Bio: Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales, UK from ministry in the Methodist Church due to Parkinson’s Disease, has had pieces published by on-line poetry sites, printed journals and anthologies, including Fevers of the Mind. He has, like so many, been a nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. His blog is at https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/
Why turning rust leaves on the trees paint wonder - but not metal form, the oxide scar, green metal bench? Both witness chemicals at work; the autumn auxin taking charge, so damp air driving season’s cost. A copper beech, the chestnut bract, fall flaking branch, strip modesty; yet next that picnic bench neglect, with viridescent bottle mold, its palette range a mirror work? Would pristine tree in summer dress, unchanging, satisfy our eye? Why should our plant, this country seat, not share the turning of the year?
I saw this bike, post-war, restored - The Repair Shop, a TV show, and suddenly I’m riding it. A toddler, at my mother’s back, the child-seat crude, black rods, red pad, mudguard white striped, black-out required. She told me, first air-raid she knew, new dress, on slab, newspaper laid, she lay, more fear newsprint transferred. Handlebars battered, spinning wheels, as lifted head, surveyed the screams - and then this bike, her own, my ride.
Great grandma’s clock has ceased to tock, that mantel piece of crude cut wood, a case too large for inner works where even dust just lost its way. That alloy block on ramrod stick founds its weight too much to sway. Great grandad sat there by the peat, sipped Bushmills from up the way, admired his cutting from the moss. She would have him up the stairs but once the whisky had its way, along with glowing from the grate he was balanced on his seat, content, the ticking of her talk wafting, smoky, up the stack; no matter words, straitjacket, Mum, admonition of her tongue. He piled bog slack from crumpled pail, settled back, ignored the pain, tasting time, port barrel stock.
My teenage, borne in urban scape by serendipity, in stealth, effected move to moorland heath. Mount orange box, guide skipping rope, bold pavement swerves, clipped city kerbs, week’s shopping bags, strewn apples, leeks - old go-cart gave way, hiking boots, that axle burn turned abseil hold. I longed for yells, clear crowds from path, big points for scare, here mine alone - heard belay calls, rock climbing face, slow rise to rush adrenalin. Nail granite bite, one toe tip grip, supplanted by wind rush, tor top, curbed charm of snaking coil below, saw route, sail reservoir, canoe. Words tack and boom, with crampon spikes, set rhyming slang took on fresh voice, with burr and rolling singing slurs, an adolescent culture twist. Across the tracks, my circuit mates, paroled their streets, fixed terms fulfilled; but I, transferred to peat moss, grouse, had no complaints, new venture paths.
We met moor-top one sunny day, three of us raised and with sufficient experience and people-interest to relate beyond silence, gruff acknowledgement, platitude into conversation. So we concede beyond polite fascination, the courtesy finds connections, and unspoken, unconfessed, the sensitive awareness of intellectual compatibility, water finding its own level and finding, as it were, two vessels joined. Was that why he asked if he could walk with us, we think to his benefit, maybe ours? The loneliness was chosen. He walks without map or compass or even plan; was this so the gods could chose companion, rain, sun, heather, grouse, people? And why as several coalesced at scenic viewpoint did he speak with us, when all knew the common vista enjoyment and its fuzzed horizon, rubbed graphite, seeped, too bruised to rely on divided line? We walked and talked, smiled knowingly, admired competency, the linguistic polymath overseas parental-pleasing and expected drive, yet a ghostly wanderlust. Short-term psychiatry appointments. Was that want of wider experience, or simple impatience, or an unsatisfied search? We shall never know. We shared his meagre ration, at his insistence. At ours he returned with us for soup which was not to his taste but of course feigned sufficiency. He signed our visitors book, took a card and said goodbye. The police rang some months later: Shayne missing in the mountains, found your card at home. Our tale fitted the present circumstance. Six years on his death declared, presumed victim of Adam and Eve on Tryfan, beyond Ogwen where darers leap between the rocks, though body never found. His namesake, nightmare novelist writes 'the void of nothingness', as my stranger's alter ego. I wonder if this multi-lingual doctor of the mind, lone wanderer, open to the guiding wind was some kind angel in disguise, missed in mountain mist. Entertaining strangers unawares.
Borne nugget of Aurelia, what channelled such genetic trail, that broke in storms - passed to her son - bipolar swings, bipolar things, from obsolete, fine white flying myth? She missed Dylan, whom would have milked, a Harvard no, a Fulbright yes. scholar to Newnham, Cantab pressed, but self-harm nurtured in her breast - could nacreous pearl emerge from grit? I’ll take a punt - I by poled so, beneath the Newnham balcony, some dawn of dusk she saw it low. Crossing the Water of the Cam, by Silver Street where rollers lift rift lower, upper, lower drift, with splashes, waves, lap gurgling stir, fleck lashes sweat, stern chain-gang haul, far reach, Grantchester, honey, tea. Confessional of Lowell guide, grave Sexton, care beside, on side, the woman dares to speak her mind, and tell her side, heredity, the voice in type of common woe, far commonweal all she’s deserved, domestic surreal in flow, bee keeper seeking how to be. Her jarring bell distorts, disturbs, as Ted her lover, rental cursed, Double Exposure found her lost, as from storm, tempest, Ariel, some spirit breaking from the bole. I’d want the spritely smiling girl, not drab flat Chalcot Square portrait - ‘flat character I do not want’ - sourcery, Wikimedia commons view, black white of negativity, rejec-ted, dejec-ted hues espoused, of ouija and astrology. His chiseled face off granite slab - chips off the old block, gravel grave - could she find self-worth, alchemy, the golden lotus in fierce flames at least in those who followed her?
We all hear not to wave as drown, some, killing field of Primrose Hill; mad ricochet from happy, sad, her childhood scars as beauty marks, rejection slips that showed she tried, than deserved, content, happier. And Ariel, the posthumous received as relic, not a book, bright hair bracelet about the bone, in mix, rebirth and death forlorn. But for her cut and thrust of words, polar explorer of extremes, was there no one to hold her down when she rose up, found empty skies? How could her Daddy, laureate not bind her childish adult wounds, North Tawton hives or blue plaque signs not signal hope within the rage? Dismantled almosts may be shame, but of rebuilding what remains? Did she expect her orphaned two to know that noose left hanging there, new mother, lover, ill dispute, who also took her life, her one? These revenge tragedies of life seem hellbent on remorse and pain. And Nicholas, of Farrar name, brings Little Gidding into frame, with Sylvia, and that own son, Assia, daughter, a quartet.
Teddy’s Bare Picnic
Plath’s pleas, wronged women, kept in place, yet ‘butcher’ Ted rôled on through list and lay in bed at lover’s nest as told of his wife’s suicide; Plath’s flat, two days, where lover lay, and would, abort recovery. Draft constitution, mistress’ rules, outlined permitted, what ruled out; two pages type, of sixties man, when rise, how dress and what to cook. His other lovers, some his wives - ‘Which bed? Which bride?’ exemplified, an alphabetti soup of code, Assia, Brenda, Carol too, reduced to A, B, C, his joke. And laureate, a poet too.