From Grace

Last night I dreamed I sprouted golden dragonfly wings,  I often fly in my dreams but it’s usually a strange, half-swimming through the silky lightness of the air; I jump once, twice, three times and bob upwards in floating fits and starts like a balloon whose string has been let go by a distracted child. This was different. As the wings unfurled I was launched into the sky as though fired from a gun. I soared above a familiar field, dotted with the pale freckles of dawn mushrooms. I realised the clouds could part like silver hair being brushed away from the planet’s face and I could go anywhere, trailing glittering dust and liquid light like a meteor.

Then I fell back to earth, wings torn on tree branches and stray farm wire, dismayed at my own limitations. I woke up sighing.

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Letters to Christ I ~ All Things Bright & Beautiful

Dear Lord,

These letters have been many years in the writing, pieced together from old journals and half-hearted scribbles on the backs of till receipts and napkins; the last 16 years have been one long trial by fire; white-hot iron placed in the hands. Or a witch’s dunking, sink or swim, guilty either way.

I was going to become a priest, once. I wonder if that makes you laugh, the thought of me in the pulpit, wielding broken bottles in a spiritual war zone. Given the Revs and Fathers I grew up watching it’s clear near-terminal alcoholism isn’t actually an impediment to serving you in this way, but perhaps it’s just as well I passed on the opportunity. We still talk, you and I, and I still try to place my light in a candlestick so that it may shine rather than smother it under a bushel, but it’s not as your devoted cleric in a robe of crow-black lifting chalices to Heaven, it’s as a girl, just a girl, just a girl…

Back then, I was a willowy wraith haunting an empty chapel, I would spend hours sitting on the hard, polished pews talking to you, reading the lives of the saints, the poetry of the great mystics, listening with my headphones jammed over my ears to Hildegard Von Bingen’s Canticles of Ecstasy. Perfectly still and content like a slice of eccentric ivory in that cool, dusty vault. I spent so many hours in there, listening to the blackbirds warbling through stained glass, that I got to know all the ancient dead under their marble slabs by name. Sometimes I still dream of that church.

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Perhaps I’ve been scared to write these letters because the things I see don’t slip neatly into a collection box. They are profoundly shocking even to me sometimes, I am overwhelmed with a Love that is like an ocean with no floor; I could not use you as an excuse to judge or hate anybody, how can anyone? Whatever the supposed fulfillment of the laws of Moses, you taught nothing but Love; Love unbound from the mooring of our egos; Love unfettered by society’s judgement: who is worthy, who is better, which sinner deserves redemption, who is and is not allowed to sit at life’s long table. The Old Book is blood and vengeance and fire, but where you walk the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and white lilies like the Magdalene’s hands spring up from your footprints in the dust.

How ludicrous it is that two thousand years after your death loving your neighbour as you love yourself is still so radical, so subversive, so likely to bring down the wrath of today’s Pharisees. But then, how painfully ironic that condemnation and cries of heresy so often follow acts and teachings of pure, transcendent Love. Do you recall the Amalricians? Burned as heretics in the 13th century for preaching that ‘all things are One, because whatever is, is God’? When does a critic separate the artist’s work from the artist themselves? When blood and sweat and insomniac hours and that fierce, burning need to birth some new creation, focused and loosed like an arrow, have directed every brush stroke? Perhaps I too am just another pantheistic heretic, seeing God in all things bright and beautiful.

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But since those days breaking like troubled storm clouds over my younger self, I’ve not lost faith in you, even when I have abandoned myself; when I have been gutter-drunk or full of futile rage or twisted, weeping, in the bedsheets like someone hanging in chains. When I am crushed up like slaughterhouse bonemeal at 4 am after 4 am after 4 am and wondering why me. There has always been that still pool in the eye of those storms, where we talk. Where the words of another great mystic of another desert faith come back to me:

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Until next time, I suppose. For all that I have and all that I am, as always, grazie mille Lord, a thousand thank yous.

~ Amice

 

 

A Room Somewhere

The walls are white, not the soft magnolia of new homes but the stark, sun-bleached white of Spanish monasteries or Provençal cottage kitchens. An iron cross made out of old horseshoes hangs on one wall, beneath it there are always fresh flowers. The sweet, earthy scent of myrrh unfurls through the room, the windows are open to cars and radios and kicked cans and starlings.

I lie on the soft cream bedlinen, mind untethered; I can while whole seasons away like this, the same bittersweet songs playing, the same food every day. In these contemplative pockets I finally find respite from the addict inside who craves novelty and flees from boredom. In these times I cultivate boredom like a beautiful orchid, I drift through the warmer days like a courtesan immersed in long, languid baths. I reflect on everything from the perfume poured on Christ’s feet to the scribbles in my old notebooks to the changing texture of my own skin as it enters a new, dimpled decade. The hours feel drugged, the clock becomes my lover and I can spend all day with him, watching the sun pray over that plain, white paint.

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When I come to, half the summer has gone, usually. Faded like the knees of my jeans as the days melt into each other like butter. I used to sip at pink wine in the bed like a bee regaining strength from sugar water, I wonder what it will be like now, sipping orange juice and green smoothies. A sour slice of yellow lemon in still or sparkling. I dare to hope I’ll write more, free from the shackles of liquor’s apathy which turned my blood to morphine.

I keep those quiet hours close to my heart, precious things pressed between scrapbook pages, mornings of easy solitude like wonderful seashells kept until the end of the holiday; afternoons like petals pulled from the pollen-heavy core of a flower, he loves me, he loves me…a little, madly, passionately, not at all. I become a dusky pink rose, sensual and drowsy with the weight of my own limbs. I hover above myself like pale steam, like incense. They are sacred, those hours, when all I want is a room, somewhere.

 

The Well of Loneliness

‘What’s it like? The new place?’

I struggled to find the words. Cold. Bleak. Liminal. I wanted to show her the slim rivers drying on my cheeks, leaving a trail of ashes and salt. I wanted to play a film of the last six weeks and have a lightning flash of understanding tear through muscle and electrify bone. I wanted to say the unfamiliarity is killing me.

I was sitting in my room – my strange, alien room – after I was released from the clinic – (none of these memories will be in order, by the way, Mind: Out of Order) – knocking back black instant coffee, sharp and sour and necessary as breathing, curled up in the hollow of God’s palm like a spider caught in a match flame; a jumble of delicate, breakable limbs. I wanted to say: You know I had a fiancé, right? A warm home in a beautiful part of the country? A glamourous if stressful job? Now I’m single and jobless in halfway housing, what do you think it’s like?

‘Yeah…It’s okay actually.’

I was a coward. I sipped my thin, watery caffeine and remembered standing on the warm concrete of the clinic yard watching the stars come out, like spots of bright rain on the other side of the glass. Life suspended in the atmosphere, life as a spinning plate, life as a shard of stardust wandering bright and aimless under Heaven, step by faltering step.

STEP ONE – list five things drinking/drug taking gave you in the beginning…

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…and I wrote power…escape…belonging… among others. Thinking about it, right from the first time the glass lip of a bottle clinked against my teeth, I was swallowing escape. A magical elixir that could make me like other people, that could tailor the awkward suit of my own skin more neatly around my transgressive, psychedelic watercolour soul, that opened a door to anywhere but here. I used to think the miracle ‘Drink Me’ was about lifting myself out of the well of loneliness; but I realised during Step One that it was always, always about crawling right inside the broken ribcage of my loneliness, shuffling on bleeding knees like a sinner to the foot of a rotting cross, and dying there.

I cried when I put down the phone. I knew I’d get on the floor and talk to God in a minute, another minute, a breath, another breath; dragged in and out of my lungs like an oxygen clock, but the dial tone pushed my head under the water and put me deep in the well, listening to the sound of my own breathing echoing off the stones

Begin Again

I’ve never met an artist – whatever their canvas – who wasn’t impulsive, and I elevate impulsiveness to comical proportions. I can feel the old itching starting again; underneath the thin, clear lenses of my eyes, the thirst for anonymity. Sometimes it’s very hard to be authentic without a mask; Wilde knew that. Perhaps the relative no-body a person can sneak past Google’s gaze these days is better for the soul…Mine at least. I get stifled under the weight of my name; the smooth, oval eyelids of my own thumbnail photograph. Writing about the intricate, gorgeous, frustrating mechanism of my brain folds the creases of me too neatly into ‘mental health’ at times, when the swirling galaxy of me cannot be so contained. No one can. The creases start to chafe.

I hear writers who can’t wait to pour out their truths to people they know, to proudly strip bare for their peers, family, lovers, ex-lovers…I don’t feel that, never have. I love to write without being distracted by the eyes of anyone I know. People see you upright and talking for say, 10% of your life, and assume they can seamlessly predict the other 90, as though paddling in the waves means you know the depth of the sea. That’s the attraction of the masquerade; I might speak through papier mache lips, but the words are still my own. Eyes laughing behind the plaster, face clean, without fingerprints.

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Anyway. On the windowsill, a clock is ticking. I think it was my Grandmother’s, we’re still clearing the odd, forgotten debris of her life away. Nylon dresses piling up like snow drifts outside the door. Every tick, soft and muted and swishing, feels like a papercut snagging seconds out of the tender skin on the backs of my hands. I never felt young, even as a child. I buried my head in books and documentaries about Egyptian mummies, Pompeii, Anne Boleyn; inhaling flaking bandages, ash and printer ink. I wanted to be an archeologist, I imagined brushing away a thousand years of earth and revealing a queenly lionesses’ head; or Hathor’s long, sleepy eyes peering out at me through the dust. I traced velvet with my fingertips and found myself at Tudor banquets; all heat and light and the smell of roasted meats; candle flames lined up like pilgrims, hair stiff with sweat under a french hood. When I surface, that itchy voice whispers to me relentless as a river: begin again begin again begin again begin again begin again begin again begin again begin again begin again begin again…

I thought this would become simpler with age, but perhaps for fragmented mystics like me it doesn’t – perhaps the lines between this place and all the others become just blurred enough, until your life is something you’re watching to the sound of the lute, or birdsong, or the tips of whispering pines – through an invisible pale pane; a courtier watching the lavender bloom in the green tangle of the old knot garden.