Trees

In dim early light, the green begins to wither.
A few pour souls have shrunk to brown,
And they greet the breeze with tiny shivers.

They are still for a moment.

Ah! Our whirring purring rumble grumble seizes on such hesitation,
And to this morning chorus we return with brash entitlement.
The leaves don’t mind. They rustle on with quiet patience.

Until it is their turn to fall.

The Rushing Sisters

The tip of the blunted pencil fit so perfectly into this particular groove in the age-worn wood, that it gave the child a wonderful satisfaction to simply run a line down the wiggle of the grain and back up again. And down again. And back up again. After a few journeys, this tiny canyon was black and shimmering and seemed out of place in the grand landscape of the table. That wouldn’t do, thought the child. It was only fair that the same attention was given to the next groove over. This one was slightly narrower, but the lead was soft and forgiving. Before long, there was a pair of shiny obsidian streaks in the scarred old oak. The child brought her gaze close, and studied them. Here they ran close together, and there they drifted apart. The grain carried them along towards the same horizon, but the paths they chose were their own.

The child put down the pencil and gently ran a finger along one channel, and then the other. Then both at the same time. Rivers in the desert, she decided. Black water, fast and free. Chasms carved in the sun-baked rock, etched over a thousand years. So swift ran the current that the heat could not rest upon the water. So deep went the gorge that light could not reach down to the bed. It was an eternal turmoil, merciless and cold. Yet even here, life tarried still. Those creatures who liked not the certainty of daylight, and whose hearts were steel against the rushing chill, were welcome in the blackness. It was a home for murky things with deep eyes, and deeper minds.

“The rushing sisters,” whispered the child. “Don’t dip your toes in.” She paused, then let out a little gasp and hastily lifted her fingers from the table. All of a sudden the bell rang loud and shrill, and the sound of the teacher’s barking filtered in through the child’s ears. Books slammed shut, children laughed and chattered, and the bubbling din of the classroom filled her world once more. As she was filed out into the corridor, she gazed fearfully at the dark stains on each fingertip where they had been pressed into the grooves on the table.

The sisters had left their mark.

Imagine

Imagine, for a moment, a moment.

In this moment there is an aeroplane. It hangs alone by a thread of fate, invisible in the moonlight, which shimmers coldly down from the vastness of blinking stars. It hangs quite still, watching with a quiet curiosity the endless sea of cloud that rolls along beneath it. This aeroplane is full of travellers; some sleeping, some restless, some talking in cosy whispers. It has been hanging here for some time, and will hang for some time further. For time is a resource not lacking here, on this frozen ocean high above the world. Time itself is taken with this moment, and is happy for it to continue.

Now imagine, because you must, a sensation of falling. There is no panic, only a numbing inevitability. The aeroplane shrinks to a tiny glimmer, and a frigid howling wind roars about your ears as you plummet. The murky blanket of cloud grows ever nearer and ever larger until it swallows everything. All feeling is lost, all light is faded. Blackness is the world, and icy lances are the wind. Your bones are sodden and your heart is frosted glass. The overwhelming totality of the fall becomes all that is real. Time is not with you here.

Then, the storm. Stinging, stabbing, slicing rain. Winds like the lash of a titan’s whip. There are no stars to guide, no land for which to bear. Each wave swells and surges up and up, high enough to touch the clouds, before crashing back down, vicious and black and full of rushing fury. It seems as though the entire ocean is a ravenous, cavernous beast of impossible size and immeasurable strength, and its roar is more terrible than can be told.

Yet here, even as we shield our eyes from the downpour to scan the black horizon, there is a light. It is tossed and turned, hurled and churned around and around in this terrible chaos, but it does not go out. It comes closer, and brings with it a wretched vessel. A ship, for certain, but in this moment it may as well be no more than a shattered rowing boat. She is torn and laboring, and no hand or heart could save her now, yet the light flickers still. Closer, and a giant wave sprawls upon the deck. Closer, and the cabin door flails wildly on its hinges. Still closer, and then stop. Stop the rain, stop the waves, stop the flailing cabin door. The storm is all but still. High above, a great sheet of obsidian waits to crash, reduced to just a looming crawl. All around, drops of rain fall like lazy snowflakes in the treacle air.

In this breath of mercy, frozen in time, drift through the cabin door and down into the belly of the ship. All is cold and left to drown. There is cargo, and stinking fish, and hopeless fear. Down further still, through dripping corridors and the rank dark, into the very bosom of the broken beast, there can be found a little door. No, it is locked fast. Do not trouble your mind to open it, for it may not be opened. Instead, sit down in the shivering blackness, shut out all thoughts and feelings, and imagine.

Imagine a moment. In this moment there is a small cabin, so small there is barely room enough to dream. There is a gas lamp, warm and loving in the cold and dark. There are books and charts, piled upon a small table. There is a picture of an aeroplane, drawn by a child. There is a tin, from which wafts the faintest smell of beans. In one corner there is a bunk; no more than a thin mattress on a flimsy metal frame. It creaks and rocks with the jolting movements of the ship. At one end of the bunk, there are two figures. A man, worn and weary beyond his years, sits with his back to the wall and his legs crossed. In his lap, curled up so small and pressed so tightly to his father’s chest, there is a boy. He clutches a yellow crayon in his hand. Quietly now, and listen. Through the howling of the wind outside, and the roaring of the waves, yet softly over the gentle hiss of the gas lamp and the slow, peaceful breathing of the child, there comes the sound of singing. It is a low sound, and full of sorrow, but it carries with it laughter and a flame of life that cannot be extinguished. In its deep and mournful tones there can be heard all the wonders of the world, pouring hot and molten from one soul into another in these final breaths of this final moment.

Stand up, now, and away. Brush your fingers on the cold iron; slosh your feet through the now swirling waters. Breathe in the dead air and exhale some life here, where none belongs. Be coughed out upon the frozen deck, and soar high into the torrential crucible of night. The moment is gone. The obsidian curtain falls, to thunderous applause.

Up now, and the world is cloud once more. The cold bites, the wind kicks and screams. Up further still, with your eyes shut tight and your bones locked against the chill, and suddenly all gives way. All is calm. Breathe deeply now. There is the murky blanket, rolling away beneath you. There are the blinking stars, the shimmering moon, and there is the gossamer thread, its frayed end dangling in the still air. Time has drifted off.

And the plane with it, I’d imagine.

Refugees

I’m not sure if you can see them
From your side of the wall,
But those trimmers missed a spot or two.

But it’s okay, because now there are some lovely flowers
Blooming in our garden.
Wind-buffeted, they dangle.
Desperately reaching
Over the wall,
Trying to get back to where nature is free.

They dare not crane their petals
To glimpse the horrors behind them.
The bush from which they spring is bald and sad
Without the sun to give it colour.

Do flowers hear the grass cry out,
Or is it drowned out by the mower?

Come, little yellow friends,
Ours is the utopia,
Overgrown and weedy.
Shun that desolation,
Neatness is forbidden,
We are but guests in your dominion,
Here is where you sing.

Explorers

Does the air feel different
In this cave of Man’s creation
With giants clomping up and down
In constant animation?

And what’s your point of entry?
What secrets have you found?
Are there gaps between the floorboards
Do you come up through the ground?

And what do you get up to
On your nightly escapades?
What strange enchantments find you
On these uninvited raids?

These questions I would ask you
O tiny slimy slugs
That enter in the darkness
And ooze upon my rugs.

Door To Door

The wretched thing fell to its death
Soggy and crumpled
Forced through gritted brass teeth
Onto the tiles below.
‘What are you peddling then?’
Asked a surly takeaway menu.
‘They don’t need loans you know.’

‘Will you have a little pity?’
Cried the Radio Times.
‘It’s cats and dogs out there.’
The menu scoffed.
‘I didn’t think you’d noticed
Miss Polyethylene Sleeve
Miss Ooh La Di Da.’

‘Oh, don’t get your sundries in a twist’
Muttered the maligned magazine.
‘We’re all stuck here, same as you.’

‘Ignore her,’ said the menu
With a conspiring tone.
‘She’ll be inside come morning
Pride of place, kitchen table
Right next to the phone.
Not all of us were born with a double-page spread of Nigella up our arses.’

Before The Gardeners Came

There are two men working in the garden next door.
One young, one older – fifty or more.

The garage window has frilly curtains
So I thought it might have been converted
Into a little annex, fully furnished
For people to come and stay.

But in went the men, and out they came again
With a hedge strimmer
And a lawnmower
And a leaf blower
And a hefty sack for all the grass.

So it must be just a tool shed.
Still, how often do you see a tool shed with frilly curtains?

The garden is finished now, they’re packing away.
The older man talks to his mother inside.
I crack the window but their voices are muffled.
‘Are you staying for dinner?’
She might be asking.

‘See you in a fortnight,’ I hear more clearly
As her son and his boy emerge from the house.
Then mower and blower and strimmer and sack
Are hefted and carried around to the back
To a gate in the wall, right next to the shed
And all of a sudden it clicks in my head
How this family scene has been sorely misread.

For as the gate opens, I vaguely remember
The van that pulled up half an hour before.

With a grumble of diesel
And the crackling of gravel
My story unravels.
I shut the window.
There I was, thinking of asking to borrow their mower.

A while later, I wonder if she’s lonely
Looking out over her garden
With its perfect purple flowers
And its lawn so freshly mown
And its little flock of stones
And the bushes which had grown
Over the wall
Into our garden
Connecting our worlds
Before the gardeners came.

Dusted off the projector…

staircase2

…I don’t really know what to say about it. An opinion just doesn’t seem to want to form. It didn’t come from anywhere, and it doesn’t look like its going anywhere. If I thought it was worth naming, maybe I’d call it Stuck. It’s made me all the more aware that I shouldn’t use image-making to process the current moment. Either I write about it, or failing that, I wait. I think waiting is needed now.

Conversationalist Drizzle

radiosilence

Who even listens to this?

Sorry, never got round to it. Muddle. Just start writing. Stream of consciousness, maybe more of a stubborn drizzle of consciousness, fogging up the windscreen of the everyday. Keeps getting wiped away, no time to pull over and turn the engine off and just let the rain fall.

Conversationalism. That’s “-ism” as in “Socialism”. A Proper Thing. A way of looking at the world. Everything is conversation, I think. Particularly with art. You’re constantly trying to get someone to see things the way you see them, and if they don’t, it’s either frustrating or fascinating, or both. You have to translate, and compromise, and come to agreements. It’s maddening, as a human being, for no one to understand you. We need to be understood just like we need to sleep. It soothes us, and it keeps us going.

Putting two artworks on a wall next to each other, that’s conversation. A dusty pair of men’s slippers next to a portrait of a sad old woman. But where does that conversation happen? Not in the slippers, unless dust mites are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. It’s in your subconscious, isn’t it? Two inanimate objects are talking to each other inside your head, and you’re listening in. You glance from one to the other, and hear the little whisper: “ooh, it was ‘er ‘usband”. Because they can’t just be slippers, can they? They have to have belonged to someone. There has to be a human connection there. They can’t just be objects, they have to be things. There has to be a little bit of someone’s soul bound up in them. Otherwise they’re not important. They don’t matter. They’re just matter.

But what if you can’t listen in? What if you don’t understand the language? What if you don’t care? Many, many people are quite happy to accept the fact that they aren’t “arty” people. They look at a Rauschenberg and wonder “what’s it all about?” Or more to the point, they don’t wonder. They scoff, call it a load of arty farty bollocks, and go about their day. They don’t hear the quiet little conversations in their heads, and it has no impact on their lives. Actually, none of that happens, because they didn’t pay the 16 bloody quid for the ticket in the first place.

So who does contemporary art talk to? The artist themselves, sure. It’s self-expression, it’s identity, it’s a deeply personal conversation with the world. It nourishes the self. Who else does it talk to? Those “arty” people. People who have made it their business to speak the language of contemporary art, and have a fascination with the way that artists choose to share parts of themselves with those who will look and listen. It’s empathy, it’s the human condition to want to understand other humans. If you choose to creatively express yourself through artistic means, then you’re probably going to be more invested in what other people have to say through similar means. Amy Adams said it in Arrival. The language you speak affects who you are as a person. It changes your nature. Speak someone else’s language, and you’ll start to see the world the way they see the world.

But who else does it talk to? How many taxi drivers have you had to try and justify or explain your artistic career to? How many of your friends nod vaguely when you tell them what your project is about? How many pieces of contemporary art have changed the world? I mean really, properly changed the course of history? Kurt Schwitters reckoned artists held up a mirror to the times, but what good is a mirror if no one stops to peer into it?

I think that a different conversation needs to happen. If contemporary art is trying to talk to the world, then the world needs to talk back. A language needs to be invented, if it doesn’t exist already. What if, at school, instead of (or as well as) singing hymns every morning, kids got out their paintbrushes and painted how they were feeling that day? And then showed their feelings to the other kids? And then talked about it? It would become natural, wouldn’t it? To see meaning and emotion in the scribbles of a child, which is what some abstract art is so dismissively brandished as? After a few years of that, I’m willing to bet you could show said child a series of Rothko paintings and they’d be able to tell you which best matches their mood that day, or the mood of their mother or father. How would that change the way that people learn to visually express themselves, and recognise such expressions in other people? Maybe then you’d get taxi drivers and estate agents flocking to the latest exhibitions in a search for empathetical reassurance about a broken marriage, or feelings of intangible despondency in a world without meaning, rather than just those “arty” people. Art wouldn’t just be the mirror, it would be the world. It would be necessary.

That is, if they could afford the Tate card.