an apophatic lament
SCENE ONE TAKES TWO
In a composite night of tarmaced and cambered
mediaeval cart-track, a mile path to a Saxon Yew,
where now police-blue and mushroom-grey coated
the 36 ferries both quick unmoved and slowly moved,
dodging Church Lane that hares short off Hob's Moor
and road, in the unanimous night of the unsolved,
unanswered as missed echoes the unregarded clues
of crimes hang.
As hung our hero. Out of luck. By the Mumtaz
Video Mart and Taxi-hire. Waiting on angles in the dark.
He throws down, penultimate, his fag. As the verbs pan,
spits. Under Alpha Lyrae and Orion's Belt looks up
past the corrugated sheet shuttered launderette
and Yasmin's tiny Hyper-marquet, raking Rushfield Road
all the way down to the green sign of The Winter King.
Ma Boheme, he thought, and smiles. And smoke-blue cast
on that smile a shadow, shaping blurred foci
from tense confusions and monomaniacal diffusions
of all-encroaching night. Jewel silvers sliver
down brief stars:
'Mr Big-ead?' 'B'gaid', he says, 'an you?'
'What's in a name?' she laughs and an ebonyface swims
under strobe strokes of the Kuei Mei takeaway.
'A lot', he answers, 'if you've ever been in court'.
The girl sways for a moment and eyes him, like an
auctioneer's agent. Then the smile returned on its wave.
'Horatia, call me' 'Make me Roger' 'So where do we begin?'
'Here' 'Here?' 'And with your story'
And so Horatia began:
Ex-soldier, seeks stimulation and work
(experience) in all forms of security,
incl. prvte. investigation, bodyguard
duty. Trnd. gamekeeper, full clean
driving licence. Anything considered.
Was what she read. With her sister
these three weeks found dead. By her own
hand, authority said, no suspicion
attends a bed-sit suicide, an
underclass life's a short-term tenancy,
expendable, renewable, ephermeral.
So Horatia having hitched
the hundred mile from Hackney Wick, bent low
brooding on a paper in Aunt Athena's parlour.
Carmel was never one who cried. All
she dreamt of was her own band,
fleshing her songs of giving and God,
nothing ever strayed across her harsh
as the cold Latin of suicide. No stone
imposition had ever weighed
on her quick soul. Till the carrera blank
as Horatia's now. Still not set, still
She looked again at the print. And the rigour
of typed public lines. Still time, she thought,
to stall the clumsy mason, to turn the chipped
writ running on the future of her sister past.
And so she offered to a box her nerve-script.
The chandeliers swayed in the baized lounge
like a forest of symbols. Hugged in the snug
Winter King, over green lager beer,
they circled, closed, talked.
You didn't sign your letter - Why
did you come? replied - I liked
your scent on the envelope. Demure-eyed
looked down and silent.
My sister's life. A chair kicked away,
dropping from a rope like a name off a page.
No, not Carmel. You must believe, she pled.
Can you pay me?, investigator pried.
With (experience) she said.
R.Bigead wrote to an address with no name.
In the Jolly Lanthorn
he parried his questioner
with 'Rheinbach Falls'
and 'alongside Moriarty
then 'Preston North End'
by 'twenty-six goals'.
'First prize to you'
a ruddy-faced woman in flower-
was 'so delighted'
but in a shadow shortened aisle by the loos
like a Milanese canvas
her chisel-headed husband in shirtsleeves
had news: 'If I see you here again ....'
R.Bigead trudged home among tomcats,
wheelie-bins and stars
and, like a man with fewer
and fewer friends, debited
another from a shiny
THE VIEW FROM ABOVE
The facts are thus: girl (21) found hanged alone in a room
in Chaucer St, off Hob Moor Lane; of foul play, no evidence;
of explanation, none bequeathed by the deceased, no reason
here for Why?
The facts are thus: a would-be sleuth, a wannabe, (income:
pub-quizzes, dole-cheques, the odd door-keeping shift) comparing
(no computer) card-indexes, press-clippings, maps, runs his finger
down Hob Moor Lane, like a woman's spine, touching Chaucer St,
Tennyson Avenue, Milton Court, Wordsworth Rd, and the last
eighteen months. Eleven suicides (recorded), all young, female,
alone and black. And Christian? So, what reason to ask Why?
The fact is this: Horatia, sister of the much-missed, who won't
believe in an indifferent coroner, or bored police, or a death
without reason. The reason then to ask it: Why?
Because I once scoffed,
at her two chord plonking,
her Dance with Him the Lord
in the spring of our Year Twelve,
under a pink-laced white and frill-fringed
two nigger girl dem touch
and pink lips dey kiss
bodies' beginnings burdens,
the first namings of flesh.
Because she fell
and scuffed a skateboard
at the bottom of a hill called Stoop
and left for me the blame
like a lost key
and the trouble with a boy named Amos.
Because she couldn't sing.
Because she cook bettah pea.
Because she walks behind me still.
Because she crawled by my side on the floor.
SING, HEAV'NLY MUSE
Tell me a story without plot or purpose
of eleven dead girls from bedsits and hostels
off the line of a lane to a Saxon Yew.
Tell me a story without point or substance
of Alterine Williams, a knife in her hand,
going out on her knees, like Angel Browne;
or Mercy MacDonald, a hymn on her lips,
who jumped off a roof to the wheels of a bus.
Of Jasmine and Marlene, twin sisters in faith,
whose blood commingled with a Euston Express.
How Faith died like Charity, by little white pills,
and Hope never came, nor Ruth nor Elaine
to next Sunday God Willing. And of Carmel dead
who wakes each night in her sister's head.
Standing back behind the pews
of the one-time
Muggleton’s Empire Warehouse
a reckoner in metaphysic
winced at the Word
and a lady from Looe.
She had pilgrimed in her ardour
aching for the Witness
and Bread of Love
of William B. Frankland
appointed of God
strongarm of the Lord
our Saviour’s hand
with eyes all balm of earthly ill.
How the Lord spoke through her
how once to a beach at Fuengirola
she’d brought two gross
of wooden Virgins, blue-draped Marias,
and blotched archangels
to drown the false-eyed idols
in Jehovah’s waves.
She thrilled to the tongues
that Spirit landed
then released on the air like doves.
Standing back behind the pews
a scourer of creeds
savoured a music
its dialect and grammar
inhuman as birds.
The Ending of Time
climbed like a thermometer.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU
hung limp on a banner in the hall.
The breath of the preacher
died like the wind.
The weather of conviction
overcast my mind.
AS THE DAY DECLINED
Tennyson Avenue was silent and stone-clad.
A crisp packet wrapped about a spearhead
on ornamental ironwork. A wind in the gloom
ran like a child around the stilled saloons
and tired roses. Late, late, Bigead, care-lined,
talked with himself and a woman in his mind.
A dog barked in a dream. Overhead, invisible,
an angel dropped verdicts loosed from a spool
by William B. Frankland, authenticated prophet
of Sacrifice for Jesus and The Last Days Met.
Horatia was silent, skin-tight, on Chaucer Street.
A phone-box splashed its false, electric colour.
Naked, the night ran its fingers to her feet.
A cat meowled out at a car. A wrong number
Rang in the kiosk. Carmel begged. Quiet, sister,
Horatia murmured, and turned her face ahead.
A saloon pulled to the kerb. Yes, she said.
The name, B'gaid, go back over it, his purpose. Truth.
So he saw it. Student of the perpetual, examiner
of the far-flung and the at-home familiar. As he
a mystery rhymed out throughout (wait a second)
history, spreading from a spindly road, eleven hundred
years old, untold
a story echoed down a dark lane, from moor to moat
and a Saxon Yew.
ROGER 4 HORATIA
He bit at her ear on the tousled bed. Voici ma lit.
His wages? Sure, (experience), she'd said.
A cracked yew creaked as a crow weighed
heavy off its branches at a cold shade
born again from nothing and the last days
eleven times enacted in the back lanes
by Israel's chosen children and betrayed.
The crow settled. Account 'ld yet be made.
The Hobsmoat had drained like the past.
Its little tump strolled slowly round
the vacant square of Yew Tree Park.
Behind tall hedges twin voices rowed
in fitful curses as ill-temper sparred.
A cracked yew creaked and a cock crew.
INVOCATION TO THE FURIES
Tell me a story about a moor and a wood
with a yew that warded unquieted dead
at the butt of a lane of wild, rank garlic.
Tell me a fable of a chondrite that dropped
from an angry sky on a thick bunched forest
and the fire that gorged on slow green blood;
of eleven girls dead that linger unjudged
and a twelfth who danced into a barren circle
where a blackstone sank eleven hundred years
as the greenwood shrank from rough swung hafts,
from pig-runs to Scattergoods; and a yew that girded
season on season on its great split trunk.
as reconstructed by Professor Schielmann from a barmat found in The Winter King
A long time best forgot ago, when the troubled forest
hung still on the hills, and the people of the axe dwelt
by riverbanks and fished, or on sandy ridges and watched,
or on poor moors and starved, and little by little ate
into tangled woods by the ache of their arms and backs:
January turned into February and two in their bridegowns died.
Another faded in wedlock's bed when March heaved up above.
The calendar groaned like a weighted wheel; months creaked
round and the dead were gathered like a crop of blood. Here
hangs a tale told of stone and a yew called Wicca's Kiss.
|The blackyearstone the greenwood
waited in December as the Hagtree bid:
'Eleven months come eleven brides gone
Where is the twelfth that My Will be done?'
'The Great War rolls; the small must bend
humble to My Purpose that the world not end.'
| Winter's queen came
but dancing out December, bold,
she broke into the wasted round,
untouched by a kiss of silent sound.
The Hagtree shrieked, unheard; stone fell
back into Earth's unbidden Hell.
The circle split: a Hagtree froze,
its arms outspread, beseeching crows.
Bigead, worried, shuffled and stacked the facts.
Purpose? No. Point? No. Plot? No. Substance?
Yes. That didn't fit the fable.
EXTRACTS FROM THE COUNTY ANTIQUITIES
Haigh (1893) records the legend of Black Gilbert's stone, a rock
thrown downby a giant from a mountain at the end of the world,
which burnt away most of the forest in Yardleah. Farmsteads were
eagerly established in the cleared woods, but the land bore a curse
and each month the spirit of the stone claimed the life of a newly
wed bride. A supplement, Smeeton (1926), tells of the malign power
being vanquished by a woman untouched by the hand of love, dancing
into its sacred circle and breaking the bounds of its power.
This odd myth, containing garbled elements of considerable age,
has been conflated with strands of the common lore of the bewitched
tree, here identified as a yew. Though the species can be of great
longevity, what seems a single yew may often consist of a group
and it is difficult to assign these tales to a particular yew.
The name Black Gilbert's stone, or the Gilbertstone, is a late
accretion, perhaps perpetuating the name of a prominent local
mediaeval landowner; or a lost post-Colonial settlement, Gilberston,
Wade & Gillies (1933); otherwise it has little relevance to the
fable. The stone itself is said to lie buried within Hobsmoat
to this day, waiting for the End of Things.
SEEK AND YE SHALL
Carmel hid, hidden, under paving-stones
and traffic signs. Brown eyes peeked out
from sudden, flurrying leaves. Her words
were the suppleness of wind that weaved
as it turned around awnings and trees.
Agiggle, she skipped on deserted streets,
calling her Horatia: You're on, you're it.
Shining-eyed a sister
'The Lord be with you'
to a teller of torments
to the Word
of William B. Frankland
by appointment to the Lord.
displeasure with assent
settling for the faithful,
a two chord chorus,
waiting for an answer
to the Last Days
and End of Eleven Worlds.
Imagine this: a room within, the bounds of voice; a crow
cries beyond; a clock counts; a hall empty, a hall full.
comparing: the sons of Belial like unto the word of denial;
preparing: the children of darkness for the prince of light;
declaring: the advent of Israel from the body of the Nile;
a voice aboom abounds above
bowed heads of the belov'd.
It dropped from the sky like a stone burning down
with the Will of Heaven. It consumed the dark lives
tangled around roots of pride. It humbled the high
and low. On our bent knees we move-still forward-led
towards the Last Day of Days, the First of Ever.
On bended knees towards a You-tree,
of You twisted
on the pole of the calendar,
through a snake-lane we turn,
repeating the angles
Tell me a history of that saviour who bides
till the calendar ends in a dancing of flame,
for a twelfth to come self-slaughtering bride.
Make me accounts of all redemptions denied
to justice's pawns in the backstreets of time,
in slave-ships or coal-mines, on all the wrong sides;
of yesterdays bartered that something might come;
and faith sold like charity; and like hope decried,
till the day of atonement by a redeemer who hides.
Twelve is the count of the tribes and signs
that order the years till the ending of times;
divided then divided, by the two that parted,
it numbers in three the brand of the beast
to the faithful awaiting the bridebed's feast,
abandoned in Egypt, their rescue unstarted.
By Your Whither-tree of winter
supplicant we count out
days of a world of waste
days to a mewling
new-born calendar, days
zodiac and zenith
culminating by degrees
its constellated eyes.
The wasted moor was the work of hands
and days that tilled an exhausted land;
its lane that Hick, Hodge or Hob ghosted
with rustic rumours, unshriven bands,
plucking to darkness, unwary and ousted,
travellers trailing what folly boasted.
On Poets' Corner Horatia lounged,
waiting the commerce and traffic of night.
Squealing, like brakes slammed down, a girl's
sharp pitch cut at her unconscious being,
pulled her from open-eyed slumber.
A rope dangled in her mind. Alarmed,
feline, her gaze prowled down the long
shadow-thronged street, touching alley-doors
and bushes tumbling on overhung gates.
That voice again. She moved forward,
answering the call.
No-one called her down an abandoned road
of untenanted houses and departed souls.
No-one called. Night she sensed invade.
Under Alpha Lyrae and Orion's Belt a sign
board proclaimed the Mission of Dr Crabbe
to reclaim the souls of the labouring poor
abandoned too she felt and thought she heard
her Carmel call. No-one had uttered a word.
He was ambling towards me down that same old
street we fooled and loitered on when young
we bobbed and ran and hung around and chewed
the news. In a long mac he peered out beneath
his black and tilted trilby. Bigead, I cried,
You old poser, how's tricks, eh? Much the same,
as ever he averred. It's all change round here,
I offered, look, th's nothing. Like our lives,
he murmured. Go on with ya, I told him. Sure,
he nodded, and stepped ahead and off. I paused,
but turned, recalling self, and wife, and tea.
THE DETECTIVE'S DIVINATION
Bigead knew now
designs and dimensions
of a map overlaid
by the hands of days
and altered habitations, twisted
courses, that turned
like sites to unlike purpose.
Eighteen over twelve,
the Great Year's proportion,
patterning on land
and drawn lives
the sky-borne, writhing
allegro con brio
For a princeling of Sophia
and potentate of charm, pauper amantis,
the numbers ran clear.
Eleven had been struck
from the register of Grace;
on the twelfth note the Divine Hand,
erect on the clock,
would open the Last Count
and charges of Sin,
purging the bestial, raising the pure
to heaven's skyward
da capo, con indifferenza
FROM OUR STREET CORRESOPONDENT
So there he was, this preacher-like, out front
of that old manky warehouse they calls a church,
an he's all fathery-like and dripping smiles an
all these young girls swarming round him, these
whey-faced fellahs all standing back, so quiet-like,
an he blesses em an kisses em and they all clings
to him and I thinks, I bet he gets some benefit
of office-like, eh, know what I mean-like, eh?
WORK IN PROGRESS
(from the Sybilline Review)
This preposterous collection
from an ill-drawn map
assembles a collage
of unlikely histories
and unreliable myths
like a patched rag coat
on the skinny shoulders
of a would-be detective
in a fractured narrative
(by a would-be poet)
coupled with a woman
of indeterminate means
or questionable profession
lurking in the back-streets
and cul-de-sacs of plot
arriving at nothing
but a threadbare proportion
of basic mathematics:
eighteen over twelve
one to one point five indeed
this is the author's
to salvage a structure
from his aimless collection.
To the diffident light add edge, her voice said,
to the torn, assembly; to what is less
the more, to a pointless pattern
of untouchable purpose
a palpitant substance
beating in a wave's long rhythm
through a scattered vision
of particles of plot.
O radiance, your broken prism.
Evergreen, troubled leaves
agitated in the air
over a shadowed soul who sobbed
by a yew's bent bulk.
So Horatia sorrowed.
A red swing trembled,
untouched, in a bare playground.
A crow waddled slow
on the gravel.
To the light add cloud
Carmel urged her,
under a storm-shortened pitch
of smothered horizon,
readying to howl.
OVER OUR HEADS
Carmel raged as the rain judged the tarmaced land.
She beat against hoardings and loose latched gates,
rising against traffic-cones, panicking rags of news
on streets of whimpering dogs and tight crouched cats.
At blind smeared panes she spat and bare bowed heads.
Like an echoing drum she shouted out at the end of days.
What am I, what am I, she rattled on nerve skin, merging,
each note she boomed, her indistinguishable witness.
AS THE HEAVENS RAGED
One to one point five hummed in his mind
as the rain poured on a detective of sorts.
One to one a woman he thought
waited his workings in a flat by the park
still calling a sister
caught by a twist of pointless pattern:
passionless, primal, purposeless
number he knew as mover and cause,
imprinting its random, inevitable law
on lives that were tuned
to its ineffable moods. By the green sign
of the Winter King, a stormwind whipped
a black trilby thus concluding
AS I SAW IT
Shouting he ran
his arms sawing fresh air
as a wind bowled a black slant trilby
down the long road he'd trudged
these thirty years
since first he crawled
out his cradle.
But that wind wouldn't listen.
It picked the black hat up
turned it around
like a suspicious buyer
then skim-skewed it
with a shot of contempt
over a red rain-washed tiles
He pulled up
wordless as the wind turned
and shouldered against
him looking hard above cars
at blank absence mapless
for his lost hat
his lost cause.
On empirical gnomes, guardians
of real and hard won homes,
furied, escaped her altered
other world. She lashed out
at lattice-work and louvre
then backed off
when letterbox flaps clapped
to run like a child and scamper
giggling down worn wriggling
The rain rained and a nerve twitch flick
of lightning flicker flashed
over an abandoned heart
of loss lost on a mourning path
that led from a sister's
ending. She cared.
A door happened
from nowhere. At a wyrd
angle on a street
corner she walked
adaze to it
like a dreamer
dreaming the undreamable
she walked in.
From beaten gnomes
and shut manholes
a thin chorus rose:
Ora, Horatia, ore-whore, pro nobis, pro poor.
I made you
from what was half-perceived
flitting on the edge
of the seam
from a turn of the head.
Your sister I called
from a snatch of light
fading as a month died
at day's end.
I drew you so
on two dimensions
a frame for time
shadowed here mirrored
form we cannot clutch
its tale the burden
your sorrows bear.
is mine, your sister's life
and death sole point
in a pointless story. It was
nothing it was
The thin air
ruffled. No, flatly
Dreaming of being Horatia turned
to her Carmel storm. As the crow heaves
its mass aloft, her thoughts stretched out
in a prolonged longing wave, patterned
thunder with lightning and resurrection
with rage. As the crow flew
Carmel Horatia turned, still,
to a dead pointing needle, aimed
on the direction of a calling Evangel.
On Milton Court the judgement walked.
At the height of yesterday's storm
a massive explosion ripped apart
a house in Milton Court, Yardley.
The sole occupant, Dr William Frank,
was missing presumed dead. Arthur
Potts, an eyewitness, attested
that the house was struck by light
-ning seconds before the gas blast
and the authorities believe there
could have been a million-to-one
against mis-chance. Dr Frank, well
-known locally as an evangelist,
had ordered his housekeeper, a
Mrs Batt, to take a half-day off,
as he planned to spend his time
in solitary prayer. The blast
was heard as far away as Millhill
and its force broke windows and
damaged stock in Short's Gnomes
On Milton Court the judgement walked.
THE REASON BEING
Had other business, God,
not a singed hair
not a single sparrow
not a calling sister
was His care.
In the long grinding
chains of number
crossed and cogged
unlike and alike
in co-incident pattern
the burrs of words.
His barren face was turned
like a new moon's
at the daylight point
of primitive eclipse
from one world He never made
from a book He never wrote
Tell me an end to an unanswered story
of what was and who did and always why,
its horoscopes mounted on misread skies.
Make me accounts from a black smooth stone
and a unanimous yew: its branching of many
to the fire that swallowed the Wait of Love;
of a mistaken sleuth and his unloving Isis,
who had tracked a pattern on a handmade map
to the Hunter's corpse, O fallen Osiris.
So, imploring, ruined, the story ends. As a frieze, broken, from an abandoned
temple - a transplant of Hellas, dedicated to the circling Muses, laid down
by the long body of the Nile; decayed, converted, by other habitations
of creed, then again fallen, its heaven-roof bereft of support.
With a final call, on the wheeling O of Osiris, an iconographer, obscure,
on a Northern isle, where too a dog-star runs on the Hunter's heel, surrenders
his unfinished Parousia. Parousia: presence, birth of being, Last of Days
and First of Forever, unattainable end and twist of a not-happen plot.
Did he know what he was doing? Do his last words hide a gnomic model
of covert fusions, or merely the last, desperate conflation of a lost
purpose? Is Osiris addressed? Or thrown down with starry Orion on to the
Nile of Isis? What meaning is there in the obsession with number, the
threes and sixes and almost twelves? What are we to make of the pairing
of the housing-estate detective Bigead with the master of Roger Bacon and
philosopher of optics and land-management Robert Grosseteste?
For Professor Harbour, the triplicity of Horatia, Bigead and Frankland
reflects the Freudian triumvirate of id, ego and super-ego; whereas Joseph
Woodstream sees a three-way interaction of myth, history and subjective
experience throughout. Others have discovered a moralistic study of hubris:
carnal, in Horatia; intellectual, in Bigead; spiritual, in Frankland. Yet
Hans Serif finds only a displaced mind in an exploded culture, lost in a
symbolic forest of its own devising.
In 'Restorations', Williams and Wade have argued that, considering the
action takes place in late March to early April, the prominence of both
Orion and the star Vega (Alpha Lyrae) at the same time is difficult to
accept, particularly if the time is early to mid-evening and the place
the suburbs of a large and light polluted industrial city. From this
reasonable comment, however, they reach the extra-ordinary conclusion
that the events occur on another, parallel world, under a similar
but subtly altered sky.
More interestingly, Murdoch and Mullins, in 'Lost Discourse', have
argued that these and other anomalies, such as the tired, autumnal roses
of 'Tennyson Avenue', represent a deliberate pointing of a fictitious,
illusory world, a reversed paradis artificiel, as it were, brought to
ground in the shabby surrounds of a provincial English town, transforming
the external environment into a projection of its natives' subjectivity. They
stress, too, the layering of decayed and decaying beliefs throughout the poem,
concluding that the 'map is the plot', a reductio ad absurdamof the self
-divinations of Protestant exegis to a 'hotch-potch of half-apprehended
myth and grandiose numerology'.
For other readers, unease is encountered in the limited characterisation,
leaving most of the brutal litany of slaughtered women as little more than
names on a rote. Indeed, the mortality rate in this creator's brief world
is disproportionate to its content. One wonders whether or not its author
feels any pity for his creatures whatsoever.
Of the principal figures, the childhood bonding of the sisters is well
-drawn, but it is dificult to believe that the ineffective and perpetually
pedestrian Bigead ever served in the forces. Never believe what you read
in the press, defenders reply. Of the unfortunate Frankland, mis-printed
in death, we encounter little directly, and his beliefs and precise role
in the demise of the girls remain obscure. That Horatia should continue
confident in her detective's mark lack of detecting strains credibility,
and our impatience is goaded by the lack of depiction of any contact
between the two protagonists after the early scenes.
In a few score chapters without fixed reference, where seasons shift
as street corners turn, and symbols rise without explanation, bequeathing
to their witnesses no understanding, we follow a loose assembly of the
nameless and the uncertainly bonded, tracking a death without reason
through the echoes of myth and history in a nondescript suburb, arriving
without conclusion in a blurring storm at an O of exclamation. It could
be anywhere, or nowhere; anything, or nothing.
We can accept the coming down to earth, on streets named after poets,
of Oratio, the right discourse and eloquence of rhetoric and the prayer
of ecclesiastic Latin, in the free-market form of Horatia the hooker;
although it is a somewhat nostalgic, High Tory trope for a radical author.
But as to this little world's ultimate purpose and point, that, rather than
its sketchy story, is the real mystery of the tale. in the end we should ask
not whodunnit?, but rather why is it?
ITS END FOREGONE
ITS CAUSE UNKNOWN
Parousia by David Bircumshaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.