Under Oak

 

My gifts sit waiting and the garden stands dressed, the guests are still in their beds as just the blackbird calls and sings his rural hymn. But I cannot bear today, and choose instead to leave while my bed-drunk thoughts give cause to act rash. I slink to slip away, from impending celebration and responsibility, before the house wakes to see my age of majority, the mark of manhood cast across me.

There’s too much talk of late of work and marriage and family, with my mother’s solemn nods and my father’s pipe tapped against the hearth. Words spoke of duty and devotion. But my heart won’t bite and I refuse to see it bought, owned and stifled. Yes, I spill guilt at this shirking, but not enough to cause me pause, and my pounding heart doesn’t disturb me nor those asleep. The gravel rattle and gate latch go unheard on empty privet lanes. The furtive glances go unanswered until I’m well away. Over bridge and shaded brook, uphill and at once into the woods.

To walk and wake this May, to leave behind the village thankfully sleeping late, and seek instead another place, a place to both open and rest my mind. I find and steal forgotten paths that meander me through glades full of nodding foxgloves, past the standing stones and pines, up to where the village is just a distant smudge, up to where the whispers told the witches lived. The house a ramshackle, held together with string and vine. There’s no life except the wild hens and captive cock who offers an indifferent forest his strangled crow.

They said “never lay beneath the witches’ oak”, and “never cross the water”, a childish curse to keep us out the woods. Up here no water flows and, though I was never one to study, I am certain there grows no oaks. There’s just this old house, nearly gone, and certainly no witch.

The forest follows me. A silence has trailed this far through the woods, a sphere of watchfulness, opening before and closing after as I pass. A series of pricked ears and piqued attention marking my movement, stifling the noise of the inhabitant beholding this invader, this clumsy mammal soft-footed not nearly enough, curious where or how I’ll end.

Down the ridge towards water glinting, calling me closer until at last I find myself upon its bank. Out from under the sun-obscuring canopy, to bathe face in gold light and feet in crystal ripples. To watch these wandering soles washed clear in clouds that dissipate and deny wherever I’ve been. My boots forgotten, behind, away off the jetty, nothing more than forest floor detritus, left like guests gone native, never to leave. 

The ghosts of fat carp drift lazily like airships beneath duckweed. Flitting columns of pure woodland sunlight caught and reflected, winking from the pond. A moorhen clicks and bobs its head, feet unseen propelling him from lilies to reeds around the island, and out of sight there beneath a towering dead trunk. Three magpies chatter and flap and swoop and laugh, caught in the sunlight about the pond. They fly lines, to track triangles back and forth above the water, alighting on branches to call and taunt and fly again. 

My legs content to hang, suspending feet in the calming pool, these limbs offering little resistance as I lean to lay. I’m cushioned on ancient wood. Eyes closed against the sun, lids red, lit-through. Everything hums with the busy activity of life, from the thrumming centuries of the forest giants’ growth, to the fleeting life-beat of the bee and the beetle. 

The sphere of watchfulness closes, drawing in, the silence that has surrounded, shrinking, to accept me, a dumb mammal with no grace. As if this heartbeat kept it all away, each thump pushing back, now allowing all to draw near as softened. Those thumps fade to the rhythmic sigh, no-more than a turning of pages. Just a nothing. An ineffectual. Slow life. To find at last not sleep but mind for rest and to forget.

 

A touch, not more, just an inquisitive touch upon my big toe and then the sole of my foot. I rise, and blink back the brightness and see my feet investigated by fish. But beyond them, out on the pond, halfway to the island and its dead tree, floats a woman. Face-up and body draped thin, she’s tranquil and translucent as the water. A woman who I swear is no more than a trick of the light. She’s something between desire and deliriousness, a case of sun and thought refraction to offer hopeful distraction, with the rise of her breasts and the curl of her grin.

As I lift and lower my body to the water and venture further from the edge, the rustle and hiss of the trees and leaves seems to dampen, imbued with a velvet fugue. 

The fresh spring activity, awash with the click and buzz of life, fades to become a lazy sticky summer humidity. The air and pond feeling to grow thicker, and prickle, as I near her. Every part, from garments suspended beneath, to the trailing ends of her hair, every part seems to reach, to spread her touch, her influence thick as liquid gold throughout the pond, ‘til everything drips with her languid essence.

My voice is distant, my “who are you?” and “where’re you from?” ignored, disappearing in the still until I’m unsure they were ever said. Instead she turns. Her feet to find the same ground of leaves and silt that I stand on, her figure sepia and cut as stained-glass through the surface. Her smile and eyes require that I come closer, a request that draws me in, to her hand reaching and touching my chest, to her fingers firm as they stroke down and pull up. And without another move she stands patient and a little aloof as my clothes come loose to leave me undressed, then a smirk as she follows suit. So fresh from home and in the world, I’ve fortune felt and touched desire with this lithe prize, and I can’t believe my luck.

Closer still and her hand on mine, to guide and let alight upon her hip, where it slips unbidden, to the small of her back, flat and urging her, toward her smile of intent realised. Her hand, just fingertips on my thigh, then higher, my ribs and chest and shoulder and neck before, with the slightest tip of her head, and dip of our four eyes, she permits and presses our lips.

 Sunlight on her mouth, the loose lingering touch of skin, and lascivious fruit of a citrous tongue. The pond seems to swell and thicken, no difference between the warmth of the water and air. My hand holds her hip before she raises it to her breast, my thumb grazing back and forth. In response her hand coiling to bring my heart quickening, to flush my cock and hold it firm between us. She moves to occupy one space, to press heart to humming heart and find unity in rhythm.

Her mouth leaves mine, tongue tight behind her teeth, sleepy eyes soft before another kiss, with patient ferocity, and her grip tugging, raising me full-mast to navigate with her across the pond. 

Tongue and teeth and lips, grin and bite and tease as I follow, finding our bodies rising through the shallows, through the reeds and to the bank beneath that towering dead trunk.

Our bodies collapsed together, wet upon the grass, hands and feet fumbling for purchase, legs tangled then spread. Her hands pinned above her head, and my mouth scattering down her throat. Her chest and breasts, bitten and sucked as I refrain, strain between us, eager to satisfy that urgent need, more so to watch it rise. Her feet, on bent legs, heels at the base of my spine, then, to my surprise, a kick that rolls and leaves me supine. Her trunk, pale as the tree, knotted and sun-bleached, boughs that reach to return that wrist grip and pin above my head, as her roots spread about and she grinds and guides me in. She topples to touch lips to mine, mouth sweet and viscous sap to attract and trap. Her heart beating through her breast, with volcanic threat that threads a molten stream through her, to a liquid core, to overheat and overwhelm me.

Her fingers spread heavy on my chest, to take her weight as she lifts to rise and ride and fall. That insistent grind elicits grunts, with mouths and eyes half open, as she moves to deliver a double-beat ellipse, teasing a gasp and a tense. She smirks and laughs, light and lyrical, with a raised eyebrow, knowing now how close. She slows and lowers herself once more, her breath on my lips, my jaw and, at last, audible by my ear. 

“Not yet,” she whispers, I fear, too late.

But she retreats, raising herself from her seat and holding tight, laughing tricksy but maniacal, ceasing that climax, keeping it as I writhe in her dexterous manacle. Wide-eyed and reduced to beast I feel the immediate need subside, but not desire. Gritted teeth and a flash of anger, at eschewal and refusal, at her denial. She releases, satisfied I’ll not yet find relief, leaves me pulsing as her hand instead rises to my chest, followed by her mouth. My fists unclench. Fingertips muddied by my sides. My lungs and heart full of slowing lust, undiminished but tamed. 

She’s predacious, practically stalking, lupine, chest pressed to mine as she paws my wrists once more, above my head, dirtied fingers curled and unresisting. Pulse and passions rise as she bares her teeth between bedraggled hair. Canines that she rakes over shoulder and clavicle, makes me groan, prey offering prayer. She could take my rib, her mouth, those teeth descending to it, to the curve of my trunk, to press and test soft flesh, sink teeth skin deep.

My wrists released, my hands tense and persist in their position, held above my head, denying a temptation to touch this feral apparition. I arch my back, thorax on offer, under her breath and tongue, under her thumb as her hand reaches to hold. And for all the discordant hunger, the mess her mouth has drawn across my skin, her touch takes and manipulates with finesse to raise and keep me on edge. I mutter urgent need, a plea on my body stretched taut, caught on the cusp of losing my all. She laughs, head rising to offer a wild grin. She smirks for refusal, for insistence that she’s not yet done. Instead she drops her mouth, to drag her thick slick tongue over, to tension increase, to feast now on need.

She speaks in tongues, words all but unheard, tumbling from lips dripping as I lift my head to see that grin, wild eyes peering back, nails in my thighs as her mouth rises. She torments with intent, coiling bleak hope from my cock to heart that beats too fast and mind falling apart, a dog that chases his tail, desperate to catch and stay uncaught.

The magpies sit in their dead tree and cackle. With their tail twitch and hop to watch and switch, awaiting gold to glean, spectators to this feast. They’re emissaries from the forest on this sticky static island throb. Everything pulses and hums, a heady vibration running wild and unrivalled through. 

She drags her mouth from me, crawling, grazing taut sweat skin up to breathless chest then throat, to boast her dominion, canines gnawing to jaw. I twitch and drip, ignored below as she knocks teeth and lunges tongue. Her fingers in my hair and frantic in my breath, to taste myself on her. Her influence fluid in everything, oozing citrus sweet, neat summer to stick fingers and at last permit touch. Hands on her skin, shoulders and neck, hair through my fingers to hold and kiss. She moves, on hands and knees and finds to brush a touch between us, a life-and-death press of contact too-long coming. Taken quick complete with whimper and bit lips. She sits and pulls me to join, exquisite, with legs around. As the manic hum finds its pitch, perfect resonance and skin prickles with sweat beads under kisses all along clavicles. Her rise and fall, slow and light, no longer tease or need, but bound to a boundless pursuit of relief.

“Not yet,” she says, “wait for the tree to bloom,” and dancing in the branches the magpies pick and pluck each green shoot. “Such a good husband,” words on her breath, and “you’ll stay here with me.” Too late I fear, my heart has bit and I’ve been bought, and caught and cached.  

Her mouth offers mantra, ritual and incomplete, vowels floating on her exhale, honey but bitter on my tongue. Under that dead oak, unobserved or at best disregarded, with fingers and figures interlocked, we’ll ride this endless forest hum. 

     

And somewhere back along the valley, where the brook bears sunlight and laughs under a bridge, the village awake celebrates an absence and offers knowing nods, of one more wastrel abandoned to the woods.

One-handed blind bowman

That dance with one hand, on the small of your back.

One hand holding both of yours above your head.

Causing clothes all askew.

Your hip, your ribs.

As we breathe in these few inches.

One hand heading higher,

just thumb and forefinger,

to pinch and pull.

And I grasp that gasp, to nock tongue on lips and close our eyes.

Ghost her own home

She bumps in different rooms, she bumps in different worlds, different time zones, different countries, different beds. The midnight footsteps. The doors that open and close. The cold, always the cold when she’s around. And then the laughter, warmth on another plain, audible through this membrane, audible and awful and terrible.

Like in the beginning, she gives me sleepless nights. I hear her in the kitchen at odd hours; water runs; she makes toast. It’s dark. It’s three in the morning.

There’s excorcism in arguments, my accusations, her threats and abuse. I start to count my blessings, each and every one I’ll leave behind. Existence streamlined. Just to walk away, let her haunt someone else.

Midnight winter woods

It’s a wild night, that much I confess to myself, setting out in hat and coat and scarf. Too wild for the likes of me, the sane and the still-too-sober, to be out of doors, too late to be wandering the streets, far too late to be stepping out and into the woods. And as the light of the last street lamp flickers and disappears behind one too many trees, my pluck goes with it, another flame extinguished whether by lack of oxygen under the heavy midnight drape, or by the thumb and forefinger of the forest that says, simply, no.

But I was called, away from the hearth and my glass by a sensation that said seek, a call to a void that said find me. It came in the clink of glasses and the rhythm of merriment. Out the door it giggled in the gurgle of the rain just-stopped, flowing in the gutter. And so it led me away from my home, through the village and out.

The trees offer no respite, from neither cold nor gale. Ignoring the thunder that has moved on to rumble in the distance, the distillation of rain through the trees takes me back in time to wet me with a storm that I happily sat-out in the warmth of the pub. The wind whips between trunks and branches to lash about my limbs, to take my hat and fling it far – and at that I find the folly of my endeavour. Emboldened by a drink that lies and says I’m sober, that stokes my nerve, that builds me up and will, I know it, knock me over.

Now home is in my mind. Out the dark and the wet, back to a house with warm winter glows, the comfort of my wife’s scolding tongue. But which way?

Summer, mid-week afternoon, in the park.

You’ve been adjusting your clothes all afternoon, they keep sticking, you’ve told me. Everything sticks to your summer skin, except your bra strap which refuses to hold onto your shoulder. Eventually you give up and let it hang loose. You look like you have no desire to be here, indoors, like you were dragged in by some vague sense of professional duty; like as you padded barefoot from your bed to the door you literally picked up and put on the loosest clothing you could decently wear. You look like you’d rather still be there, sweltering on that bed, surviving the summer, a little high, a little buzz to stoke that glint in your eye and make the furnaces hours pass faster. But you’re not, you’re here, with me, for our sins. I assure you I’d rather be there too, high, buzzed, with the curtains drawn, ineffectual, against the sun.

“In my bedroom?” you ask.

This is perhaps taking me too literally, I meant in a more general sense, I’d rather be there in that kind of place, where summer becomes something we ignore rather than endure and sit here to talk and pretend it’s not all just too much to cope with. My problems seem insignificant when it’s hot enough for heels to prick the tarmac outside.

We can open all the windows you want, turn this room into a vortex of contradictory currents, but every one of them is hot and we both feel like we’re cooking in here. We stick to our chairs, sweat pours off us, and the way it runs down your throat and drips from your collar bone when you lean is making it impossible to concentrate. This is something I’m still unsure about, if it’s deliberate, not the sweating, but your apparent lack of self-consciousness around your body. Maybe you don’t know, maybe you don’t care, maybe you know and care and want me to, too.

“This is madness,” you say eventually, “today’s session,” you shrug, hands folded on your lap, “will take place outside.”

It feels odd being out with you. I’m used to us talking indoors, for the experience to be contained in that single familiar space, but out here, as we cross the street between parked cars, I feel like what we do is vulnerable, like you might be fallible.

Across the street and between the trees of the park the enclosed space returns a sense of comfort, an encircling hum of nature’s summer that stops just short of claustrophobia. The village sounds fade to be replaced with the insect buzz, that noise of frantic activity on a minuscule scale. And we move through the shade of the trees, drawn towards the cool of the pond that idles overgrown somewhere ahead.

It seems we have the park to ourselves today, what passes for busy in the village is all going on elsewhere. We could be miles away but for the steeple always visible above the trees.

The trees give way to long grass and the pond, its waters invitingly clear, and here, on the bank, we sit, partially shaded by the waving tendrils of the willow. Our conversation, the purpose of our being together today, never stood a chance, it didn’t even begin again. We sit in the long grass and the breeze blows away our obligations, scatters them like seeds and pollen on the pond.

“This is nice,” you say, barely forming the words, just exhaling them. “Just being out, without agenda or objective. When was the last time you just sat in the grass and watched the world?”

“There’s not a lot of world to see right here,” I observe.

“Then watch the clouds,” you say sleepily, and lay on your back. “Come.”

I lay recline beside you, uncertain until I’m flat and then I feel a summer’s exhaustion ease.

“Fuck,” I breathe, “sorry, but… fuck.”

You nod beside me and hum your concordance.

“Time to get my feet wet,” you say, the smile showing on your voice. And you kick off your shoes and lower your feet to the water.

The noise you make sends shivers up my spine and I feel your knuckles touching mine.

Odd worship

Previously posted in part, entitled “there’s something about watching”.


Smoke fug hugs him, tugs at him, its fingers linger in threadbare cardigans, as he shuffles the scuffed trail across the room. Burnt toast and mug of tea to find space amongst cigarette cemetery, and the death rattle of countless martyred ballpoints choking their last dreams and declarations over stained sheaf.

This desk is wombed, cocooned in a wall cavity, plasterboard removed, wood frame remains and then just honest brick. Honest brick honeycombed. Twenty four seven he is drone. His glasses removed, red-ringed eyes rubbed raw, bloodshot, mind half-cocked, semi-detached. Assimilated in his chair. To watch her through the wall, her, in there.

Outside is bitter cold and just light, white under frost and hazed through fog. People move about on this Tuesday, this work day, to offices and factories, to nine to five. This, his inside, is nine to nine to nine to nine  all-time. ‘Career choice’ (with air fingers and in reverse order): philosopher, detective, deity.

For her it is admiration, worship perhaps, to be creation, moulded melded bolted welded both organic and utterly man-made. 
Not a job but a calling, to have them falling, head over heels over her, over each other, desperate to please, to be the perfect lover. For their whispered words and bowed heads to wash against her sure as against the shore, leave her unpierced, but different from before.

She is risen, raising in sheets, like breezes blown in sails to fill to full flow and find steady rise to gale. Footprints on the floorboards, that creak and ease to carry too towards, to doors, to wash nocturne flaws. For it is here alone that she is her, alone.

He sits with headphones, chin in hand in God’s swivel-throne. Ignores digits and dials, the pinhole the way to watch crocodile smiles. Instead he rifles, fingers idle or bayonets to probe, to send half-written notes and doodled motes drifting to the floor.

Undercover, covert on his desk, hidden ‘neath scribbles disguised as mess, a long-forgotten promise from his Miss, that this is his, this, his odd worship.

Off Island

It started with a childhood pride for writers who share my name, we got Shakespeare afterall, and Blake, and then Golding crashed an aeroplane and left a wound in my innocence, a burning trail half-a-mile wide through the jungle of my mind – that plane that went down in my youth, that plane that disappeared from the radar without notice, and went down in my youth.

It told me to do what I can. It said never trust your fellow man. It said dig in and prepare to run. It said “I’d expect more from English boys.” Well expect away, we’re nought but animals, all of us, just, some in denial. But that aeroplane tore from the sky and left a scar that two-and-a-half decades later leads to me and leads me too, a leash on this beast, a submissive streak half-a-mile wide. 

And on that island she stepped, all white gloves and expecting respect. She found the scar, the blackened ground and splintered stumps between which bluebells had begun to grow. She walked the trail, at once boots and heels, from my brain, my throat, my heart and gut and cock. She stroked the twisted wreckage and stoked that beast again, she took handfuls of hair and had her words bite my ear – “whatever it takes to get you off.”

I called her Byron

​We lay on the bed. Clinging to it as if it’s a life raft, and we’re adrift. If I’m honest, we’re barely more than strangers, connected by nothing more than a desire to spend the long days fucking and reading. I read the English newspapers brought by the landlady three days late, and Byron, she reads someone’s list of the 100 best novels. Today is “The Catcher In The Rye”. 

She teased me for reading Byron, I slapped the book against her bare thigh and she squealed and snatched it away. She refused to give it back, she laughed and insisted that I call her Byron. Her accent melted my heart and I couldn’t refuse.

Three days later the pet name has stuck. I go to make more coffee and on my return, as has become the agreement, I claim my payment for leaving the bed. She loses her page and then her book in the landscape of the sheets. She teases me again and wants me to call her Byron before she’ll let me finish.

Afterwards we drink our coffee and watch the boats in the harbour. The houses across the water are painted bright colours. Eiders bob between the traffic and she refers to Holden’s questions about where the ducks go.

The next day the landlady is sick. Her son brings bread and cheese and coffee, and forgets the newspapers.

When we wake up on Tuesday she stretches sleepily and says she’ll go out. I watch her from the window, clutching a coat to herself as she crosses the street and smiles to the locals. In her absence I reread “The Catcher In The Rye”, and forget that she never came back.

Act of god

​I want it total and complete, 

I want it like a disaster movie, 

like when the world buckles and the high-tension cables snap,  

like the eye of a storm when the air is full of detritus and bodies, 

like when the shell hits and our plucky hero loses one or more senses so overcome is he by the moment, 

when it all goes black or becomes a high-pitch whine, 

I want the grubby skin streaked by sweat, 

the torn clothes, 

the desperation and the barely holding on, 

I want the burnt-out buildings and the smouldering ground, 

I want you, the misunderstood monster that tears a city down, 

I want to be the ship you sank and the forest you felled, 

I want to be your bodycount.