An Ode to Wilfred Owenin the style of ‘Dulce et decorum est’
Knives carve off limbs, flesh torn, dangling, serrated, As skin mangled from claws on Christmas Turkey, In war cries, angry men’s lives are narrated, The line between liberation and invasion is ever murky, Boys with blood sullied hands grip hair on severed heads, Those that could have painted portraits, Coloured from a pallet of the slaughtered instead, Fed on fables; a prophesied paradise awaits,
We grow fat, in our ivory towers, Safe from the stranger that bubbles fat and skin, Like butter in a pan, from drone showers, In war, does anybody win? Greed dances between missiles of falling tears, Precision strikes in the heart of our society,
What have we learned in one hundred years? Wilfreds woes live on in propriety,
Eyes rattle and roll, jaws hang without screams, Bodies rot, go putrid in a stupefied sun, Pierced and hung, displayed with no head to dream, In ancient squares, where civilisation begun,
Babylon had fallen - long before Saddam in Firdos Square, Lines drawn on maps separate nations in the sand, To say we have not learnt one thing, would be unfair, We’ve learnt of it, how to better wash our hands, Politicians bleed lies through crooked lips, Contorted through years of kissing corrupt feet, The only thing which is true, is found in deaths cold grip, But, for distant sounds of innocence echoed on the ruined streets, Still, children’s lives are worth less than ammo, The old lie: which never dies, the same old story, May only foreign babies be born to know; Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
Ten toes twitching with taut tremors like feeling tentacles. This is not poetry; this is hell. He collapsed backward, a laboured wilting of limbs and lifeforce, drew him to the earth. My eyes lined up with the soles of his feet, where his muscles spasmed with a last display of virility.
“Coba lari sekarang, jalang Amerika!”
I gasped into the cup of my quivering hand, pressed against my mouth forcefully, with requisite urgency. I levered into my heels, shuffled and scathed my butt through the jutting sharp rocks, and soddening mud, to bury myself deeper into the undergrowth, beneath the fractured canopy leaves.
I could hear the gunman’s lead-footed boots snap branches on the high ground above my hiding hollow.
“Come out little piggy.” The man’s shrill voice sullied the Jungle air, in broken English.
I am not a target to take porcine pot shots. Fuck this, I’m not going down without a fight. Fight or flight, come on, make your mind up! Shut up! Sit still, you idiot, keep quiet. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.
My mind raced, like a doped-up thoroughbred on a diet of anabolic steroids, injected through the iris into my brain – I’m stuck in the starting blocks tearing every sinew of my mangled mind. My short desperate breaths, jagged as razorblades through my fingers, my vison, twinkling like pipe bombs denotating shrapnel through my sights, adrenaline flushing logic from my system – I was going into shock.
It is my fault, I did this, I should have just paid them the fucking money. Held hostage in this sweaty jungle pit for 3 days. If I gave them the money they wanted when they held us up at the ATM, then they may have just let us go. There was nothing but goddamn mosquitoes and monkey shit in that cage they beat me into. In the end I crawled in like an obedient dog, on my hands and knees, yelping and sobbing – battered in with a pulpy muddle of facial features. That ATM, there I was, oblivious, in his arms, already hot on the throb of each other’s hearts, with the oppressive humidity, the sweltering heat leading me by the hand into erratic choices – all I had to do was give them something, when those two thugs pulled up with their sticks and machete. I thought it was just ‘hot air’. As usual, I had to run my mouth, like a rebellious kid – that fucking label everyone always stamped all over me.
That’s why I wanted to get away in the first place – pack my bag and get out of that nowhere town. I was having so much fun here. I should have stayed in Bali – beaches, booze, the boys. Too many cheap vodkas and one night of average sandy sex, and that is all it took to get, beyond regrettable thigh chaffing, Simon following me around, like an undernourished, heart thieving, crab-eating macaque. It was his idea to travel to Jakarta. “Hell yeah!”, I said. He looked so happy. Now look at him, dead in his own piss and shit, with a bullet put through his fucking knee, before they blew the beautiful blonde hair out the back of his skull.
Annie, you need to pull yourself together!
Mum, I am so sorry, I should have known better. I wished I called more. I wish I told you I loved you more. I wish I did not leave so abruptly, after Mark moved in. Mark seemed nice enough – I could tell he loved you – I Just never understood why you left Dad, and then, when he passed away so suddenly, I blamed you. I did not know he was a smack addict. I get it now; you were trying to protect me. It was not your fault. It never was. Why was I so cruel? Why am I so shit? I promise, if I make it out of this, I am coming home, to hug you, hold you – I will make this right.
Simons body was still, naked, but for his fluids and those grisly holes in his defiled face and knee. BoBo, the gunman – I think that’s what they called him – slipped down the mossy outcrop, right in front of my squalid den. I felt sure he would be able to feel my fear penetrating the air between us, on the back of his neck. He was the one who pummelled me into that cage. He was supposed to be watching us when Simon managed to pry out one of the jaunty wooden stakes from his incarcerated hell. Bobo – his hands have Simons blood on them – that bastard, he was asleep in his chair, neck back, ballooning in and out as he snored, like a bleeding toad, whilst Simon slid across the damp hut on his belly, to me. If only we ran a bit quicker… Simon… I’m so sorry.
Bobo struck his lifeless body, with a ceremonial kick to the shins, spat some of his disgusting salvia at the pocket in Simons sweet head, as cool and calm as if he was shooting pool. I watched as he tucked his gun into the coarse leather belt, at his back. It was strange, an out of body experience – I burst recklessly from the undergrowth like a hidden predator, leaped ferociously right up onto Bobos back, attaching myself around his waist, with legs that curled like a boa constrictor. My right arm slipped with ease, lubricated with the stagnant mud, beneath his chin, as the force of my tackle tumbled us both over into Simon, and off again, to roll on the dense jungle floor. I used my left arm to anchor my right as I squeezed into him with all the strength of a desperate women, staring death in its haunting sterile eyes. He struggled with a hardy resilience. Who wanted to live more? He was thrusting into rolls, and making anguishing kicks airborne with his legs, his arms flailing at his belt, fingernails lacerating my sides as he wrestled for his gun. I felt the disagreeable rigid steel pressed into my groin, cutting off his access, as I stressed every fibre of my inconsolable being, crushing his windpipe with spartan determination.
I held him long after he stopped moving, tears ejecting down my flushed cheeks, despondent, as the abject terrors began to thrash about in my hippocampus – a flood of shaking rattled my limbs from BoBos slumped corpse. I curled into a shell, hollow, letting the silent jungle fill slowly with noise and movement again. I sat up, looked around, vomited, twice, then, shuddered onto my weakened legs, to no avail, crumpling into a disturbed void in the earth.
I did not realise how close I was to civilisation. The rain was pattering on the side of my skull, as I lay prone in the vegetation, when two farmers trailed through the treeline.
On the outskirts of Jakarta, the rain was still falling diagonally, as unsought lingering mementos on the window panes of the police station – the phone dialled up that numbing tone for an international call.
It’s been four years since my childhood companion passed away. I would like to share this poem I wrote for her.
She deserves to be celebrated.
Imperfectly perfect, Wrong, but just right, Long snout, bow legs, a nervous disposition, To shake without cause for fright, 'Runt of the litter', An easy observation to say, But, if I could create you again, from scratch, I would make you the same way
The endless pester for food, 'No Ruby, no beggar beggar', Hiding bones you would not re-find, We would like to say you weren't too clever, Yet, not to conform unto the phrase; 'You cannot teach an old dog new tricks?' For I had you rolling over, In dog years of sixty sixty.
In your comic mannerisms, Hours of laughter you would give, All the greater to your charm, An endearing 16 long years that you have lived, Encouraging your naughtiness, Now that was my part to play, Down 'The End' with my friends, All those teenage days, And don't tell her now, But when my Mothers back was turned, I would feed you ham straight from the fridge, For as 'my' Ruby, indulgences you earned
Alas, you were but a dog, These, words I force, to convince myself I'm fine, Unjust, you weren't just any dog, You were special, you were mine, Underneath the tree of lilac flower, A modest piece of earth, And back to it, whence you came, To a time of quiet, before birth.
I jostled for a pocket of airspace to observe - pried between shoulders of my ignoble peers, on tips of toes, peaking past plebeians. On tongues, the congested cobble stones roared with a frenzy at the culmination of the longest trial in the Shires history.
The gallows stood stoically, silent, raised above the hysteria of the crowd, the town square frothing in a red mist. The noose swung with wicked calm on the delicate lips of the wind.
The song of a doomed man. His final words, as his neck slipped through the knot, to be left unrecorded, unheard but to the ear of the hangman. The condemned – my beautiful son.
The cruelest revelments murdered the air. Be silent! I cried his name. Nothing. Only mouths are we.
The distant heart which safely exists in the centre of all things.
Written for dVerse’s Prosery, a short prose, in 144 words, incorporating the line;
“Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart which safely exists in the center of all things?”
Mum, said I, can I fly, with the birds in the sky?
Yes, you can, before sleep, flap your thoughts, take a leap...
Dreamt of wings, woke in bed, feathers dense, guilt in lead.
Mum, said I, when birds die, do they fall from the sky?
Mum, said I, as I began to ask her “why...?” See stopped me and said, “Son,
Here’s your head start, You best get on and depart, Because I’m busy, Doing paperwork and stuff, And this ******* computer is playing up, You’re about to learn some new words, I don’t have time to answer banal questions, Or put lines into trivial rhyme, You got one out of me, I’ll give you two, but not three,
Go and ask your Dad, Out, out, out!
Shut the door.”
I muttered beneath my breath; “Fine... but, I’ll make one more.”
My take on a Palinode, a poem in which the poet retracts a view or sentiment expressed in a former poem, for the prompt by dVerse.
In Reality Hits, I imagined an alternate outcome to a mother – child interaction.
Like the mother “character”, I’ve had a busy day today; and in attempting to fit a poem (or two) in, my inspiration will undoubtedly come through in the words. Thanks for reading.
She is at home in words not spoken, The silence comes with a cute pout, Her wrath is a morning star, Hot, fast, and short to last, Flickered from the past, Those twinkling eyes, Shine on me, Burning, Wrath,
Short look + read photograph collections from places I’ve loved enough to capture.
Rottnest Island, WA, Australia
Rottnest Island is a popular tourist destination located 18km from the Australia mainland via a short ferry ride from Fremantle, Perth.
The island has over 22km of cycling tracks, which link spectacular pristine beaches – kick back and soak up the sun, or check out the vibrant marine life with a snorkel. Of its abundant wildlife – birds, colonies of sea lions and fur seals, by far the most famous (and adorable), is the quokka. Let’s face it, if you’re coming to Rottnest, it’s likely for a chance to see these rare, charming dough faced marsupials!
I thought he hated me because I was different, because the weeping, the laughter, the silence, of my three wretched faces, frightened him - appalled him - I was wrong. It was not that, it was how I so perfectly mirrored my mothers face, shifting, metamorphosing itself from the dark recesses of my thought onto the mortal vessel of my body, every time I would turn them to her. There was not a mirror, nor a window, to caste a reflection of my curious condition, in that dank, sorry cabin – the pitiful tomb he had built for himself – and I. The laughter and the weeping, the prying of my fingers, and the wickedness of my father’s tongue was the only thing which let me know I was a monster. With nothing to confirm or deny its truth, like my God, I threw my faith at the darkness. But, I had never, ever seen, or imagined in my wildest dreams, now exposed with such clarity, such desolating honesty, the abhorrent aberration in the altering state of my affliction.
That day, by the stream, with my mother’s ghost watching me through the cold water, I had no idea where it would take me, how I would use it – but I would, in time. It did not start easy. I rolled back onto my bottom, numb. The squawk of frenzied birds snaring my attention, I looked upstream, with horror, the rotting carcass of a deer bobbed, caught between two rocks, its body starting to decompose, bloated, the puncture marks of ravenous birds riddling its exposed hind quarters. I spat the remnants of its watery captive from my mouth, that I had been lapping up like a thirsty cat, moments before. I had to get moving, I didn’t know where… but I had to, before I ended up like that forsaken deer.
I walked naively, following my nose most of the day, my short legs making hard work of the brush and thicket, sure that I passed the same crooked trees, bent toward me as if taunting, multiple times, lost and desperate, before finally vomiting up the contents of my stomach on my chin and knock knees, pathetically, as I hunched over, clutching my guts. I dropped down, writhing. I was sure this was the end for me. Albeit a short life, it was a miserable one. I said to myself, there, as I lay on my back, staring into the twilight of the day, there is no God, no good God, who would create a child like I, and damn him to not even but one day of joy.
There was a snuffling at my head, I tucked my face into my knees timidly, sobbed, forgetting the soft features I had inherited at daybreak.
“My God, are you ok? What’s a young girl doing out here?...”
Came a voice above me, through the shield I fashioned with my arms. ‘Young girl’? I puzzled at the word – but, I’m a boy. My face? My mother’s face – was it real? Do they see me – or her?
“Where’s your parents?”
I uncoiled like a beaten kitten, looked up with petrified eyes that begged mercy.
A man stood there, eyes widening and narrowing to focus, hairy dark finger holding tightly the scruff of a canines loose neck, as the hound sniffed and huffed with agitated enthusiasm, big floppy ears falling over the side of its head like a clothe over the sides of a table.
“Are you ok? Oh, you’re… older than you first look…”
I glared at him, willingly, but there was no voice, nothing. He repeated his questioning. I tried so hard, I wanted to answer him, I screamed desperate pleas from the pit of my being, but I made no sounds, not even a grunt or moan, thus was the suffering of my affliction.
“Must be simple.”
The man said, possibly to his dog.
He took my hand in his, I followed gratefully, the hound too. A rust coloured horse stood restlessly, aged in the rain, tethered by rope attached to a tree, in front of a shoddy cart. He helped me onto the wagon, where I lay amongst the dead animals - rabbits, and a pheasant. The cart bumped on the uneven ground, the wheels squeaking on each rotation. I imagined there were mice living inside. The moon flickered behind the treeline as if the oil were running out in its lamp, till the trees gave way to open skies of stars and moon. Voices - cackles, hollering, hooting – there were people here. I sat up and peeked over the wooden side. There weredefinitely people here, wandering the streets, all sorts of strange shapes and sizes, some small like me, some big, wearing funny clothes. Houses here were odd too, built of brick and stone, with smoke spiralling in the air, from little shoots. Now, of course, much has changed in the world, and there is little, bar the lining of a man’s skin, which can surprise me, but back then, I could hardly believe my young eyes.
The cart trundled to a stop outside a modest grey stone building, with real glass windows and a door with a heavy handle. The man picked me out the wagon, led me inside, the dog hurried in, dropped into a straw cushion in the corner, as the door thud shut. He removed his earth encrusted boots, on one, a handle of a short blade poking from a self-stitched in sheathe. He placed them by the door, hung up a filth laden pig-hide overcoat beside. The man tore some bread, by his hairy ham fingers, darkened with the spoils of the hunt, dropped the stale morsel onto the table. I devoured it unthinkingly, as he worked up a small fire in the hearth. He poured some water into a stubby, crudely crafted pottery mug, gently placed it into my dainty fingers – took some more, poured and heated it in a metal tanker over the fire. When the tanker bubbled and steam wafted on the draft, about the room, making windows look like it had caught the fog of morning, he lifted it back out with blackened iron tongs, and tipped it into a modest bronze tub. He laid out a white linen tunic beside, as I watched excitedly, before brushing back his feathery silver eyebrows.
“Wash yourself down.”
I began to remove the burlap garments, first my shirt, over my head, then, dropping my lower half, I turned away to hide my body, and the feminine vail, which had gained me sanctuary. He sat into a homemade wooden chair. I lifted one leg over, then the other, and slipped down the inside of the wall, into the warm water. Sploshing, bathing blithely, for the first time in weeks, I ran my fingers through my hair, dark as slate, thickened by dirt, which dangled in matted strands, at my shoulders. The grime let go of my skin and scalp, whirling in the current of my puissance, gathering and sitting on the surface of the water like a vegetable broth. The man’s shadow sulked around the room. I heard his footsteps on the stone floor before I felt his forceful fingers on my head. He began to brush out the clumps of hair with his busy probing hands. I sat there, unmoving, body frozen with a crippling consternation. He took his time, getting out all the knots.
“Now, we won’t tell anyone about this, will we?” I felt his hot, putrid breath on my neck, close.
I tried, to say no, no I wont tell… no, no please don’t do this, I don’t want to - something, anything, but there was no voice. He placed his hand on the barren space at my chest. The dog whined behind, panting, and growling beneath the heavy handle of the door. The mans grip relaxed, laid-off, for a moment.
“Go and lie down!” He hammered at the hound, which sunk down, and whimpered, but resigned to stay.
I hesitated, a moment passed, every second felt monumental, as stars falling to earth, around me, with clout. I did not move, I could not.
A star landed in my lap. A sudden burst of preservation overrode passivity. I leapt from the tub, water followed me into the air with an explosive spray, as gunpower in a barrel. I caught hold of the linen tunic and took it up in my arms, holding it to my body.
The man recoiled in shock, almost tumbling back, but too soon for respite, composed himself, and instead started to make steps toward me. He jolted to an abrasive holt, stared me up and down with savagery in his eyes.
“A boy? What sort of witchcraft is this? Face of a women, body of a child boy. First, you are a simpleton, now you’re a trickster. You take me for a fool, witch?”
The over alert canine prowled back and forth the room behind him, back arched anxiously, barking into the panic. The man withdrew, snapping shut the latch above the heavy door handle, to damn me, took up a sluggish iron poker from the hearth, and in throwing himself across the room with unwieldy anger, struck the wall behind my head. I dived across the room, discarding the tunic for the short blade prized from his boot. The hound lunged at me, snapping with frenzied determination. I kicked at it, with the defenceless soles of my feet, its teeth snatched my fleshy calves and thighs. The man’s burly steps, made light work of the room, as he lumbered with raised bar. I pointed the knife outward, clasped tight at my chest. Closed my eyes, pictured my true face, my malformed faces, laughing at my misfortune, crying at the tragic shame.
A shriek. Opening my eyes, the dog cowered, tracking back with snarling fright. A clunk, as the weighty poker hit the stone floor. The man staggered back, eyes threatening to drop from their sockets.
The weeping, the laughter, it misted the room with an immobilising fear. I hurtled out of the brace position I had shrunk into and thrust frenetically with the short blade. The man, had frantically dropped to an knee, with unstretched hand toward the iron poker, bringing him conveniently inline with the blade. It pierced the neck with an impulsive spray of warm blood. I gauged at him twice more, severing small pulpy snacks for the hound. He fell away to his back, as I continued to make lunges. A gory foam filled his mouth, as he gargled on his last forgotten words.
I stood up, kicked a chunk to the whining hound, which took it up in its mouth and scarpered back to the corner. The room was fuzzy, flashes and specks of white. Adrenaline coursed my system with an overwhelming pulse. I wilted to my knees, crawled to the hearth, contemplated climbing inside it’s cleansing inferno. I took up the mantle with my hands, used it to clamber up and pull down a tarnished mirror, which rested next to an old book of lies, and a silver snuff box, above the hearth. I sat at the mirror, naked but for the blood of my captive, my image flickered with the flame. I watched, watched as the weeping, the incessant weeping, and the laughing, the perpetual laughing, hummed a joyless anaesthetising tune. I wish all three faces would weep, so I could be free of it.
Six autonomous eyes, three independent noses, two self-serving mouths - in between, an empty stretch of skin, membrane for the canvas of unspeaking words, the eyes above, restful, emotionless. My face. My faces. An ugly son.
I took the blade, and with it sliced a jagged crescent into the barren breadth of skin. A shrill shriek was let free in the room, and for the first time, I had a voice.
The words of my father whispered on the wind. An ugly son. Am I such a devil? Cold, stark pit of the night overtook the rattling tin of uninvited thoughts. I fell into slumber despite the thin layer of naked grasses piercing my back as rusted nails. The wind broke from whisper, my father’s words shouted me awake, bolt upright, from the belly of the howling gale. An ugly son.
I followed the heel of his worn leather boots, as obedient dog. He slithered through the forests labyrinth of fallen leaves and watchful trees. They cowered at the sharpened axe gripped threateningly by the handle, finger grooves personalised by years of labour. My father, the woodcutter.
My body shook uncontrollably, a petty rain fell like poisoned arrows, as the dim light of the moon painted sinister shadows on the forest floor. I dragged in handfuls of debris to break up the monotonous expanse of hard ground. Why did he leave me here? An ugly son. Ten years old, with no voice of my own, just the relic of a thousand faces. I could not ask him myself, just stare – stare with my mothers’ eyes. An ugly son. But, but… he loved her so, I know it, I watched as the tears carved a skeleton of chalky roots from the earth laid on his cheeks, as he cast the last shovel of dirt on her peasant grave, dug behind the log cabin, where I was birthed, and she died.
He sat me on the stump of a great tree, felled long ago, when he still smiled, when I kicked unknowingly in my mother’s womb, before he looked upon my wretched face. I closed my eyes, as I listened to twigs snap and leaves crumble beneath his feet, behind me, as he circled to my back. He could not even bring himself to look at me whilst he did it. Why didn’t he do it? I cannot be sure if he even planned on swinging the axe he carried, so menacingly, with him. I am not sure of anything anymore. I squeezed my eyelids tightly, with a fragilely put forward defiance, begged for it to be quick, I did not dare turn to look at him, lest he strike me across the face with the back of his unforgiving hand, or worse, look at me with that sickened stare. I made silent pleas to my God... to do it, end my pain, but nothing came. When I finally opened my eyes, he was gone.
The mornings warmth caressed my cheek with the kindness of an old friend and heraldry of a brave knight – the knight which slain the night - vanquished, for now. I pressed my tender palms onto the bed of moss and bark I had curled up on, and sculled myself to my feet. My head felt swollen and drowned by the sodden atmosphere of the forest floor. I sucked at the moss for a modest drop of sustenance, but it was unjustifiably cruel - and spat nothing but more craving, and a mouthful of creatures and dirt. I circled where I stood, but the trees might as well have been bars on a jailhouse cell.
I stumbled about hopelessly, tripping on the dead carcasses of fallen trees, scratching, and bruising my guiltless bare feet. I became so disorientated, I barely noticed the land between my toes fall away, before I tumbled, rolling head over heels, like a dropped log. Gratefully, I bundled in a heap at the bottom, more frustrated than hurt, but my annoyance subsided when I realised I had come upon a stream - babbling with the vigour of an energetic young stallion, galloping the confines of the pen - caught between the walls of a shallow ravine. I hurried to the waters edge dipped my entire face below, slurping like a wild beast. As I drew myself from a feverish quenching, I hovered, staring, six eyes blinking erratically, in the reflection. My face… my faces. An ugly son.
Why am I weeping? The face on my right side, weeping, always weeping. His sorrow can never be pacified. Its features contorted by years of needless agony, hanging like melted wax. His sobbing ever dampens the day. Though, even his tears cannot douse the infernal laughter of the face which hangs on my left, laughing, always laughing. His crippled lips stretched gaping from the twisted hilarity – his eyes wild like the frantic hind legs of a distressed hare, in sights of a falcon. Six autonomous eyes, three independent noses, two self-serving mouths - in between, an empty stretch of skin, membrane for the canvas of unspeaking words, the eyes above, restful, emotionless. My face. My faces. An ugly son.
I submerged myself below the water, gushing. Drowned out the weeping and laughter. Held my breath. I pictured her face - my father, he kept me locked up for so long, hidden away in that decrepit cabin, as the winters withered it away, I can barely picture another face, just his - just hers. I felt something morphing inside me, as if somebody had added hot water to a cold tub. I had experienced this in the past, usually before my father flew into one of his rages. I withdrew my head from the stream. Air penetrated obliging lungs. I snapped opened my eyes, peered startled at the reflection, heart striking with the force of my fathers axe on innocent timber. There she was, dancing in the ripples, the face of my mother.
Van rolling to a gentle stop, not in a hurry, handbrake on, door opens – met by zesty breeze. A new place – small town Tasmania – refreshing. Quaint – with its colonial architecture, painted and preserved with double edged pride – it could be rural England, except, we don’t have mountains like these, maybe then, more like rural Scotland. There’s a ‘Ben Lomond’ close by – fitting.
A land far from home,
Hands that laid the stone -
Sown in British soil.
Been cooped up in the city for the last week. Who am I kidding? – The “cities” in Tasmania are as well nestled in the landscape, as a bird nests in a tree. I was appreciating the open road, but, even more so, the gum (eucalyptus) trees, as tyres spun round, and wound the bends, I realised I hadn’t felt excited about the scenery for some time. We (humans) get used to things so quickly. Paced into being conditioned numb.
Time to slow down – pay attention to the shades of colour beneath the gumtrees bark, shedding dramatically, exposing its belly with its bleached pigment, unlike anything I’ve seen in Europe, as it goes through its yearly cycle.
We’re a bit like gumtrees – shedding layers, growing new ones.
Shedded to make room for growth -
Shows inner beauty.
There’s a liberating texture to this new skin I’m wearing, eyes picking up on things which trickled beneath the bridge, yesterday. It’s amazing how from a momentarily confronting realisation, an acknowledgment with minor adjustments, can bring such rewarding developments. I come to a physical bridge, kneel there for a while, people pass behind me as I snap a photo – lap up the unfamiliar flora at its banks, nuzzled between the falling yellow and copper leaves.
The laundromat is humming that anaesthetising old tune again. The washing machine says he’s sick of handling other peoples dirty laundry. The tumble dryer is going stir crazy that nobody appreciates his dry wit. I sprinkle some ‘Fresh Frangipani’ powder on the mundane. The concrete floor, washed with a grey gloss, is making me feel cold. Someone decided it was a good idea to paint the walls, wooden benches and table in luminescent neon lime. I hold back uncomplimentary comments, attempting to squeeze out all the bitterness in the previous sentence. I’d crack a joke, but it’ll come across a bit fruity. The tumble dryer lets out a gleeful ping.
Most of us non god fearing folk imagine ourselves on a line, from A – B, birth to death.
In the depths of the night, sleepless notions draw in and out like the tide, frothing up all the man made crap people throw away. I think about the origins of religion, as proposed by many, including myself – searching in the darkness for answers, ever absent, to questions of whatand why. Dancing on the surface of those vast troubling oceans of unknown are the reflection of stars, tiny twinkling abstractions shimmer – bright ideas? The wind howls. Transient introspections whistling wistfully beneath the full moon. The hours tick by, as I’m pushed “forward”, toward my final wakeful breath. I give my customary offerings to the immortal beasts of worry and dread, perched as gargoyles on the walls of my castle – I ruminate on life and death.
There’s really nothing scary about death, I thought – I try to convince myself – not about actual death, it’s knowing all the wonderful things we leave behind which terrifies us humans. If death was for 1000 years and we could come back for a single day, we’d probably be excited – overwhelmed – there would be something to look forward to. What would have changed? How thrilling – one last dance. One monumental day. How beautiful would that day be…?
Plus, we could work up to the final nail, incrementally. Bit of breathing (or not breathing) space between – really, really, take it all in. Marvel at the inventions, perhaps, you would look up how your ancestors faired, or, spend the whole day smelling flowers.
We spend our lives looking forward to things, never quite grasping the present moment. What’s there to fear in death – an emotionless, painless void of nothingness?
It’ll be just like before you were born – and that wasn’t too bad.
As I lay there, I yearned for sleep, to free me from the thoughts of death, but what is sleep, but just a budget death impersonator – peaceful, painless, short and free, come grab yourself a bargain. We don’t fear sleep, we welcome it. Maybe, it is all by design. That’s probably why we get frail and sick in old age, so we can become tired of life and welcome some good shut eye.
If life is a linear line – what if there was a line for death too, but instead of running parallel, in the same direction, transferring us over to the other side, on our death, like two sides to a coin, what if it came at us in the opposite direction?
What if life and death were two lines, heading toward each other, two existences, that implode on contact, or, swallow each other up – like two snakes devouring one another? Your life exists in death by the merit that you lived, just as your death exists in life by the merit that you’re living. Light and dark. Yin and yang. Two inseparable complementary forces. The ultimate duality. Death gives life meaning, as life gives meaning to the empty space on either side.
We don’t really know what happens after we die… Heaven? Hell? Reincarnation? nothing?
With so much unknown in the universe, what makes us so sure of anything?
What if, when we died, we passed over into the next reality – where everything runs in reverse? The moment you die, you blink, and you’re back in your body, to start Benjamin Button-ing your way back to birth.
Everything that’s ever been, is to be looked forward to. It’ll be like pressing rewind on an old video player, you run it back, an inverted reality, but to you, it feels regular. You draw back your last breath from the room, as it inflates your lungs, you open your eyes, your family by your side, eyelids blinking like butterfly’s wings as they free themselves from the cocoon. Your senses spin like a broken washing machine – colours blurring – an illusion? You’re bewildered, utterly terrified, as the realisation you’ve just un-died slips out of the envelope.
Every word spoken, will become unspoken, swallowed back into the darkness, every blot of ink, written or typed, drawn back into the instrument of their maker. You inhale deeply – once more – you lungs accept it gratefully. Backwards or forward, breath is constant, unchanged.
As you gradually start to feel better, your family takes you home, your bed has never felt so cosy or well received, a smile creeps across your face. You skin tightens, your joints ease, day by day, the twinkle in your eye reappears as luminescent glow reflected in the mirror. You celebrate a son or daughters 40th birthday again (granting you had children – if not, roll with it anyway), grandchildren playing in your lap. You start to look forward to your 40th birthday. People who have passed away, reappear in your life. You welcome your parents back, one by one. Your heart swells.
Calendar days un-tick, years fly back, not fall away – everything feels whole, for brief moments. Under the surface, always, creeping, is the knowledge, precise, to the day, that people disappear. Your grandchildren are the first to go. It hurts. You hold out for the day your child/ren move back in, as happiness echos on the walls of the house once more. Your precious children become more and more dependent, with each day, until, poof, they’re gone too. Your life partner, suddenly walks out the door backwards, never to return. You mourn every loss with deepest of heartbreaks, every unfolding note in your life, becomes so much more painful as you count them down. First hellos are grieved as final goodbyes.
Wisdom drifts away. You start thinking your shit doesn’t stink again. Naivety creeps in. You pack you bags, turf them out onto the floor of your adolescent bedroom. Long loved band posters rehung on walls.
Independence slips away. You become unsure of yourself. You’re still getting your kicks, all the same. Fuck it. Have some fun. Your mind, day by day, abates. Before long, seemingly innate knowledge begins to hide. Faces obscure in your memory… you begin to wonder if there ever was a time you missed the taste of coffee, or the warmth of your loved ones breath on the back of your neck on a lazy Sunday morning. You take joy in the simplest of things. You begin to skip instead of walk, your coordination deteriorates, as you need to crawl instead of toddle. Everything you’ve ever known, falls away, until you’re helpless, and any “sentience” is all but a sound in the room, incomprehensible. Then, poof.
What if the lines of life and death, looped round to meet again, like the infinity symbol? Constantly overlapping in the centre.
I don’t know which would be scarier – not knowing what’s to come, or knowing.
What if existence, as we know it, is spherical, a never ending cycle, swirling, like a vortex, and the end of our universe is actually the beginning of it.
There’s so much in the universe that we don’t understand, how and why. We don’t really understand time. Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity stipulates that time will slow down or speed up depending on how fast you move relative to something else – if you travel fast enough, your relative velocity will create a time dilation. Time dilations are evidenced in time slowing down in space, so strictly speaking, astronauts on the International Space Station come back a few milliseconds younger than they would have aged, had they have remained on Earth.
There’s quantum physics that make my eyes water reading, as my head threatens to implode like the centre of a black hole.
Black holes are one of those things which offer more questions than answers, but we do know that they warp the fabric of spacetime. As you approach, time slows down, until you reach the event horizon – where the stretching of spacetime is so powerful that – who really knows?
Spaghettification. Yes, that’s a real thing. Not as appetising as it first sounds.
What can be confirmed, in all the great unknown – is that there are forces at work in the universe that most can barely comprehend, and there is no idea too outlandish, that can show it up.
Maybe, space, is finite. Our universe has been growing since the Big Bang. Maybe, our universe grows so big, so dense, that it starts to implode on itself. Maybe, at the centre of that implosion, is the start of the universe itself.
Maybe… life and death is a circle and one day we’ll be back.
Maybe… all this sounded more profound in my head at 2am…?
The things we humans think about before we slip away…
Legs crossed in a figure 4, American style, to assert my dominance unconsciously – unnecessarily. Short clatter of glass and porcelain on the wooden table – a coffee – “Thank you” – dimples cove in cheeks – sugary smile returned. A library with a cafe… a winning combination. Balancing leg slides down over the top of knee, to hang crossed, parallel. Much more comfortable.
Nowhere’s better to work for me than the library – “work”; write, read, relax – whatever’s needed. A safe space. Surrounded by the words of bygone movers and shakers, thinkers, authors – dead novelists and poets, provocateurs of inspiration, a symphony of styles, a most beautiful euphony, many voices speaking, inner workings of the mind, alive, surviving in the ink. It’s amazing one can get anything done with so much noise on the shelves.
Sun breaches the window diagonally, spotlighting my coffee, as the frothy bubbles atop the latte dance and pop, highlighting the rich tones of camel, fawn and ivory – assorted as autumn leaves. A short sip. The milky foam sits on my upper lip, applauding from the balcony. The choir sings on, for future generations.
Wise words yet to fade,
Stayed young on shelves as it aged -
Watched by faithful sun.
A second haibun, a response to the prompt by dVerse; create a haibun – prose, followed by a haiku. Today’s focus was writing on, and appreciating, the present moment.
A dry, savoury Southern Hemisphere sun, places an empyrean hand on my exposed cheek, almost hot to the point of discomfort, focused on one side, but with demure kisses of crisp autumnal wind tendering dotingly, it’s pleasantly tranquil – today promises to be clement and peaceable.
Touches and kisses -
A welcomed simplicity,
Harvesting breaths, deep.
My response to the prompt by dVerse; create a haibun – prose, followed by a haiku. Today’s focus was writing on, and appreciating, the present moment.
Short look + read photograph collections from places I’ve loved enough to capture.
Tunxi Old Town, Anhui Province, China
Tunxi Old Street is one of China’s the best persevered, with its traditional buildings, of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE), Ming (1368-1644 CE) and Qing (1644-1912 CE) dynasties, showcasing Hui style architecture, well adorned with ornamentation.
Placed within Tunxi Old Town, today, it is a busy tourist spot, with several museums, stores, many still exhibiting 100 year old artisan and craft methods of production, along with more contemporary ones, tea houses and eateries.
The cold was bitter and spiteful, the type you only know when you’re stood on the side of a mountain in winter. The wind whistled around objects, penetrated every warren, and licked up unwelcomingly around my exposed fingers, as I struggled with zips and mismanaged setting up my splitboard.
I was standing just off the unload ramp on the Kosciuszko Express chairlift, at Thredbo, New South Wales, Australia.
The plan of the day, was to tour up to the top of Australia’s highest mountain, earning our turns down. The route is an unmarked 13km+ return cross country, with any side tracks, predictably made wrong turns, and down runs taken additional kms underfoot – there is the mandatory top of the Kosciuszko chairlift to Thredbo Village, snowboard down to pop a cherry on the cake, at days end. The once receding snow line, had been freshly iced with a delicious white coating. Despite the rough patch of weather we were forecast, my friend and I were confident we could have a good time.
He is a true mountain man, with a suitably mysterious past, who spent all of the hostile winter months, covertly camping in the tree line. For the sake of privacy and because it’s going to sound unnecessarily badass in this story, we’ll call him The Sparrow. If there was anyone you wanted to have by your side in challenging conditions, it was him. We had bonded during the season, through many coincidental shared experiences, having both worked as De-icers at Mount Ruapehu, in New Zealand, as well as in Snowmaking – using water pumped from a source, to fan guns, which in utilising compressed air and a dry, low atmospheric temperature, create a man-made snow supply to supplement the natural snow base – at ski resorts in Canada.
Thredbo had concluded the season a week early due to inconsistent snowfall, with a busted pipe, the Snowmaking system had been inoperative during the latter half of the season, compounding into thin snow cover over the lower part of the mountain. In an ironic twist fate, the weather wizards had pointed their wands above us, and gifted several generous last days dumping out dry, feathery powder, mere days after the chairlifts span their last sheathe for another year (apart Kosciuszko Express Chairlift, which runs through the summer months). The recent storm had tipped buckets upon the rolling mossy hills, painting the landscape with an eccentric hand, once more abundantly white, settling and holding its quality through the cold snap, across the upper slopes.
For those who aren’t familiar, ski touring and split boarding involves navigating the landscape on your chosen equipment, with an articulated toe clip and disengaged heel, the rider slides their toes forward, in a vertically inverted moonwalk, choreographed to glide over the snow. Once the end destination is reached, on the high ground, ‘skins’ are removed (a carpet like cover which goes over the slick base of the ski, giving it grip) the heel is clipped in, for skis, or the two halves of the “split”-board (get it!?) are attached together, to be ridden down.
After rendezvousing at the chairlift, we made the first pushes over to The Sparrows tent, where he had been residing resiliently for the few days since the resorts closure, amid the storm, like the hermit man he is. He broke the ice above the stream which trickled underneath a bridge walkway 1km in, and filled his bottles up from a mountain source to the Snowy River.
Mt Kosciuszko, part of the Snowy Mountains in Kosciuszko National Park, is the highest mountain, in the highest range on the Australian mainland. They are part of the Australian Alps, which spans parts of New South Wales and Victoria. That said, it is still relatively tame, compared to its European or New Zealand counterparts, standing modestly with a highest point of 2,228 metres.
As we got moving, the warm blood pulsing around my system began to relive my numb fingers and toes. I was used to numb fingers and toes – I’ve been playing silly games in the mountains for a while now – but, that doesn’t make it anymore comfortable.
The sky sat heavily as a dense white barrier in droplets, airborne. We were navigating by the tips of our noses. Whenever you go touring, it’s always essential you bring a beacon with you, which is a signal sending and receiving device, in case of avalanche burials. We had redundant paper maps stashed away, and a GPS, which we used to steer our direction.
The Sparrow lead the charge, with his superior experience, filling the holes in my knowledge, as we went. We picked a landmark in the direction of our destination, according to the GPS, and headed straight to it, cutting our path through the unforgiving whiteout, recalibrating on the GPS, once, and only once, we reached the landmark.
As we pierced through, at approximately 2 hours into the trek, we noticed a huddle of people in the distance, circling around the same spot, with eyes fixed on a GPS watch. The Sparrow, made a brief verbal acclamation, “Thats what not to do.”, as we headed in a straight line toward the discernible black figure, of a rock.
We stopped above them and asked if they were alright, to which they nodded. I asked one of them to take a picture of my mate and I, which they kindly obliged, and on exchanging the phone back, I couldn’t help but notice the skimpy ‘Donnay’ tracksuit pants one was wearing – lamentably underdressed for the environment. “Are you sure you’re ok?”.
They looked at each other with an opaque stare. The uncertainty revealing hesitation, was less than encouraging.
“Which way to Kosciuszko summit?” One finally parted with.
Oh man, I thought – that’s not a good opening gambit.
Several hours from the shelter of the Village, these would-be explorers had bitten off a little more than they could chew – choking on their escapade, lodged firmly in throat. Visiting the area from the south eastern cities, this untimely trinity, had started the day as a duo and single traveller, lost, they had crossed paths and joined forces in the unforgiving storm, swallowing their internal compass, becoming a trio of equally disoriented adventurers, adrift in the sea of white.
On a wing and a prayer, the individual parties, had rented snowshoes and shot up the mountain for a day of sightseeing. With the sights to see obscured in fog, and without a compass, map, GPS… or any sense of direction, the duo was lucky to bump into the single walker, who, they gratefully followed on a roundabout campaign to circumnavigate their own footprints.
Stick with us! We’ll get you to the top, we agreed.
Over the crunch of wind swept ice, between the coyly peeping rocks, we romped on.
For another two hours, we pushed our skis forward, with rhythmic tenacity, boots became implacable against shins, as our pentagonal party filed forward, the shuffling of snowshoes at the rear.
At the base of the final rise toward the summit, we broke briefly to supplement wanting salvia with sips of water, as a hand held packet of jelly beans was offered around for the needed glucose hit by their trustee.
The trio was deflated. I don’t think either The Sparrow or I had realised just how underprepared they were when we extended our guidance, otherwise, we may have insisted on turning back, and making for the safety of the resort boundary.
The least encouraging words were soon to be laid at my feet, when one triad member chimed, “I can’t go any further, leave me, I’ll have to call for rescue…”, to nods from the other two.
I almost laughed, it sounded more feasibly a joke than a legitimate suggestion. A rash discharge of anger flooded my, until now, patient demeanour. Three – four hours and 6.5km+ from the closest civilisation, through bleached raw terrain, in the midst of an uncompromising storm lashing, even if you had phone reception, even if it was possible to locate you, which before dark would be questionable, you would have to put other people in danger, to preform the rescue. This is exactly the type of selfish, ill prepared pigheadedness that ends in tragedy. And breath. They’re not bad people, they’re just naive… they didn’t appreciate the complexity of the task or know the true bloodless face, drawn ashen – of nature in winter.
I composed myself, breaking out into my best rendition of Shia LaBeouf’s ‘Just do it!’ speech, supportive and upbeat, but with an added cube of honesty stirred in, to cut through the purposefully encouraging positivity, and bring them down to Earth.
You always have more in the tank to give, just one step in front of the other. You have to make it back on your own two feet. Nobody is coming to rescue you out here. We aren’t leaving you. And if you can make it back 3 – 4 hours, after coming this far, you can make it 30 minutes to the summit.
They proved receptive, with fire in their belly, we rose, together, to the challenge. I watched intently, as The Sparrow educated me on how to do proper cutbacks on the steep terrain, as we pressed to the top. We all learnt something.
As we stood on the summit, it was difficult to differentiate the squared vortex from anywhere else on the route – the reward of our labours was not an unending view over the landscape from atop Australia’s highest peak, but the knowing we helped to make it happen for others.
The trio were extremely grateful. I would say lucky too – but, there was no luck involved, just good navigation and experience put into action, predominately by TheSparrow.
That was a difficult all day hike in challenging conditions. Definitely an achievement, great effort from everyone, but, also one that should give everybody a greater awareness and some invaluable experience for next time.
The backcountry is an unforgiving place. People die all the time. If you’re interested in going out, then there are courses that teach navigation, mountain skills and first aid, and avalanche skills and education in traversing avalanche terrain. Preparation is key. Be safe out there.
What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Reach out, let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!
This is my attempt to give a Petrarchan sonnet a modern world twist.
Snatched as prey in an eagles terse talons,
New vantage over the landscape, dangling,
Boiling up within, gushes a hot spring,
Wet feverish lust, fired up neurons,
Grey eyes howling, celebrated icons,
Scuttling close, heart pierced by scorpions sting,
Mortal wounding, beats as doves pure white wing,
Lost, seconds sit in space stretching aeons.
“Hi, do you want to place an order, sir?”
Reality pricks like a hedgehogs quill,
“A coffee please” I say shyly to her,
My girlfriends squeeze on my hand sends a chill,
My love, my sweet love, my sweet saboteur,
If she reads minds, I better write my will.
This is my first sonnet – specifically, it’s a Petrarchan sonnet.
It uses a iambic pentameter, as I am learning today, meaning it follows a rhythmic alternation between an unstressed and stressed syllable (iambic), repeated five times (pentameter). Therefor, the complete line contains ten syllables.
Petrarchan sonnets contain 14 lines total. It includes two stanzas, the first is an octave (eight lines), followed by a sestet (six lines). In the first stanza, the octave, the rhyme is composed in a ABBAABBA order, descending, whilst the in the second, the sestet, it can be assembled in CDCDCD or CDECDE.