The accumulation of three score years and five

has half woken me and drawn an ageless blade that

shares my bed – to be clear, its domain lying underneath –

a little blunter than once was, when proud Boy Scout would

scour and burnish carbon-pitted pots and pans in return for

cherished sheath knife, soon to be illegalised (remember

we outlaws’ conspiratorial smiles), each town or country boy’s

boon companion or coveted badge of teenage fame.

All a reminder that, for the rest of the day, I intend to play

cosseted passenger as to its use and be granted

the part of piper as to all the music and all the songs

that clamour and convulse for order in my head –

the only place today for this four corners of my bed.


On some days, the better days, I rise soon after

the sun (the great empowerer) and talk to myself about

how to get started on some more exotic vocation,

to work in precious metals perhaps. But I do

acknowledge that new minting needs the careful

straining-off of all impurities brought in from who knows

where that wind up daily in my heart and,

from there, start the proper processing of all things

hanging on and off my burdened frame, from the bulbous

bunions roughly sewn, it feels, on both big toes

to my four seasons wintry hair, white as driven snow.


To be fair, I have made of me my own Ulysses,

my own son, own father, own mentor and muse;

I have learned, and then lost, both the language and

the art of love. There remain some traces of such things:

perhaps a painting, of a sunny Orkney morning, maybe,

which once shone inside the insides of each of us;

or a few bars of music that will always be adored

because neither of us has any stake in it that

requires preservation. It is not the same with

the artefacts, the sketches, the first pot turned,

the first poem churned, which we love then we loathe;

but they ooze the essence of you or me, sometimes both.


And then there is this hybrid thing, joint ventures

in creation, where you or I or both of us are captured by

a friend’s lens or another artist’s jewellery tools ranged

across a pavement for the summer; one in particular,

the photograph that X took forty years back that picked up

all the meanings of the frozen quips (that is, words stopped

as the camera clicked, on eager, moist, impatient lips),

never to cool or be put away with mere mementos and

together migrate to some resting place for back-of-cupboard

or attic tat. We promised each other we would not forget

its silent words were to be heard until our last sunset.


But let’s move swiftly forward here as life is, after all,

mostly about beginnings and ends – the middle so often being

such a muddle because not so many of us continue to be

fluent in all three tongues of silent words: the child, a parent of a child

and a parent of a child’s children – but I will not be drawn further on that;

I am not so unskilled that I can ignore the second silent tongue, nor

skilled enough to measure my full capacity and learn to live a life

that commits my all. But slow, just slow right down; pistols at dawn

do not imply the end of it all – just a cheapening of the cause:

a single bullet for a life now bloated with dual remorse.


The aim had been to isolate and analyse the things that,

over the years, had required more compromise and

standing aside than robust debate, flashing eyes, lifting up

the lids of skies. In short, we both believed this was as

proper people were taught to behave, consensus each time some

holy grail but never found – yet we always argued, ingenuously, that

we had taken the cobbling together as universal approbation;

and so we buried the issue knowing inside that it was still alive.

I had not (nor you, I think), until quite recently, appreciated that

the constant visibility of each pictured family member or friend

meant that this, inevitably, must end, that deceit lay, subliminally,


not so many feet across every street down which we

and they might promenade at weekends – the custom

in our town. We liked to think that we were on top of

the deterioration, that we had got over the worst of it;

but we had to accept that our language of love was no longer

a language in love. You told me to look at the picture

and tell you its tale. I felt a teardrop roll slowly down my cheek;

I could not recall one single message that had, joyfully,

intelligently, helped to build the story all those years ago –

the photograph is lovely but portrays people we no longer know.





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Greg Freeman

Sat 19th Dec 2020 09:37

Eloquent, powerful, melancholy. Requires a number of readings.

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