19 August 2014

Choir in the Saltgrass

The whirring of crickets is a hymn to nostalgia, droning in my ears as counterpoint to the scent of sun-warmed saltgrass buzzing in my nostrils. Warm breezes curled through the windows, bringing with them a gauzy doze. I could sleep here forever, lost, by the sea.

Summer on the headland is ever a surprise, the shock of the familiar after excess time away. Light takes on crystalline edges, burning out details most of the day. Most of the days, that is, when the downy clouds do not pull themselves over the cerulean bed of the sky, the jade sheets of the sea.

I have no reckoning of my daydream time at the windows facing the sea. That time has passed I can ascertain from the lengthening shadow of the lighter propped up on the sill. A small chromed gnomon serving as ad hoc sundial, the sun gleams from its rounded corners.

The lighter is warmed only by the sunlight. I have not touched it in days except to move it about the cottage. The last cigarette was snuffed out near a week gone. Lungs and heart having ganged up on the mind, the push came in the form of the desiccating heat of summer. It was too hot to fill my lungs with the smoke of burning weeds. 

The effort to acquire more tobacco had lately lost its charm, as well. Town was a short drive or a long walk, and I felt no inclination to do either. Such a journey would require the exchange of human currency. The bank of my soul was far too empty to make those transactions on credit. I had no energy for the.

No, far better to save that energy for something vital, like food or perhaps a quart of stout. Beside, there was no rush out here at the edge of the world swaddled in slow time. The larder was full enough. My pens and journals were laid out on the desk under the windows, the ones facing the sea. The cream-colored pages beckoned to me, some already incised with the calligraphy of my thoughts that seeped sporadically from the depths of my mind. Calligraphy, or crow tracks, depending on how one chose to view the words.

Crows. The thought of the wily birds, feet dipped in ink and skittering across the journals, made me smile. Raucous squawks from a pair of gulls down on the shingle broke my reverie. Perhaps they had read my mind and wanted in on the joke. I took the interruption as a sign that I should get back to work.

Work, such as it is. I turned to adjust the casement. The breeze was softer and slower. I heard the crickets whirr again in a melodic bleat that went on longer than usual. In that short span of seconds I found myself in the backyard of my youth. The sun was high, filtering through the lacy skein of leaves over my head. I was on a blanket. A book lay on my chest, my left thumb somehow acting as bookmark. I was perhaps twelve years old, a book worm, with no idea of the world that lay ahead of me. I drifted back into a cottony nap.

Another squawk from the gulls. A resounding boom and hiss as what must have been a seventh wave pummeled the shore. My feet tingled from a deep vibration that worked its way up through the sand below the plank floor of the cottage. I sat up straight, intensely aware of the afternoon slipping away. Fingers curled reflexively as if to strike the lighter.

"There is no past, there is no future, there is only this now," I muttered to the salt air. The gulls struck out over the deepening green of the waves as I picked up a pen. My hand trembled slightly as I bent my head to write. Sunlight sparkled off the lighter, while below in the saltgrass the crickets sang to me of youth and wisdom.

17 August 2014

Magpie Tales 233: Crossing Waters

Yell Sound, Shetland, 2014, by R.A.D. Stainforth via Magpie Tales

Straps dig in the back
Shift the pack while stomach drops
Thrum of engines, bass in the gut
Gulls wheel and cry tears, 
like those of Ma and Da
when home is left behind

31 July 2014


The Elders released him into the multiverse with fanfare and deep blessings. They sent him forth to become a Creator, just as they had in their own millennia. The formation of stars, new whorls of dust marked his entrance. They noted the spontaneous appearance of sentient life in more than one system. Such a miraculous occurrence had not happened in eons. The Elders marveled at this omen, and wished him well on his new existence.

What they did not do is warn him of the sacrifices he would be required to make, if he was to fulfill his destiny among the fabric of Creation. There was no talk of the pieces of himself he would lose in creating stars, molding planets, blooming life. They did not tell him of the pain. All for the best, the Elders agreed, relying in wisdom that was older than anyone knew.

Pain would speak for itself. Among a field of carbon and proto-stars, in a small galaxy born of his first efforts, he knew loss. It blinded him for a thousand years. What he thought would be a double star of unsurpassed beauty turned into a neutron star orbiting a black hole. He was unprepared for the ferocity of their gravity. They screamed in x-rays, gamma radiation howls mauling the fabric of existence. They lasted only a few beats of his cosmic heart before he lashed out to end their misery.

Among a cloud of diamonds the size of moons, he wept. The pain was beyond imagining. If a creature of energy, of dark matter and light, could be said to have nerves, his were stretched across the infinite. Background radiation, the hiss of hydrogen were rasps across the fibers of his being. He took refuge in the heart of a white dwarf, the spinning of which camouflaged the sound of his suffering.

The Elders watched from afar. From a cocoon of hydrogen gas and ionized iron tinged with copper, they nodded what passed for heads, murmuring to themselves but offering no counsel to their suffering son. They could not. They would not. Such advances would undermine everything they sought to teach. The propagation of the multiverse depended on the understanding at a molecular level of the cost of creation.

His heart bled. Star systems coalesced. Planets came forth from the terrible fires of agony. He let himself slide down a gravity well into the heart of a black hole. White hole of rebirth and a new layer of the cosmos lay before him. Fingers the size of galactic whorls reached out to collect dark matter, light matter, all that became clay under his caresses.

Moon and planets and star systems lay in regal opalescence on the blood-soaked canvas of what could only be called his mind. Energy, diaphanous and pure, yet fragile like the collateral creatures that sometimes came to existence on what they called planets. He would not know 'planets' or 'blue' or 'heart' as they. He was energy. He was Universe and Being, spanning eons and the distance between the Big Bang and the nothingness at the edge of creation.

Still, the ache of shattering loss haunted him. After so many millions of years like hours he felt drained. Too many fragments of himself scattered across the layers of the multiverse. He felt he could give no more. Weariness demanded he rest. Sleep frightened him, from his need of of it and the grinding anxiety of wondering if he would ever awake from it. But he gave in. The upper atmosphere of a gas giant served as blanket. A flock of moons, large and small, served as distraction to lull him into a sleep of ten million years.

In sleep, there were dreams. Solar flares become demons become lovers. In his dreams, he was potter, surgeon and blacksmith. He wielded tools measured in light years. Light grew within him, suffused him bore him out on interstellar winds until he knew not his measure. Something stirred in his core. A metallic brightness filled him with increasing heat. He laughed, and stars were born.

The heat grew. Soporific pleasure slowly transformed into a gnawing pain. He grunted, contracting around the ball of light and pain consuming his insides. His consciousness flickered in and out in a rapid coruscation through so many layers of the universe he lost his bearings.

He screamed. Stars expanded, planets burned. Galaxies reversed their spins. He thought he might die, if energy could be said to have the same failing as mortal flesh. The stars went out, then he awoke.

Yellow-white sunlight warmed his face. It streamed through a large window, eight panes of wavy glass in heavy wood sashes. The striped cotton of the armchair in which he lay was cobalt and white, pure white that reminded him of galactic whorls he once knew, upon which he once fed. Through the glass he could see a wooded valley floored with grass the color of emeralds. He knew that once, too, as the heart of stars. He was not alone.

There was a heaviness in his arms. He cast his gaze downward, shocked by what he was holding. It was a child. A girl child, from the looks of her. It sighed and breathed softly in its sleep. He felt his limbs become heavy, as if he were wearing sodden clothing. A smile stole over his face, and his momentary panic transformed into languid peacefulness. The girl opened her eyes. She studied his face, seeming puzzled but unafraid. She smiled back.

He knew then that he would no longer roam the multiverse, fashioning planets, stars and galaxies out of primordial flux. He would know pain, it was true. But he would know love. He was human now, and the stuff of life was in his heart, his arms and in eyes of purest blue.

30 July 2014


God and the aspens alone knew how many winters the derelict building had seen, Tadhg reckoned. Where once were windows, bits of rotted wooden frames clinging to lichen-furred stone. The blank openings held the memory of glass, but no traces of the panes could be seen in the grasses nudging the slumping sides of the building. To his eyes, the ruin looked like it had been poured into place rather than by stacking stone upon stone. 

He wondered for what the building had been designed. Living hut? Chapel? The structure sat mute, giving few clues in its architecture. Small square openings up near the eaves gave Tadhg the feeling it had been used for something other than worship, but surely this must be the shrine for which he had so long been searching. He stood still in the morning light, shallow breath and pounding heart as his eyes searched for anything that would confirm his hopes.

He saw it then. In the lichen covered carvings above the doorway there was the softened outline of a man, arm outstretched, with a bird perched on his palm. At its feet was carved a tangle of sticks that Tadhg thought to be a nest. Tears of joy sprang from his dry eyes. St. Kevin and the blackbird, he was sure of it.

The small front door, or what was left of it, stood beckoning. Its opening was a pointed arch, inky black in shadows beyond. Tiny chunks of wood clung to the stonework. There had been a frame there, once and long ago, but the doors now existed only in piles of pale splinters mounded over the threshold. The jamb stones were mottled by little blooms of rust, florets telling of hinges long corroded away. Tadhg spotted a lump that he guessed used to be a beaten iron rivet. It bore more than a passing resemblance to the small russet-orange mushrooms that flecked the woods surrounding the building. 

The pilgrim carefully stepped over the threshold. Inside, the cool air filled his nostrils with the redolence of musky damp and cool stone. He breathed deep, amazed at the silence and the chill of the air. Translucent obsidian shadows were pierced by argentine shafts of light that coruscated through the windows and holes in the roof. Along the walls were carved stone shelves, dusted with the remains of objects long decayed.

At the rear of the space, Tadhg saw what could have been a stone shelf. An urn sat on it, both carved of the same greenish-black rock. He moved towards the back to get a closer look. The shelf was a thick, long slab of stone corbeled into the wall. It showed signs of wear, the edges worn smooth by the passage of hands and legs. Centered in the wall above the ledge was a small opening in the wall. Light streamed in. A soft breeze carried with it the liquid songs of birds laced with the scent of sun-warmed grass. A patch of azure sky could be glimpsed through the window.

Tadhg hoisted himself up onto the ledge. He found that he could not stand fully upright without scraping his head on the underside of the rough rafters and stone roof tiles. He knelt down, resting his arms on the sill of the window. He leaned forward to get a better view. 

The hut was surrounded by trees forming a glade around the structure. Aspens, birch, maples, perhaps. The sound of birds had grown louder. Tadhg could see their numbers flitting through the leaves, an avian susurrus washing him in song. Straight ahead through a gap in the trees could be spied a far-off mountain. Its sides were furred with green, deep green, so green the pilgrim felt himself begin to swoon.

"Such beauty here",  he whispered. His heart filled with a longing that threaten to burst him wide open. His vision swam with tears. Faintness overtook him, reminding him that he had not eaten properly in days. Now he felt he could not leave, the ache inside transforming into peace. Tadhg thrust his arm out the window to grasp desperately at the mountain as if it were closer. The tears welled into outright sobbing.

The sun felt so warm on his upturned palm. The hollow filled with liquid gold light. Tadhg knelt, trembling and praying. A sudden flurry of motion surprised him but he did not flinch as the light in his palm was replaced by a bird. A blackbird carrying a small bundle of grass in its beak. It eyed the pilgrim calmly, head cocking up and down.

Tadhg froze. The ache in his knees subsided, the weariness in his body drained away. In its place he could feel warmth spreading throughout, as if the earth itself were granting him peace. His legs and back thrummed with the seismic energies of the rock on which he knelt. He felt the blood in his veins as the trees feel their sap. The stuff of rivers flowed in his heart.

The blackbird ruffled its wings. With the skill of a tailor, it began to weave the grasses into a little bowl in Tadhg's palm, which trembled slightly at the end of his tired, sun-brown arm. The blackbird flitted away, returning shortly thereafter with another bundle of grass. The was a tiny leaf caught up in the green strands. These were swiftly knitted into the   grasses already there. The blackbird flew away, returned, flew away, returned.

The clouds rolled by. The sun arced slowly down the sky. The blackbird continued its trips back and forth across the glade. Tadhg watched in silent awe as the nest took shape in his hand. The blackbird completed it in the russet-gold light of the afternoon, settling down into a basket if its own creation. 

A trance deepened upon the pilgrim. He knew then that he would not move until the eggs were laid, the birds grown and flying on their own journeys beneath the sun. He would not move until the task was complete. Until he was complete. 

Night fell. Crystalline stars wheeled across the sky as the blackbird murmured to Tadhg of its dreams of Creation and fulfillment. The pilgrim, waiting patiently, felt the stirrings of love in his stony heart.