Friday, December 22, 2006

The Sciveners' Tale: A Christmas Story

The life of a scrivener is a weary one at the best of times, and when the snow is drifting and the trees pearl with ice it may well appear as near to impossible. Indeed it sometimes seems that the pen that I have in my hand holds no mere ink but human blood, such store do I put in its patterning. And how like my children these wretched little verses seem, sent out too soon into the cruel world, first to battle the weather and the vagaries of the Royal Mail, only to struggle through at last to shiver against the rocks of fashion and opinion. The poor scrivener listens achingly for the rattle of the letter box to nurse these orphans home, always damaged beyond repair.

This morning two such stragglers arrived, turfed out after several months of indenture by the editor of the review ‘The Death Rattle’. It is no consolation to know that the man involved is an ill favoured creature and you can , dear reader, if you have any imagination or experience of life’s all too present cruelties, imagine him even now in his muffler and finger-mitts scribbling below a bare bulb in his crabbed and monkish script “No!” “No stamp!” “No envelope!” “No! No! No!, all the while stamping with his foot on the threadbare rug, then, putting his pen aside, constructing from sheer sense of spiteful self-importance new ways to frustrate honest men, such as keeping their poems an extra three months, or sending them back because they’re interesting. And should you storm these icy heights? Should this misanthrope accept the bounty of a writer’s long labour what should this man gain? Some Christmas cheer, or victuals for his little children? No. Not a single penny. Not even a farthing.

Contrast this, gentle reader, with another man whose letter, by sheer favour of circumstance, arrived at the same time and on the same poor mat as the first, a letter written in a broad and expansive hand tutored by warmth and humanity. This man, after hearty and well shaped felicitations and no few compliments humbly and gratefully received, was glad to accept a sheaf of poems sent only a handful of days since, and promises moreover a comely monetary settlement for the same! How a humble scribe rejoices in the very existence of such men! How he anticipates dancing with his two jolly barefoot children under the holly wreath tonight in sheer exultation of the continued existence of the spirit of reason and humanity in the frozen world! And how we must hope, patient and gracious reader, that the ghost of such exuberance might permeate into the lairs of the cold north to melt, if even a little, the icy hearts of evil men.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Flash Fiction

The Trip

They’d thought of the trip months before. Then their lives were wired to serve one purpose. They competed to prove their love. They went to extremes of passion and jealousy. They’d met one night in a taxi queue, booked into a hotel at 3.00am, emerged sleepless at 9. With her sleek black hair and arab face, she was a goddess. And he felt a god.

She lived with her sick mother and that made life difficult. They looked forward to getting away: he came from up north, and she had never been. It would be perfect.
Then things changed. She’d called off a few times and, when they were together, it was different. Somehow a light had gone out and all that seemed so important began to slowly die.

As they drove north, he told stories, though he had questions he was too afraid to ask. She stared out the car window, like a doll, or a sleeping princess. He wondered what alchemy could bring her back. At Loch Awe they stopped and sat on the grass. Reeds waved like drowning arms. He’d talked, then paused for breath.

“John” and it was like the first thing she’d ever said. “I think we need to stop seeing each other”. He searched for something to define the moment, but the water was flat. She stared into the distance, munching her sandwich in a matter of fact way. Come on, she said at last, and stood up, brushing crumbs from her legs.

Later, he lay against a rock as she gathered stones. He saw her bending, her face framed against the sun, and he wished himself in the deepest part of the sea, so that, as they used to think, his dead eyes would show pictures of her, smiling like that.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Thank God for Thistlemilk

Stores in Drumsleet are struggling to cope with the massive local demand for Thistlemilk, a miracle substance reputed to repair liver damage while at the same time enabling the recipient to continue drinking like fuck. Veteran lounge lizards shocked at the carnage wrought by the Grim Reaper over the last 18 months in Drumsleet's premier drinking salons have turned like desperate men to Thistlemilk, initially peddled in the town by a eccentric one-legged quack physician called Theosophilus Neill. Thistlemilk can be taken as a pill but also in the form of a draught or powder ideal for pouring into the 8th or 9th pint of Guinness. Thistlemilk. You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The King of the Tinkers

Sandy Cranstoun died of exposure on the night of Thursday 23rd November in a field near his home in Duncow. This poem was written a time ago with Sandy in mind.

The Men from Duncow

On Saturdays men with jackets
too checked to look upon
come down the hills from Duncow,
their hands corrugated or hung
over sticks like old oven gloves.

They are from impenetrable places,
runrig, dyke and quarry,
Rommel and Sicily,
from long lines of lives
stuck in monochrome.

Through drowned chipbags
and crying kids they come,
their talk arcane,
their existence in this
café bar a mystery.

They sit and soak up whisky
like blotters, until darkness
climbs over rooftops,
then they rise stiffly from the smoke
like metal men,

and the night, and the pub,
close again round
more comfortable themes,
faces flush with puggie light,
alcopops and plasma screens,

for time moves on and that’s a fact,
though the men from Duncow clamber back.