City Devotions

To Bee, for whom today is difficult.

A knight with a clock; the swings tied up, swings too small for him. Mist rolling over the fields, a little of the veil, the colour of suicide bathwater: Turkish delight; glitter on the performance, a carmine red fleck of laundry; and flowers, on the breath of the cull. Paris by night. City devotions.


‘It’s done mechanically?’ / ‘No, Monsieur, by hand.’ (Overheard at a Neo-Impressionist exhibition in 1894: Reported by Thadée Natanson in ‘La Revue Blanche.’)

The ground tips back, held down by small lumpish shapes. Waiting is the whole story, movement restricted to a thin skirt of light that comes from a village at the foot of the hill. Small streaks of white oil correct small failures of the imagination. Grey fills the sky, which is low and flat without a patch of blue, and a liquid coldness spreads over indistinct forms and things; the village, outwith the vantage point, an idea equal in value to the picture itself.

Of nothing Linz she thought more Munich, Berlin. Tap tap of an overflow pipe on the sky. An old woman collects frosted berries from wild bushes at the back of her garden, pale, delicately freckled fingers stained pink with things that never mattered the first time around. (The sound of sleet on the car was made elsewhere. The silence she made was made elsewhere. She waited where she wished, shared everything as the engine turned over to run the heater. Circumstances that could not have come about without this white theatre under a hard overhead light: A primitive farmyard. A young peasant woman with bare feet. Only a few paths, deeply marked or furrowed led through the snow-covered field before her eyes, closed.) A railway station in deep snow, Freiburg. A betrayal, only Rosa pimpinellifolia in the garden. A station of the cross, a triptych of Black Mountain gateaux. A deconsecrated church and four-leafed window of fading luck, Kirchzarten. Asparagus, white hollandaise sauce. A waste pipe, grey boiling mud. New potatoes, potatoes. A village, a primary school playground. A village, what blossoms of clematis! Infidelity, just killing. A village, tentacles of swastika. A village—there is no village.

Looking Over Largo Bay To Methil From The High Water Spring At Ruddons Point—Listening To A Village Buried In A Pit Bing
Clearances still; in demand of rock blackness, no starry work was made of such blue-flashing light hounding wheat as night’s grey ran it the length of a far off childline.

Shuffle …

A field. An enhanced octagonal (made by Rose, Charlotte Anne, Theresa and Lucy facing inwards around a big pink thistle) with heads gentle rubbing together in wild grey, in a butterglen meadow of daisy, chamomile, corn poppy and tall green grass, a warm breeze keeping the flies away.
Theresa:
Press ‘shuffle’ and it should work.
Charlotte Anne:
I’m trying, but my hoof’s too big.
Lucy:
Mine’s a bit smaller and I’ve done it before. Let me have a shot.
Rose:
I’ll leave you girls to it. I don’t fancy a playlist of ‘underachieving kak’. I’m going down to the riverbank where Foxglove will read poems about buttercups and wet sage in five minutes — Later.


‘Mrs Adams said a wis a croass. How come? Whit’s she talkin’ aboot? She said tae ma Mammy ‘Mrs McPherson Clare is your cross. We all have crosses to bear’. / Ah’m no a cross in am no a bear either. She disnae like me.’ (Grace Cleary)

To Whom It May Concern,
There is black mould on the sky, re-born dolls in the pharmaceutical labs, porcelain cups for apostles of ‘the God-given occupation’, counselling for the melancholic and ‘pinko hippies’. The Christian miracle eye tracking is torn on a line of grey bodies, on thousands of stacks of bodies. Dirty pollen coats our needles; pitiless bag closing, and an engorged media prostitutes privacy and our right to worship. Under siege the sky is sallow and the weather like grit; umbilical soil in a gravitational well. The mining settlements plunder the aisles of ‘Cold Meat, frozen Carrot, Small Pies, Tissues, yeast, more tortilla wraps, hair dye …’ adrift in the fetid hum on verges of dual carriageway (Genocide, tin-oxide, egg white on silk pillowcase, 2016. Private Collection.) And tears and weeping as far as the eye can see. Were it not for your listening eyes, had you not a delicate sense, when would we have acted? But I shall forget this dream; through midnight, I’ll disappear. Dear, hear this my …


‘A man was standing in the rain. It rained harder.’ (in Floor Grey, high up on the east wall of HMP, Perth.)

Green in Cottown. The fields smell sharp, of rhubarb, grey slip on the road, but nothing grows, even in the rains of Heaven.

Shuffle …

Neukünstler! My name is on the door. White plastic belt, cardboard, aluminium foil, silver tape, 20mm starch packing sheets, wire, and a canvas backpack, five cardboard boxes (24 pack eco laundry tablet’s), silver tape, aluminium foil, wire—Fake devices, ‘made by hand Monsieur.’

On the far horizon, the whole| conversation, hand cut blind| in the gilded space closer to| the margin of you on Cothill.
Movement of perfections shadow,| darkness outwith your corridor, tell me,| tell me, emptiness.| I rise out of my sleep.
And the grey cherry tree| turning in its wash of rain,| a nest in splendid-malnutrition| tonight I shall ask it in.
My love waited, may have died| in the wax of shadow, patrolling| the feast of leaves.| I met my death
coming the other way. Turning| a quiet song, I cried| and you passed by without a sound.| A resurrection?
Nothing that you say; I dwell.| No measure of fire; I dwell.| Keeping shtum on the road,| consent where paradox is fear.
My heart denied, I couldn’t see myself;| I left early into the field| with the nothing that you say| weighing past all weight
in the interior of smear and bravery,| prayers could not dent my darkness.| I go to my neighbour with nothing to eat,| the blackbird the chaffinch.
This love will be the end.| You have all the space| in my mind, the manners of pain,| a quiet carriage you say.
And you my spent heart, dwell| true, after truth, in love| never depleted by use or display| a moment and forever.

As simple an act as closing the eyes


‘I needn’t explain, I think you know’ (Tracey Thorn)

She remembered an open window, a morning, empty-hearted, a night of uncomforted weeping a long time for love. And how afterwards, in the silence following great words of peace, she wrote, ‘I WATCH YOU SLEEP,’ underlined, in the demersal hues of their unmade bed—peace at last, lovely enough to bring them a few hours of shelter, in silence; serenity, in ravishment. And then daylight came, like a haar, sank through the air and drifting stirred the estuary once, and dropped, at length, into the city.

The stuffed motel—in the way of marketable sheen. Wendover, Utah. Her hair hangs black to the floor, her white vest soft and wet with sweat. A shopping bag on the ground outside that nobody notices. A maid pulls back the bed sheet and blinks at the smell. I thought I was passed the memory. Caught more on this dream—of polyprop chairs, Family Dollar, smokes, Channel 5—awake than ever before and ready to return, my eyes open, coming into things by degrees, I found her stain had dried on my mouth. The coffee hot again.

I dreamed she was afraid—The leaves, bleeding on the grass, the smell of wronged flesh, mouldy breath; cankered dreams caught in her hair, waves of sweat tearing at her tongue; the fear to speak, to form what is in the air, my angel sleeps, wet, on our quilted cover—the salt lingers on my fingers when she’s done, while in the distance, through the din of sea birds, white waves over White Scalp dissolve in the obliterating light.

Sometimes they measured out life in little commodities—Citalopram, Sertraline.

Friday 1 July 2016—The last consideration; a siskin in the green wheat field behind the garden, singing in the slow world of the deer. You were in there too, curled up on the ground two hundred metres away, asleep in the warm breath of a fawn. I heard the pale sky fall apart in a shower of soft rain, a little saltiness in the air. Even to fold warm clothes from the dryer for you was enough that day—Limitless joy —Blue evening—What will come to your mind in the hills and the woods of Arcadia.

Repoussoir—Leave the A923 after Forneth and climb the hill past Citie Knowe and Balvidoch to the crossroads at Bishopryfauld. From there go west, past the ‘tradesman’s entrance’ to Snaigow House, and stop short of the ruins of Egmont Castle. By the roadside you will see a tall silver birch without any leaves—it has been asleep for a long time, over one hundred years, haunting the minds and clinging to the hearts of those who live around it. Every evening before sunset an old woman, Polly, takes her golden Labrador, Magnolia, for a short walk before going to bed. And every evening, she bathes with lavender oil, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, but with quiet care and attention, the phosphorescent paper of the lower part of the old tree. Polly’s done this since she was a little girl (with Lebanon, Rose, Gwen and Mandy, before Magnolia) though she’s long forgotten the reason why …

Pushing back a bit further—It freezes a bit of you, the rustling noise of leaves brushing against the grey sky; the emptiness; the brown lumpy mass of fat at the heart of the picture; the cold and clammy tissue of your night-skin dreams, lying immeasurably still; her skin takes on colour …

From the back of the world—Birds catch fire up there in the wind, in the same grey air that you open your window too; breathless, low and quiet, in a dark sky.

Empire …

‘LOVE, you ever want me, DON’T’ in orchid pink lipstick on the mirror in Room 11, Hotel Scandic, Helsinki. / She measures the winter night in the way his face slackens on the bone—each pore, each eyelash, each bead of sweat—deepest indigo, empty, like thought itself.

A note on the references. Anne Carson’s essay is a brilliant work of scholarship and includes references to poems by Elizabeth Bishop (“The Moth-Man’) and novels by Virginia Wolf (‘To the Lighthouse,’ a novel which falls asleep for twenty-five pages in the middle) among others, which there is no requirement for me to duplicate here. There have similarly been a considerable number of published academic studies on ‘Sleep in Art.’ The subject of graffiti itself is not dealt with directly but it’s implicit in the fine grain of the writing—with an interest in ‘what the words say’ in the contexts in which I found them and not just ‘what they look like’ or ‘how they were done.’ Those things I’ve listed here remain of interest to me, have some particular place in Art and Writing that I think fine art students may like to know about, or they have had a direct bearing on this short piece. The references are an idiosyncratic collection and are not intended to be exhaustive; a starting out point perhaps, if anything.

I close my eyes—on all my certain things.

Stay with, or abandon you? This is what the stars are saying to each other, up there, above the garden, in the dust of centuries.

The glow behind your eyelids is a painting without title, shows you open the bruise blood bending over in a field, an orange vendor at a fairground, your elephant, Eden (you sold your car to buy her) joyfully stripping leaves from trees in the garden—Angel Mugler, Miu Miu, Chloé drafting from the aircon of cars as they pass you on the verge of a dual carriageway leaving town; in your chest, mixing it with a silage of cardamom, sweat and lamb’s wool the sky feels closer than usual, the outskirts of the city, counterfeit. There’s something of the sky in you tonight, a dirty uneven breath. You were loved more than once but were in fear of … Well. What? Behind your eyes who now sleeps?


‘I rode down to the street floor and went out on the steps of the City Hall. It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way – but not as far as Velma had gone.’ (Raymond Chandler)

The rubber is discovered under a foam mattress in a child’s wicker basket at a recycling centre. It’s oblong and rounded at each end, covered in small dark spots where the end of a pencil or pen has been pushed into it. Some of it is shiny and a darker shade of grey. It feels smooth and cold in my hand. On two of its sides the words ‘elephant’ and ‘Sky’ are tattooed into the silky smooth surface with black biro. On another, ‘I am all alone Dear Emily …’ again, done with great care, in blue biro this time. One side is clear. Outside it’s raining heavily, has been for days. The sky is the same dirty shade of grey.

To one side is a squat, unremarkable church (of Scotland) in a simmering lake of tarmac. A woman lies face down in the rain weeping in its comfortless shadow, her turquoise skirt and pale blue cardigan bleed into the foreground—that it’s not Queen Victoria, you know already. The car you arrived in has pulled up in front of a tall building made of glass— ‘… for the best’ silences: It’s not what you said, but it was what you wanted to say. Yellow leaves flutter to the ground as you step away from the car, your one tear, your only possession, slips down your cheek and falls onto the woman in the turquoise-blue shadow, pure enough to calm her—your childhood sentence: normcore corduroy; a brutal cult.

… between WHITE SCALP seagull SHANWELL and TONY SCALP midday LUCKY SCALP

There’s no door on the building, no door on the day, no glass in the windows, no wind to speak of, no blue in the sky. ‘With A Pure Heart’ is marked up above the sink—in Matador Black filled with Elizabeth Pink. ‘slowly, meditatively’ a peach scar in the woodchip. ‘Our Laws Are Still For War’ in a New York ghost-cap Soviet Red across an electrical panel. On the ceiling ‘I Did Not Know’ in Pineapple Yellow seeping through ‘My Heaven’ in Aspen White. ‘AUS DEM KOPF’ by the window in a single pass of Iced Vermilion. The buzzing of bees in a nearby bush and the spectral echo of a fat cap breathing a chord of paint into the future … hohhhhhhhhhhhh … the only sounds in the room, for it is still a room of sorts. You swept the floor of rubble and glass because writing over someone else’s work wasn’t an option and concrete like this is porous and soaks up paint not like the walls. ‘PLEASE Me’ is in pink, ‘Don’t Leave’ in blue. Who were you writing for? Who was to read this?
‘PLEASE Don’t Leave Me’
‘PLEASE Me Don’t Leave’
‘Don’t Leave PLEASE Me’


‘Love is time travel—still I dream of your arrival’ (set against a sky blue background in ‘Epitaph,’ a serif face influenced by the types cut by Jessica Möll between 1449 and 1516)

‘Don’t Leave PLEASE Me’
‘PLEASE Me Don’t Leave’
‘PLEASE Don’t Leave Me’
You implore your sanity. You are prostrate, weeping for your God. You are still in the room leaning on the windowsill with one knee resting on a chair looking out towards the sea. You are still in the room—there is no voice that the sea will not put in its mouth. This is the first line that your body longed for, words without much use now that you are unable to remake what followed. It is the room speaking. This is Eden. You are like a cat delivering a dead mouse, in control over what you give. It is the room speaking, the room is cruel. This is Hell.

Next to the door outside (it’s been painted over but you can still make it out) you’ve written ‘Trust me I’m the Doctor’ in Mercury Yellow. Perhaps your name is Emily.

Trail Cake

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250g chopped dates / 175g chopped pecan nuts / 75g brown sugar / 50g plain flour (or gf substitute) / 50g porridge oats (or gf substitute) / 80ml of strong olive oil / 1tsp mixed spice / 1tsp vanilla extract / 2 lg eggs

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and turn out onto baking paper in a ceramic dish and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.

The ingredients above are a basic mix. I frequently change it about —add honey, sunflower seeds, linseeds, walnuts as well as or instead of pecans, mixed fruit instead of the dates. Enjoy.

Landscapes are absurd until obeyed (Bowles)

The absurd does not liberate; it binds. (Albert Camus)
Fortune is also unkind (Machiavelli)

12

I went for a ride this morning on my way home from the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Fort William; I climbed Birnam Hill a few times and rode the enduro trails, taking it easy, just enjoying being out on my bike in the warm summer air. There was no-one else … except …

It had been an extraordinary weekend, made particularly memorable by the tributes paid to Stevie Smith (a.k.a. Chainsaw), the young Canadian racer who recently lost his life.

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Like many, the first time I saw him ride was in his appearances in The Collective’s film, Seasons, where I saw his modesty, the quiet commitment to his dream of wanting to ride a mountain bike as a career, his skill and speed, and the clear joy and happiness he seemed to have when he was on, or near a bike: the twelfth place on Sunday’s race schedule (twelve was Smith’s UCI ranking at the time of his death) was held as a ‘silent run,’ to allow everyone – his extended family – to pay their respects and remember his life.