Assess the worn and blackened soles.

It might not be for everyone, and that’s fine. But, coming from a background of dance, I can only say that “effortless pain” just took on a whole new meaning.

Anyway. Enough of my waffling – watch it, and decide for yourselves.

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.

“Netherlands”: Guest post by Joe Hefferon

My friend talks about the perfect cup of coffee. Compared to what?, I wonder.

Compared to what?

Compared to nothing; maybe it’s just an assessment a grown woman should be permitted to make, without a question. That’s what.

Will she remember it forever?

No, but she might remember how you made her feel about it, if you keep on about it.
(I let it go.)

I had the near-perfection experience in a B&B outside Donegal in 1987, on a post-card misty morning, pastoral as the lap of Jesus. Served with warm scones by a silvery woman accustomed to a thinner hot drink: “I know you Yanks like coffee.”
It was perfectly delicious, just black, just hot enough to make you wonder if it would burn going down, a flirt with danger. Exciting, for Donegal.

Yesterday’s coffee, not so much; nothing memorable about the taste, or the rhetoric borne of the caffeine, nothing and nothingness, that’s what I’ll remember about it. No words ready at the ready to describe what I watched on the television.

I’ve never seen an entire country cry before.

C’mon, you’re a Yank, what about 9/11-hey, 7/7?
Yes, yes, but there was also so much anger, vitriol in the news parlance of the day – let’s get ’em back, we said, in a voice that carried out across the cannons.

But this? It seemed different from behind the camera, our view from the living room. These were the images of collective disbelief. Shock and anguish. The Netherlands was watching a hearse, or lay inside one. Watching with their hands over their mouths, afraid of what would come out. The small caskets are the worst.

The coffee was nearly gone. I wanted to lean back and pour it into my eyes, but it wasn’t hot enough to blind me and anyway, regret always follows action when action is preceded by melodrama. A writer’s curse, unshaken by our awareness of it.

“Well, I wish I were blind, when I see you with your man.”
Bruce Springsteen.

It’s not melodrama when you can play guitar.

I wish I was looking at those cottonwood blossoms right now, instead of this. There’s no one to talk to about how sad I feel for the other ones; they’re all hurt, all broken a little bit, some much more, all sinking in the loam. An entire nation in tears. It’s among the half-dozen saddest thoughts I’ve ever had about people I’ll never meet. I’ll never meet them. It won’t break my heart when they hold onto me to keep from falling away. What if I’m not strong enough? I’ll never meet them.

I tend toward these micro-epiphanies that snap me into another frame of mind, pray for them I think, on the darkest days. They’re in a better place now. They are with God now. Don’t you want to punch people in the face when they say that? I do. Is that an American reaction? I don’t give a fuck.

(Well, that certainly was. You can make me laugh at the strangest times.)

We don’t even know who to get back for this, or if it would help. It wouldn’t. The violent death, the sunflower field, the baby’s toy, the mother’s credit card, the vodka bought to rage against an enemy he can’t define, could hardly, could never, in this or any human universe, make the picture of endless hearses on a warm Netherlands hillside, rest more kindly in my brain.
The little caskets are the worst.

But her cinnamon hair, the knots, she calls them; they’ll help. They’ll squeeze my fingers when I touch her, to press her eyes against my lips. Follicle kisses.
Is there such a thing?

Don’t mess with my moment, I’m an angry American. We’ve a well-trained militia, dontcha know, drums and flags. We can cry and fight at the same time.
Want more coffee?
Only if it’s perfect.

By Joe Hefferon (@HefferonJoe)

Round Two: Dream/Nightmare

You know those dreams, those nightmares, which seem so real that you question nothing but your own sanity, for fear that it might break under the fear?

Sitting in this pale morning light, I am off-kilter, and feel outside of Time. I need to get this all down before I forget.

I was perfectly rational, lucid, in waiting for a near-unknown correspondent at an old inn we had decided upon as a venue for our finally meeting. The rooms seemed pleasant enough, innocuous in that way of golden sunlight flooding one space, before falling into strangely dense pockets of shadow … The air felt clotted, claustrophobic, but then – upon wandering further along narrow corridors, over creaking uneven floorboards, you would come upon yet more gold bars of light, and you would twitch and feel yourself to be silly and paranoid, rubbing your cheek in irritated confusion at the welter of nerves under the skin. There’s nothing wrong with this place.

I was waiting for him, that correspondent, and the sun was climbing over the sky, while the landlady – a woman pretty in her plainness, with brown hair and a purple t-shirt that you felt were not her first choices – carried a broom about like a gun, or a pint glass like a grenade, and was cordial with the regulars (of which there were quite a few, scattered over the green-gold lawn and inside on tall stools set on tottering flagstones) while positively bristling with abrasiveness at all newcomers, such as me. I only realize now what she was trying to do; who she was trying to protect.

Yet more pockets of darkness, where there should have been light. So incongruous.

She was trying to turn people away, having suffered enough pain and abuse at the hands of the other two staff members – an old man, the janitor, and a younger man, the cleaner, who basically ran the establishment. They were both very powerful, I could sense that, but kept it hidden beneath drab clothing and silence … But every now and then, I saw the corner of one mouth curl up, and I know enough in this life (spread to the dream one) to take care of such signs. So it came as no real surprise when the younger man cornered me on the stairs, where I waited in black-gold light, in such trembling heat (one of those summer evenings when it is best to stay indoors, though the air is so sluggish and thick) – no surprise, then, when he pretended to be my correspondent, while hiding in the shadows.

But I knew his voice, though I had heard it about as many times as I had the one I waited for, and called him out. And when he tried to put his hands on me, I ran. I ran up a long corridor, and found a bathroom that was more like an indoor swimming pool, or some alpine spa; sheer rocks of plastic, ferns trailing into different kinds of water; the swilling kind to bathe in, the cascading kind to feign wilderness. And more of that light, pouring in at a wide-eye window, but even that couldn’t dispel the real fear surrounding this place, especially at this point… What need for the sides of a bath, ridged up in the water that is basically a pool in itself? How did they keep the water confined; where did it go? I don’t know why this should bother me so.

They were powerful, those men, but not powerful enough – when both tried to rape me, as I made my escape out the back door, I swung such blows at both that I sent them spinning, with a force I would never hold in real life; I whacked them both upside the head, you would have loved it. Laid them out flat, and I saw them then, small and –

But I ran, and the landlady followed me out. I saw her tears then, on her face, and the hatred and love she felt for me, for being able to escape while she could not. What kept her there, what power did they have over her and others who may have worked there, unseen, unknown?

There was something so beautiful, so wrong about that place; it reminded me of the warren full of snares in Watership Down, with the sleek and well-fed rabbits, whose lives seemed so perfect, yet they knew only resignation. There was real evil in that place, in the shining wires – the unseen enemy, that is exactly how this dream felt. They tried to draw the Sandleford warren rabbits in, to have them fall upon the hands of the enemy instead. Only Strawberry felt enough remorse to follow the escape, to beg forgiveness.

Silverweed’s poem, full of prescience and sorrow. I saw it in the landlady’s face.

No doubt after this entry is done, I’ll feel normal again, and will feel silly for writing this all down, and for sending a message to my own correspondent; yet the one in the dream never did turn up, though I had the feeling he was watching from the sidelines, as though this were a test. Possibly laughing quietly to himself. It felt like a test, and as ever, as in reality, my anger won out. I have thrown punches before to save myself, but in doing so, have I endangered others? When a childhood neighbour tried it on with me as we babysat my little brother, I locked myself and the latter in the master bedroom and stayed there until he had gone back downstairs to raid my father’s fridge again. And when my mother came home and got me to unlock the door, and sat on the edge of the bed to ask what had happened, my silence didn’t last long; not as long as the next one would, so many years.

I was so angry that I told her exactly what had happened. But whether it was dealt with in an appropriate manner, I cannot say. It was a long time ago, and I was a child still; not quite thirteen.
He told me he wanted to give me an early birthday present.
I told him No.

Right now, that dream is behind my eyes, and feels all too real. Is it possible for a second act? To go back, to save the landlady and others? Is it possible to meet my correspondent? Why send me there, knowing what was inside, and my history?
I suppose it is just a projection of me overcoming my fears, of using that anger to carry me forward, this inability to back down, this fear of losing to people who try to control me.

But even as I stride forward, I am aware of others falling back, of those still vulnerable. I don’t know. I don’t know why I felt the need to tell him about La Jetee, and Sans Soleil; to watch them as I was instructed by the second teacher, alone and back-to-back. I don’t know if he would care, if it would mean anything to him at all – I am 97% he won’t respond, either because he doesn’t know how to, or because he is that angry with me. It doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe that’s why I could finally get the words out.

This feels like something that has gone on ages; that has gone on long enough. This life, always on the run from some fear or another, of speaking up and speaking out.

Now it’s time to get up and go back to pretending at normality, which is basically what we are all doing anyway.

Opening the window: London Summer Solstice

London has this thing she does, whenever I step off at St Pancras and – sternly setting my chin – look up to the gleaming skyline of steel and glass. I’ll tell her of my plans, of the route I have in mind – concocted on a slalom-sway journey down the line, on the inimitable cattle-trucks which always make a ferry crossing on rough straits seem like a mermaid’s dream. I’ll tell her, Now, you behave yourself. No siren swoops and RTC’s, no too-loud faces and aggressive buzzing of earphones. My own will be plugged in, usually tuned to Metric’s London Halflife, which is my morning-song for the city. You know, how certain music fits a certain time-frame and place? I always break in new ‘phones with the Smiths, The Queen is Dead. It’s that opening drumroll.

London, well – she’ll smile, showing the wink of highrise teeth, and the wide-eye blue of her sky. She’ll shrug a breeze full of clotted air and thoughts through the green-gold of trees, and say, Hey. This is you and me. We don’t get this intimacy so often anymore. We’ll go wherever you want to go.

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And, taking me by the elbow, she’ll tug me along the cracked pavement, beside churning roads with traffic in full voice and ground to a standstill by the almost imperceptible chink of one car T-boning another. Full of dust and hot winds. I feel like used flypaper.

Before long, she’s got me on a roving course, down by the water’s edge, in and out of the golden alleyways, following cats around corners. Look at that, for a Mercy Street!

… And I’ll fix her with my red-rim gaze and say Fine. But I’m not going potholing in Croatia, if that’s what you’re thinking. We’ll wander down this side-street and cut across to that one, to end up Here; to find out what’s on the other side. But I need to get back to the main road at some point, to keep my bearings.

She’ll sigh through the trees and the hiss of pigeon wings, skirling in bars of grey and white. I’ll hear the voice of Sealink the calico cat again, lifting to admonish Tag in the tide-swell of her New Orleans accent:
The journey is the life.
Without her, he would only ever have looked for the horizon, never knowing the feel of the wild road beneath his paws.

So before you know it, I’m lost, and damning her to hell with these shimmering heatwaves, and bells tolling out the quart –
half –
hour –

And – Where were we heading to, anyway?
Oh. Right.

London Halflife

Narrowing my eyes, taking a swig of lukewarm water from my (slackening) backpack: We are finding a map, now.
She’ll nod, glittering so sweetly in stars off the steely Thames. Whatever you say. It’s your feet.
And my own meandering mind. The city knows it too well.

By this point, my feet will feel like someone has tied anvils to them. Concrete isn’t kind. But still, we’re back on the open road full of garnered flowers in pots suspended outside pubs, some with windows chequered by fingerprints and the puckered press of made-up drunken lips; others are smooth and clear as a baby’s face, or the skein of cirrus clouds overhead. Every voice winds with another, to make a slip-stream of colours for latching onto; I’ll siphon off one from many, if the topic is interesting. This is where chromesthesia comes in handy. It’s like following a cotton-ball through a labyrinth.

London is my creative sanctuary and my weakness. She is my sticky mouth, sore feet and black-crescent fingernails. She is my Mercy Street, taking the time to show me the hidden places of the world where some may not care to look; down in the drains where the petrol rainbows go; through the flaking shards of paint and crumbling brick, to where the mason bees work at gently unravelling the ancient bones of the city. Always, there is productivity, revitalization; always, there is decay and departure. Arms clasped about one another at the depot; hands letting go, fingers splayed as though to catch a falling star, a last kiss, a memory of What Was.

London in the rain is a romance of sin and monochrome, scuffling feet and skirling leaves; wet winds to rake through the hair and embitter the cheeks.
London in the sun finds a woman graceful in her blue and brown scarf of silk, with monuments fading under the hard kiss of the sky. Her eyes remain ever-bright, set into the shine off the water, the pinches and domes and brackets of sky caught between buildings and parks.

I spent a good hour or so of the morning, wandering the streets and watching the green shadows move between golden light, grinning up at the skyline and forgetting to watch where my feet and the time were going. When I glanced over the river and realized I was closer to Westminster than Piccadilly, I shook off the tugging fingers at my elbow.

People are trusting me to be responsible – and polite – in turning up with some form of punctuality, and less dust in my mouth than is currently on my feet.

Those little stars, twinkling back at me from the Thames. Sorry. But it’s your feet, after all.
Hmph.

She gives me a wave-off at the platform, where my head hangs like a heat-riddled dog, eyes fading to grey with the weight of hunger. I’d forgotten to pack enough to eat, so stopped off on the convoluted route back to St Pancras, to grab something – anything – to make the hippy-shakes quit.

The woman behind the counter eyed me.
“You’re a tourist?” she asked, carefully.
I gave her a lopsided grin. “Always.”

I love the way different patterns of colour can fill any point of the day, until it seems the air itself has form; how the ravages of time will send a song of sliding shingle to some forgotten alley; how the dazzling tapers of silver and white sketch a beacon of prosperity into the sky, to humble my eye and curve my mouth with an iron smile.

Upon arrival, I am Last Shadow Puppets and film noir, in neutral gear and with wary eyes. An hour or so passes by, and I am livid with the colours of creativity again. London never fails to invigorate, when ennui has had my head on the writer’s block.

When I leave, it is to Ralph Mctell’s love song for the streets, skeins of purple and magenta over cream in my mind; the pale half-life of What Was and What might never be. Rattle-bang back up the line, to a world of glacier petals spread to the peach-soft evening air.

Butterflies may wander and rove, singing riddle-songs with the stickiness of amber breath; they return for the dreams of a rose.

Happy Solstice, my friends.

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In Love, On Time / Album Review, “Secrets Spill Over”

Every now and then, an album or song will come along and look you squarely in the eye, take you by the hand and walk through your mind; it will speak with the words you’d come out with in your own time… if you dared. A period of your life becomes framed in the overall structure; listening to a particular track, you find the starburst of images and emotional connections, and it’s all that you can do to wander off down an alley somewhere, to be quiet and alone, to make sense of it all over again.

I’m a method-writer, and rely heavily on these sensory triggers to re-enact or replicate an emotional reaction to a situation (which may have its place in my history, or someone else’s.) Music is an excellent conduit, leading with words and a mood-colour of the moment. As much as we might cringe at the cliché (Dylan Moran worked this “Song is all about me” phenomena into his Monster tour), it is the familiar resonance of what remains linked to the chords, the lyrics and melodies, which we fall back on when the going gets tough. We look to our pasts to learn how to govern our futures. It’s a bit like going home to stay with the folks, or crashing with a best friend after a bad break-up.

There is no emotion more riddled-up with clichés than Love. I try to avoid them wherever possible, in writing and my personal life, though inevitably will fail in both, because the clichés were born out of some kernel of originality, which is old and dark and far more important than my opinions, or the vacant stare of a fluffy bear haemorrhaging its heart.

Time shares this duality. It is at once a continuum of ghosts on a wild road, a stream of collective conciousness … and a heady flux-flow of emotions bound up in reality, strung like beads along the ribbon of Always be There, and Beyond Death. It is the difference between dust motes drifting through bars of sunlight … and the wind that stirs them away with a footfall. Or better yet, not dwelling too much on Where is this Going? in favour of I’m still with you; and you are You, while I am Me. That’s only my take on things, you understand. I’m not averse to anniversaries, but continuous counting along a calendar tends to feel like heading for an end, rather than a limitless horizon.

Secrets Spill Over, the fifth solo album of artist Paul Gonzenbach and his eighth overall, is a narrative of the continuity of Love and Time, their moments of raw reality. Not so much a nostalgic contemplation, as a fine expose of the mood swings which can be our undoing, when communication breaks down and self-doubt wells up; when frustration boils over.

Every time I listen to it – and it has been on repeat for the past couple of weeks – I find myself walking through the soul of a clock, watching the slide and shine of wheels and cogs and bars; a symmetrical dance that somehow brings form and control to what is otherwise abstract, would remain forever elusive and unknown.

inside a clock

The opening chimes of the guitar ring pure and crisp through the mind, a harmonic overlay of silver bars, which soon prove to be a running motif through the album (with varying degrees of volume-inclusion; they become more noticeable on the softer tracks, which take on an ethereal quality.) These shining silver bars offset the black-fuzz of bass, which in harder songs runs us ragged, burning the heart and filling up every corner of the mind, while the bite behind some of the lyrics is unnervingly belied by the gentle tone of Paul’s voice. It’s a brilliant effect, direct without loss of control, like the dark wind which blows between icicles.
(On a side note: as a synaesthete, I have to say that this album is almost entirely silver and black. Just so you’re not thrown off by my references to cold colours; it’s not a negative slant, only how the music appears to me.)

“An obligation you blew off … Where did the drive go, the sense of devotion? When’s the last time you had that?”

the-large-clock-inside
Image: http://www.tripadvisor.com

Time. The word comes back to haunt us, with the two-way mirrors of “fault” and “disappoint”; it’s always pleasing to find a narrator who is willing to stand and confess to his/her own flaws and faults, even while delivering an expose of other’s (“You broke up with him by just not returning phone calls … And you have to admit, it’s not like you’re blameless.“) In this, Paul Gonzenbach bears more than a passing resemblance to The National’s Matt Berninger; their narrative styles read like pages torn from a personal diary and thrust under the nose, while there is something of the Ohio/Brooklyn band’s baroque-rock aesthetic, in the use of guitar, drums and fine-angled cello. But while Matt’s chocolate-baritone vocals hold the dust of an open road, the longing for loved ones left behind in pursuit of the rockstar life, Paul wears the iron-smile of one who knows what he is due. The burning-bass intro and echo-effect of vocals in “Consequence” make the hairs stand on end, even before the lyrics have begun to sink in: “Another chance to miss / Another option to dismiss / You haven’t got the sense / We’ll never face the consequence.”

There is the familiar push-pull of individuality and pining, the I need You / I don’t Need You’s which Leonard Cohen once spoke of (“And you know that I stick around for your getaway, even if I say that I won’t.”) Housing developments, drunken dizziness and fair-weather fathers, make those pockets of reality all the more tangible; these are essential for grounding what might be mistaken for youthful laments, in an ageless insecurity and self-flagellation (“It’s all in my mind, and conscience, all the time / I was too much of a coward for you to be mine.“) Frustration jars in the dissonance of chords and vocals, the staccato of drums and the burning heart of that bass, in “Break your Lease” and closing “Say you’re Wrong.”

Of the latter: I’d had it in mind to criticize the positioning of such a frantic track, in what is otherwise a very compact album. Surely the cathedral-ceiling pathos of penultimate “Worse for you than smoking”, would have made a more fitting closure? But further listens shifted my perspective. Following the themes of Love and Time, the album is not linear; it isn’t going to stride off into the sun-soaked distance, having completed its work. It is going to lead us back around, with the exodus/genesis of “Call me in the night, with your eyes wide open”: a demand for responsibility to (at last) be taken for actions. This is another wheel in the mechanism, a recurring theme often found in eye rhymes that give a fluidness to some of the lengthier lines, akin to poetic enjambment (“You fantasize about working the graveyard shift / It’s a grave way not to be missed.”)

Along the same eloquent lines of colloquial-singers Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, each track reads as a short-story or chapter, gathered to a collective whole. While the message is coherent, there is the risk of stylistic overlap about midway through the album, which is prevented by the counterbalance of differing tempos. Written between the recording sessions of its predecessor, Notify your Friends: Everything Ends (released September 2013), Secrets Spill Over employs a slalom-run of pacing that brings relief in a breath-space, before the next adrenalin rush.

In love, no one is ever truly free, or perfect (“I’ll be waiting at the bottom of a pool… And I know that if I surface, I’ll disappoint you again.”) When we acknowledge ourselves to be wrapped about the little finger of someone else’s powerplay, we accept the consequences and get on with it, bringing our own resilience into the mix. The game is set accordingly. Time and Love can be found in the changing faces of the world, in the shifting scenes; but ultimately, it comes down to the hope for continuity to keep us going, regardless of screw-ups and misunderstandings.

There is always time for one more song, for one more page to turn; for one more evasive smile, and forgiveness found in a sigh. Secrets Spill Over is testament to this.

secrets spill over
Image: http://www.paulgonzenbach.bandcamp.com

Secrets Spill Over is available at www.paulgonzenbach.bandcamp.com/ iTunes, Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com and eMusic.

Huge thanks to Matt Foster (@mlpfoster) for putting me onto Paul’s music.

Ocean Floor

I walk along it, feet sifting through the quietness of thoughts, the dreams of the fish, the silver-green of a life once known. They are but memories, a time and tide spent alone, with thoughts which would see me wake in the night – drowning in the salt of fears, long gone in another existence.

I was as then. I am as now. I am that is.

This is the woman, who has grown out of herself and into the light, dredging up from the darkest places we go to die alone, like animals, like the ones weary of the world and all its tawdry cuttings and fashions. I was bewildered as a child, flustered and fumbling to bring together the two integral halves of myself; the campaigner, the Green activist, the girl-child who would marry Swampy (if anyone) and live in a tree. My father despaired of my blackened feet; my mother fought with my hoarding of teaspoons and mugs on the windowsill, where I sat for hours to gape at the stars, singing quietly to the cats and the night, because that blue-black garden was all I could really understand. The bitterness of acorns, flushed out on the grass; the snails, making their sticky-wind ways over the trellis and the cracked paving, where my two black ‘n white moggies and two Birmans came and went, came and went, like pale ghosts of tomorrow and aeons past – as only cats will.

Such a hard thump in the chest; such an ache in the throat, to watch the sun go down on my own tomorrows. There seemed no way of bringing this wilder side of myself into a harmony with the woman I also wanted to be – the one who would follow men with her eyes (when not running blind from their own), because she did not trust the boys of her own age to give a straight answer, or to have more than a handful of nonsensical words strung together, usually with a cigarette latched on the lip between. Shaven skull, swipe-card eyebrow. Those were the 90’s, dear friend, and no lover of mine.

Barring one. He was a boy who stood out and apart, for a cynical – stark? – aged-beyond? – view of the world. He who had already read Lord of the Rings cover-to-cover, he who knew the meaning of Silence in a Sound, and could play guitar like a woman who weeps at beautiful art on the wall. All the usual hipster nonsense, you would find yourself thinking, but for the other integral parts thrown in – none of which I will reveal here, for his name is my secret to keep forever, like so much else in my life

(shadows on the wall)

and a scepticism far pre-dating our shared age and Year group. It was for this in particular that I loved him, the first love of three, outside male family members, which is of course the difference between Experience and Instinct. Well, for me anyway.

(I love my father dearly. But we are not, and have not always been friends.)

This scepticism, which would see him ground me in truth – all my mad-dash words and high-flying ideals, making a prey of my mind when I should have been working on something important, like coursework, or growing up, or indeed – eating enough to stay alive. When I told him that I thought it would be good for my body if I trained that bit harder, since exercise can only be a good thing – right? – he didn’t say a word.
Just looked me up and down, as a male friend with bird-bones reflected in his eyes, and raised a brow.

I listened to him, where I ignored others. When his breath fell on my cheek that night by the bonfire, it was knowledge of what could never be, but would last beyond words.

I don’t forget the ones I have loved, and they have numbered few. Three. My favourite number. Each one finding himself at some point in my life, strung like turquoise on this lifeline which has seen me evolve, beyond girl-activist to anorexic-shadow, to …well, me.

I have never looked for love. It always finds me first, usually when I am engaged in hiding from something or another
(reality.)

I am still trying to find the strands which will mesh those integral parts of me. The girl who walked with bare feet and climbed trees, is still inside. Still a focus, though she has lost her way and walked upon thorns recently, into a city of concrete and numbers. The world of men … I’m not sure it is for me.

Liebe –
I told you before, and should have paid heed to my own words. These dreams we have, they die in the dawn, for our time is the secret of shadows; only to be resurrected in the stars we make and fashion as our own.
Perhaps I have tried too hard to be you. When all I have ever worked towards is to be your equal, if such a thing were possible; to walk by your side, to know what to say, when in fact I should remember who I am –
What you might have found –
Whatever. I don’t know. It is hard to walk in concrete shoes. I am more at home in the twilight woods, after all. I have neglected my friends, sad to say, though they have rallied around me this week, in a time of whiteout and despair, when I thought I had lost you and myself forever.

When I thought the past would take me, after all.

But 3am horrors are just that. They are a cut in the fabric, to be stitched back together. I have a referral from my GP, to begin seeing a therapist again. The first in almost a decade. There is no other way forward, though I swore I’d never go back down that twisting path again; they have promised me regular sessions.

I only want to be who I am. If not happy – I could never be wholly that, it wouldn’t suit my Mercy Street to be flooded in constant sunlight – then unique. And if not your equal, for I doubt I could ever achieve that, then at least an outlet –
A waiting silence –
A word where needed –
A love and lover, without need for vehement claim. You are the last, and beyond this is nothing I have need of. I can go without love if it is not returned; without emotions, without that which would hold me back from writing and wandering and walking the lamplight haven.

Those who happen to fall in beside me, are welcome enough. But I ask only for you. As I once asked of the other two, one of whom went with me a-ways and as my friend only; it was all he had to give, and for those years of adolescence, we were close as afternoon shadows in the clay-pit hawthorn.

Of the next, I still have regret; such bitterness at the failings of my own heart. I am a chameleon of sorts, prone to latching onto people whom I admire / respect, taking that which seems appropriate for me to have – sucking them dry, perhaps, before discarding them.
Yes, that is how I view myself. An emotional virus. An amoeba. A girl who would become a woman, learning and filching experiences and hobbies and interests along the way. Because I have had so much growing up and catching up to do, and those five years together, they were lessons learned in the green-gold of a watery forest, full of red kites and walks; the drift of snow, with the lace-up pain of my numb fingers

(his own warm ones, wrapped about mine to protect the tips)

and at last, the open bowl of the pewter sky, spun out from the Downs in a seemingly endless day of tomorrows. We didn’t plan for the future, for what was then, that is not Now?

Now You. Now there is Stars, and sometimes-silence; companionable, desperately-seeking, or waiting for the storm to break. There is a little black kitten, with oceans for eyes. There is a strand of toxic beauty on the ground, the petrol rainbow that most would not look twice at, but which details my version of love, all around the block.

There is Watching my Step. There is Stepping this way, You the other; the feral dance of cats, the Whose turn is it Next?

I grin even as I write it.

There is nothing for me, beyond a blue rose held in the palm, carried wherever I go. Whatever you might think, whatever you may doubt in the world, don’t let it be me.

I owe everyone a huge Thank You for this week.
(Danke Schon.)
I have perhaps tried to be in too many places at once, with interests strung up on a crossbar, pulled apart with the pressure of being so many versions of Me at once. It isn’t healthy. I should know this by now, after long experience. This is the problem with gaining weight, and becoming well. My mind is a hive. It never lets up; there is always something new to read, someone’s life to learn.

How best to meld the pieces of myself? How best to write about the contemporary world which engages my interest, and the natural / supernatural worlds which engage my soul?

Truth is, I still don’t know. Which might explain why I took a leap at the European elections, and voted the Green Party for a change. Though I knew little about them, I am always willing to learn, and it seems that their policies are at least something I can believe in, head and heart both.

Which I guess summarizes what I am really after. Some kind of unity. When I failed before – faced with the onslaught of the adult world, while backed by the twilight of childhood

(the wilderness of wandering, the bittersweet tang of the hawthorn’s breath)

I turned away, and took up the pale life of anorexia instead. It was easier not to think. Just to dial my mind down on calories and exercise, to block out what would send me into silent-screaming pain. It also meant I did not have to face the world, and growth. I could protest innocence, could deny all knowledge, could claim to be immune from it all – because I was too unwell to focus. People leave you alone when you are skeletal. They are too afraid of breaking you, even with a hug.
Or so I had hoped. It didn’t quite work out that way, which is a long walk in itself.

(Life by Extremes.)

Well. I’ll figure it all out one day. In the meantime, have a song.

This time of year has become synonymous with loss, for me. Last year, around June, my ex and I were booted out of our little flat, which had been my first “home”, and a haven of freedom. We had ploughed our money and time into building up that sanctuary, piece by artistic piece. But all things must move towards their end, it seems.

So. It is raindrops strung like beads in the trees; it is lush wet grass, and glistening leaves. It is a thick heaviness of air, as though the world holds its breath. I remember waking up on the last morning, clutching the sheet to my chin and staring at the lemon walls – blank by then, all the posters taken down, to reveal pock marks in the too-thin plaster, the hollow walls – with the finality of tears sliding down my face. Too many to count, last year.

But that was then. This is Now. And though the future is as tilted and uncertain as ever, it is at least mine to take. No shitty landlords (quite the contrary; my landlady is a tall and elegant diamond of a woman), and a slight easing of the pain which filled up my boots with each step, leaving little puddles behind wherever I walked.
He will always be my best friend, so long as he would have me there.

And Liebe – you?
That is your word to make, and your own Mercy Street to walk. The water lies quiet and still, yet.

I hope I haven’t missed anything out. This post has been building up for some time. All I will add is this – if you have not yet checked out the #YesAllWomen hashtag, you must. I have been stung by flashbacks this week, reading through other women’s experiences of assault and abuse, but it was essential reading. I needed to know the names of other sufferers; I needed to know I am not alone, and for all my talk of “recovery”, that I have some way to go yet.

Therapy. Morrissey help me. This will be fun 😉