I set myself the challenge of writing 100 pieces made up of 100 words. Some are deep and some not so much.
100 Words – explanation
There are so many people using so many words.
Who has the time to read all those words?
So I am just going to use one hundred carefully chosen ones.
I have written about the things I notice along the way.
Some are whimsical.
Some are observations.
Some are heart felt.
Some are emotive.
A friend of mine calls them literary tapas.
I like that.
I hope you find them helpful.
So, here are my one hundred words.
There are, oddly enough, one hundred of the little rascals.
Who has time as we slash and dash through life with monkey minds and darting glance to roll our eyes over prose and poetry? Who can take a breath (someone else’s if necessary) and ponder life and faith and love and whimsy when all around are losing theirs? Who can pause and rewind, re-watch and re-learn the prompts of someone who is Other? Who will slow down and flow with the sparkling stream and be blinded by the diamond light? Who will grab a brew and a biscuit or two and read a hundred words? Will it be you?
A Galaxy of Stars
She wills this moment to freeze, to forever stand still in faded sepia, but she knows that pain and loss last longer than joy. And so, the battle lost, warm colours give way to deep, deep blue and everything becomes melting shadows and twisted trees. The quiet is broken by the distant bark of a dog trying to remember when he was a wolf, the moon sympathises with his loss. She does not want to move but the cold persuades her to seek shelter. Her muscles complain as she rises and stretches. Above a galaxy of stars vie for attention.
A Pirate’s Lot
Cap’n Stinky Rickshaw McWilliams was an up and coming pirate with a festering crew and a brig to match. He wasn’t the Scourge of the Caribbean, more of an irritant – the Itch of the Caribbean if you will. One fateful day he lost his hook in a terrible sea battle. A passing mermaid, thinking she was helping, restored his long lost hand negating any need for a hook. Whereupon his crew mutinied and set him adrift in a long boat. Lost and desperate, at his lowest point, he had no choice but to take to a life of dread accountancy.
A Place called Common
A sea of sound, obscure music (if you’ve heard it before it’s already dead), young and hopeful, wide-eyed and cynical.
Patrons shoot from the hipsters, too cool for cool, everything one size too small, changing the world one microbrewery at a time.
Beery brown banquettes, battered wooden chairs, alcoves of glorious leatherette, bare brick, industrial chic, self-discovery and safe experimentation. The last stand before a life of teaching and office work.
Worn varnished floorboards, live bands, low tech analogue graphics. Creators, innovators, entrepreneurs, dreamers and the terrifyingly mundane – 3 roofs, 2 featured beers and 1 hope; to be someone.
Picked, petal by petal, some forget-me-not flower explodes on the scene like autumn in drag, swaying and laughing for all the lost colours. I too can dance on the wayward wind, scoffing at whimsical orchestras and dreaming of the Age of Steam. Save me from the uninteresting horizons and the broken, skeletal carcasses of dreams ignored. Wash me away in a tsunami of bright coloured toys, cloth me in the uncertain and pat my befuddled head (tousle my greying hair and pinch my pale cheek at your own risk). For it is adventure I seek and adventure I will find.
For it is Adventure I seek and well-worn boots I wear. My wide brimmed hat has oft been sat upon and nothing in my youth prepared me for darkness. For adventures are midnight at times, full of danger, and the last scene, complete with hero and sunset and girl and stubble and cheering crowds is a distant speck, a galaxy far, far away, and a vanishing point in the future.
But now I laugh, I bluster like a wayward bravado and wish I really was the Indiana Jones of my playful mind, whipping up a brand new bold frontier.
Air con vastness, steel and grey and glass.
Corporate veneer, lipstick smile and “seen it all” eyes – tickets please.
White shirted soft shoe shuffle staff, watched over by Herr Heckler and Herr Koch wrapped in Kevlar, take our passports, our tickets, our sighs.
A people processing plant with calming musak, a noiseless hum and gallery hush.
Excited departees and weary arrivals (from twinkle to bloodshot in six thousand miles).
Pilots and cloned crew wheel their way to another day at the office, 30,000 feet in the air, and cling to the clamour of a different era.
Have a nice flight.
And When I Die
And when I die and lie down for the last time in this life,
when my breath has gone and will not return,
when all is done for me and my comings and goings and doings are held up for all to see,
when I can no longer raise my head in this world and,
for shame, not raise it in the next,
do not worry.
For someone else will lift my head from your lap and,
in that better place,
will lift my chin and meet my eyes and hold them and say,
“It is well, so very well.”
After the sacrifice and the burnt offering,
after the fire has gobbled up the gift,
after the soldiers have passed by,
or the raging inferno,
after the volcano spits out angry liquid rock
and fills the air with mock snow.
The taste of bitterness and loss,
coating the mind and the spirit.
The memory of the home fire left in the grate,
A shadow of what was, what used to be,
the echo of a lost love.
Thrown out, discarded, sprinkled on the wind.
But this, even this, can become a diamond
or help the plants grow.
Air sweetened by new life catches unwary nostrils between the chilled breaths of winter. Insistent, unstoppable shoots push through concrete soil and stretch in the new morning of the year. Birds, surprised by their own sweetness, sing in celebration of hope. Sunlight, weak as a new born lamb, gains confidence and strolls across the sky. Colours, almost forgotten, drip back on to the canvas as the race for life and space and air and water begins. Vaguely remembered sounds draw the attention of the dozing bowed heads and put a sparkle back in the eye. Horizons expand and dreams reawaken.
Goose bumps and sunburn; socks and sandals; sunglasses and rain coats. Black and white clouds, pieces in a game, drift across the chequer board of fields and hedges. Eyes flit nervously upwards and reassured fingers fondle umbrella handles. Cotton and canvas snap their fingers at the wind, bunting cheerily waves at passers-by and bees drone on, “there’s honey to be made”.
Men with watering eyes poke at charred offerings on their charcoal altars as impromptu games of cricket and croquet commandeer the green spaces. Plastic chairs and portable gazebos, armfuls of cake and tea in urns as old as time.
An Autumn leaf falls in swooping arcs like the conductor’s baton bringing in the final movement. The string section cries for the loss of summer and the boughs bow to the inevitable. Trees display an interest in warm pointillism bored of verdant realism. Stone skies wait for skeletal limbs to reach up and wail a requiem to the passing of another year. The wind draws icy breath, ready to frost the iron ground, and things, as things do, recline in sighing sleep. Greys and pale blues reach across the landscape and the Sun doffs his hat and takes his leave.
The weak and sickly sun peers through troubled skies barely caressing the anvil hard and dormant earth. Snoozing seeds dream of verdant life unaware of the struggle above. Black branches, charcoal streaks, bow to icy wind, over and over again.
Cold seeps into bones and creeps through unguarded cracks, besieging crouching houses and peering into lamp lit windows.
Ghostly Double Deckers crawl through the blanket fog, their myopic headlights peering into the night. Pavements sparkle with crystal frosting in the orange streetlight glow as people shuffle; heads down, hidden in comfy layers, thoughts of warmth and home on their minds.
Perfect penguin waiters glide and flow around them with red wine and carrot cake. She is dressed for comfort; warm trousers, comfy shoes and two wool tops protecting her against the June chill. She is unsteady on her feet and bowed by an adventure of a lifetime. He is dapper; black suit, shiny shoes, petrol shirt and Inca gold tie. He peers through respectable spectacles challenging a world he has known for a long time. Except, of course, when he looks at her and then it’s tenderness and a million memories. They celebrate with full glasses and forkfuls of love.
Foam laced waves chase up the shore until breathless as we, positioned as if posing for an album cover and lost in our own worlds, search for treasure strewn on the sand by whimsical pirates – Fibonacci shells, each a work of art, all muted colours and lost purpose; clouded glass, now beautiful by the pull of the moon, no longer cast aside but pursued like lost sheep; pebbles, made smooth by giddily rolling up and down the beach, race and laugh like mountain giants – all these things now pushed in pockets as mementos of long days and glimpses of eternity.
I have heard them talk about him, heard their wonder or their cynicism and now I hear him speaking to me.
Beyond all hope he has stepped into my darkness.
I feel pain behind my useless eyes, searing heat and needles, shards of light invade my mind, phantom images take on reality, voices have skin, sound has form.
Slowly, so slowly, shapes harden and things I have no name for collide and fight for my attention, colours seen for the first time overwhelm me and I begin to unravel.
And then, O my Lord, and then I see your face.
I imagined a windmill slowly bowling overs as she bowled me over. I could not breathe for she had taken my very breath and put it in the silver locket that hung around her neck. All things came into focus and every detail cried out for attention, every strand of titian hair danced in the wind and cool grey eyes melted the icecap from my heart. She tilted her head thus and observed me with mild amusement and carefree curiosity. I, of course, stumbled like a fool and juggled words in my spinning mind.
She was everything in that moment.
Bread and Wine
Breaking bread, tearing crust, scattering crumbs – this action, this moment fires the memory and transports me to see your Creator hands holding the loaf, saying the words, changing history, transforming the future, inviting hope, creating destiny.
What was broken can now be whole.
Good red wine glugs into cups, splashing the wooden table top, beading there like blood drops in the dirt. Cups are tipped and promises are made, quenching, satisfying, pleasing, cleansing.
What was lost can now be found.
This living picture of wheat and grapes passed down from generation to generation – a hope and a promise for all.
A fresh catch, skilfully prepared and now cooking over coals while they were out on the lake. Charred flesh and white eyes; oil dripping, hissing, smoking on the driftwood fire. The mouth-watering aroma of a simple breakfast made by the once dead for confused fishermen. A meal to strengthen the weak and the hurting, a meal to satisfy the hungry and hopeful, a taste of things to come. A meal for those who have lost their Teacher, their Messiah, their Way – only to now find him calmly standing in the moist sand and beckoning for them to join him.
From the first painful inhalation to our reluctant expiration,
Counting rhythmically the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds of life.
Air sucked into expanding lungs, feeding body and brain.
Oxygen and carbon dioxide bartered between humanity and giant oaks (or humble blades of grass)
It’s all keeping us three minutes from the tap of the bony hand.
Unremarkable and wonderful, unnoticed but vital.
Breathe like you mean it, smell the freshness, enjoy the moment, feel the flow of being alive,
Breathe like you’ve never breathed before, as deep as the ocean.
This is Ruach, breathing life into the dust.
His name was Cah, the sound of a small monkey coughing in the night. He was small and perfectly hidden in the verdant canopy. He watched through saucer eyes, twitching and furtive. Life was like that when you thought you might be eaten at any moment. His stomach gurgled causing him to flinch and setting his heart racing like a runaway train. Hunger alone could prise him from his sanctuary but hunger would betray him and draw the attention of his jagged predators.
“I might as well cover myself in gravy and yell, ‘Come and get it!’”, he whispered softly.
This morning I woke to Nature’s game arcade with all its tweets, chirps, pings and twitters – ready player one? In the distance the Amtrak mournfully calls for a mate; unanswered it sadly seeks for true love further up the line. Between us a tsunami of traffic surges towards the City; commuters stretched like an elastic band make their way past scratchy trees on rolling golden hills to save the Princess or slay the dragon. Blue unsullied skies and bright perfect sunlight beckons for a hopeful coloured canvas, a bold new stanza or for the unencountered to tumble into our lives.
Jeopardy gives way to the Space Invader chirrup of care-free crickets as we gather together at the end of this scorching day. Vital trivia is explored and nonsense is unleashed; fantastical scenarios present themselves and evolve, or devolve, with each new suggestion. Reflections and future possibilities jostle for attention as minds reboot.
The sun retires for the evening removing both hat and gloves; a distant motorcycle growls in the dusk as it chases the new-born moon; a backyard dog barks sensing he is an important colour in this composition; and the cool Delta wind rushes in to tickle the trees.
I remember holding you when you were still a child, when you had learned to tolerate me. We stood by the van and a warm California breeze pushed back my hair and drew, from you, a broad cartoon smile. Balanced on my hip I turned you into the wind and we squinted and grinned.
We shared a moment so pure and good that angels sighed and wished to be mortal for just such a time.
Now that memory sits like a warm fire in the hearth of my memory and occasionally I sit in an armchair and warm my soul.
City at Dusk
Molten Sun edges smouldering buildings with quicksilver. Glass and steel stretch for candy clouds, clapping their hands and shouting, “Look at me. No, look at me,” waiting for adulation from the sensible Suburbs.
No sound from here, no gritty reality, no striving, no down and out, no vice, no turmoil – just hope and peace. The milky, watercolour horizon begins to melt like Avalon. Yawning shadows wake and stretch.
Silver jets pull streaming end titles from all directions and carry a multitude of souls all starring in their own drama. The curtain falls slowly as the lights fade to black.
Oily skies birthing bare bone buildings. Sunlight weak and wet, its mind on other things – bright memories and warm gestures – shying away from bat-winged brollies. The Old River, untouchable, barely noticing the constraints of its banks measuring the days and years and centuries. History and progress squabbling for attention; ghosts and visions flickering through the alleyways and along the forgotten cobbles. Five million hearts beating a rhythm of hopes and dreams – every emotion reflected in glass and polished steel. Eyes that tell a myriad tales of joy and woe, of loss and wonder, of light and dark.
Ignore that misguided voice that told you to stay in the lines, who insisted that the sky was blue and trees were green (as if there weren’t any other colours) and dared to say you couldn’t draw or dance or make.
Do it anyway.
Make something, write something, draw something, do something, rediscover the child within and let it run barefoot, let it stomp in puddles, let it make up ridiculous stories, let it twirl and spin, let it bathe in colour, let it laugh and roll in the grass and blow raspberries at the world.
Dream the dream of the Big Kahuna and sail away beyond the crowds. Take a swashbuckling galleon and set course to a distant sunset. Let the words flow, let them run panting after the fleeting images in your mind – each a pixel in the frame. Run through the fields of wild flowers, pausing only to pick the brightest, the most unusual, the most interesting. Weave and weld your fragile ideas, juggle and jive. Bare you teeth at the World and defiantly nip at its shins. Set your eyes on truth and beauty and live a life worthy of the name.
As the dusk sneaks up on us we sit silently, beer bottles held loosely between work-worn fingers, watching as the bonfire takes its bow and heads for the dressing room. Round this place of safety, this home of stories, we watch the embers glow as they are caressed by the evening breeze. Tangerine and ruby jewels still hot from the dragon’s horde sigh and sag and finally fade to grey. This once raging, roaring fire that clawed at the sky and spat sparks like drunken fireflies now crackling and popping its aging joints and igniting memories and dreams and regrets.
Eternity, at first glance, seems tedious. Never ending monotony as we trundle through a never changing landscape towards a vanishing point that gets no closer. Vistas so familiar that they become unnoticed and loathed at the same time.
And without God that would be so.
But with him every moment, every detail, every thought, is as seen for the first time through discerning eyes. Every breath stolen by the wonder of it, the glory of it, the heart melting grace of it all. Vanishing points tumble like an upturned basket of fruit and the only tears are tears of joy.
Faith is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. Faith runs parallel to life and life isn’t easy either.
Faith is an adventure beyond a comfortable armchair. Like all adventures it’s full of uncertainty and risk, even danger. It’s less guru and more Indiana Jones.
Faith is a river not a pool. Pools stagnate whilst rivers constantly change.
Faith attracts fear and doubt but conquers both.
Faith exposes who we really are.
Faith is not faith if it’s certainty. Questions are jewels.
Faith is the bridge to Other; the things we are incapable of perceiving otherwise.
Faith comes from God.
I am a practical man, rooted in the here and now. I know hard work and boats and fish. I learned the currents and the weather patterns from my father – who learnt them from his father. I was mending nets as soon as I could walk. I believe in God, honesty and physical strength.
Then he comes along with his picture painting words and his inexplicable ways and his annoyingly liberating compassion.
And now here we are, face to face, me on the boat and him standing on the water.
The only thing left to do is to step out.
I saw a flip flop in the rain soaked street. Blue in more than colour it seemed to want my attention, to ask me why it was there. I could not help for I did not know. How does a flip flop find itself in such a predicament? Does it come loose from a foot and remain unnoticed even though the gait has changed and one foot seems damper now? Or did it merely fall from a bag and, when its absence was noted, was deemed too unimportant to return for? I shall write an ode to this odorous shoe.
From my Grey Box
From my grey box I see ambling giant’s carrying jewelled cities on their shoulders; they have eyelashes like liquorice tree trunks. Huge birds glide round their bearded heads and call out to each other in every language.
From my grey box I can see sinuous dragons sitting down to tea, pouring Earl Grey into the finest bone china cups and nibbling on lemon drizzle cake as they discuss the events of the day.
From my grey box I can see fearsome pirate ships racing to the rescue, their infamous captains writing insulting letters to each other with giant peacock quills.
He is the Northern working man personified right down to his well-worn flat cap. He drinks Guinness, Hirondelle and Harvey’s Bristol Cream and smokes Park Drive. He sits on a stool in the kitchen looking from a second story window at a distant Ringway Airport and listens to Air Traffic Control on a cheap transistor radio. He can recognise every plane that peels from the tarmac or swoons from the sky by its shape and the number and placement of its engines. He eats tripe. Who eats tripe? He likes the deathly grey and strong flavoured kind called elder.
Hope is the possibility of light in the darkest of places. It is the ear straining for the sound that might, at any moment, break the silence. It is the breath held, the glimpse between fingers, the aching heart.
Hope is the far distant slope, the clearing mist, the promise of dawn. It is the pre-image, the breaking smile, the sigh, the cry, the tilted head, the forming tear.
Hope is the better future, the unforeseen colour. It is the pause, the comma, the half dream.
Hope is reaching out for the Other – the Good, the True, the Unstoppable.
I Love Vinyl
I love vinyl.
I love the trip to the seedy, glorious record shop, finger walking through the racks of singles and albums, then bringing it home to finally listen and discover and wallow and dream.
I love the covers; the art, the innovation, the edginess.
I love those flimsy paper covers, those plastic inserts.
I love slipping out the disc, blowing away the fluff and checking for scratches.
I love placing it on the turntable and gently guiding the needle to the groove.
I love the hiss and the crackle, the depth and the breadth of analogue.
I love vinyl.
I See You
I see you beyond the world weary eyes, beyond the fortress façade you have raised.
I see you beyond the pain and the loss, beyond the shame and regrets.
I see you beyond what you once were, what others think you are.
I see you beyond that which you think you are and what you wish you were.
I see you; a figure on the distant horizon wearily making your way home.
I see you as you really are and I love you for it.
You are not forgotten.
You are not lost.
You are not alone.
I see you.
Seventy five angry monkeys delivered to the front door, each wearing a bow tie of discordant colours, chatter their disgust at the discomfort of their packaging and threaten unspeakable airborne assaults.
“I didn’t order this,” I whisper.
I check the shipping form.
I’m writing gibberish now, hoping the words that hide behind the bushes in my mind will leap out and tumble me to the floor; rolling and laughing, giddy and breathless.
“Here we are,” they will cry and lay themselves prostrate on clean white pages.
“I knew you would come,” I will answer with a breath of relief
It’s Not Fair
Sinister bright coloured balloons are tethered by fraying string to a chaotic grease stained clown. The sun beats down like a vengeful hammer on glowing iron as stark white clouds hang sporadically and malevolently. A child stands between tantrums with wickedly cold dessert in an arid cone clasped in sticky and potentially naughty fingers. Flags snap at passers-by like demented dragons as wheeled cages propel screaming people through wrenching twists and turns. A huge wheel plucks town folk from the ground like a hungry giant and hurls them into the air. It’s all the horror of the fair.
Love, above all things, love. It is hard and painful but it is the essence of life.
Forgive, even when your heart is broken and you have been robbed of everything. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and steals away your humanity.
Give when you have more than you need. Give, even when you don’t have enough. Giving fills all our bellies.
Create, it doesn’t matter what. Make something beautiful.
Laugh, especially at yourself. Laugh with those you love, laugh because it’s better than misery, laugh until you can’t breathe.
Trust, trust first. Trust until someone gives you a reason not to.
He surveyed his kingdom with an eye that was both cynical and admiring. Along the cobbles his vassals swaggered with the confidence that comes with belonging. Only today mattered, happiness was transient. Wealth, if it could be called that, trickled through fingers like river water and who knew when it would stop flowing.
But for today King Billy was proud of all he had achieved. He had brought order and full stomachs with relatively little violence and he was sure that songs would be written about him and his trusty companion, Bodger – a tub of a dog, scarred and eager.
When I was formed in the hidden place, suspended in amniotic fluid, you already knew the time I would scrape my knee climbing that inviting oak.
When I was curled in that warm sanctuary, sucking my undeveloped digit, you already knew the time I would fall in love for the first time – shortly followed by the first time my heart was broken.
When I unfurled like a forest fern, you already knew the time I would follow you imperfectly,
When cells divided, multiplied, when features were drawn on my face, you knew me completely,
And loved me just the same.
Last Man Standing
He kept looking at the clock, seeing the pendulum rock back and forth like someone lost in the rhythm and melody. He had come, through apathy or lack of care and very occasionally purposefully, to a point where he had no enemies but one, forgiven all but one; he could see the good in all but one and loved all but one.
The minute hand stamped out time like an impatient toddler and God raised his eyebrow and smiled expectantly. It was time to deal with that one remaining person, the one that disappointed and frustrated him the most – himself.
Leaping from this cliff is so freeing.
To be rid of constraints and expectations, to feel alive as my heart tries to escape its cage – wild, wild danger.
A world of possibilities, a galaxy, a whole universe; that things not done could now be accomplished, to follow the Maker’s design, to be true, to be who I was meant to be, to feel exhilarated again, to breathe, to see fear and hope tussle (with hope looking just that bit stronger).
But I am small and this is so big and I cannot help but think the ground is fast approaching.
The lemon bicycle judders over the sun blasted cobbles. The liquorice tyres, like the stones, are worn by the passage of time and person. The hurried rider follows the sparkling canal wishing the bridge to be nearer but wishes will not make it so. She kicks again, defying the pedals to spin faster. Soft light seems to blur greens and browns and blues. Trees and path and sky and water become one. Her mind is free and frantic as her body strains to cover the distance. At last she reaches the bridge. She sees his body. She is too late.
I often wonder, especially on train journeys, about all the houses and flats I pass. Who lives there? What are they doing right now? Are they happy? I think about all those little boxes, those expressions of creativity or utilitarian need. I think about the chairs and couches that cradle people I will never meet as they eat or drink or watch or play or talk. And if we did meet would we get on? Would we have similar interests? Would we believe similar things? All God’s children, all loved (though some don’t know it yet) and all so precious.
A million bodies flowing through the clogged arteries of the Grand Old City, never touching, never smiling, never meeting another’s eye. Each part of the Great Mass alone and absorbed in bubble worlds.
Screech owl steel wheels on iron tracks, the rumble-jumble rocking of canned people, the goose calls of gridlocked conveyance.
Swarms of bicycles waiting to sting or be stung, uncompromising black cab progress, autobus behemoths inching through the log jam.
Worm cast queues of folk in the know, erratic pinball confusion of those that aren’t. The Great British tut echoes through the misty morning like a ranting marsupial.
I’m standing in the Chinese Chip Shop waiting awkwardly for my take away, making sure I don’t go in the wrong order and die a very British death by embarrassment.
“I’m afraid I was before you”.
“You were? I’m so terribly sorry. I wonder if you would excuse me while I die over there in the corner where my remains won’t cause any further inconvenience”
Amongst the white tiles and red, black and yellow signage I see the rhythmic movement of Lucky Cat. In spite of years of cynicism I crinkle my eyes and smile. He is waving at me.
Made by the Uncreated, formed of clay and ignited by Spirit.
No Henry Ford conveyor belt, no Ikea flat pack.
Designed with style and grace, a one-off, never to be repeated expression of love.
Gifted and talented, growing into wit and wisdom.
Heart, Soul and Mind meshed and mashed, tumbling through life, laughing and crying, whooping and mourning.
Standing on seashores looking at rolling waves and thinking of how BIG this all is, how much more there is.
Sitting by bedsides bargaining and hoping for one more day, vulnerable and mote-like.
This is me, this is you, this is us.
All heart and fire and plain spoken idealism.
Scene of my troubled youth my gangling steps into adulthood.
There is creativity here, art and invention driven by hope and pain and love and despair in equal measures.
Trams once again snake through the canyons of steel and brick and stone.
A million people looking for love and work and food and beer.
Hearts and minds full of dreams of better and memories of worse.
A heritage of mills and “know your place”, of broken promises and shattered pride.
A future of bright horizons and a stubborn determination to make good.
Into the valley of the Bridgewater Way ran the forty thousand. The pitter patter of willing feet falling like big drops of summer rain on the sun scorched tarmac. Brands and charities competing for eyespace; big hearts win the day.
(just keep going)
One kilometre banter, loud and proud, turns into nine kilometre grim silence. A quick start turns into the longest last kilometre ever.
(just keep going)
A stranger shouts my name from the crowd and stirs my tired, goldfish bowl world.
(just keep going)
And time is reversed as Brendan Foster watches me run by.
(just kept going)
The celluloid chatters from spool to spool, sometimes in vivid colour and sometimes in faded monochrome. Ghosted images leap and overlap, a million moments flickering behind my eyes. Many faces have faded but the important ones are bright and keen – it’s the smiles that break through first.
There is no sound (though sound and music call the pictures to come running) but I hear them laugh or cry or sing or talk nonsense. Scenes of love and pain and celebration are acted out again and fresh tears clean the lenses of my soul as I re-watch the life lived.
When you look in the mirror what do you see?
Do you see wrinkles and blemishes? Do you sigh, disappointed that you can’t match up to Photoshop models?
Do you see regret in your eyes for the mistakes you have made? Do you look down, unable to meet your own knowing stare?
Do your shoulders slump when you realise you haven’t come up to the expectations of others or even your own? That you haven’t grasped the short life you have?
Smash the mirror.
Look into the eyes of God and you will see how truly beautiful you really are.
Mr. Thomas’s Chop House
Table number 8.
A tarnished brass plaque.
“The Duke of Milan, his brother Antonio and the King of Naples drank here in 2007.”
I enjoy a stylish but exorbitant Belgium beer and watch the regulars peruse the papers and discuss football again.
Emerald and mint tiles, a black and once-white geometric ceramic floor, a mishmash of wooden chairs and tables long since abandoned by varnish. Arched entrances in that same Victorian high gloss beauty.
Places like this are only ever found in old cities, crouching in the lost spaces, waiting to transport you back to an era that never was.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
And yet, we are quick to point pointy fingers and shake righteous heads when someone thinks differently, acts differently, loves differently.
And yet, we look in the mirror unable to meet our own gaze and dread the day when people will find out we too think differently, act differently, love differently.
And yet, we snipe from the darkness proclaiming our own self-importance and rightness and heap blame for every little thing that does not satisfy our ego on the One who truly thinks differently, acts differently, loves differently.
No Wisdom Here
No wisdom here.
There was no mistaking her resolve as she waited in line, “I am so much more than a number”, she complained.
“Twenty six? Twenty six?” the teller barked.
“Here”, she whispered.
“This place lacks atmosphere”, he gasped as he took the last breath available to him.
“What is the current situation?” she enquired.
“Direct”, he juddered.
She flicked a switch and saved him.
If a tree falls in the forest and there is no-one there to hear it, does it still squash a squirrel?
I told you and you read it anyway.
On being an Englishman
I want to dance like a madman, I want to whirl and twirl and dip and leap. I want to sing bawdy songs at the top of my lungs and make the righteous blush. I want to laugh and cry as if I was witnessing the beginning of everything. I want to make ridiculous things that are beautiful to me but may make you wince at their amateurishness and their naivety. I want to make idealistic and futile gestures, wear big stupid rings and clothes that don’t suit me.
But I’m an Englishman and that’s simply not cricket, old boy.
She sits watching an origami sunset. A perfect tangerine ending to the day. A skein of heart fluttering geese point towards a mountain dressed horizon.
Time is meaningless in this moment as if the day breathes a sigh of relief before handing over to the night. Waves playfully slap the carved rock shore occasionally throwing up a piece of sun bleached driftwood as if daring the land to throw it back again. Crisp air makes itself known through the gaps in her clothes and tugs at her hood trying to get a fresh look at her face. The tears fall.
Who is this two-leg? This man-pup who brings me food with eyes full of pain and regret? He does not like it here, yet he wallows as if he was one of us.
Why does he pause after each task and look skyward then mudward as if answers will fall as rain or spring from the ground like grass? Why do his eyes leak and his face twist in despair? What has he seen? What has he lost? Why is he here?
He does not belong here, it is not his place.
Go home, Pig Boy, your Father is waiting.
I want to be a pirate. I want to sail with trusted companions and live free and spontaneously. I want to dangle precariously from the rigging and taste sea salt on my lips. I don’t want stuff and pretty baubles – I want laughter and joy and a life full of treasures, of moments enjoyed and remembered; of darkness overcome and stories of daring-do; of cups clashed together and songs sung off key. And when I return to port, colours snapping in the wind, to slap other pirates on the back, I want to plan new adventures and chart the unknown.
I am Poetman.
Weaver of Words, Bringer of Truth, Shunner of Real Work.
I am a superhero, no, I am an ultrahero because I have all the words in a big bag and I can choose any I like – or even make one up.
When danger comes I run into the telephone box, I make a porthole in the steamy glass and observe as mayhem and chaos ensues. I may not be much use now but later you will read my words (if you survive) and be amazed at my deep insight.
I am Poetman.
Your indifference is my kryptonite.
Like a psalmist of old I try to weave word and sound and rhythm to express what my heart can know so little of, what it yearns to know completely.
The tears of pain and disappointment and loss roll down my face and splash onto the page as I write inkblots and scribbles, confused black strokes matching confused black days.
I wrestle with spirit and life and love through all their ever changing seasons, dark or bright.
And what can I write really? Shackled by so few words when only billions will begin to express the nuance of my God.
Beware the Putty Men, my friend, with sweat sheened skin, pale and clammy, they awkwardly dance through life. With insatiable hunger in their eyes and with mild despair they hunt their prey – the weak, the unfortunate, the broken.
And when they find them they label them.
Those who are worthy of the term poor and those who are not.
And they point and scowl and say, “look not upon us but upon them, for it is all their fault”.
Beware the Putty Men, my friend, for they stalk the lowly and strip them of everything, especially their dignity.
Peeking through the dirt is part of blossoming, so is being small and vulnerable, but colours will come and you will be who you are.
Being in the dark is part of growing, so is making mistakes, but the light will come and you will find that you have learned.
Staring into the void is part of creating, so are dead ends and failures, but fresh ideas will flow and you will recreate your heart.
Wrestling with doubt is part of faith, so is getting it badly wrong, but spirit will connect with Spirit and you will be reborn.
Bright Red Raincoat
Isaac got a brand new coat, a wonderful coat, a glorious coat, a bright red raincoat. Now he could take on the elements, tease them with a cheeky grin and spin with pure joy through the wind and the rain. Now he was unstoppable, he could climb monster mountains, wade across raging rivers and tumble through icy snowdrifts.
Out there were a thousand puddles waiting to be stomped and kicked and squooched. Out there were a hundred tree branches to be swung upon, releasing a thousand diamond raindrops to bounce and ping and thud of his marvellous bright red hood.
This coming together,
This re-enactment of mercy,
This exploration of meaning,
This celebration of life.
This commonality of purpose,
This familiar ceremony,
This gathered need,
This momentary unity,
This act of togetherness.
This ageless space,
This timeless moment,
This holy ground.
This thin place,
This idea of holiness built by hand.
This marking of something meaningful,
This signpost to the Divine, this thin place,
This juxtaposition of heaven and earth.
This taste of something bigger,
This glimpse of something Other,
This fingerprint of God.
This thank you,
This expression of frail humanity.
The storm has passed and clouds that had once been angry dragons spitting lightning like olive pits were now woolly lambs snoozing in the bright pastoral sky. The grumbling rumble of disapproving thunder was now the tiny engine drone of humble bumble bees in the market for pollen. Ozone and scorched wood now freshly washed grass and the perfume of a thousand flowers entered her nostrils.
Pushing open the window she leaned out and took it all in. She shook off the darkness and breathed in the new day. She rolled up her architectural drawings and smiled a knowing smile.
I sat beneath a tree trying to relink, trying to reconnect, trying to reboot, reroot. All the days of my life drifted like clouds across my vision as the sky darkened to indigo. I searched each moment, each action, each event, to see where you were.
I compared myself to you and grieved my failure. I remembered all my promises to do better and all those good intentions as they turned to dust. I remembered the bargaining, the “if you just – I will”.
But then I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned. You smiled and nothing else mattered.
You stand, with maybe a weary smile on your face, in front of your friend. You hold out to him scarred arms and show the wound in your side. Scars kept like tattoos as a reminder, scars that could be taken away, could be renewed like your now timeless body.
But scars are marks of experience.
Love is hard won, following you is often wounding and our scars will never go away. They may grow a little less raw as they heal but they remind us that, not only did we survive, but we learned and grew and truly lived.
“This is Seed Seven requesting permission to lift off.”
“Seed Seven you are clear for a go, repeat, you are clear for a go.”
“Roger that. Engaging in 3… 2… 1. Seed Seven is go.”
“Good luck Seed Seven. See you on the other side.”
“This is Seed Seven. Approaching landing zone. Rough terrain and high cross winds. Initiating landing procedure.”
“This is Seed Seven. Landing Complete. Checking Systems and bedding down. Utilising elements and engaging system re-root.”
“This is Seed Seven. Solar panel deployed. Photosynthesis is go. Nutrients online. All systems are green.”
“Seed Seven signing off. Status: Seedling.”
Shall we play a game?
I have fought on the edge of the Galaxy holding back wave after wave of invaders from space, putting into practice everything I have learned from Obi-Wan and, like Han, I shot first. I have travelled to sand planets and rode giant worms reeking of Spice. I saw attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I was one of the first to step into blocky virtual worlds and I have travelled through time. I have been an Elite trader and sneaked medical supplies through star ship blockades and I have saved my crew from assimilation. Ready Player One?
She walks down the aisle,
Flowers for a special occasion.
Her dress is white and she pauses to give a man a ring,
She vows not to forget and walks in front of a train.
She walks down the aisle,
Flowers for a special occasion,
Her dress is red and she pauses to give her man a call,
She checks her lists again, she won’t forget a thing.
She walks down the aisle,
Flowers for a special occasion,
Her dress is black and she pauses to say farewell,
She remembers every moment,
Holding on with fingertips, she finally let’s go.
When the argument has become heated and egos have clashed like mighty horned beasts,
When the same words are coming from the same mouths but this time louder and more insistent,
When the powerful are more interested in the win than the right and the wrong,
When disagreement is more important than a solution,
When money and possessions have ousted the person,
When we has become me and I,
When eyes are glaring and rigid smiles appear,
When arms are crossed and open hands become closed fists,
Then it is the time, more than ever, to hear the small voices.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza survey their world of windmill whimsy from their perch above the black lead stove. They see a vista of shabby chic (made by time and not by design). A jumble of books and comfy sagging sofas, parquet flooring and dark muted pinks and greens.
Nothing matching but everything belonging. Porcelain Pekingese and knick knacks that hold a thousand haphazard memories. Oak panels and picture rail, oval mirror and framed needlework, Asian rug and pewter plates fixed, whelk-like to the wall. Battered paintwork and fringed lampshades.
A timeless place to while away the long, lazy hours.
If we jump will you really catch us like a Rom Com father at the end of the film when everything works itself out and life is perfect?
If we trust in you will you really provide, even for a spoiled Westerner?
If we walk with you are you really there at every step, even when we’re deliberately, obstinately going our own way?
Do you answer our prayers, even the really dumb ones, the selfish ones, the inconsequential ones?
And through all our darkness and brokenness can you really shine enough for others to see how brilliant you are?
A speck amongst billions of stars in a galaxy unfolding over billions of years. Not even a butterfly effect on the cosmos where a supernova is a hiccup and black holes suck up the light like the last drops of milkshake.
And what of God? Bigger than all this, beyond all this, where a trillion stars are but a dusting of glitter – twinkling their life away in a heartbeat. Why would I be of any consequence to him?
And yet I am – this sparking mind, this pumping heart, this spirit within – all this, the whole of me, loved by him.
The wind howls like a madman; it rips the waves, scourges the sea, lashes out at all in its path. The banshee cries to be fed as we cling to our small craft. Salt stings our eyes and cracks our lips. There is no comfort here, no security, no certainty, here on the edge of faith. Death waits in the wings like an over eager understudy craving the last act. Where is hope?
And then you are here.
You walk on the water or calm the storm and stop us sinking. You smile at Nature’s tantrum and whisper, “Be still.”
Do not put these words on a tea towel to be stained and worn,
Do not print them on posters that rip and curl,
Do not wear them on your trendy clothes to go out of fashion or become ironic,
Do not merely recall them to prove you have a better memory,
Do not use them to prove your own worth or rightness,
Do not use them to belittle others or keep them at arm’s length or to hold power over them,
Do not put these words on a tea towel.
Instead set them in your heart and live them.
I come from the City but out on the edge where no-one really belongs.
I come from The Working Classes but live a Middle Class life and belong to neither.
I am a man of faith but don’t belong with the religious.
I am swathed in the light but play with the darkness without the wisdom to know where the edge really is.
I want comfort and security but still crave danger and the company of the marginalised.
I am creative but shun the world of art as commodity.
I write poetry but never read it.
Don’t fear the Edge.
Hammer and tongue, fire hardened faith – so hard it cannot bend only break, so tough that others break against it – and all that is left in the end is victory through being right and love falls by the road side, a bloated and despised corpse.
But love has a habit of coming back to life, of running like wildfire through the poor and the pitiful, the undeserving and the weak. It lights up willing hearts like a spark ignites a dry forest and run though you may you cannot outpace the flames of love. Love will have its way.
We were friends. We travelled the dusty roads together, we went to weddings; laughed and sang and danced. We mourned dead friends and we saw new life come into the world.
We walked through times of plenty and through times of need. We cried out to God and we thanked him for his faithfulness. We talked deep into the night about life and love and meaning. We drank wine and we broke bread.
And now, in this garden, you approach me backed by iron and politics; and my heart breaks as you lean forward and greet me with a kiss.
The Man in the Mustard Coat
The man in the mustard coat gazed over the mill pond beauty of the harbour. His heart was full of hope but his head, as always, disagreed. Green fought with orange as the trees undressed for winter and the cold caw of the raven pulled at the frayed edges of his consciousness.
He wondered at all the time that had run through his fingers and disappeared down the cracks of the past. He crouched and caressed the tides edge, relishing the sharp, the smooth, the cold, and tried to remember if he had ever made another soul’s life more bearable.
In an average suburban street sits an off-white van. Its cheery livery declaring it to be from a local garden company but inside, surrounded by surveillance gadgetry, squats a tired and unwashed operative. He bemoans, yet again, the stubbornness of this particular target, “Three days! Surely she’ll make her move soon.”
And then it’s all happening.
“Target has left the house. Go, go, go!”
Another van screeches round the corner and a man in a brown uniform nonchalantly walks up to the door and delivers the message.
We tried to deliver a package today but you were out…
Handcrafted from driftwood and love with skill and patience it marks what could have been; what should have been. A memory of best friends and a summer well spent, it endures rain and storm and burning sun and will for many years. Doodle and typography and craft and paint; blue and sturdy. It will fade and blend and faithfully stand as a symbol of a friendship that will last much longer. Amongst the trees on a remote road on a distant island, planted in the earth, it will gently wave the people in – a faithful servant to the end.
The Third Wish
If I had three wishes two of them would be worthy, you know, like world peace and world plenty but the third would be all mine.
After all the guns and bombs had gone and people were eager to embrace each other, after everyone had rubbed their full stomach, burped a satisfying burp, and retired to their comfortable and safe beds, I would make my last request.
Four flying monkeys and a blanket.
I would sit on the blanket and each simian would grab a corner and transport me high above the upturned faces of a contented and peaceful planet.
A visitor came to Earth to find out what all the fuss was about and saw the way we let each other starve; saw the way we killed each other for a handful of shiny metal or a barrelful of black gloop; saw how we divided and excluded and marginalised, and then how we complained about loneliness; saw the way we constantly distracted ourselves so that we wouldn’t have to see what the visitor saw so clearly.
But as the visitor backed cautiously away he noticed a smile, a helpful hand, a generous act and breathed a sigh of relief.
In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD leapt and danced and laughed.
The WORD tore himself from eternity, rolled in the dirt and filled his lungs with breath.
The WORD poured himself into the pages of future history.
The WORD made friends and enemies, drew applause and jeers and got in touch with his human side – the sublime meets the mundane.
The WORD crashed into our lives, tousled our hair and grinned at our jokes.
The WORD got angry at our carelessness, challenged our thoughts and stirred our hearts.
And the WORD would not, could not, stay dead.
There She Goes
Sitting opposite her in a pizza restaurant he tilted his head at her as she talked about her passion; about theatre and directors. He cast his eyes over her badge strewn denim and wild red hair and thought she was nice but not his type.
He did not know that decades later he would sit opposite her and shake his head in wonder. How did he miss her beauty? How did he not see her intelligence, her compassion, her creativity? How did he not know that this woman would be a part of him and a part of his salvation?
Things I Like
Rain dashed windows.
Board game evenings.
The best of friends.
The perfect redhead.
Road trip music.
A warm breeze.
A gripping story.
Red wine and black olives.
Honey on toast and Earl Grey tea.
Summer pub visits.
The smell of certain catalogues.
California blue skies.
Rolling west coast waves.
A burger and a half.
Dancing when no-one is looking.
Coffee and Danish.
Bacon and eggs.
Lobelia and cornflowers.
Ephemera and curios.
Inventing worlds and visiting them.
Words and images.
Things that wake me up
Sunlight slicing through the gap in the orange curtains and dispersing my dreams like a flock of ephemeral birds.
Actual birds singing sweetly of misty morns and dewy Disney days… (give it a rest Nature, can’t you see I’m trying to sleep!)
The screaming power tools of an early morning builder clawing me back to conciousness. He sucks his teeth and proclaims, “It’ll cost you”.
The unforgiving beep of the alarm clock smugly proclaiming, “I’m awake, why aren’t you?”
Copper church bells peeling back the night and hurrying me into another day, “quickly now, quickly now”
Sheep. Many sheep. Ironically.
Dead space, separate and silent.
No joy here, no cheeky grins, no skipping or dancing.
Dark and timeless, no clocks and calendars needed.
Something Other, power beyond measure.
Eternal messengers, a holy spark and hope returns.
Light shatters darkness, a twinkle returns to the eye, a smile forms, a gasp and air fills his lungs once more.
Time restarts, wounded arms stretch and foal-like legs take their first steps again.
It feels good to heal, to become whole again, to stride the hills and fish the lake, to laugh with friends and maybe go to a wedding again.
Pushing down into the deep earth, blindly searching for sustenance. Reaching up to pluck a cloud from the angry sky.
Sticklike and skeletal in the cold harsh winter and blooming like a peacock in the warm summer breeze. Shelter from the wind and the storm, from the rain and the scorching sun.
Source for the builder and the maker, fuel for the cook and the hearth, home for memories and knowledge and tales and verse and music.
Not just green and brown but a million different colours and shades, myriad comfort for the eye.
Symbol of death overcome by life.
The truth hurts.
A two by four up the side of the head,
That will show them, won’t it?
Say it like it is, after all, truth is truth, right?
And you’ve got right on your side.
And if they don’t like it, well that’s their problem, isn’t it?
Maybe injustice and oppression and poverty have it coming – whack away – but not your neighbour, not that reflection of God’s love, not your brother, not your sister.
Put down the plank.
Put it down before it gets stuck in your eye and try this…
The truth will set you free.
Until that day
The sun sets on the shimmering horizon,
A blaze of tangerine and lobster and lemon, a feast for the eyes, giving way to aubergine and russet and deep, deep purple.
A last warm touch on the cheek as the shadows stretch towards night,
Birds sing their farewell, as must we, for a bright day has ended.
We will mourn, we will weep, we will sigh and we will also cling to hope,
This is not the end but a pause, not a finale but a dress rehearsal,
And until that day of reunion we will drench ourselves in rich memories.
Welcome to the world, the grand carousel with painted wild-eyed horses galloping round and round and round – and lights, so many lights, twinkling in the dusk.
Step right up! See a one-off expression of eternal love, a unique creation, a marvellous wonder, the Crown of Creation.
See the Son rise and take his place as the heart of humanity misses a beat – wipe a tear from your eye and know that you are loved.
Take a bow and say hello to your fellow travellers.
Ladies and gentlemen, never before seen in whole universe and never to be seen again…
Are you ready to walk into the whirlwind?
Are you willing to walk straight and true when everything is flashing before your eyes?
When all the thing you thought were important batter and beset you, knock you sideways and keep you from reaching the goal?
Are you ready to keep your true sight on the centre of all things, be drawn in through riot and chaos, when everything else seems to push and pull you adrift?
Are you able to ignore the void when your whole being says surrender?
Hold fast for within the whirlwind is the calm, still eye.
Uncomfortable, unpredictable, heart-stoppingly dangerous.
Ripping through hearts and souls and minds.
Unstoppable, irresistible, following us to the end of ourselves, pursuing us to that moment where we turn and learn wide eyed wonder.
Caught in its glow the skeletal Fibonacci branches of our lives are silhouetted against his glorious horizon. Fingers outstretched.
Essence of love and life and meaning.
Beyond time and space and matter, beyond anything we can perceive.
That Divine fire is happy to dwell in my fragile, dark and broken heart and delights in the days I choose to return his fiery embrace.
Hanging like ripe fruit ready to be picked, ready for us to get our teeth into, to bite, to savour, to enjoy. Some colourful and full of hidden meaning, some bitter in the mouth and mean in the heart. Floating like fragrance through the air, to coax or tear or make a nose turn up or to bring a knowing smile. Lying like stones on the ground, eager to be picked up, to be shaped, to be put together and to build something magnificent or to be thrown in anger and hate, to destroy or tear apart.
These are words.
The last note hanging in the charged air, reluctant to leave, mourning its own passing.
The argument made, the evidence put forth, now awaiting the judgement of the gathered – the winnowing, the affirmation or the rejection or, much worse, the indifference.
Passing like chips in the night, wrappers discarded and fingers left gloriously greasy. Lips seasoned with salt and insides warmed.
Fading into the mist, a distant gas lamp on a foggy street, a fisherman’s wistful glance as the harbour lights pass beyond, leaving only a spark on the retina and a longing for home.
These are the last words.