Inverted Spectrum

 

Raindrops shoot down the window like a meteor shower, their brief streaks of individualism dying as they plunge into the windows edge to recombine into a reassuring whole.

The train is stationary, the harsh strip-lighting from inside the carriages flooding out into the inky black countryside. Anything could be out there in that cold gloom. Anything could be peering in at us as we sit in this hot and stuffy cage, facing each other but not talking, knees and feet brushing together but feeling nothing but annoyance. The fat man sitting opposite me is reading A Short History of Anglo-Saxon England. There is a picture of Bede the….the…oh what was it again? The obscure? the impenetrable? Oh I don’t know. Didn’t he say something about a sparrow?

An announcement rasps out. There has been a fatality on the line up ahead. The fat man tuts:

“Why do they do it?” he says to no-one.

The woman sitting next to him shifts with embarrassment and reads her magazine with an increased intensity. The man in the seats adjacent to us glances at the speaker over the rim of his glasses but his eyes returns to his crossword. The fat man shakes his head and gets ready to return to his book. Suddenly, unexpectedly;

“I don’t know, with the way the world is today……” contributes the man sitting next to me. The question sways in the air like a noose.

The fat man likes this;

“Yeah you can say that again. Who knows anything anymore”.

‘Anymore?’ I want to say, ‘Anymore! Whoever did know!’ I want to shout into his shiny red face. But I don’t, I just clench my buttocks and dig my nails into my palms. The harsh light reflects from the fat mans engorged cheeks as he settles back into his chair with a satisfied sigh.

The carriage returns to a slow death by incandescent lighting. The raindrop meteors continue to sign their brief existence across the window pane with a flourish of futile fluidity. The outside blackness bores into me.

Sometimes it feels as if I am within touching distance of some real meaning, of the questions and answers that really matter! But then they float out of reach like a speckled butterfly in a darkening twilight, not because something has come between them and me but because I have just lost interest.

The carriages shudder, wheels protest, and the train judders into motion. Quickly we are moving again, an acceleration of frustration pulsing through that cold darkness, cutting an unhappy line of light from dusk to dawn. Now I remember! Bede said that a person’s life is like a sparrow flying briefly into a warm, bright feasting hall and then out again, back into the cold, dark unknown. And that, written in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’! I’ll say something to that Bede if I ever meet him in that cold dark.

 

© 2012 Thomas Halvë

A Patch for Harry


The bullet whistled as it sliced through,

exclamations of delight,

at a second helping

 of Victoria Sponge.

 

Its copper casing rotated,

as it tore holes through letters,

written by lover’s

of the understatement.

 

It’s passing left ripples in air,

softened by the innocent shouts,

of those unaware

of the vastness of Space.

 

It cracked a cry of dawn chorus,

as it ricocheted off trees,

planted, by those,

who knew their place.

 

It tumbled a cartwheel,

across fields carved out,

by your grandfather’s,

grandfather’s plough.

 

It screamed as it flew over the mud

and the bodies

and the rats

and into Harry’s face.

 

And yet Harry lived on,

and on, and then he died.

And what,

shall we,

do now?

© 2012 Thomas Halvë

N.B. Whilst not written about him, this poem references Harry Patch, the last British survivor of World War One. Harry died in 2009.

2B

 

The wood that it was made of came from a tree that grew in the coppices that were the remains of the great forest that once covered this country from coast to coast. Its seed fell from a nearby branch, swirling in the autumnal breeze until it came to rest on the warm soil.

The graphite that was enclosed by the wood came from deep beneath the ground. Many grains of sand ago it moved through air thick with carbon. Once or twice it fed from the ancestors of the tree and it grew stronger.

The man and the woman that made the boy lived in between the tree and the graphite. In the autumn they walked hand in hand through the coppice. Once they even climbed the tree to kiss in its boughs. They never saw the graphite.

As a seedling the tree was nothing much. It grew slowly and its translucent stem paled in comparison with those around it. But then, one day, a nearby tree fell, crushing some of the saplings that grew close to it. More light fell onto it, more water soaked its roots and more soil waited ready to be colonised. Steadily it grew until it was magnificent.

The graphite had seen so much more light than it had seen dark. If it still could, it would remember the dappled light of an autumn day falling between the shafts of branches to warm it’s forehead as it gasped its last few breaths, lifeblood soaking into the soil beneath it. And yet it had still seen a lot of nothingness, deep beneath the ground. It could have been diamond but instead it became graphite.

The boy was born on a Thursday in October, the light of a distant star falling on his brow as his mother rocked him in her arms.  As he grew older he would explore the nearby coppice, gathering nuts and seeds and swiping at saplings with a stick. People said it was lucky he had been born when he had. He still had to join the army but the war had already finished.

And so, one day, the tree was cut down, the axe exposing the white of its flesh weeping into the watery sunlight. And the graphite was dug, the pick splitting it for the sun to warm its dark surface once again. And the boy joined the army, his mother shedding translucent tears even though she knew she shouldn’t.

“s’alright Dave I can manage it without one” the young man in the khaki said as he concentrated on the map in front of him. The line he was drawing was straight enough, it was a good pencil. And yet, the graphite was just a little too weak and the lead snapped. Blowing away the bits, the line was smudged slightly. ‘Should be alright’ he thought. A little while later a million people died. A few became graphite and a few became trees.

 

© 2012 Thomas Halvë

Winston, Which Way Around is That V?

 

Head resting on an imperfect arch of hands, a face stares out from a grimy mirror.  Blue blues, red whites and the reflection of an infinity of messy bedrooms echoes out from weary sockets. Lines run parallel with the worries of an infinitesimal existence, this line for this obscure worry, that line for that forgotten contradiction.  Thinning hair ebbs backwards from the Canute of life, bald, lined skin threatening to engulf arrogant follicles that thought they had the right to stay lustrous forever. We will fight them on the beaches, yes! But it is an eternally high tide. In the background, early morning light bisects the smoke spiralling away from an ash tray, paper and tobacco burning slowly down to their end-point whilst the universe does something similar all around them. Through the chink of the curtains fusion is producing more early morning light ready to fall, minutes later, on an eerily similar but entirely different vignette.

Is this it? Chapped lips slightly parted, a small black space silently forms the yes of the old man and the no of the young. If you could lend them your ears those lips would expel years of experiences into them in a fine mist. The incidents of a weak and feeble life kept alive by the heart and stomach of a weak and feeble man. In the silence of the just broken morning this world of convexes and concaves, so atomically similar to that of a dying butterfly or a blank slate, enters him through lenses that have been crafted by inheritance and polished by society.  Is this really it? Has he even come close to touching the trailing edge of life’s heel as it strides off into the distance? He could live for another seventy years without finding anything more than faint footprints. Perhaps this is the start of the ebb. He might already have a terminal illness. He could expire in the next second, his heart stopping; face falling forward onto the desktop with a loud thump.

Un-reflected, the second hand of the clock stumbles forward and his heart strikes another beat. One small beat for man and a resolute V sign on a medical chart.  The blood that this beat pushes to his brain helps to generate a flow of optimism. The tide may be high but he is holding on. Perhaps, if his memory lasts for a thousand years, they will still say that this was the finest second of his finest hour. Perhaps not. Whatever they will think, he concludes that it might just be nice to pull open the curtains and take another stroll, to bask in the warmth of all of its exoticism. To suck it all up, as they say. The hate, the love, the sun, the dance. To stand on the beach and smile as the inevitable tide rushes over his feet. And with this thought the eyes laugh, and the world blinks.

 

© 2012 Thomas Halvë