The train takes me past the football ground
They use for cricket in the summer, where we
Always either complained about the racket
Of the metal wheels on the tracks, or waved
At the passengers who wouldn’t really have
Been able to see us. A floodlight mast just
Behind the bowler’s arm, and the curved track
Beyond. It might as well be a hundred years ago.
Autumn has been incessant rain, mostly the
Kind that seems to just hang there, suspended,
And never reaches the ground, the type that
Seems incapable of wetting but turns out to
Have soaked clothes and unleashed floods,
The kind that clears nothing, and turns every
Thing into a dejected and desolate victim,
The kind that suffocates any joy.
Dedham Vale brings to mind ghost men and
Women rising from the mud flats at full moon
To wander as real amongst the living for two
Weeks until the changing tides call them back
To their sodden graves. There is no peace for
The good, no rest for the prosecuted, burned,
And drowned, and the light that restores them
For a half year never heals their pain.
Today, the mud flats are littered with puddles,
Abandoned boats, leaves and stems severed
From their roots and the earth. The ghosts are
Nowhere to be seen, locked back in under the
Packed and solid sands in this lunar cycle,
Hostages to the orbits and gravities of earth
And moon and sun. Their footprints are barely
Visible on the land beneath bridge and rail.
London is colder than the provinces, for once.
Rounding a corner, the train was showered, for
One brief sacred moment, by a sunbeam that
Managed to escape through broken clouds.
Gone again. The interior of a South Bank café
Brings warmth and relief, a hush after the echo
Of persecuted witches and the history of
Death. But time does not rest nor wait.
We talk about words and language and meaning,
About parenting, mental illness, overthinking,
Jobs, finding our own place in the world, and
Words again, read poems to each other, not
Caring about what others might hear, including
The dead head over my left shoulder, and the
Attentive apparition above her left ear, silent,
Gaping, remembering, sad, and above all kind.
A father talking to one of his daughters, time
So far gone she is taller than him, and the
Shift of something in the fabric of the weightless
Universe, though the centre remains the fixed
Same, and the ghosts remain distant and pale,
And the cycle circle turns again and again, for
Knowledge and wisdom and learning have never
Been interchangeable realities set in stone.
We walk across Hungerford Bridge in the now
Dark, with London’s lights illuminating a kind of
Hallowed path to the station, tourists and locals
Jostling to take the best pictures of the still
Night and the far-off white and domed cathedral
Ignoring the ghosts that still circle us, somehow
Escaped from Dead Man’s Vale. Wisdom remains
Invisible, like they are. At our goodbye they flee.
R 17.11.2022, 21:55
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 251
By the time the train gets to Norwich almost two hours later, some vague ideas have formed themselves into some kind of pattern in Aggie’s head. One thing she still doesn’t understand – several, if she’s honest with herself – is why Valentine would eliminate the presidents of the two major nuclear powers in the world, and not immediately take advantage of the situation. There must be simething holding him up. Or something else he’s trying to achieve. She’s also surprised that there doesn’t seem to have much public reaction to the assassinations, no hysteria, no panic, no increased police or armed force presence on the streets, in the airports. And after the first flurry of live news coverage, nothing but a running commentary, reassuring appearances by the deputies of the dead deputies of the dead leaders, emollient words towards each other by those arch enemies separated only by the Bering Strait. It all makes no sense.
The station is as cold as ever when Aggie gets off the train. She’s always asked herself why they aren’t more enclosed to provide more shelter to the traveller. Even an unheated enclosed space would be warmer than this. She remembers sitting on one of the benches here for an interminable night when she’d … When was that? She thinks as she walks towards the barriers. It was before the flat, that mouldy thing where she lived when she was working in the shop. She gets this sense of having just opened a new door to something unknown, strange, and dangerous. She leans against the wall outside the station, next to the ashtray, closes her eyes, strains her memory.
Stumbling out of a train. Sober. Origin unknown. Norwich is a much busier station than people realise. No coat. Cash in her pocket. Ah, the sense of strength and comfort from the knife strapped to her leg. How long has that been there for? The lights too bright. The clock above the exit, huge clock. She thought it must have stopped but it hadn’t. Almost two in the morning. Nowhere to go. The metal mesh benches. Freezing. Shivering but not shivering. Told to move on at some point. She’d just obeyed, planned to go the toilet by the side of Platform 1 and stay there, but it was locked. She looked at her hands, covered in dried blood. Holes and pieces of rusty cable. The barbed wire fence around the camp? She pulled at them, scattered them on the floor as she went. Out the front, into the night just as cold as the inside of the station, a fog lowering over the forecourt. Detected something across there, over from the lights, still winking green amber red amber green. Some immutable shape, some presence. Headed over there, along the river. The water, the void across it, followed her impulse until she stopped at the now visible, by the one light in the lane around the back, by Cavell’s grave, ochre sandstone smoothness of the cathedral. And was at home.