It’s been a while since we got to do this, you and me.
We’re clanking into gear, picking up speed, finding those tracks we’d neglected and re-railing.
There’s a beautiful flow when we get going. Clacking puzzle tiles that constantly shuffle and reshuffle as more information gets added, or new ideas nudge their way out of the bag and click onto the board.
There’s a game of hot potato afoot, email ping pong, a chance to make a tiny piece of the world as I wish it were. And this absolute focus and the desire to shrivel apathy into a puff of long-forgotten ash.
My younger self roamed wild over these moss sprung hillocks, feet incautious until one would sink calf deep into a hidden burrow beneath a troublesome root. It was here we found blunt badger skulls, dragonflies the size of a grown up’s hand, and an endless supply of scratches and stings.
Today wavers between sunshine and shade, shifting from dappled scenes of teddy bears’ picnics to the gloomy hollows of a Forbidden Forest. The wild scabious has hung glowing violet lanterns to light the way, painting a purple haze onto retinas. Willowherb withers and dries, then casts itself to the winds in curls of fluffed seeds.
The other floral efforts have retired now and the bees have moved on to less green pastures. This year, the blackberries never made it past livery pink before mummifying on the bramble. An early autumnal transformation signals stress amongst the deciduous.
My younger self delights in the feel of hollow thumps beneath scrabbling hands and feet, she wields lichened stick-swords that are longer than she is, and stares up at a sliver of sky that snakes impossibly far above.
She’s quite a while away from thoughts of climate change, invasive species, dieback, ticks, or sustainable woodland management. But it’s comforting to know that her uncomplicated delight can now wander hand-in-hand with the concerns of adulthood.
There’s a kneading in my chest, a drawing out, a punching in, a folding over. I’m not quite sure what the end result is meant to be (and I’m doubtful it’s worth all the commotion). My lungs are doing their best to press on despite the surrounding churn, thin breath in, thin breath out, a constant battle against diaphragm.
Shoulders are corded tight, ratcheted two clicks past comfortable and tugging up toward my beleaguered neck. They too, appear to know something I don’t.
It slithered in from somewhere, maybe alongside that dream last night with all that frantic dismemberment and panicked swipes of fingerprints. Maybe it came in as I drew away from the present and slid toward the past without shuffling my thoughts into order first.
It’s refusing to answer questions in any case.
This feeling is the one that wants to consume everything in sight. Fill all bodily cavities until there is no room for churn or movement or tightness. There is only the sturdy counter press of repletion.
It always passes, sliding out of my skin and into another’s without any pattern or cause. In the meantime, this mound of flesh I call ‘mine’ will continue to jitter and jolt its way onward, desires and motives entirely opaque.
I spent the past few days bathing in a pool of like minds.
(Also a lot of sweat.)
There’s an inordinate sense of comfort when everyone around you shares your values, when you can speak to a stranger without carefully excising all the bits of your self that might prove controversial.
In times like these, the warmth and friendliness of fellow humans smooth over the bruises that bloom daily in the wake of the morning news. The songs that break lips begin to burn away the helplessness coiled around hearts. Determination long dimmed stokes at the touch of new hands.
And in the real world, where strangers don’t talk to strangers, eyes dance to avoid another gaze, and another bruise marks my skin, I’ll recall that this stalwart silence does not mean that I am alone.
Painkillers are saviours. With them, there’s a chance that things won’t escalate and I’ll get back to normal much sooner. With them, I’m less likely to do something stupid to make the pain go away. They’re an occasional safety net, a buffer that stops my brain from blowing its tolerance gauge.
But they also coat my brain in lethargy and sew my eyelids shut. They drain me of saliva and dangle me by the nape of my neck so my limbs hang heavy and helpless. My words come slow and cracked, and bruises bloom on my shins and shoulders.
“Is she in love with you?!” They ask, young eyes wide at the impossible concept of love actually being a many splendored thing: one apparently shouldn’t write poems for one with whom you are not in love.
I didn’t get the memo.
And then there’s the careful note in the arms of someone who feels that love has now become something to be coloured within the lines. The innocence and ease has become increasingly self-conscious and cautious as childhood disappears into the distance.
Eyebrows rise if I share a room with my brother or father when travelling, and assumptions are made if I go to dinner with a male friend. Handholding over the age of ten seems to only signal romantic love, so I receive speculative eyeballs when I support my mother – lover? Daughter? Carer?
A spectrum of love exists to be expressed in a spectrum of ways. So I’ll take off my judgy-pants if you take off yours.
Ten o’clock is a carmine that has a mind of its own, eleven o’clock an aquamarine that I never quite mix enough of, twelve o’clock is a delicate pink with an unsuspectingly tenacious stain on my palette.
Daylight momentarily resists, then crumbles under pressure and feathers the bottom of a milky jar. Time pours into a stained yoghurt tub, pours out, pours in, pours out.
There is barely a moment spared for eating, cleaning, or rolling sore shoulders: every second needs to be channelled into pigment.
When the last of daylight has been scraped from the jar, the colours begin to warp.
The colours of the night like to deceive. Ten o’clock is a deep purple that looks black under the electric lights, I know eleven o’clock to be a light limey green but I can only see yellow, twelve o’clock refuses to blend smoothly, chunks of burnt orange floating in a tangerine base.
The canvas sits and waits for time to dry upon its surface. I scrub minutes from my fingers, seconds from beneath my nails, and an unruly moment from its attempted escape onto my shirt.
I discharge time from its monotonous polytone task, and release it to transform into other things.