A ghost of dust as the door opens. Battalions of books in line abreast, spines straight as ramrods, tight and bright as a drummer’s cordings. they gleam with polished leather and gold leaf all noble , each one touts their title. “Foreword “ they call to your eager ears and you will follow. Wait. Their turn will soon be gone. Smell the ink, and glue, damp paper, book dust coating every surface. Explore the stacks for books with broken backs, the ones with scribbles in the margin, edgeworn, scuffed and limp, tea stained , missing pages, dust jackets torn or ripped away. All casualties of culture.
You often see the ambulance round here
(the population’s getting old)
and things happen – usually at night.
You see their headlights swing into our road,
moving slowly till they find the house.
They go in quietly, without a fuss.
Ten minutes later and they’re out.
Wheelchair or stretcher ? You can guess
how serious it is. Doors thump shut.
I close the curtain.
It will come to all of us at last –
the pain that gnaws and can’t be talked away,
the bloodied sheet, the sudden, unexpected
loss of self.
I wonder, when it comes my turn,
if my neighbour, peeking through his blind,
will find some pity for me
within the selfish joy of his reprieve.
I taught myself to. read when I was five years old. I was in hospital at the time, recovering from an ear operation. In those days- sixty years ago-it was quite a major procedure, which meant that I was in a single room, with no-one to talk to. Even my parents weren’t allowed in the room. They had to stand outside and wave through the window.
After a couple of days the nurse came in with a pile of “Beano” comics.
“That should keep you busy,” she said.
Now I knew the letters of the alphabet, and I knew the sounds most of them made, but I hadn’t yet mastered the skill of putting them into words. But now, in the hospital room, I had the chance. I taught myself to read. By the time I came home I had worked my way through “Dandy” ” Beano” and a couple of Ladybird books. I was hooked.
After I’d ripped through Enid Blyton, I went on to “Biggles”- unlikely tales set in the First World War – I was beginning to get a feeling for structure now – how these simple stories were put together. I loved the way that stories can lift you out of yourself, open up a whole world, which might be real or a creation of the author.
When I was eleven I bought my first grown up book – it was ” The Ides of March” – a modern version of the murder of Julius Caesar, by Thornton Wilder -and that led me to Shakespeare ( my father had a big influence there) and then Dickens and then…and then..and I’m still going strong…
Except things are changing.
The first computer I ever bought was that chunky, solid little thing with a minute screen. I loved it – you could send email ( whatever happened to just mail ?) you could be in contact with everything everywhere. A great door on the world had swung wide open, and that other secret pleasure – adventures in your head- was less attractive than before.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone put their books down as soon as the screen lit up. I’m saying that, although we have the world in our iPads, we have backed away from the magic which happens in that magic space between the page and the eye.
Let me know what you think….there maybe more to this than you might think…
that magic space
You never see them fall
as Christmas baubles or
littering the summer grass,
like tennis balls
some shrink too small
to fit their skins
creased and mobile
between your finger tips
some, drum tight
crisp white flesh
with one drilled hole
rimmed with black
where the maggot
bores through its’ sweetness
to the core.
Even the name has a round softness to it. We have waited through the frost, the small thin leaves, the flowers and tiny globes expanding into golden lamps in a green night. pale planets swinging in their orbits. Reach in, and feel them brush your face, cool as marble. Split one with your thumb and taste the soft emerald inside. There are so many - I had not thought there could be so many coloured pebbles on the beach waiting to be washed away. a universe of spheres. While the fallen, blackened, withered, split, food for ants and wasps, sink back into the earth.
Just a man standing on the bank of a stream - an April day of dappled sunlight and birdsong. The air smells green. The man strikes a pose, grinning. He knows he will not see another spring, but he is happy. Now is good enough. Now is all he has.
Four muted trumpet notes, the sound of darkness. Out of shadows come the booted feet, the banners and the drum driving them to the graveʼs edge. Black clad choirboys give a voice to pain. Torchlight can touch a cheek, trace fear and pity in a public face, but echoes fade to silence, and the night takes mourners and the mourned in its embrace.
Willows at the lake side are all withered and grass burnt white against a copper sky. Crows, still, silent shadows waiting for the dark. Drenched in sunlight the lake glitters and spits like metal in a mould. Below the surface lie carp and bream and pike waiting in the cool dark.
Six Haiku Thick books satisfy - a fat sandwich packed with madmen, lovers. Phone call A call from my son. I hear him smile down the phone. The house seems warmer. frozen puddles snap like toffee; ice cream cones melt to fir trees; lawns to lace. The road shines with frost. I walk stiff legged and afraid. Doggy Fourlegs trots smugly. Where are my friends ? I miss them. How can I laugh alone ? Weeping is too easy Not the man I was yesterday, nor the stranger I shall meet tomorrow.
The ageing dancer I used to dance a lot when I was small I swirled and leapt for my old Gran, whirled and leapt for her but now she’s dead, and I no longer choose the dance, control my limbs, the way I move. That’s all gone. I have to keep dancing until I die. It’s not that I want to stop……but… They are looking at me some of them shout as I swirl past “Well done !” they say, “ Keep dancing !” and I can say nothing in reply. I am too tired.
Where have you been ? I’ve tried everything - email, Face Book, notes pushed through the door. I tried a medium, a Ouija board. nothing since that scrap of chip paper blown against the railings “All well. Arrived safe” scrawled on one corner. That’s no good to me. What’s Heaven like ? Are the angels lookers ? Who’s going to win the 2.15 at Kempton ? And where’s that Scotch you cached before you died ? It would be criminal! to let it waste.
My phone spies on me - rings random strangers, just for fun, sniggers in my ear. There’s no business… Life? No rehearsal - improvise, work for the laugh - smile as the curtain falls. Book shop Shoulder to shoulder, wait to be bought, browsed, read, returned to the shop. The cafe has closed down - chairs stacked on tables, menu offers dust and silence. Black sky cracks like an egg Drips fire, misty, hissing quenched in the spindrift
A piece of empty, barren ground overgrown and patched with nettles, broken bricks and sunflowers. This is where they come. Stepping deftly from the shadows they nudge the grass aside and find a place – Manxies, Marmalades, and haughty Siamese, rag eared warriors and plump eunuchs, queens and catlings hissing, spitting, rowling till peace is made and boundaries agreed. Then one by one they settle, preen, consider solemnly through yawns, the flicking of an ear – the language of cats is ancient – little said but much intended. Pollen glitters on their fur like gold dust. By sunset they have gone, returned along the paths of beaten grass to milk in saucers, meat from tins - the clumsy, awkward love of human kind.