This morning she is travelling eyes steeled on her knitting, while the man next to her from time to time turns his head, glances briefly at the fiery wool then looks away. He is silent as a guard, and she never speaks. Are they together, some pair perfectly joined by silence? Or are they today's complete strangers? I'll never know, left simply to knit them together - characters in a story, a middle-aged couple on a train waiting for love's fable to happen to them, for their old lives to be swept aside, changed, changed - as she keeps knitting, bumping him occasionally, at which he shrugs, turns his head quickly not like a lover, but content.
When I see kangaroos on the screen, I take in the landscape in one miraculous jump. It's the same with koalas - my stomach lifts, I start climbing the nearest tree. I'm an old hand now. Once I saw a famous politician fill a meeting-hall: his subject, 'Kangaroos and koalas - our national identity.' People listened rapt: by the end of the evening we were all either jumping or climbing. Finally in the hullaballoo the police were called - only the fastest got away.
Sometimes she studies sepia-dark photographs from the 1940s -- her mother and grandmother doing farm-chores. Theirs was never the good life but occasionally she envies them their slow days. Were they to catch her up, she would feel their reproaches rising over her, like steam on her dark glasses.
The danger of travelling is how it takes you over, caught in that today-dress you wear not for frills but for comfort - in the confines of an air-tunnel marked by arrows on inflight-maps. You read, pick up earphones, settle to a book, tell yourself that any disasters are swaying outside this steady balloon where you balance the day, maybe humouring your child who is flying for the first time. So much for trying to forget your innate strangeness to this absurd transitory life you've taken on - these dizzying heights, circuits of chat, odd secrets laced with reserve and everything blended for your newest neighbour as though you'd been living side by side for a lifetime.
Alone on a beach in the company of lovers you watch the afternoon lift steady as the waves one especially insistent hitting rock changing colour disappearing then coming again a hot tongue licking stone
Where was the prince? To reach him she would have to go back to her old haunts, suburbs she had left. How would she know when she had found him? Would he announce himself with a glass slipper? That was the catch. The parents would have to organise a dance as they'd done in the old days. There would be waltzes, murmurings of touch. It might be love at first sight though this was not a necessity. Godmothers would be there to splash them with advice. Their palace would be simple - a bungalow at the end of a long road with houses all looking much the same, and a kitchen ready for children's laughter, table set as in an advert. She would smile at her prince. They would kiss and sit back, ready to be happy ever after.
The woodman has the tree in his grip. He talks to its heart: thirty per cent of the crown must be cut - it will be denser, go into itself, discover new shoots. Surgeon, he sits back in the rope-saddle, ear protectors shield him from the saw's rasp. Slowly the limbs are looped, excised. No breeze, nothing disturbs the leaves but this interloper intent on his task. Gradually he links himself to the tree, swings on up, makes notches. The tree is being bargained with; he goes for the highest branches, pulls ropes tighter, skids about. This is a listed tree. Fifty years back, it survived fire: scars blacken the trunk. Today it lays a lean shadow over the lawn. History crowds in - we cannot see the heartwood, sapwood: the rings carrying each year to the outer bark... The woodman is coming to terms with the tree; it will outlive him.
The bonsai of straddled death was a crew of nurses catering all three meals by injection with glucose and morphine. Both sugar, admittedly, for fading sunlight. I climbed a tree, shook out angry apples with seeds of cancer by the hundreds-- steamed bitter into applesauce. Took the bus from school to you. Brought you wishful Tupperware but nothing meaningful to say. Fruitcake flesh brought grunts and sighs like over-due library books that no one wants to see or touch-- let alone take credit for. That rickety fan blew humid scents of final days; a musty draft one finds at church. The dresser with bottles of perfume pills. Stained-glass sorrow for my uncle; pacing fevered cobblestones. Hopeless wanted mercy booze to help distribute helpless weight. My applesauce, a joke (I know) like feeding baby food to wolves.
We discussed a nursing home with nervous speed as if to offer lumps of arsenic to roaches bound to multiply. “They’re fine,” you said, “for bodies doubling as a tomb, but not for still lives crying out.” I understood your frame of mind as if it were a bathroom mirror. I’d see myself in old grey tweed just begging to escape a war. You needed wet geraniums in pots upon a patio. The last great smoke of living life just had to be the kind you roll.
The tumor led a quiet drain of energy just vaporized. I suspected something hideous from pain diluted by your smiles. You refused the coats in white as age just claiming human rights. I understood from distance clouds why death would seem like packages on patios-- temptation left to open up. With Chemo on the grocery list, you needed gin to wash it down. Perfect sets of candlesticks had lost original appeal. You packed your silver carefully-- spread it out for youth to use. Grief was just a set of lights that couldn’t write a renaissance-- as blinking bulbs on dying trees that take their place in forests shaved. With teeth like prismed Waterford, admitting where their lips are chipped, you treasured every moment here as if you knew no other love.
My grief, absurd. A gesture in futility like running sprinklers in heavy rain. Hunting down a single ant when swarms run busy up sap stills of bleeding trees. At ninety years (a nice round number to your flesh time transformed to paddied rice and jungle rot), you saw the end as apples getting logical worms from places they had truly lived. But to the lenses of my tears, your death was tumors (grapefruit size) I squeezed to find and save the seeds that grew in undiluted juice. Wine was fancy bathtub gin: I needed write to ice you down.
Most fortunate, perhaps, are those who early recognise their star and follow it no matter what. The light they see defines a road that cuts implacably: its aim their own. Up, under, over, down yet on without diversion, rest, regret or guilt they thrust as beckoned, undeterred by signs of bothersome delay along the straight and certain course. Gods fall, a charted comet fails to reappear, the rich, digesting words about a camel, weep: the incidents amaze though likelier than doubt upon the brilliant road.
The streets through which we dance at noon are paved with shadows trees define; and, either side, the fabricated gods decline in palaces of sun and air. A lizard flicks along the scree where, undercut, the hill reclaims a quarry mercilessly arched and tiered for games. Our feet accelerate the dust. Majestic drains conduct the wind to vent around the stumps which pose as city gate, but oleander, fig and rose proclaim a citadel that lives. These yesterday the spade reveals, although conjecture sees them tower, remain the spoill of broken years. They pass an hour. We celebrate a place a time. * Roman ruins near Seville
I The candle flickered, lit at last, beside the bread and wine though yours, my love a steady flame, illuminated mine. Illuminated mine, my love, when we together lit another candle, twice as bright, and offered thanks for it . II The afternoon was never night, the night was never day until, my love, I shared my time: you threw the clock away. And now I never know the time or doubt that dark is light. All other clocks may disagree: the time we share in bright. III I said, 'Between the wax and flame, between the then and now, the root of the light is dark, my love; listen, I'll tell you how.' 'Listen to me, my love,' said you, 'and praty we never part: the root of the light that lights our bed is called the candle's heart.'
Horns blare. A woman shouts as though enraged and, shouting louder, rages. Nothing stops. The noise continues. Houses quake. Murder seems likely on the road: knuckles whiten, fingers suffocate the air, fury begs a second chance. For what? Regret, repentance, reformation? Chance to take another stab at getting even when the speed ia right? An echo in the mind recalls the woman: did help arrive? Was help required? Nearby, someone sharpens knives.
At either end memorial concrete blocks a length of line: the rails are bent, the sleepers cracked. Weeds grip the low, long, narrow platform. Here, beside the road, a relocated gate arrests. Dogs bark, washing dries and children play on lawns between the houses where a fence ripped air: the hedges turn, perhaps, their backs upon a past beneath a wood, beyond the graveyard wall. Not less than thirty-thousand trees, hand planted, push above the darkened ground which day alone or lamp kept lit when individual light went out. Today, leaves fall on fallen boughs. Row after row, one step apart, the headstones as in roll-call stand although the guards have gone. A wreath, an immortelle, a posy trim the graves. Smoke from a distant chimney fades. * A Second World War concentration camp in France