- Photo Casablanca, Hassan ii
- Photo Casablanca, Hassan ii
Going postal in St Petersburg
I’ll have to attend to this by myself now,
selecting shells from the beach.
‘Here, what about this one’ you’d say,
reaching over a find.
I’ll have to do that other job on my own too.
So I stare at the sea hands jammed in pockets.
I hear the first year is a year of firsts;
the first sunrise, the first fish supper on a sea wall,
the first next album, the first skelf to be dug at; a new purse.
Hunkered I rake over the sand for a good shell.
Standing up I rear my chin to the sun, and care-less
a nice cream cone falls off my limp fingers.
Then I toss away a white thumb of quartz.
Too opalescent of grave gravel.
A horny oyster-half yawns like an old ashtray.
I just don't see the heart in it yet.
'It's all about light' I tell would-be snappers darkly and hand them Sontag. Me and the light are always having a race.
I've left it late for the toad-path again. Go out too fast. Hurl round the first bend. Feet and mouth out of time. Inhale plump midges with each hard suck hifffp hifffp and spit.
Is there enough light to get to the bridge? And back, the shortest side is also the darkest. Overlooked by high tiered forest scratched with dirty paths. Up there men in jogging pants script romance on their phones. They dont look up when you skirt them. I cock one headphone aside to keep an ear at the forest. My feet plank over the bridge, then I plunge into a dark green sleeve. Trees wrap the path. The hedge and tall grasses fecund and reachy. A damp leaf strokes me.
A man in a trench coat leans against a concrete post. Then he's just a concrete post. A bench levitates from the gloom. I whip my head to look behind me. That was stupid. I do it again. Flip! A black silk scarf flaps from my crown. As if my own hair produced it. Flicks at my face and I swat. A what a bird a bat? A bat. Attacking? Are there more? It scares the fucking daylights out of me. I don't scream. Even alarmed on a deserted forest path at night I'm too prissy to scream. I hare around the rest blistering my toes and skelter into the car park sweaty, horrified.
Words; Belfast Northern Ireland 2013
Image; St Petersburg Russia July 1999
Coxswains waxed string. Grooves in a wax block preserved like scratches down a back. The sort of string you wouldn't squander. I have a clatter of shells from a County Down beach with the tops knocked off. Like ossified calamari. I thread a few on my ring finger and they clink nicely. They'll make good wind chimes for the back door, I think. I have the string for that job.
I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, (Fr. Punishment by Seamus Heaney)
I couldn't take my chances on the peat bog with a spade.
With every heft and cleave, expect to cleft some poor drowned cow or haltered neck.
Just as I always expect in derelict country lanes (where people abandon stained mattresses),
a bloated blue arm to flop from the thicket.
There was a time when the commonplace was extraordinary. Tall Italian cafes & their random clobber a source of fascination. A very particular & Italian aesthetic, lofty and vaulted. Back then I would point at my camera like a mute. Grunt then shoot. I can't imagine what people made of me. I shot a roll of film in this cafe, flash firing and everything. Just standing there, in the middle of their conversation.
Cagliari Sardinia 1999
There is a glove on the passenger seat of my car.
Squashed flat in sinister gesture, in perpetuity pointedly alone.
YOU did this to me. It reproaches at the start of every journey.
Rendered me redundant. He sulks like a black ink splat.
Although I regret the whereabouts of the treacherous dexter;
absent about sleeve,
I cannot bring myself to dispose of him.
I feel sure the instant I do,
the universe will regurgitate his mate.
Perhaps I should attempt to fox the universe
by stuffing him out of sight into the glove compartment.
1956 Plymouth Belvedere. Taxi-ride Istanbul c.2001
In the days before things went viral at the speed of light I was always tickled by a photocopy of truisms that went around. The pith in an observation like 'Everyone always remembers the day a dog ran into their school' sets me off for no reason. 'There's no panic like the panic you momentarily feel when you've got your hand or head stuck in something' never fails to raise a giggle. Like, 'Bricks are horrible to carry'. To this I would add (as no laughing matter), never underestimate the importance of your passport.
I went on a long walk on New Years Eve to sort things out, and returned avowed and empowered. Strode half way around the filthy sweating coast of Mayotte in the Northern Mozambique Channel. In my 'feet I wrote in wet sand with a stick. By 9pm some gears had blown and I was into my elbows with chemicals and a strapless gown. Some staff crap. Then! The office phone to say India wouldn't let me in without two months on my passport. Really? Ten years already?
As we sailed that night for Singapore, the prospects were grim. The embassy when I got there was leafy, charming and armed, paradise. They wouldn't have done it in a day ordinarily but the old girl went on fire again or some such, requiring an unscheduled overnight alongside. The reprieve, extraordinary, blissful. Like a white light. I embarrassed the lovely Singaporean lady with a box of Tartan Shortbread for her assistance. Realising my insult quickly stuffing it back into my satchel. Then skipped off to Raffles laughing alone in the Long Bar at a large cock-a-tail and peanut satay sticks. There were no taxis and slightly tipsy in a pretty red and white dress and light sandals luckily I was bundled through the port in the back of a truck packed full of armed soldiers. They stared at me swaying in unison on the butts of upright rifles.
It rained. It bloody bucketed. Privileged amongst the stucco I stood to get cheerfully soaked, clutching my passport. Perhaps there was to have been an adventure in it, stranded in Singapore without money, or a job, or a flight, a plan, indeed a passport out. But that's the way of it. Away boys, away boys, heave away.
Oh how gleefully I sneer at the fat American tourist. Sitting there smug in the authenticity of my own experience. Scoffing. I suck noodles and sip beer from a blue plastic tumbler like Vasco da Gama. Triumphantly European. The audacity, to presume that my journey is somehow superior to his.
After, I like him. I'm humbled. By his dignity which defys the discomfort of his posture. A wedding band and neat wrist watch clamped over his knee like Queen Victoria. No maurauding colonialist ferried here through the back streets of George Town. From Farquhur up Love Lane past godowns and the noblese of Straits Chinese. His features defensive, flushed and not sure. But giving it a go all the same.
Aubergine & lime (2)
I found another. In The Tropical Ravine at the Botanical Gardens. As a child I had no trouble at all imagining slick and sticky creatures lurking licking. Slobber dripping, down the drenched brick walls. Giant knackered goldfish with a chewed fin or an eye-out kick off. And limp under dank pods. Whilst the punkawallah pulleys great lush leaves in slow waves. Tropical brutes, bores. Tiffin and tea-dresses.
The bag is exotically billed as 'polka-dot aubergine and lime shoulder'. It reminds me of an image I'm fond of that might have inspired it.
Creightons Garage Belfast 30th December.
We wait all year for the pause, the great silence. The poinsettia still has leaves. I have yet to pen a single resolution. Shall we ring in the new year with creme eggs then? I am depressed by the churn of the seasonal experience. When do we get to breathe, reflect, luxuriate?
Plaza Juan Alvarez (The Zócalo) Acapulco 29 December 2005
And I in a desperate peril yet again. We flopped on our chins over a balcony. Companionably. Soothed by the 'froings of the plaza below. Pink and burbling with crumbling concrete moist like sponge cake. Wrapped with those pretty tiles. The people shuttling from one shadow to the other cheered me up. Errands ribboned through the square making a cats cradle of cargo and purpose. Swordfish cerviche and flat Margaritas unfussy in jam-jar glasses. With a good friend doing his very best and I was coming round.
Can we come back this evening for dinner? Oh can we? It was my birthday. I was having a change of heart and starting to look forward to things after all.
There was a terrible shock lurking behind a door. Hoots & toots. Shrieks of Surprise! Surprise! and a lime green cake in the shape of a Rehoboam; a life-sized cut-out of myself dedicated to cardboard plus a hamper of pricey savouries. Whilst everyone congratulated themselves on such an excellent secret and a night of tequila on the neon strip negotiated I was thinking, this unexpected brouhaha is all very splendid, but when are you and me going to the pink plaza to watch people?
I can't describe the Caribbean enough. You just have to go.
St Lucia c.2000
Raw neg scan c.1999 China Town Honolulu. Waikiki a paradise it is not.
Toulon, France 2006
Panama Canal, Amazon, Mississippi, Nile.
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