Liz Fisher

Elizabeth Fisher

Written for Elizabeth Fisher and published on Facebook 27 April 2014. I must have been missing her!!

The day before yesterday; one day.
Yesterday; two days.
Today; three days.
You are not here, but
My heart is ever hopeful.

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Oh, Creaking bones.
Once that leapt.

Oh, Panting spirit.
Once who ran like the wind.

Oh, Old one.
Once ramrod proud.

Oh, Self-piteous man.
Rise like the Paschal lamb!

The Spirit is strong.
You can still make the day!

Distance to destination
666 miles
Below the Great Hungarian Plain
With desultory streams
And muddy rivers in
No hurry contrasting with
This tube piercing,
Headwind resistance overwhelmed
Ground speed 450 mph
What if we were on the ground
Flashing past exotic places?
I want to see Lake Balaton
Not just a blue mark
On a map, but cold and clear
Reflecting leaves that dance
With the light; shadows
Of unknown partners
Perhaps happy by day
Often by night doubting the one
In whose embrace, they are lightly
Held by whispered commitments.

Can we only achieve
Parting at peace in death?

By Tom Sawford

For whatever reason whilst engaged in a Facebook discussion today, I thought of this poem by Cavafy. Perhaps it is related to the decision today by the Scots to say Yes or No to leaving the Union. But we are always looking for Barbarians; those “others” to blame for all manner of problems. In a way many of the opinions expressed by the Scots put us, the English, the other UK residents, into the camp of “Barbarians”. For me it is those last few lines that make the greatest impact: “Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come. And some who have just returned from the border say there are no barbarians any longer. And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution. “ What will the Scots do without us – the solution for all their anger – if they part from us?

 

Waiting for the Barbarians by CP Cavafy (written in 1898)

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

I once wore a dark jacket of green.
My skill with a GPMG is unrivalled.
I once proudly served the Queen.
Now I sit here, and by all I’m reviled.

My father made a fortune in Japan.
And I fought as a Son of Odysseus.
Listening to test matches in Siam,
My war came to a desultory end.

If my bed-block was not perfectly good
My Sergeant dealt me choice words.
They asked if I had a wife and kids.
As I did not, I was first to go forward.

They say I was clever and talented.
I could have been anything I wanted.
In the sun we abducted a German general.
Lauded. Heroes, with books and good looks.

I sit by this station and have no future.
I travelled the world to seek adventure.
For us both it was the booze that got us.
We two: dealers of legal death in your name.

It is time that the poem that inspired the title of this blog got an airing. One of my personal favourites by the late, and very great, Ted Hughes.

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

For a discussion on this poem try this link.

Go east from this top and there is nothing more.
Nothing as high until the far-off, snowbound Urals,
Where Uncle Joe hid his steel-grey industrial might
Whilst you rode by day and danced through the night.

This auspicious day has slowly made up its carefree mind.
Debating whither this low flashing sun and hard frost,
Or that enveloping, shifting, watery, indecisive fog.
At this hour, on this winter’s day, it will be what it wants.

Family and friends gathered for Akela’s farewell.
No longer are they the party’s exuberant life and soul,
But now, as pilgrims, trudging onwards in anxious hope.
Preparing theirs: for who amongst them shall be next?

We three, the last of her line, step out smartly into
A chill, still, twilight. Tiptoeing over the infusion
Of last autumn’s wet, brown decaying leaves with
All those past, now become corrupt, cloying mire.

A day of trying journeys; memories different for all.
You two must depart north and south into the closing night.
To serve, sacrifice, build, save. To kill. Moreover, to love.
Into the fire of the line of departure rather than at the end.

The day has made up its mind and opts for gloom.
Silently, a red-haired presence emerges into the twilight.
Sharp-witted and confident the vixen stops: she stares.
Acknowledging, but ever disdainful, she paces off west.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Reaching out across the bed.
Not ours but wishing it so.
From warmth into a cold, dark unknown.
An unfriendly sea leading to empty shores.
Reaching out still further; you are not there.
This can only ever be a second-best bed.

No golden, downy, giving flesh.
Just cold Egyptian ivory cotton.
You may as well be a whole world away
From my warm secure island, night-created.
But you are in my heart, here with me now.
Ours will not be a second-best bed.

Behold yon mountain’s hoary height
Made higher with new mounts of snow:
Again behold the winter’s weight
Oppress the labouring woods below’
And streams with icy fetters bound
Benumbed and cramped to solid ground.

With well-heaped logs dissolve the cold
And feed the genial hearth with fires;
Produce the wine that makes us bold,
And spritely wit and love inspires;
For what hereafter shall betide
God (if ’tis worth His care) provide.

Let Him alone with what He made,
To toss and turn the world below;
At His command the storms invade,
The winds by His commission blow;
Till with a nod He bids them cease
And then the calm returns and all is peace.

Tomorrow and its works defy;
Lay hold upon the present hour,
And snatch the pleasures passing by
To put them out of Fortune’s power;
Nor love nor love’s delights disdain –
Whate’er thou getts’t today, is gain.

Secure those golden early joys
That youth unsoured with sorrow bears,
Ere with’ring time the taste destroys
With sickness and unwieldy years.
For active sports, for pleasing rest.
This is the time to be posesst;
The best is but in season best.

Th’appointed hour of promised bliss,
The pleasing whisper in the dark,
The half-unwilling willing kiss,
The laugh that guides thee to the mark,
When the kind nymph would coyness feign
And hides but to be found again –
These, these are joys the gods for youth ordain.

The emergency call.

Crowded train from London Bridge.

Waiting at the bedside.

Silence, groans and tears.

Watching death creeping.

One o’clock train from Waterloo,

Drunks and fools, then friendship.

A kinetic, high velocity drive,

Intimate relationship with the M25.

Headlights before me,

A one thousand mile Snow Patrol.

Children rally to the side,

Helpless but mature,

Nursing lips with gentle comfort.

Uncertain, final, tearful farewells.

Shuttling rushes to and fro.

Decline and closer to the end.

Comfort is all we can offer,

All is in God’s hands.

The feast once carved is now

Green, orange and brown puree.

So little taken whilst

Three constables deliver gifts;

Sweet perfume but no myrrh.

A kindly cousin’s table

Weighed down with fare,

And a walk with the dogs

Through wet woods dark and bare.

A Palinka first for Tory land,

Over talk of Barnsley and brussels.

Trying to make a match, but

Endowment is only found in Aberdeen.

Eyes wider open.

A minor Christmas miracle?

Followed by characteristic rebuke.

Strength and hope returning.

Another high velocity drive.

Exhaustion overtakes all.

Morning brings the inevitable,

And pathway forms are signed.

She was at my beginning,

We will be together at her end.

I saw you first.
Your wide smile flashed,
Illuminating the arboreal density.
As I walked past javelin true orchids
Your perfume swept all away.
All but the sound of the lark,
And the echoes of mystical faith.

Elevated on a carpet of green
My steps followed your course,
And then once more
Temptation entered the garden,
Offering golden, iconic pleasures.
His eyes jet black, striking deep,
Whilst salvation was but a step away.

You were there again.
This time still, dry white, replete,
During solitary contemplations.
As Angels sang two lovers stole by,
Silently, gliding, distant,
Their thoughts as unknown to me
As your wild and passion filled depths.

Calm in the evening light,
The peace of the day reflected
On your face as young as
The first time you smiled.
The serpent called creating
A confliction of hope, and recklessness,
Of pain, foolishness, and disappointment.

You offered only redemption.
Immersion in clear, blessed water.
Lapis lazuli benediction bringing
New life, orthodox beginnings, release.
Your virgin skin renewed,
Every day changing, serpent shed.
Sapphire eyed under Imperial purple sky.

You are here still.
On the crowded train
Twisting, rocking, heading home,
Amongst the fools dressed like nuns,
Love and arguments by remote device,
Past fields layered with Sultan’s emeralds.
My mind never clear of you.

I saw you last.
Bathed in golden rays, you were
Smiling, inviting but soon distant.
Now your images cascade past,
And fast at ether speed.
So many choices, decisions to make,
But I have made none.

The interior of the Hungarian National Theatre in Cluj-Napoca is traditionally comfortable: crushed velvet tiered seating, arcing towards the stage. It is a large hall with seating for a few hundred people in the stalls and the balcony. The theatre was built under the cold, grey dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu. That era of despotism is now past, so it was ironic that the recent performance of Samuel Beckett’s 1957 play The End Game took us on a journey into the lives of people who had lost all hope, via a stage set that drew us, as if towards a tunnel, into a world removed of animation, colour and laughter. Lives dominated by the crumbling despotism of the central character, the wheelchair bound Hamm.

The play was directed by Krystian Lupa, and performed in Spanish by the Teatro de la Abadía Theatre Company during the Cluj International Theatre Festival “Interferences 2010”. Usefully there were Hungarian and Romanian sur-titles which enabled me, as a speaker of none of these languages to not only concentrate hard on picking out words that I could recognise, but also to wonder yet again at the similarities of Romanian to more western Romance languages; truly the Romanians must have descended from the Latinised settlers and legionnaires who stayed behind when Aurelian withdrew from the province of Dacia around 271 AD.

My inability to understand the dialogue certainly did not interfere with my ability to understand the general train of events, if that is what you could call them, in this one Act play. Hamm is unable to stand. Chair bound, from behind large dark glasses, he bullies his servant Clov who apparently is unable to sit, a luxury perhaps denied to one who has only to serve day and night, at the beck-and-call of one who cannot rest, who appears to be carrying a huge burden from a life lacking in love and fulfillment. Hamm is now able only to get what he wants by reputation. He is a mere shadow of the young and ambitious businessman or politician who always got his way, and who rose to fame, riches and power. Those around him remain under his spell which was portrayed as degenerate, filthy and merciless. Hamm is a character totally without any form of attraction, but perhaps that is what Beckett throws down as a challenge; can we who love pity even this Ceauşescu?

In the bunker-like, grey cell of the set, Hamm sits centre stage, whilst Clov attends to his needs. But Clov, whilst always giving the master what he demands, shows a tendency for rebellion. Often taking his deliberate time to bring something asked for. Sometimes spending too long looking out of the porthole like windows set high at the rear of the set, where there is light, and movement, even if only the gentle movement of clouds that run slowly, which contrast with the inactivity within the cell.

We hear the sound of the sea and maybe the distant cry of gulls; is Clov longing wistfully to be outside, away from this drudgery? It appears to be the obvious course but as in life what is obvious is not always easy to achieve. Clov is even provided with an escape route as the sand that encroaches from the nearby beach has partially filled a doorway. It implies that the way out is upwards; is that up towards heaven, or, perhaps as a miner emerging from a long shift underground to breathe the fresh air once more, upwards towards freedom?

The bare despair of this play is not confined to the two principals. Beckett wrote in Hamm’s parents but bizarrely they live in what are described as ash cans (rubbish bins) as they both lost their legs some years before in a motor accident. This production had them entombed in large crates with muslin walls enabling the audience to observe their agonies and decline. Clov wheeled them on and off stage as if removing cadavers from the morgue refrigerator or perhaps from their place in the family mausoleum.

The father, Nagg, was played by a wizened old actor dressed only in a loin cloth, much as one would have imagined a latter day Stylite on his column. Nagg is the stronger of the two parents, only by degree, and appears to challenge Hamm, exposing doubts in his mind and in return receiving cruel treatment. Why did Hamm not do away with his parents years ago is one question? Why did he let them remain to challenge him? History tells us that however awful the despot, few engaged in parenticide.

The treatment of Hamm’s mother Nell was perhaps the most shocking aspect of this performance. Clearly very weak and close to death she longs to be reunited with her husband and there are one or two short interludes where they are permitted to talk, and briefly embrace before Hamm’s cruelty and the sheer physical effort forces them both back into their crates. Nell was portrayed almost ready for death with loose funereal linen bindings which allow her heavy old breasts to roll free like Hogarth’s woman in the Gin Lane print; without shame; without pity; without hope. When Nell does die we see no trace of grief from Hamm, but there is a pitiful moment when Nagg cries out, finally recognising his complete loneliness.

To judge the performance of such a play is difficult. It deliberately lacks colour and animation. It portrays characters who invite little sympathy. Even the parents; how did they allow Hamm to grow into such a monster? Initially its impact may have been diluted by my need to try to understand what was taking place by trying to follow the dialogue. Post-mortem, the merits of the play and the performance emerge, slowly, growing in my mind.

Although the relationship between Hamm and Clov is one of master and servant, the passage of time has changed the status of their relationship. Whilst at one point one can imagine Clov obeying all that was demanded almost immediately, they are now portrayed as any couple who have been together for a long time. The dynamics have changed and both have come to rely upon the other; they have become used to each other and almost turn into one. It is almost impossible to imagine that they could ever survive apart from one another. Yet that is to change.

The most vivid image was the appearance of Clov towards the end of the play in a pair of bright green heeled shoes. This appears to indicate something is happening beyond the continuous cycle of demands and delivery. In the final scene, Clov, who was played by a red haired woman, appears on stage in a knee-length cocktail dress, wearing a bright green, Desigual like coat. Clov appears to berate Hamm, and despite his pleas tells him she is leaving him. The violent clash of the bright clothes with the cold grey of the cell is revolutionary. Perhaps that was the point. As Clov departs for a new life with hope in her heart, our old dictator Hamm is now just a husk of fear, left only with his memories, his guilt, and a weak and dying Nagg. We know they cannot last long and our final thoughts follow Clov out towards that sea with the blue skies and the fresh air.

 

Separated, we share the same waning moon.
Any, and all, miles apart are desperation.
Divided by leaf bare, dark, decaying woods,
The sea’s waves a wall; beckoning, taunting.

Uncertainty reigns supreme; omnipresent.
Existence is barren, deceitful and isolated.
Surrounded by glittering, mocking abundance;
Denied the intensity of gazing, holding, laughing.

Golden reflections of your image confront me.
Memory draws and pulls through day and night,
But the whispering snake of reason is universal,
Restraining and nurturing this husk of fear.

 

Moonrise at Portland, Dorset by Antony Spencer

I have struggled with this on and off for a year …

The cold dawn rudely awakens all memory.
A valley, stirs, uncurls, slowly, reluctantly.
Earthenware beakers half filled, share
Barbarous red wine stained tables;
Stains shaping memories of pain and parting.

On high our twenty nine minarets call us.
Fine feathered cockerels greet the day,
The wide eyed frogs, nervous, alert,
Add to the rising cacophony of
Crowing, quacking, hacking alarm calls.

Memory flashes so true I can touch you.
The intensity of soft, downy white skin,
No sun has blemished nor aged.
Roads crumble under your nimble feet,
Returning to the faded Queen of Cities.

That is not how I recall the first time.
Now lie barren the isolated, destitute
Neighbourhoods beyond the city walls,
Forever leading to a mythical Golden Gate.
Hiding a century of defeat and humiliation.

Rows of blackened, ruined houses.
Rising high, reaching out, stealing the air,
Even from the Cypress trees in every cemetery.
Memory draws and pulls from lane to lane,
To squares with weed clad broken down fountains.

Only time, swinging from fortune to despair,
And the sharp, barbed, shocks of history
Can give a city such a darkened, weathered face.
Mute, blind and deaf houses crumble in their solitude.
We have life here and you return to decay.

With acknowledgement to Orhan Pamuk

telegraph-cabinet-expensesOne a day the toll rises.
Exit stage left with your cash.
A story of greed and selfishness
Forgetting the oath to serve.

One more cosmetic upgrade
For a nobody who does nothing.
A story of wealth and self-indulgence
Projected as an inspiration for all.

poshBIG_450x350One more ninety minute game,
More important than life or death.
Winning is all and anything goes,
With no shred of sportsmanship.

One more call to arms
Ignored by those who owe
Most to those who gave their sons.
Promises unfulfilled are the norm.

troopsDM0803_468x432<One more contact in the desert
For the forgotten band of brothers.
A story of ordinary men performing
Extraordinary, inspiring feats.

One a day the toll rises.
Exit stage right to the aid station.
One more arm, a leg, another life.
One a day keeps the Taliban at bay.

Colleagues carry the coffin of Pte. Charles David Murray, the 100th British Army soldier to die in Afghanistan

Colleagues carry the coffin of Pte. Charles David Murray, the 100th British Army soldier to die in Afghanistan

Hello,

Today we had a strike on our Underground system. It meant that most people had to choose between overcrowded buses, or walk to the railway stations. I chose to walk and it was very pleasant. The sun almost shone, and I walked from the City past St Paul’s Cathedral, across the Millennium footbridge over the Thames, to the South Bank which is full of cafes, bars, restaurants and theatres. There were many thousands of people but all were in good spirits. The sights, and sounds of Afion playing on my iPod, inspired me to write something on the train. It is pretty raw and unfinished and written in 40 minutes, but it describes one journey through London tonight. I hope you enjoy it.

The Millennium Bridge, two neat files

The Millennium Bridge, two neat files

Today They Called a Tube Strike

Today they called a tube strike,
Did they think it would matter?
I have walked the Via Egnatia,
And decided to walk to Waterloo.

How do they think they can stop us?
Walking defiantly past the new buildings
Of smoked glass and stainless steel,
Rising where German bombs defiled.

A trail of suits, heels, and cases,
Flowing endlessly down to the river,
Towards St Paul’s, towering over
The Millennium Bridge, two orderly files.

Modern art and Shakespeare’s Globe,
Lie south of the tidal, brown waterway,
Home to Belfast and Endeavour.
An impromptu carnival from the world.

Some in a hurry, others hand in hand,
Time for a glass or two; maybe to sit
And people watch; good sport today.
All the time Anadolka is with me.

The stream of bodies is endless,
Upstream to the right, down to the left,
The rules are simple, all have the right
To stroll, to hurry, to some small space.

Olivier oversees the orchestra
Preparing to play, whilst underneath
Skateboard boys attempt their tricks
In the Banksy cavern, cocksure and bruised.
(and Nelson Mandela is free now).

It’s an Alice in Wonderland story for some
But under the arches the beggars wait,
Hopeful but ignored, as the journey reaches
Napoleon’s monumental conclusion.

My nightingale sings Slavuj under the archway.
So many young men fallen, recalling France, Italy,
Belgium, Gallipoli, and Mesopotamia; Imperial reach
Now subject to continental ridicule and disdain.

Cuneo ever watchful guards the door
As patient lines watch illuminated boards.
Today, fat, angry men called a tube strike,
But it’s alright; I caught the 1905.

Print

An Evening Standard

An Evening Standard

An after hours bargain in the
Chill of a London night.
As we pulled out of Waterloo
There is nothing to do.

Failed businessmen
Happy with the shoot,
Convincing themselves
Fishing rights are a substitute.

Classic symptoms displayed,
A student’s eyes observe.
Walk over the long parish
All you wish, it is too late.

The toll of the fallen
Continues daily to rise,
As apologetic fiddlers burn,
The Great Game scars lives.

Star chambers will decide.
Wisdom follows mockery.
The fate of so many
Hangs on the three o’clock call.

Late night rail voyeurism
Is an all too easy substitute
For mind improving crosswords.
A page turns, suddenly you are there.

Hair flowing, long and brown,
Almond eyes penetrating deep
With awesome potential,
To invoke suppressed memories.

Can I stop this clock?
It is all at once achieved,
And then cruelly shattered
By the Evening Standard.

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