A bit of a poem I just penned, kicked off by a couple of word-images I had:
Wet and frigid, stalk the lonely air,
Drag ravenous nets across the floor of this human ocean,
Oh, great dweller without my door,
Churn and scour, every piece of filth,
Every cry and tear,
Every red, twisting, flashing, wrench,
Stir the waters,
Confound the eye,
Wail thy banshee siren to herald another soul lost,
Bring petrol to this fire of humanity,
With your eager fist, pound these gentle doors
So tell me, what have you found?
I found them sleeping under cardboard in shop doorways,
I found the crack of the pistol – a song to my ears in the hand of a young man,
The white cider, dog nuzzled beggar pleading under a sleeping bag outside the Empire,
I looked on as the forgotten woman reeled and wept in traffic,
And with keen mind, followed the Night Sun’s pillar to track yet another, and another, that I may feed well,
With a gleam in my eye, saliva on my lips I counted the ribbons of blue and white,
That mark another point where for someone, time stopped,
And the number was the number of the beast,
Again I counted more,
And again I saw the beast,
In number, in deed and in thought,
And then I looked at the beast himself and saw,
The beast is only a mirror
We, in these same spaces of shadow,
We do love,
Though fear makes preservation a selfish thing,
And contentment bathes us, blinds us,
With such brilliant light
Bring torches – set fires beneath the dark ramparts,
Let us crack the skull of this demon night!
It’s neon blood to spill amongst the tears,
It’s flesh to burn,
It’s heat to finally share,
In it’s downfall,
An end to the cold,
In it’s burning death,
A new dance,
Bless winds that scatter ashes
We dare not speak,
We dare not hear,
We dare not look,
Into the mirror
I reached into my coat sleeve and scratched – almost absent-mindedly – at my forearm. After a moment I was done and I pulled the sleeve back down and tight around my wrist, and cursing myself for not bringing my gloves out I pulled my collar tighter. A futile effort really, against the sub-zero temperature.
The train had got stuck in a deep snow drift some four miles outside of Wells. After nearly forty minutes sat in uncertainty, quietly muttering to no-one in particular, the driver announced that our only option was to walk to a level crossing some three-quarters of a mile down the line where a couple of buses would be waiting to take us into the city. So, we disembarked – jumping, clambering or – as was my case – being helped down from the carriages and into the snow. There were complaints of course – the cold makes people miserable and they’ll naturally direct that misery toward the railway operators – “Wrong kind of snow, my arse! Wrong kind of bloody management if you ask me.”, “Why can’t we just wait for another train?” (this made me smirk)…
Misery – if only they knew the meaning of the word.
So onwards we trudged, feet growing numb, wet trousers, luggage dragged along the track. “Couldn’t we just wait on the train until the track was clear? I’ve got sandwiches and at least it’s warm in there.” Stumbling over sleepers, crunching through the gravel, one or two fell in the deeper snow at the side of the track. I remember a time when if you didn’t get up quick enough a shot would ring out, your fellow travellers would gasp and mutter in shock, but any hesitation in their progress would be countered with sharp words, maybe the thrust of a rifle butt if you didn’t get the message straight away.
Feet numb with cold, breath seeming to freeze in the air, my thin coat unsuited to the biting winter winds. We were led down that line, huddling together as best we could, trying not to move too fast less we create enough space for the cold air to breach our weary, shabby ranks. We didn’t have far to go but that walk, that journey of a lifetime, seemed to take forever. Soon though our destination was in view. My young heart lifted a little knowing that we were nearer a chance for rest and some kind of shelter, but then sank again as the grey gate of the camp loomed into view through the sparse trees.
From time to time I fancy that I feel that number itching under my rough, dirty shirt sleeves. I could have had it removed many years ago but I prefer to keep it – my own personal memorial. Everything it stands for, my mother and father who died with it on their arms, could never be brought back by it’s erasure.
Thank goodness they’ve got the heating on in the bus. I think I’ll get a hot chocolate in Marks And Spencer though, before I go to my daughter’s.
After all these years, hidden away out here in the midst of… Well, in the middle of almost nowhere really.
Coming here back in the late 80’s all I wanted to do was get away from everything that had been driving me slowly towards insanity. I succeeded – after a fashion. My home was a “renovated” shack in the forest, I fished in a river and occasionally the ocean (the sharks often got to the best picking before I did though), hunted rarely – I just wasn’t up for chasing things through the trees on a regular basis, I had managed to cultivate a patch of land which provided just enough food and foraging amongst the trees completed my simple but ample larder. There was a little waterfall where I bathe – the clichéd ideal, I know, but it was bloody cold so you’re allowed to have some sympathy for me.
Life wasn’t exactly what I’d known it to be before I had to run, but it was good enough. I didn’t have a bank account, I didn’t have a mortgage or landlord, a car, a job, but most of all, I didn’t have to worry about them anymore. I first stepped into my shack with a weeks worth of clothes that I made last three before washing them, a radio with a bag of batteries, a few basic kitchen utensils, a “few” boxes of matches, a torch with spare batteries, an old tarp from some guys truck in San Margarite, the means to make a simple fishing rod, a bag of rice, some tinned fish, and a few personal items that I carried in my pockets, a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art Of War and a book of North American poetry. I made the rod on my third day and lost it the second time I took it out during my third week there so I lived off rice and fish for over a week.
It wasn’t really my fault – some things you just have to do like you’ve been put here to do them. But as I said, I was innocent in the first place, just that someone bigger – richer – than me got the wrong idea, wrong information, whatever, so here I am. I could almost regret what I did to him if it wasn’t for where I am now. Summer temperatures reach a baking 38 degrees according to the news I pick up on the radio and the humidity can be hell this far inland, the winter is like a cool summer back home but the storms can be pretty hefty. After the first one I moved half a mile inland. I didn’t have much choice really, I’d hoped that the shelter I’d constructed would last a couple of years but Cathy – I’d named the first hurricane after the wife who’d left me moments after she saw my face on the evening news (all sirens and lights on a suburban street, the police officer stumbling from the doorway with vomit streaming from his gasping mouth, shocked reporter, “Stand-by for more on this breaking story as soon as we get it.” in earnest tones) – had devastated it while I was further up the valley looking for vines to lash the roof on better with.
I’d been after an excuse to get away from it all for a while anyway. After nearly 20 years in the same job, running the same route, civilization suddenly seemed like something that didn’t have my best interests at heart. My boss was a dick, my colleagues were morons, my wife wanted a child I couldn’t provide and had done for a long time but only just recently turned the fact into a weapon and my recently moved in next door neighbour was eccentric enough to have me worried for our safety. Damn, I mean – some people just should be in care all their lives.
I’d saved some money and was wondering what to do with it when I decided to use it to fund the escape. Three days later I had a plan and soon after, a ticket to Venezuela, from where I eventually flew out to Del Caribe, where I knew a guy online who had promised he could hook me up with whatever I needed should I ever fancy a holiday there. True to his word, Horacio fixed me up for a couple of nights and then made sure I got to this little island in one piece. I never found out it’s official name – he called it something that roughly translates as The Place Where The Ocean Dies. I like mysterious place names and this one seemed oddly melancholic for such a beautiful place, but I just thought of it as an escape capsule – population (including myself, a handful of villages and a small town), probably less than a thousand, wildlife of the tropical variety – wild boar, jungle cats, lizards, rodents, snakes, spiders and evil, aggressive, little ants that bite like there’s no tomorrow. The birds are pretty amazing too – beautiful colours, beautiful song.
Some of them even tasted OK too.
It’s nice to be able to fix the deck in your favour sometimes – I did alright.
Got away from it all for real.
I did sometimes walk through a couple of the villages – people knew me a little and for the most part had come to trust me. Not all news reaches – or maters enough – here anyway so my face was thankfully unknown. I’d been to the town of San Sebastian De La Cruz three or four times most years but mostly I kept out of the way, and as time went on and more white money moved in to relax on it’s beaches, my visits became less frequent. I doubt the world would have forgotten me so soon so I wanted to keep out of it’s way.
The last I’d heard was that the island’s first hotel was about to be built – an apparently modest affair of the eco-friendly variety, you know – locally sourced materials and labour, all reflexology and imported ketchup. I’m sure that in itself is good for the island, but these things never come along as single events. Sooner or later the luxury apartments would spring up, more dirt roads would be tarmaced, more footpaths would be widened for vehicles, the beach-front stall would start selling coca-fucking-cola… Before you know it some pissed off guy is gone turn his life around by doing something bad and wrong and very dark.
Where’s he gonna escape to? A cave in the Tibetan mountains? The bottom of the ocean?
Still, sometimes I had to go to the town – it was the only place I could get fishing tackle and a bar there I liked had a tv that could pick up American channels – not my first viewing choice but I liked to keep an eye on the news from time to time – and after nearly seven months of avoiding the trip I had braced myself for it.
I’m glad it all worked out how it did.
It was as if I needed to prove myself to be above the system and people needed to see it, to realise. Getting caught gave my cause the publicity it would never have had if I ‘d just slipped away quietly. The world was out! People knew they had a choice, what they did with that choice was their problem.
Gradually people blinked out around me – acquaintances came second after Cathy left, my mother was horrified of course but my parents stuck by me the longest (a nice gesture but quite unnecessary), closer friends gave mixed responses – some left, some stayed for varying lengths of time, but I eventually got rid of everyone. The middle aged guy in the chinese supermarket who always made me happy even though I could barely understand a word he said, the vagrants on the street who I tithed a fair bit less than 10% to, the same people I saw day in, day out on the way to and from work. Everyone one of any incidence in my life eventually went. Everyone in the country knew what terror I had wreaked that whole night and day, and the message it carried with it – I made sure of that.
I regret that bit – losing people I cared about.
But it was fun…
I had walked the four miles to the main road into San Seb and picked up a ride from a guy who had some chickens to sell there. Five miles later I disembarked and bade him farewell, he offering me a bird at half price (which came to about three breadfruit but I declined fairly politely). I found the guy who sold fishing line soon after, or rather I found his wife. Apparently he’d not been seen since the previous night but rumour had it that he had stayed at the room of some young floozy. He was due back to take a boat tour of the bay in an hour and a half, preceded by a firm word from his wife, so – hungry from my journey – I decided to get something to eat in the bar while I waited.
I reached the bar after navigating the activity of daily life on the beach front. Once in it’s shade I ordered a cold beer – which came warm – and a plate of the local savoury delicacy and took a seat at a table near the cranky old ceiling fan. Tilting my head back I closed my eyes, flexed my already tired shoulders, took a deep breath in and out again to help me relax a little, and let my mind wander for a few minutes.
I was roused from my daydreaming by some commotion or other at the door – a regular by the look of things who once again didn’t have money to pay for his drinks. I looked towards the bar, no sign of my food yet. To my left a small lizard ran down the wall, and onto my table. It paused briefly, assessing the threat I posed, and after considering me for a moment or two, scurried away.
Finally Doro, the bar’s owner, came over carrying a plate. He placed it in front of me and wished me a happy meal. Hardly I thought to myself – it’s not the worst food in the world but I wouldn’t count it amongst life’s pleasures. Looking down at the plate I noticed something I’d never seen before, an new accompaniment to the dish that I’d eaten here many times in the past. Looking quizzically back to Doro he beamed at me, “For the white people,” He explained, “they love this!”
How long had it been? And I thought (hoped?!) I might never see anything like it again. This really changed things – the encroachment, the steady fascist march against natural order, satellite dishes on the skyline and regular flights home. That little plastic bag sat beside my locally produced, locally sourced, tried and tested, au naturale for probably centuries, the light from the doorway highlighting it like an unwelcome divine intervention.
Still, at least it was Heinz.
Awesomungous animated music video: