I FEEL THE CONTINENTAL DRIFT


I FEEL THE CONTINENTAL                                                       DRIFT

                                              
of                                          shifting geography:
overhead;
the sun no longer 
                                                         an unfamiliar sea.

A jagged barrier reef surrounds                                                        
                                                                                                                an inaccesible shore
and                    ICE                              –               how thick I do not know
where    water           was        before.

 

Where is that quiet green valley
where       heron       and         kingfisher        flew?
A ridge of stone as bare as bone
BLOCKS IT FROM MY VIEW

 

A flat and recent Sahara
covers remembered hills
and over the top of  my childhood home
the     lurid     lava         s                    p                 i                  l                  l                   s.

 

NO feral  forces fed those fires 

that swept my past away.

NO howling hurricanes spread those flame
                                                 that turned night      to      brightest day.

 

NO           irresistible           seismic           thrust
                                                                                              that mountain range.

pushed  up 

 

Some
weakness
at
the heart of things
permitted                                        all                   this                            change.

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Coogi, Pablo And The Woman Next Door


The lovely but impatient Griselda, my speech-impedimented next-door neighbour, seemingly finds me such good company that she spends more time in my house than in her own. Love thy neighbour (Jesus); but don’t get rid of hedges (Benjamin Franklin).
Last night after work, for example, over a glass of  cool green Chardonnay on my verandah , she even asked if she could have a spare key so that she could pop in before I came back from work and switch on the central heating, do a bit tidying up, even prepare a meal if I wanted, as a way of showing her gratitude for my friendship and company.  Otto, her head-hunted husband, had flown off to Bolivia’s Western Amazon forest to film the Callicebus Moloch (a titi monkey on the threatened species list), leaving Griselda in the care of Pablo, their large white Alsatian (an avant-garde dog, Otto told apprehensive visitors, thus the name, and yes, he was quite safe with children).

Unfortunately on her first visit to me after Otto’s departure, as soon as I opened the door Pablo had burst past  like a greyhound out of  the trap and with a single crunch and shake of his big head put an abrupt and savage end to Coogi, my constant companion, my lovable friend, the one-who-made-me-smile.
Alas, poor Coogi.
No point in blaming  Pablo, it was his  nature after all.  Griselda should have muzzled him.  Or had him on a lead at the very least.  Common sense.  However I could also see she was so distressed by it all that I couldn’t add to her misery by pointing this out to her.  As it was she went away in tears.
Poor Coogi.
I could hardly just  drop him casually into a hole in the garden. We had been together for seven years, ever since I moved here in fact. He deserved some sort of dignified funeral service. The thought of dirt landing directly on his body was emotionally upsetting. I picked up the limp, still warm body and wrapped it in a crisp, white pillow case. In the attic I unearthed a cardboard box still containing the walking boots I’d bought years ago but never used, replaced them with the shrouded body (he had ceased to be ‘Coogi’) and found a spot which he used to stare at with great concentration from the veranda.
The rectangular hole I dug there was about 3 feet deep – deep enough I hoped to prevent Pablo or one of his kind digging up the body. As I shovelled the earth over the box I had to stop and stayed that way for long enough, leaning on the spade, not thinking about Coogi in particular but about life in general. And death. I tried to think of something to say, a prayer, a final farewell…
Some sort of marker then? A  shrub? Tree? Flower?…..
I stood leaning on the spade till it started to rain, feeling the way I felt when I was small and Miss Sutherland asked the class a question to which nobody knew the answer and the silence went on and on until I put my hand up and said the first thing that came into my head.  Bicycles. Everyone except Miss Sutherland had laughed.

I had just sat down at my desk and begun reading my students’ essays on the relationship between mankind and nature in the poems of Edith Wales, when  Griselda came back – without Pablo – but with a bottle of Talisker and poured it and her heart out : about her parents sp litting up wh en she was eleven, panniculitis, a difficult time at sch ool  because of her sp eech p roblem, a teaching job wh ere the staffroom was m  ore un pleasant than the classr  oom…and…
She had changed into a green silk dress I’d never seen her wear before. ‘Whenas in silks my Julia goes, then, then methinks, how sweetly flows the liquefaction of her clothes!’  Great eyes to boot.  A very attractive woman no matter what she wore and her green dress was certainly eye-catching. Lucky Otto who was short and a bit on the tubby side.  Still. Good looks do not a person make, as Suckling so nearly put it. Nor nylon bras a cage, I thought as she sat slumped forward in her seat, eyes on the carpet, elbows on her knees, hands clasped round her glass, talking, endlessly talking.
Aided no doubt by her rapid consumption of undiluted Talisker,  her voice became less of a monotone,  she sat up,  looked at me as she talked, her face taking on various expressions, lighting up or dulling down as memories came flooding back to her……….an Italian boyfriend………..a trip to Elba……….an interview with…impossible man who…wild parties where….doldrums when….
I’m afraid from here on I nodded and looked serious but my mind was elsewhere until I realized she had asked me a question for the second time and was waiting impatiently for my answer..
I shook my head and mumbled something.
“I  m et  Otto, ” she said gleefully. “That’s what  h appened!  At one of his lectures.  I adored him from first sight and I thought he adored me l ike that too. I am his sh adow. I worship him h and and foot. He is so intelligent but he can be also very f unny when you do  not expect. Why do F rench people not h ave two-egg omelettes? Because they think one egg is an oeuf.  Everyone laughs his head off.  I adore  him. We are inseparable. We go to concerts, we go to cinemas, theatres, dinners, parties, balls, exhibitions, we go everywhere together. We go together on holidays. We go to L atvia, we go to  L anzarote,  Lichtenstein…..
While Griselda was telling me about her high life with Otto in places that began with L, I was trying to remember a joke he had once told me that made me laugh out loud….something about fish……
Funny things, jokes… Jokes and dreams…Where do they go to? And yet. I was stopped in the street the other day by a policeman who informed me he had been in my class a dozen or so years ago and had enjoyed my lectures very much. I didn’t recognize him – seven years and every cell is changed after all – but I was flattered and told him so. I asked him what he remembered from my lectures. Awkward pause. Then he grinned. ‘That  was a great joke you told us’, he said,  ‘about
“Then gu ess what happens?” Griselda was asking me, waiting impatiently for me to respond. I shrugged. She sighed.
” He goes away. On h is own this time. Work, he t ells me. I wouldn’t like it, h e tells me. No count ry for young women. First he goes to B otswana. For the wh ole summer. Then it was Brazil. And now  Bolivia.   And I am so un happy again. B ack in the d oldrums. So un happy. Can it be s omething I have done or something I have not done? I ask myself.  ‘Is it s omething to do with s ex?’ I asked  him  He made me sit down and explained it was his career, his raison d’etre,  it was what gave him w orth and what gave us this b ig house and this b ig garden in this n ice v illage and the big V  olvo to go to nice country p ubs in the evenings. But I do not b elieve him. All the time I think I don’t know where I am concerning this man. I tell him that. ‘Everything is a j oke to you,’  I say. ‘Everything except your w ork’.  That is the truth.  I do not am use him any m ore. I feel it. He is g lad to g et away. I kn ow it but he won’t say wh y. Too late I realize he is one of those m en who want only what they can’t have. I b rood. I am so angry. Hurt. I do not t alk to him. I do not t alk to anyone. And then guess wh at happens?”
She made encouraging gestures with her hands.
” I’ve no idea, ” I told her.
“You!” she said. ” You h appen!  You rescue me. You are so kind. So un derstanding. You are my knight in sh iny armour. You listen to wh at I say.  I am in the d oldrums and you c ome along and  r escue me.  It is like an earthqu ake when  s omeday  s omeone walks into your l ife and m akes you realize you have w asted so much time p retending  n othing was the matter. “
She poured herself another glass of Talisker. Quite a generous glass.
Not once did she refer to the brutal killing of  Coogi;  it was as if nothing at all had happened.
Alas, poor Coogi.
Not a hundred bottles of Talisker could make up for his loss.

Anyway, last night, when I refilled her glass with what was left of the Chardonnay and asked her about Otto, she said,   ” S ometime I th ink  he  prefer  his m onkey th an me. “
Leaning on the wooden railing of the veranda,  I could see in the failing light  the patch of disturbed earth, the unmarked grave, close  by the white fence that separated my lawn from  Griselda’s.  It was this veranda with its sweeping view across the river and into the trees that really made my mind up to buy this place seven years ago .  Seven years! Where did they all go to?
” Of course I w orry for him,”  Griselda was saying. ” Do you know there are p eoples in that j ungle that have s een n o-one and that n o-one has s een?  The inv isible peoples, they are called.  N aked men and women with b ows and arrows and b lowpipes who still make fires by rubbin g sticks together. You see n othing, you hear n othing then….Pffff…and you die. Do you kn ow there is a tribe there  that still practises h eadhunting? So I w orry.  Silly old me but I w orry for him.” She  sighed. ” It is so safe here. Why do you want to go to th ese dangerous p laces? I ask him. You know how he replies? ” I shook my head. ” Because th ey are th ere.  Th at’s wh at he says.  Very English.”
” But he’s German, ” I said.
” But he can be v ery English at times, ” she said. 
I asked her how they kept in touch, him being in the depths of  a  jungle half-a-world away.
” He ph ones”, she said. ” Otto is a very r egular m an.  Every W  ednesday he ph ones.  It is strange because his v oice sounds so different, because of the long distance perhaps, very h ushed,  as if louder would scare off some p recious animal and r uin his close-up. Like your Mr. Attenborough does. Anyway I tell him about the garden, what I have p lanted,  how the lawn is c oming along, how much f ruit his plum tree is carrying and I tell him about Mrs Robertson who works with me in the library and the conversations I have with p eople in the village. And the w eather, of course. I too have b ecome very English, you see….”
Griselda paused as I refilled our glasses.
” And Otto,” she continued when I sat down again. “What does he tell me? He tells me th ings like that that his m onkeys bond for life, are n ever more than a few  y ards apart, sit on a b ranch leaning against each other with their t ails intertwined. Sing to each other.  Him on the other side of the w orld and he tells me th ings like that!  He doesn’t worry, he doesn’t need to worry about me but I worry about him.  I really do.  He tells me about  one sp ecial disease,  B ilharzia, you get it from all the  rivers and lakes there. It is because of the climate.”  She fanned her face with her non-drinking hand as if I needed a sign, was deaf or something. ” It’s  so  h ot. It’s the Equator after all.  Like in an oven. So, what do you do?  You jump in the nearest river or lake and these….bl oody things….these slimy microscopic things ….. they enter you and lay eggs in your b lood with little h ooks that tear the v eins as they pass. ” She shuddered. ” And th end you die.  Wh en Otto tells me all this, and I tell him how he must be very very careful,  he just laughs. As if I am m aking a  song and dance about nothing. So wh at you think?”
“About  what?”  I asked, confused.
“The spare key”, she said impatiently. ” Is a good idea or no?”

Callicebus moloch

I gently explained to her that the central heating came on automatically and that although I wasn’t the tidiest person in the world there was a method in it,  I knew exactly where to lay my hands on what I wanted,  and that actually I enjoyed cooking, I found it quite relaxing, in fact if she was feeling peckish there was a Hungarian recipe for Kohlrabi soup  I’d love to try out on her, a bit spicy perhaps but full of  quite unexpected flavours.  And that afterwards there was nothing I’d like better than to watch again one of Otto’s excellent wild life videos, especially the one where his canoe was almost overturned on Lake Poopo by the giant enipoxea.
I offered to refill her glass. She raised her hand like a traffic policeman and got unsteadily to her feet.
” I have had enough, she said, ” more than enough in fact. And I’m sure you have students’ essays to mark and interesting stuff like that to do.”

And off she went.
After she had gone, I took a glass of whisky and a large flat white stone I had brought back from somewhere because of  the markings on one side which look as though they might mean something, and placed it carefully on Coogi’s grave. I raised the glass.
” Goodbye Coogi, ” I said and looked up at the night sky. ” Look how the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. There’s not the smallest orb which thou beholdest but in his motion like an angel sings. Such harmony is in immortal souls but while this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”

I could hear Pablo howling next door. If I shut my eyes it was like the jungle.

When I came back from college this afternoon,  I noticed a Landscape Gardening truck outside Griselda’s house and workmen busily replacing the fence with some sort of evergreen shrubs, cupressocyparis leylandii  I would say from the brief look I got of them as I parked the car.
No doubt she’ll be rushing over to tell me all about it before I’ve even got my coat off.

                                                                         *****

Nightmare


miss_jessel_

She followed the little girl’s gaze
or thought she did
and saw
or thought she saw,
the nightmare  woman
just for a second,
out of the corner of her eye,
there,
on the island,
across the water,
standing rigidly still
there
among the tall straight bulrushes
rigidly still
in such a severe
such a severe black dress,
not watching
not waiting
not anything
just there then

                                                                   

                                                                                                                                    not there

 

miss_jessel_the_innocents mm

LORD JIM, SCHETTINO and LEE JOON-SEOK


LORD JIM, SCHETTINO and LEE JOON-SEOK

In ‘Lord Jim’  by Joseph Conrad, Jim, a romantic who had always dreamed of fame and recognition, is an officer on board the PATNA, a ship taking Muslims to Mecca. Out of the blue, his chance to be a hero came…and went:
In the night the ship shuddered – as if  it had hit some submerged object – panic and chaos ensued.
Jim found himself at the rails looking down to see the captain and some of the other officers clambering into a lifeboat. They made signs for him to join them and before he knew what was happening he found himself in the water beside the boat.
He had jumped.
The rest of his life was an attempt to erase, atone for, put behind him this instinctive act of panic/cowardice, this jump from duty, this loss of honour.
In Conrad when a character ‘jumps’ – acts impulsively – it invariably leads to disaster.

It’s a book I’ve read and re-read and found it becoming all too real in the recent  news account of what happened to the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the tiny island of Giglio with characters who might have stepped straight out of Conrad’s pages: – Francesco Schettino, the showboating captain who sailed too close to the island, ran onto rocks then in the confusion that followed abandoned the stricken ship, breaking the moral code that naval officers live by; Gregorio De Falco, the Livorno coastguard, becomes the voice of outraged decency. When Schettino made a belated distress call from the safety of the lifeboat, De Falco showed his contempt for the captain’s betrayal of the moral code that naval officers live by:  “Get back on board for fuck sake! There are already bodies, Schettino. Go!”
And when Schettino said he couldn’t do anything because it was dark and “all the officers are on the rescue boat with me” De Falco asked
Why did you allow them to get off?”
” We abandoned ship, ” Schettino said.
With 100 people still on board you abandoned ship?”  De Falco yelled. “  Vada a bordo, cozzo!

A year later, 15 April, 2014, close to Jeju island, the SEWOL, a ferry boat carrying 476 passengers, mostly school children on a 4 day field-trip, capsized and sank with the 69 year old captain in his cabin leaving an inexperienced 25 year old 3rd mate at the helm. The ferryboat  inexplicably made a sudden sharp turn, the cargo shifted and the ship began to tilt. It took 2 hours to sink and for that period the passengers were urged to stay in their cabins. Only 2 0f the 40 lifeboats were deployed. The captain and his crew escaped safely from the sinking ship as did the teachers in charge of the children. Most of the children were not so fortunate.
Later, the captain, under arrest and hidden inside a hooded anorak,  mumbled that he accepted responsibility, that he told passengers to stay put in their cabins because there were no signs of rescue boats and the water was too cold and too full of strong currents for them to survive.
” The conduct of the captain was wholly unfathomable…. it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated,” said Ms Park, South Korea’s first woman president
The teacher who organised the trip and who escaped from the sinking ship commited suicide, hanging himself near the school and leaving a note that said  ‘Surviving alone is too painful….I will once again become a teacher in the afterlife for my students whose bodies have not been found.’

The old-fashioned notion was that those in command, in control of our lives and well-being, must be brave in an emergency, cool in a crisis and,  like Captain Smith of the Titanic, willing to sacrifice their own lives in the service of others.

Stein, one of Conrad’s characters in ‘Lord Jim‘ puts forward his (and probably Conrad’s) philosophy on ‘how to be‘:
A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns- nicht wahr?… No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up...”

__________

windows to the soul


 
There's no art
to find the mind's construction in the face....



Anna 1
sometimes what's outside 
appears to be inside
and
of course
vice-versa
like when someone smiles
(" And some that smile have in their hearts, 
I fear,
Millions of mischiefs..")
and doesn't mean it...
or nods
and puts a friendly arm around your shoulders
while fingering beneath their toga
the not so friendly dagger
(" Et tu, Brute!" )

Yes,
people who live in glass houses
are seldom found
but people who live in blocked-up rooms
are all around.
embracrop xc

The Making of Lists


Mmmmmm

Today I have stayed all morning in bed wondering, Am I a good person? Am I a bad person?

I find that things become clearer once you organise  them into  orderly lists so I start on a positive note by going over all the good things I have done in my life.

Right away I have a problem with my daily purchase of The Big Issue from the sad young woman  who stands,  every day, all day, rain hail or shine, outside the supermarket and wishes every passer-by a nice day even when they ignore her. I go into the supermarket every day and buy at least £20 worth of food and drink but only give her a quid. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Stopping smoking is another grey area. Is that morally a good thing or just selfishly a good thing? Can something selfish be good? I’ve stopped because I don’t want to kill myself. Nothing particularly heroic there!

And taking in that stray cat my daughter brought home which drove my dear wife crazy and gave our younger daughter fleas and an allergy – a generous enough impulse but wasn’t it a bit thoughtless, a bit self-indulgent? And wasn’t the good deed more my daughter’s than mine?

And becoming a vegetarian? Did that stop me from buying shoes for which some poor cow had provided the uppers? Or wearing my ski hat made from the fleece of an unborn lamb?

I once stepped between a young woman and a man who was hitting her. He was smaller than me. My wife sort of pushed me into doing something about it. All the same I did the right thing. Stopped him by grabbing his arms, enclosing him in a tight embrace. She wasn’t grateful though. Told me to mind my own f*****g  business. And when it was all over and they had gone off, arm in arm, and I was dusting myself down, I discovered my wallet had gone. 

But I did save a boy from drowning. That was definitely a good thing. He had jumped in after his dog, not knowing it would dog-paddle its way safely to the river bank. His sister was running along the bank, screaming her head off, but couldn’t swim so I did what most adults would have done and  dived in,  grabbed him, swam him ashore. But then I am an excellent swimmer. With certificates to prove it. The boy probably showed more courage in jumping in after his dog than I did in jumping in after him.

 Tomorrow I might get round to listing the bad things.

  • cat2

Obsessive Love


Copy of red dress 1mm

I saw a TV show the other night which promised to transform my life. Dr. Lock, an elderly psychiatrist, revealed the secret of how to get off with women. All women. Any  woman. You just look into her eyes and tell her softly that she’s the most beautiful woman in the room/ country/ world and keep looking into her eyes while listening carefully to her response. And  you keep looking straight into her eyes as you tell her she is the woman you have been searching for all your life and at last you’ve found her.

It’s a form of hypnotism, he explained. The more intelligent the woman, the more responsive she will be.  And if it works for me, it can work for anyone .  It will alter your life forever, believe you me, he promised.

I get enthusiastic about advice like that, I’ve always had this feeling that there’s a great deal of hidden me just waiting to get out if only I can find the key.

At the next party I went up to this girl on her own – not the most beautiful girl in the world but a  great hairstyle,  intelligent looking, nice smile  – and followed Dr. Lock’s instructions to the letter.

It worked like a charm.

The only problem is that my previously hidden self seems to be horrified by women who are besotted by me. I’ve stopped answering my phone, have left strict instructions  at the office that if anyone called Jennifer tries to contact me to say I have left the company and even now, peeking out through the curtains, I can see her in a doorway across the street, waiting in the wind and the rain, her hair being blown this way and that, trying to light a cigarette with shaking hands.