Fruit ice lollies (8588758339)

By Lablascovegmenu from London (Fruit ice lollies) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Warm mayhem

It was a scorcher today.
We ate ice-lollies in the office
and called it quits at five
only to find
the District Line had melted.

24/08/2016

It really is too hot for any more words about this very warm day in London. Some say it has been the hottest day of the year. The weather forecast suggests there may be another day or two of similar intensity.

A couple of years ago I happened to write another poem about a warm summer’s Wednesday and being confined to an office.

And along with the District Line melting, my internet connection has been on a go-slow while preparing and uploading this post. Perhaps the heat has jammed its way into all the day’s component parts.

Delacroix Unmade Bed

“Le lit défait” (1828) by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), watercolour held by Musée National Eugène Delacroix. Image sourced from gurneyjourney.blogspot.co.uk (with appreciation).*

Passing

The pillowcases and sheets
scalped from the bed.
The mattress turned over
your last impression

levelled out
sucked by the earth
through to its core.

c. 21/10/2015


Beds are such intimate spaces and bed linen is the shroud to these secrets of sadness, joy and contentment. When the moment has passed, the residue is washed out by soap and dried away, perhaps by the sun if pegged up on a washing line.

And then it is time for a new start with clean sheets.

* If your image appears on this blog and is not credited to your liking, or if you would prefer to have it removed, please do not hesitate in contacting BeadedQuill.

I spent an evening last week swatting down mosquitoes and moths. The moths are the vicious sort that will eat holes in fabric between one blink of the eye and another. It has been known for me to put a knitted item down on my chair, and then pick it up two hours later with three moth-holes chewed into it. In my room there is such a selection of moths in incremental stages of growth that I am convinced they are breeding somewhere in the cupboard or behind a bookshelf. The mosquitoes, I know, are breeding in the buckets and pots of stagnant water under my window in the yard below.

At this time of the summer, when the tiny flying and crawling messengers make their way into the house to eat up the last of the season’s succulence (my blood, the summer fruit, a cardigan), the closing hours are near. So near that there are already mushrooms in their colonies among the tree-roots in the wood (find a mention in my previous poem, ‘He could not pause too long‘). The nights are a little colder and only a week ago, we were expiring in the sunshine.

From this height to what feels like the season’s shift (although we may still be in for a second warmth) and during my battle with the flying fiends, I was reminded of a poem I had written about summer’s excess turning to rot. To my surprise I discover that it is two years old, yet it still speaks of current things.

An overdose of summer

Soft to the thumb,
the pear I sliced
was gone.
It was rotten inside.

In a wither of ruffles
the rose-heads have browned
dry in the heat.
They sodden after it’s stormed.

Even the blowflies ferocious
have stopped their wings,
landed their green torpedoes
for the last time.

Something from lunch
churns in my stomach –

the rice, three days old?
the dhal, two days defrosted?
the sliver of cheese, too sweaty?
the coffee, a cup too many?

Now I, too, struggle
to hold down this summer.

25/7/2014

Cherry Hill Nature Preserve walking path

By Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Along a back road

He set off from the village
when the blossoms dropped
their petal tears
and the green buds bid
to escape from the branches.

While walking along a
back road,
he was stopped

First by an old woman
who bent over a stick.
The stick gave way on the path.
The old woman fell
and struck her knee on a stone.
She said there was no need to worry anyone.

He could not pause too long
and, as she had said, there was not much he could do.
Along the back road
he continued walking
under trees now shadowing
with their leaves
and he was stopped

By a young man with hard arms
who implored and
would not let go.
This circling did not hurt
until the man dropped his embrace
and dissolved into the darkened roadside.

The journeying man
could not pause too long. There
was not much he could do
along the back road.
He continued walking.

He continued walking
and after some time
in the summer sunshine
he took off his shoes
and drank at a waterspout.
He was stopped

by a sweet-talking salesman
in a clean shirt, buttoned down
with a solution.
This opportunity would surpass the roaming.
Here, if the journeying man would
step off the back road.

He put on his shoes, washed his face
at the waterspout. He should not pause
too long. There was not much he could do
on the back road if he should keep walking.

The trees were dropping their leaves
and mushrooms clustered at their roots.


Given the contemporary climate of gender pronoun fluidity, it occurs to me that this may be in an antiquated voice. I had in mind those old fairy tales (such as “The Tinderbox”) and in particular those where the traveller – often a soldier or humble village man – is confronted by three companions on the trail.

For interest, you could try changing the ‘he’ for ‘she’, or your choice of gender neutral pronoun.

OldDesignShop_StorybookFairiesBees

A Round Robin, by M. A. Hoyer and Robert Ellice Mack, illustrated by Harriett M. Bennett, c. 1891. Image sourced from The Old Design Shop

Watching the bees

Here are the words of the blazing day
and the once beautiful arrangements.
It was heady, was it not?
The arrival of this brightest of days.

Outside the day was perfection.
Here a few few bees in the garden
hid under clumps of cut grass.
Why are they tucking themselves away?
Or are they burrowing for pollen,
heady on word from the other bees?

Our day of blazing perfection was heady,
was it not?
Was it not?


It has been a wildly warm day by London standards. I tried to write in the garden first thing this morning. The bees and butterflies and a single large-bodied horsefly were my ground company.

Aster yomena yomena02

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. by No machine-readable author provided. Keisotyo assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. No endorsement of BeadedQuill’s work by this author should be implied.

Plant asters by autumn

When all else fades,
semi-trailing heath comes
into its own. In banks and borders

snow-petalled asters make a
brilliant ground cover. Shimmering
their heads: a butterfly magnet
in the wildlife garden’s

banks and borders. Plant this by autumn,
plant this great choice in height and spread
before the winter turns.


I spend the occasional sunny, bright afternoons sitting on a plastic chair in the backyard staring at the hanging roses, pink hydrangeas and purple foxgloves. I am no gardener at present, and do nothing in this patch of yard in the house where I lodge. When I was a child, I first had a corner bed in which grew a pink hibiscus bush. Later I had a patch of soil next to my wendyhouse in the back garden and as a pre-teen I changed the flowering contents of a box outside my bedroom window. Since living the rented room life, I have dabbled with the usual supermarket herbs in pots and seasonal indoor bulbs. Currently, I am nursing an Ikea spathiphyllum that moves from the chest of drawers next to my bed to the sun-catching shelf on the other side of my room. It really needs a dose of plant food and would probably benefit from re-potting.

I love spending time in green spaces, surrounded by plants, and sometimes I find myself drawn to glossy, coffee-table garden books in bookshops or the gardening pages of home magazines. Yesterday I was leafing through the Guardian Weekend and stumbled across the gardening pages and started reading the “What to do the week” section. The advice covered Thin this, Read this, Plant this; reduce clusters of fruit on your trees, read up about 101 chillies and consider planting asters in time for autumn.

Today’s resulting poem is drawn from the column and echoes another poem, “look – really look”. This poem of two years ago (and uncannily this very time of year) was also inspired by the Guardian Weekend’s gardening pages. The relationship between gardening, seasons and plants holds a deep mystery for me. Birds, and especially butterflies, are for me symbolic messengers from another realm. My paternal grandmother was a botanist and her interest in the flowering world seemed to be the science and beauty. My interest is the beauty and lessons it offers about our human flurries.

It is no coincidence that garden banks and border feature in today’s poem during these times when both national and economic security are under pressure in many parts of the world. There is something of ‘the lilies of the valley in all their beauty’ about the delicate snow-petalled asters. Yet, as they trail like other determined ground-covers, they may prove the surviving, life-continuing film when the monuments of mankind have faltered. There are seasons of all kinds, both in the natural world and in our rhythm as humanity. Perhaps planting star-like flowers is not such a bad task to consider before autumn. As three of my favourite lines from “look – really look” remind us:

Concrete is brutal.
It needs softening.
Plants should have dominion.

Opera House Haymarket edited

By Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and Augustus Charles Pugin (1762–1832) (after) John Bluck (fl. 1791–1819), Joseph Constantine Stadler (fl. 1780–1812), Thomas Sutherland (1785–1838), J. Hill, and Harraden (aquatint engravers) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And music

again. A new tip for setting limits
plenty, more besides. It’s all
there you hear the benefit
after a couple the other
way would be to try
put it back. Cue
the lights


I hope you enjoy today’s verse distilled from sentences off the interweb. No, I’m not quite sure what it is all about.

Cue the lights and the music, for sure.

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Night forest image (in public domain) courtesy of www.publicdomainpictures.net

Night forest (in public domain) courtesy of www.publicdomainpictures.net

Another short story, uncannily very similar in theme and structure to the others in this unexpected series. The prompt in this instance was a comment, “What if you knew you only had 9 hours until your death, at midnight?” Here is an imagined scenario:

9 Hours

Amaia adjusts the dark blue blanket around her shoulders and tucks the loose corners under her arms.

“Oh Mannie, thank you for coming at such short notice. And for bringing the sleeping bag.”

She pulls something out of her pocket, “This is for you.”

She hands over a bulging DL envelope, folded in half. The broken seal at the top gives away that it has been used. Maybe Amaia had received a bill or doctor’s letter in it.

“Sorry it’s so scrappy. It’s the best I had at hand. I’m sure you understand.”

I peer inside.

“Look later, after…”

The envelope was crammed with notes.

“Amaia, really, this isn’t necessary.”

“I can’t do anything with it and anyway, I passed a cash machine on the way home. Better in your hands than the bank’s. Go and do something nice. Send me a postcard.” She smiles, “Come on, let’s get going.”

She says goodbye to her landlady and we make our way down the road and along the back suburban streets, laden with blankets, pillow, cooler box. This has been the first warm day of summer. The balmy, but swiftly cooling, Saturday evening is idyllic. It is the long-awaited shift to summer’s warmer temperatures. We turn up a hidden side path that leads to a nearby wood. It is steep and we make our way up it slowly. White dog roses hang low across our heads, ivy is thick on our right and the path reeks of dog piss.

“A dog would be good company for this journey,” notes Amaia, “He could leave his mark here; add his piss to the others’.”

Even in these first forty minutes, she has so much to say than I do, but then she has had about seven more hours to come to terms with what is to come. At the end of the steep path, we reach the gate which we cover with the blankets and sleeping bag. We use the cooler box as a step and climb over the gate into the wood. I have never been into late night trespassing, neither has Amaia, but these are extenuating circumstances.

“I’m going to have a difficult time explaining all this.”
“That’s what friends are for,” laughs Amaia, “I’ve also told the others about the plan, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

Amaia knows the spot she has in mind. It is an elevated clearing in the wood, “where the bluebells are an abundant sea in spring.” She snuggles into the sleeping bag and sits up against a tree with a pillow propped up behind her. I switch on her laptop, insert the USB network adapter, doubtful that we might access any Wifi from this spot. It is worth a try, especially for a moment such a this. Amaia is unpacking her backpack. There are three bottles of water, rescue remedy, boxes of Ibuprofen and Codeine tablets, three bottles of codeine linctus, a slab of dark chocolate and a grubby, well-loved teddy bear. She pulls out a bottle of wine.

“So you’ve started drinking?” I say.
“It’s for you, to toast the occasion.” She picks up the boxes of tablets and starts arranging them in a neat tower. “I didn’t think I could get rhis much shopping done in the time I had. I went to three different pharmacies, so as not to arouse suspicion. Luckily, there’s a glut of pharmacies open on a Saturday afternoon near the Emergency Clinic.”

I don’t want to probe too much, but I should, just in case I have to answer difficult questions tomorrow. I do know that Amaia has called her mum, brother and sister. We also hope to connect with them over Skype in the wood. I will hold her hand. The rest is inevitable. Amaia starts crying.

“Mannie, is this really it? Is this how it ends?”

I step over towards her and take her in my arms.

—-

It was 3pm when Amaia walked out of the Emergency Clinic. She had collapsed unexpectedly in the morning during a workout. These sudden seizures were not uncommon among generation. We wondered if they were caused by the devices. It was impossible to live life without these agents. We worked with them, used them to plan and guide our daily lives. Slowly, but most surely, we realised that they were also killing us. While we noted this, it was not made official. The diagnoses were vague and the conclusions swift. Amaia was lucky because the doctors had recognised she had time: 9 hours. This meant she had almost half-a-day to prepare.

On the ‘phone she had said to me, “I once knew a wise old woman who said, ‘The gift of cancer is time.’ These last few hours are in some ways a gift.”

It was already 8pm by this time and I was out drinking with friends. My response was anger. How could she have left it so late to call me?

“Listen, Mannie, I called for support. If this is too much, forget it…” She took a breath. “Of all the people I know, with your training, you should have some understanding. This isn’t the time for a fall out. I’m going through the stages. I’m staggering between anger and acceptance, and I’ve consumed quite a lot rescue remedy. Would you come over?”

––
When we were at college, a group of us decided to take off the afternoon for a trip to the seaside and we asked Amaia along. I’d teased her, of course her answer would be no; she’d scheduled that afternoon weeks before. I watch her in this dark wood as she unpacks her backpack. It reminds me of her impeccable sense of fore-planning.

“Mannie, I need you just to make sure I’m not in pain, “ She had even researched the codeine to morphine effect beforehand. “When I first heard, I thought I would just climb into my own bed and drift off. I mean, what else was there to do? It wasn’t as though I was going to change the world or do my great work in 9 hours. It isn’t enough time to get back to see my family. So, well, might as well accept things. Then I remembered… I just don’t want to be in that kind of pain and discomfort, please, Mannie, please.”

It was a great deal to process and in my pause her tone turned brusque, “If you’re not able to, say so now. Stop wasting my time. I’ll find someone else.”

But we both knew that in this city that we had made our home, neither of us had that many people to turn to. As often in these darkest moments, it could mean turning to a stranger. Amaia knew this, “Mannie, I don’t want to be alone in a bed in an ugly hospital room.”

––
There is no Wifi signal and it is already 11pm. We debate whether to stay put or move on and then am almighty thunderstorm strikes. Amaia is already in tears about the Wifi. With each burst of thunder she lets out a pained cry. Then she starts babbling, “I don’t want to die in this rain. The worms will come, come out of the earth to eat me here. The mud, the mud, will take me, like the men in the trenches. I’ll be stuck here. The flies will come. The maggots. Oh, Mannie, Mannie!”

Amid the thunder, lightening and rain, she rattles a whisper, “Not here.”

Amaia gets up, climbs out of her sleeping bag cocoon, deserts her pile of comforts and starts walking. I pick up my backpack with the computer inside it and run after her. For me the ground is damp and slippery, but she strides ahead sure-footed. Back on a path, she turns towards the gate on the main road, on the opposite side where we had climbed in. I’m behind, but catch her intone to herself between a coughs that rattle, “I can get out. If get to the gate, I’ll get out. It’s all just a weird dream. I can get out.”

She strides with purpose. At this speed we will be at the gate in a few minutes. And Amaia may be right. It is possible that the doctors made an error, or she had misheard. Running around in a storm, in a wood late at night is a little surreal anyway. We just need to get inside, dry off and have some sleep. Aiming for the gate and getting back to reality seems sound strategy to me, too.

I notice that the drama of the storm has subsided and although it is still raining, the drops fall lightly. In the distance, a church clock chimes. Once, twice, three times. It had been years since I’ve heard such a clear peal. Four, five, six. I pick up my pace.

“Hey, Amaia. Let me come with you to the gate. I’ll help you climb over.”

Seven, eight, nine. Amaia turns around, sways a little, “See, I made it.”

She is soaked through, her hair is sodden. Her face is grey, but her eyes seem bright and alive to me. Ten, eleven, twelve. I step forward to give her a hug, “You made it.”

Before I reach her, she crumples into the mud and wet leaves. Above us a hovers a helicopter on the lookout for druggies in the wood. They shine a beam down on us and I know, the explaining now begins.

—-

If you enjoyed “9 Hours”, you might also enjoy one of these other short stories:

Fenstone’s Flower – about an unexpected bloom in an elderly garden-enthusiast’s greenhouse
Hand-tie – about a bouquet delivery
Running in the Wood – about a husband and father’s mind-clearing run in a wood
Gone are the cars – about a photographer capturing forbidden cars in a post-apocalyptic, carbon-rationed world

There are also hundreds of poems on this blog. Take a lucky dip by clicking on any of the months below and see what comes up.

Image courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury. This image of bicycle and bicycling outfits is from a page in The Delineator magazine, April 1895 issue.

Image courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury. This image of bicycles and bicycling outfits is from a page in the April 1895 issue of The Delineator magazine.

How’s the poetry going?
Is a giveaway question
on the pavement.
It signals you
have not read
anything much
the poet
might have
written recently.
Or otherwise you have,
and now on meeting
the poet
on the pavement
you wonder, this
that the poet
has written recently,
is any of it about me?


There is a post often shared on social media among the writing community that reads something to the effect of, “Do not upset a writer or they will kill you off.” Whenever I re-read it, I chuckle a little.

Of course, writers are not without fault and many (of greater wisdom than I possess) certainly look to their own foibles to create villains or draw inspiration for their work’s darkness. However, inspiration also comes from circumstances and experiences lived. Yes, for me there are some people’s comments and actions that have spurred particular imaginative turns. This works best when the initial situation proves a spark for an augmented parallel vista, such as in my recent series of short stories (see
Gone are the cars
Running in the wood
Hand-tie
Fenstone’s Flower).

I don’t expect most of the people who engage in daily small talk with me to be avid followers of these blog updates, though I do suspect (and can attest, from being asked) that when they do read my work, there is curiosity as to whom or what it might reference.

So here’s a clue: there just might be something I’ve written ‘about’ you.

I have also written about small talk before.

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Cape blue waterlily (Nymphaea capensis var. zanzibariensis) (8103217895)

By Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth! [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Another short story from the hip.

Fenstone’s Flower

Fenstone was in his favourite pottering spot for a not quite warm, though there be some sunlight day. He had finished washing the Saturday breakfast crockery and cutlery, scraping down the plates of scrambled egg residue and croissant crumbs. This was Peggy and Fenstone’s Saturday morning treat and it had been for the last 15 years since they moved into this house with the garden.

The garden had at first proved a novelty after the small patch of grass behind their starter house. The patch of grass had seemed a social upgrade on the balcony of potted tomato plants he had nurtured in the flat preceding the starter house. Part of the novelty of the full garden was its spaciousness and the two fully grown trees that had established themselves on the plot. Further novelty was the weekends spent idling in garden centres, picking out shrubs and plants. Peggy soon wearied of these outings. They took her away from chattering sessions with her friends. Fenstone was quite happy to continue the trips on his own. He went more often than was needed to replace the seasonal annuals or seek out vegetable seeds for fresh sowing.

Fenstone’s garden centre escapes were as regularly scheduled as his public garden visits. Botanical gardens, country house gardens, stately home gardens of all sizes, near and abroad either featured on Fenstone’s travel wish list or welcomed him as an eager visitor. But all these other places could not replace his favourite corner, his own garden.

Over the decade and a half they had lived in the house, it had become Fenstone’s garden. In the early days, he had employed the garden maintenance firm, a group of reliable Spanish men, all related they claimed, who had worked wonders at giving the space character and depth. What had been a square of grass, sided by two beds and sentried by the two established trees was transformed into a wonderland entered into by a curving path. The fish pond with a few blue water lilies, a delightful addition for many years, had recently been filled in at Peggy’s request. With small grandchildren around, the open water was now a hazard. Fenstone had salvaged the bulbs from the water lily plants and had promised them to another gardening friend.

After the Spaniards had returned home to retire, Fenstone had employed whichever young lad in the suburb felt inclined to earn some money sweeping, mowing, weeding or planting.The garden was now established and in his own retirement Fenstone had the time, and fortunately, the physical strength to continue with much of the maintenance himself. And nothing brought him more joy than the thought of a half or full day in his garden, and especially pottering in his potting shed.

In the potting shed Fenstone had coaxed all manner of vegetables, soft fruits and flowers through the cold and overcast winters. Last season’s strawberries were a great success and this year he planned to nurture a rainbow of fragrant hyacinths that would be planted at intervals in the wonderland. The bulbs had arrived the day before, so on this Saturday, Fenston had set the day aside to prepare the pots with nourished soil and plant the bulbs. Fenstone had spent many autumns preparing pots for not yet germinated seeds and bulbs, as well as fledgling seedlings. The potting shed was the preparation shed for Fenstone’s vision for the coming flowering season.

Fenstone pushed the water lily bulbs that he was drying out aside. He opened the bad of hyacinth bulbs and spread them out on his workshelf. The potting began.


It was not until six months later, in May, that Peggy went into the potting shed. Rotting plants, soil and spiders were not to her liking, but once spring arrived and it felt as though the world was brightening, she ventured out into the garden and into Fenstone’s old hideaway. She looked around and sighed. He had been such a stickler for order and it was evident even here, even six months later. The compost bags piled according to type, the garden soil and potting soil separated, not a cracked or grossly chipped pot in sight. Even the spider webs hung from their proper places in the roof corners.

The most orderly sight of all was Fenstone’s ranks of flowering hyacinths. Their scent was too strong for Peggy and she started to sneeze. This was not enough to put her off, today she had to clear out the shed because the movers would be arriving in four weeks. She did not have time to dawdle. She called out to her daughter in the kitchen, “Helen, sorry to trouble you, my hayfever’s playing up. Would you mind giving me a hand down here?”

Helen came down the winding path to the potting shed, “Wow! They are spectacular! Such a pity Dad isn’t here to see the results. And what’s the blue one over there? It looks like a water lily flower? I’m pretty sure they grow and survive potted in soil.”

Peggy and Helen stepped over to the opened flower, “Let’s take it up to the house and give some of Fenstone’s gardening friends a call. This calls for an expert’s opinion.”

Helen placed the pot on the kitchen windowsill. At dusk, the flower closed up. Peggy asked two of Fenstone’s gardening friends to come over the next day to confirm what they had witnessed.

The next morning Helen went down to put on the kettle. She scanned the windowsill for the opened flower. All that was left in the pot was a shrivelled stem.

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