Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve 1954

[Very rough version of poem by Gunnar Ekelöf]

    To Evert Taube

    Christmas Eve 1954
    I had come into town to get some money for the holiday
    just sitting waiting for the end of siesta
    not thinking of anything
    Then I heard them again as for the first time

    On the piazza which turns into alleys
    with its decayed arsenals and shabby Admiral's Palace
    poor folk had flocked to
    a market selling cheap presepe figurines
    toys made of pink and light-blue plastic
    and everything for a crib
    some carried bagpipes slack under the arm
    on every corner stood the idle

    Then all at once from the alley came
    wildly and yet steadily
    magnified by the alley (yet distant, like an echo-organ)
    a melodious wailing

    Bagpipers I had heard before
    in high Scottish dales
    but these grew in a different wilderness
    a place of ruins crept over by roses

    They went one by one
    from one street-door to the next and along each alley
    shepherds from the hills
    and it was Corybantic flutes I seemed to hear
    each of them approaching like a temple procession
    with a wild player in the lead and from the crowd that followed
    a shuffling chorus of lament
    a chorus of lament that was also of shrill joy

    Wanderer in our road
    you that pass by
    spare a glance for the Madonna of our town!

    Which Madonna should I think of
    and which is the child she has in her arms?
    Is it she who weeps in a fruiterer's window
    in cheap reproduction, in a street full of kneelers?
    Is it the black Madonna
    or she of the Sorrows?
    Is it the Madonna of the Pomegranate?

    Is it she who still has the luxury of a fluttering oil-lamp
    or she who has only a tiny red electric bulb?
    And which is the child she has in her arms?

    I think of the mothers of them all!
    Argive Hera, Magna Mater, oh Madonna of Paestum!
    You with the pomegranate and the child
    I think of Capaccio Vecchio
    your place of refuge in the hills
    where yet your altar-procession takes place
    just as round the temple that Jason founded
    with votive boats adorned with candles
    boats filled with flowers

    Wanderer in our road
    wanderer passing through
    spare a thought for the Madonna of our town:
    the Great Pan is born anew!

    (On every corner stood the idle
    and the fair of the poor folk carried on in the market-square
    but I followed the pifferai up through Italy
    through Naples right up to Rome
    right up to Etruscan lands
    where other gods are)

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Friday, December 21, 2007

maybe this

A tea-light burning in its pool.

A flame was, on the whole, one of the more bright things. One did not, on the whole, consider a flame at all remarkable for its invisibility. But, the base of a flame. There's something obscure about that. You would like to get right underneath the flame and see its bottom whole and undivided, but you can't get there, you can't find a standpoint to gaze at it from. You can't see the base of a flame. Is it even flamy, or is it only a transparent discharge of hot gas?

I wanted, she explained, to make it as un-Christmasy as possible. She ran the tap, washing her feet in the bidet. But it was difficult, without seeming to mean something else. You have orange and if you put black it's Halloween, or if you put green it's a market. If I can I'm going to spend some time on it over the week-end.

And besides there are satsumas, he tried to join in. She changed the subject.

So you've finally managed to dispatch your latest collection of tea-lights.

I know. It's like killing an ox isn't it?

The pan was too big to go in a washing-up bowl. He filled it with hot soapy water and desultorily washed a wooden spoon and a fork in it. The pan was its own washing-up bowl. Alarmed at being alone at the back of the shop, he cut it short. He tipped the pan by one handle, emptying a gush of water into the dublin, while he wiped quickly underneath. It still felt greasy. He turned the pan right over and wiped some more, but this was the kind of cooked-in grease that you couldn't altogether remove.

A gravy-stained plate with sprouts, a couple of sozzled parsnips, and a roast potato with a skin of leather. Someone had eaten only the innards of their cod in batter. The batter casing had found itself marooned on top of the remains of the roast dinner, leftovers combined onto a single plate so the other plate could be stacked beneath. Stack 'n' Go. Golden crispy crumb on the outside; the inside was white and gelatinous, something you should never see. For some reason he imagined trying to sell it: Fisherman's Roast. It was a commercial art; he admired it. No status-seeking, no fucking shit. But it was an art. You called a cake a "Fruited Square". You called a candle a "Scented Pillar".

He was aware that he was crashing. He had simply forgotten his timetable. You have to crash sometimes to go again. It was something to do with the pineapples in her frieze. He knew if she called he would go through the open door.

Driving at nightfall in the warm car, he was fascinated by the silent shrubs on the embankment; a desperate place, out there. If you did stop the car at a lay-by and took a walk into that chilly thicket, it would be different. Because you were in it then. To be inside something, or to contemplate it from without; always different. Both valid views. You couldn't be inside everything. Two views. But not infinite views. There wasn't a continuum of opinions about anything. You can live and breathe opera; you can walk past the doors with a folded newspaper and hear the pigeons wheel in the square. Distant roar of a stadium: they've drawn level! Human experience organized itself into the two views: the external one, the internal one. The thing that generated this pattern was an aspect of the thing itself, its boundary. Like a cell wall. Death is the breakdown of cells. An art still lives while someone can still get inside it. But you have to get outside! Inasmuch as it still lives, the people die. But you must get inside something. A home to go to. Like a dialectic.

I don't understand you, he said. I've come to a decision, he meant.

You don't need to understand it, I don't.

I want to have a proper talk about it.

It's too late tonight.

I don't mean now, I mean. He tailed off.

There's a machine, you know.

I know. I find it therapeutic.

She hung up the towel.

I'm warmer tonight. (She meant, it doesn't matter about your decision.)

They said it might warm up a bit.

Oh this poor plant! It's so pot-bound! I neglect everything.

That's how it goes, I know.

She didn't think he did know. His good nature was what she liked about him. He had a happy disposition. But that was because he wasn't driven. Where after all was his portfolio? Where was the stupendous stuff, the stuff that mattered? She had believed in it, but the more she probed, the more elusive it seemed to become. What was he working on now? His binders contained only dust-covered juvenilia. And then what? He spoke as if he was on the verge of finding something out. He talked as if she could help him lay some final chain of fire across the vast foggy continent that brooded above his temples. He implied there was a project. But the pattern of his day had long been settled; the latte, the Independent... There was never a time when he actually did do his project.

And consequently, though he would not admit it, he did not love artists. He worshipped art, he lived in art. Artists disappointed him. With all their narrowness, ignorance, hapless clichés, political infighting, childish materialism... how could such people as this make art? Somewhere far down in his green depths, something that might not surface for many years but one day would stare them both in the face, he hated her. Or he denied what she did. He minimized it. He put up with it. He said nice things about it. He never quite admitted it. And now she saw that these patterns were already forming, in these first few hours.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Grey, freezing afternoon.

The triangulation point unreachable, set in a moat of ice.

The wind so strong that when I opened my mouth it inflated itself like a cherub in reverse.

I had been lured here by the thought of a sacred grove. The lane was not so empty as I expected, the dog-walkers were hearty, we all liked each other. Soon I lost touch with them, though. I was going to a place no-one goes. When I got there I was too frightened in the gnarled trees to take any pictures, but I told myself they'd have been crap anyway.

"Told myself" is a phrase forever asociated with the Mills & Boon genre, but I needed it here.

Any writer who evokes magic isn't just a romancer but a charlatan. That's what I believe. Just because of Balzac, that doesn't make it OK. Still, I suppose I worshipped a god, just by being frightened. Not an enlightened god.

I can't apologise for posting these solitary rambling fancies, but they are a product I view with a little suspicion; an almost exclusively male genre describing an almost exlusively male experience - a solitary woman walker is something I never see. Apparently it's a genre immensely attractive to male poets ever since Marvell and Milton, and it still propels such significant modern poems as Peter Riley's Alstonefield.

I suppose it forms part of a larger class of social narrative, the "while I wasn't with you" story - and no doubt part of my impulse to go out lay in thinking about how I might talk about it later. - Other narratives like this are: "My fishing expedition"; "On my morning run"; "On my way to work"; "In the office"; "I had a strange dream last night" and "My heavy drinks session". Such stories are ideal for topping up with a little charlatanry when needed.

I saw the north terraces of the hill rusty with beech-leaves from the adjoining wood.

Monday, December 03, 2007


I was tagged by Mark Scroggins. Like Mark I have a whole host of awkward feelings about speaking up, but since the Incerti have gone for it, I'm determined to join in.

1. The most statistically unusual thing that ever happened to me was seeing a lunar rainbow. (I know, I've mentioned it before, but hey.)
2. Though I can't draw I love messing about with watercolour pencils. My favourites are Faber Castell's "Albrecht Dürer" series.
3. I'm left-handed but play the guitar right-handed, which might be why I've never been much good at fast runs of notes.
4. For more than a year I thought I'd lost my sense of smell. Then I thought I'd try sleeping with the bedroom window open and, almost instantly, I got it back.
5. I never listened to the radio until a few years ago, but then I discovered that I liked listening to Radio 3 sometimes. But whether it's because I've begun to slightly widen my horizons about modern music (Scandinavian in particular), or whether it's because Radio 3 really has lost it, I'm shocked by the narrow conservatism of the repertoire they seem to have been playing recently. What's going on?
6. Once I and a friend of mine walked from my home to the sea - 50 miles along the Mendips. It was a fantastic experience, but I do think the published route is rubbish - it misses out all the East Mendip villages and doesn't even take you through Cheddar Gorge.
7. One of my grandfathers was a shipping clerk. From him I inherited three ocarinas, and a rocking-chair that he made himself.

The meme is "7 random and/or weird facts about yourself". I'm not tagging you but have a go if you want!


Sunday, December 02, 2007

town uniform

Cotoneaster horizontalis, here (as often) seen growing against a wall in a verticalis manner. The other leaves you can see are privet.

Stace records 68 species of Cotoneaster, mostly from China or the Himalayas, that are sometimes found in the wild in the UK. This species, also known as Wall Cotoneaster, is the commonest and one of the easiest to identify, because of the "herringbone" branching.

(Just one of them, C. cambricus, the almost-legendary Wild Cotoneaster, is native and indeed endemic - discovered in 1793 on the Great Orme in N. Wales but now reduced to six plants, a genetically distinct offshoot of the widespread Eastern European C. integerrimus. Wikipedia has good info and links.)


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