One of the first things I was told about writing poetry was “Only write what you know about. Don’t write about things you see on the TV.” I always thought this was a lot of a one-sided instruction. Surely the emotions we see when we see tragedies unfold on the daily news, we should be able to, we should have to, write about the emotions those things evoke in us. Temper that with the reality that most of the mainstream media, most media actually, skews facts, edits truths, publishes with a hidden agenda. And with the reality that millions of other poets will have been watching footage of children dying in war zones and that their emotions will be roughly the same as yours. The form might be unique, but the writing world still cries out for a new language.
A nihilist might say it would be best if we just went straight to all-out nuclear war because it would be best if the world was rid of the entirety of humankind. That any nuclear apocalypse would only in the short-term kill most of the planet, and that it would only be a few generations before the Earth healed itself and could start all over again without humans on it. I even wrote a poem to that effect last night. Radical environmentalists might agree with that view, too. After all, we have destroyed most of the planet already. It has not destroyed itself. The only problem of course is that the rich and the powerful and the vengeful, the despots and their billionaire acolytes, on both sides of that perceived ideological border between West and East, would most probably survive in their luxury bunkers dug thousands of metres down into the world’s crust already, and just start the same wars all over again. The most successful weapon for anyone to devise would be one to eradicate human nature, and one that somehow would leave all the kindness of people untouched. A neutron bomb for souls.
The latest book from the Random Book Club subscription M gave me for Christmas is American Colonies: The Settling Of North America by Alan Taylor. The interesting and ironic thing that it’s taught me so far (and I’m only on page 20ish as the typeface is very small and the content very dense) is that one group of native Americans migrated onto the North American continent from Siberia when the now Bering Strait was actually a land bridge between what are now two continents. There are several levels of irony here which I’ll leave any reader to fathom out. It’s a reminder that all humankind has ever done is to fight itself.
The letters on my keyboard wear off much too quickly. Time will erase all our words.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 18
Street lights are coming on as they make their way back. The mist is rising off the river, thick early morning mist. The lights are dim, the mist made dense by the cigarette tobacco yellow particles they disperse into the heavy air. He starts shivering, the uncontrollable shivers of those who were never made to be outdoors.
‘Shock?’ Aggie says, and can’t stop herself smirking.
‘I … I don’t know,’ he says, wrapping his jacketed arms around him.
‘Get you some tea. Some sugar. And then you can give me your phone and go back to a sensible life. No more make-believe in the real world. It’ll kill you.’
‘You said we had to go to London.’
‘I changed my mind. I’ll go alone.’
‘You don’t even know they are in London.’
‘There’s nowhere else they could be.’ She unlocks the door, exhales the last of the mist before she pushes it open.
‘They could be anywhere.’
She closes the door behind him, her last look up and down the street confirming that no-one has followed them.
‘And you,’ she says. ‘Where did you come from?’
‘London,’ he says. ‘Where else?’
She leads the way upstairs, the house gently creaking its warmth through the rooms, through their bodies, now divested of their fog-soddened coats. The scent of baking bread still lingers in the kitchen, his half-eaten sandwich still on the board on the long table, the ochre light from the street now starting to filter in through the tall windows, merging with the bright neon functional light in here.
He sits down, picks up the sandwich, his hands still shaking, puts it down again.
‘What’s your name?’ she says, her hands busy with water and kettle, her fingers so long they wrap themselves round the kettle’s girth and almost meet each other again. She lets her mind wander again, watches herself put the kettle on, sit down on the chair next to him, while she relives herself bleeding out in that field of snow in the middle of nowhere, by the border from nowhere to nowhere else, deserted, homeless, countryless, a giant of a child, a forgotten victim of a forgotten war, her life vanishing through the creases in the soil under her, melted by the life draining out of her. Sees the old white hand reaching for her, the worn arms, sinews under the mottled skin straining, picking her up, cradling her, slippery with blood, blood everywhere, and the sudden unexpected inside of a hut, a bed, a bright light, an awakening to another set of functional lights, scalpels and metal, and the hiss of oxygen being pushed into her through translucent tubes, the painless dissection of her broken body, the sleep, the waking in an empty room, the smell of disinfectant, the resurrection.
‘Zav,’ he says. ‘Short for Xavier.’
‘Is that your real name?’ Her mouth moves, the sound comes out, to make sense, while her inner eye moves with her younger self as it sits up in that hospital bed balanced on four rubber wheels, detaches itself from the tubes, stands up, takes a few steps, expects to fall over but just keeps walking until the draft through the back of the gown onto her partial nakedness makes her stop. ‘Posh boy,’ she says.
‘Aspirational parents,’ he says, touches the sandwich again, dares himself to take another frightened bite, chews while he waits for her to speak again.
The noise of the kettle makes her get up, pour boiling water into the pot, drop the metal tea caddy into it, carry it back to the table with two mugs.
‘They must be proud of you,’ she says. ‘Their killer son.’
‘They have no idea.’ He swallows. ‘They have nothing.’
‘No-one does,’ she says, pours tea into the mugs. Gets up again to get the sugar and a jar of honey. Empties three spoons of sugar into one of the mugs, a spoon of honey into the other. Pushes the sugared tea across the smooth table to him. ‘Only very few people are wealthy.’
‘Like you,’ he says, blows onto the tea in his mug, hot in his hands.
‘Like the people who own this house. I’m just a servant.’
‘Of course you are.’ He sips carefully. ‘That’s why someone wants you dead.’