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 life out in little pills—Citalopram, Sertraline, Fluoxetine, Diazepam.

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.

A note on the references. Those things that 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 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 as well as ‘what they look like’ or ‘how they were done.’ The references are an idiosyncratic collection and are not intended to be exhaustive; a starting out point perhaps, if anything.

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.

Love, solitude and loneliness

Turn once more your clear high faces / from me, from this place, / and face again the wind, the open land / the roads that lead / away …

For a kind of / fearful desperation, / an utter savagery, / will soon become, / and I fear for those who are not free / to run before it.

—Charles Buckmaster, ‘Starting Out.’

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Out here I can reflect on love, after riding through the lip of exhaustion. And on how solitude shapes those of us who choose to go into – and take others – through these wild and beautiful places.

This is a landscape that compounds light, and being alone. An idea of being: there is no-one here.

This is different to being in a city. There are no people in cities, only strangers; populations. It is all other. Back in the distance there was sometimes the consolation of familiar others, but this is no longer the case. Now, we are scattered in bits across the surface stimulation of the digital imaginary, abandoned, as we had once been anatomically scattered across the Renaissance. But today our body parts, no longer the subject of medical study, are the mirror in which we see the broken and maimed remains of consumer culture.

I accept the idea for the moment that the problem is one of sorrow. It is the next day, the day after afterwards. The only tense is the future, but the future cannot be trusted.

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The sun is already up when you wake up
She, absently forgetting you, as much as one forgets
Now, there is only air
It tastes of wild grass
Now, rain cleans the air
And falls on the sorrow, and will be falling

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On one evening after dinner with the clients I read a few poems, poems that I thought could open the landscape through which they had been moving, and Scotland herself, to other ‘ways of seeing;’ poems by John Burnside, Jenni Fagan, John Glenday, Jen Hadfield, Kathleen Jamie, William Letford … and Don Paterson.

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The poem by Paterson was called, ‘The Landscape (after Robert Desnos).’ In it the voice of the poem dreams of loving and while the dream remains, love is no longer – what he had come to anticipate, expect or even desire. Instead

… It is the star struck under my heel in the night. / It is the word no book on earth defines. / It is the foam on the wave, the cloud in the sky.

Melancholy? Of course: only the ephemeral and fleeting are worth recording, only here is the world still magical; so surely must this conjure up the problem of sorrow.

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In a song on her album ‘Back to Black,’ Amy Winehouse sings of this, this one truth:

For you I was a flame / Love is a losing game / … What a mess we made / And now the final frame / Love is a losing game …

Paterson’s poem receives a different truth, sorrow in the shape of epiphany. His poem ends with the lines:

As they age, all things grow rigid and bright. / The streets fall nameless, and the knots untie. / Now, with this landscape, I fix, I shine.

The photographs are from a recent H+I Adventures mountain biking trip; coast-to-coast from Bonar Bridge in the east to Applecross in the west over six days during the last week of May.

 

First and last

I’ve been studying the difference between solitude and loneliness.

— Thinking too about ‘The Poem’ by Australian poet, Robert Gray. The first and last stanza read as follows.

The paddocks there are so wide open / she says you always feel / that the lid has been left off everything. / It’s all gone hard and stale … /

 Sheets still pegged she takes into her fist, / and stands inhaling each one: / taut with air, white as a heron in the moonlight. / This, which she has done.

— Telling the story of my life to the white sheets and towels taken sweet-smelling from the washing line in the back garden:

I carry them into the house as though they were my children asleep in my arms.

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Staywell. The first and last image of a recent short film work.