Lost Connection

Now published by Fearlessly.co.uk

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I was alright in mid-June apart from the weather which was typically Scottish. Charcoal clouds were scribbled over the only green hill that formed part of our view. The air was thick. A warm breeze swayed the vertical blinds and they clattered together.

“I can’t concentrate.” I said, saving the document I was working on. I put my lap-top on the couch and got up to close the window, but Helen began coughing. She sat forward, red faced and I thumped the top of her back, careful to avoid the line where the nerve pain started. “Are you alright?”
She shook her head. “Not…”
“What can I do?” I asked.
She pointed to the window and wagged her finger.
“You want it left open?”
She nodded.
I hurried to the kitchen and edged a glass between last night’s dinner dishes and the cold tap. I filled the glass with water.
“I need to clean the kitchen,” I said when I returned.
“You said you’d do it later.”
“I know, but it stinks.”
“It’s just last night’s dishes.”
“It’s disgusting.”
“I’ll do it then.” She sighed. “You try to do too much, and you need to work on your dissertation.”
“It can wait. Besides, I can’t have you struggling to stand at the sink.” I kissed her cheek. “You worry too much.”
“You’d be better going up to the university to write. There’d be less distraction.”
I shrugged my shoulders, sat down and I lifted my lap-top onto my knee. The blinds rattled.

I was in the kitchen a couple of hours later when I heard the letterbox snap shut. The mail flopped on the floor. It was mostly junk, a Farmfoods leaflet, money off coupons for Domino’s, you know the likes, when I heard the Post woman’s footsteps echo down the stairs in the communal hallway. I considered opening the door and pointing at the sign above our letterbox: NO JUNK MAIL. But I didn’t. I realised for the first time, I couldn’t.
“Anything for me?” Helen called from the Living-room.
“Something from the council.” I took it through to her.
“Maybe it’s about the wood-worm.”
“It’s too soon.” I said. “Although it would be my luck to have the council ripping up floors while I’m trying to write a dissertation.”
Helen opened the letter. She raised her eyebrows.
“They’re coming to lift the floor, aren’t they?”
She nodded.
“When?”
“In a fortnight, and they want the house empty.”
“What about us?”
“They’re putting us up in a hotel. Guess we have some packing to do. Should I ask some friends around to help?”
“No!” I said too quickly. I even surprised myself.

***

At the beginning of July, the weather was still drab but there had been the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. I couldn’t help wishing it would hurry up, if only to clear the air.
“Could you pop over to Peter’s and ask him if he’ll run us to the hotel on Monday?” Helen asked.
“I’ll just finish packing this box.” I said laying an ornament on a piece of newspaper and triple wrapping it.
“I’ll finish that.” Helen said.
“It’s okay, I’m nearly done.” I snapped.
“Sorry.” She backed away and I felt a pang of guilt.
“I’ll go in a minute.”
“I’d go myself, but I can’t do the steps.”
“I know that.” I threw the wrapped ornament into the box and turned away from her.
“What’s wrong.” Helen sat on the floor beside me. “Are you crying?”
I hid my face from her. “I can’t go.”
“Go where? The hotel?”
I let out a sob.
“Kirsty?”
“I can’t go to Peter’s.”

***

By the time we got to the hotel the following week we could barely see a foot in front of us. The fog was thick and white, and our world shrank to the size of the cave we were temporary living in.
“What time are you meeting you tutor?” Helen shouted from the other room.
“In ten minutes, at the bar.” I sat on the toilet and my stomach cramped. I emptied my bowel. Again.

***

“Sorry I’m late.” My tutor said and ordered us a pot of tea. “How are you?”
“I’m well,” I lied but I wanted to run back to Helen and hide.
“How’s the dissertation coming along?”
“Fine.” I said a little too loudly and I felt everyone in the bar look at me. I waited for them to laugh. In my mind they did.
“Are you in touch with your classmates?”
“I’ve been too busy.” I lied because I felt too stupid to say that some of my friends hated me now because I was apparently the teacher’s pet. I felt stupid saying that they were horrible to me – and now I was lost.

***

It was January 2018 before I realised, I had social anxiety. I was standing in the back garden of our new home, inappropriately dressed for a blizzard but poised, perfectly still with a camera in my hand. Through the lens, I watched a robin on the fence have his breast feathers whipped up by the wind as flurry of snow danced around him.
I clicked.

***

“What time is everyone arriving?” Helen sticks a tahini dip covered finger to my mouth.
“That’s amazing.” I lick it from my lips. “Two o’clock I think.” I finish breading the cauliflower and pop it into the oven.
“Are you feeling okay?” She asks. “With, you know, people coming around?”
“I will be.” I tell her. I lift my purple headphones from the table. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” I go into the spare room and close the door. Before I press play on the app, I check to see how many people will be joining me.
12,351.

Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable. Sit on a straight back chair or on a meditation cushion. When you hear the gentle chimes of the singing bowl, close your eyes.
Breathe in to the count of five.
Hold.
Breathe out to the count of five.
Hold.

 

I Am A Human. Right?

I have recently had one of my poem’s ‘I am a Human. Right?’ published in the Visual Verse : An Anthology of Art and Words. The instructions on the site are,’ One image, one hour, 50-500 words. The picture is the starting point, the text is up to you. Please visit the website for the actual picture – not the one posted. 

two person riding boat on body of water

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I am a Human. Right?

 

You’ll stick out like a sore thumb

They said. Cover up.

Be careful not to hide your face

Though – too obvious.

And learn the language, be grateful,

Take a little, but not much

 

Remember walk straight, not proud

They said. Meek is best.

Stick to the gutters, avoid the bus,

Eyes to the floor

And wherever they take you

Know your worth.

 

Look for a job, but never steal one

They said. Take the worst

But don’t take them all. Earn your

Place but don’t grow roots,

Wait until the bombs stop, then fuck –

Off home.  

 

So, step aboard and steady your feet

They said. Hold on

For dear life. Hold on for your future,

Hold on for peace.

But don’t hold too tight. Remember,

You are a human. Right?

That Time

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This poem is now published by The Ogilvie.

I hadn’t seen her in a decade,
Not since that time we …
Now she’s lying before me, tucked-up warm
In hospital sheets.

Her face is older now, saggy in parts –
And sallow. Her mouth puckers into
A tight circle when I arrive, an ‘Oh!’
Like that time we…

She touches my arm, cold fingers
That leave cold circles for minutes after.
‘How have you been? How time flies,
Tell me, what have you done since…
You know.’

Her shoulders hunch, eyebrows rise.
She reads my face, faster
Than the note I left by her bed…

‘Tell me,’ she insists, ‘did you sail to that island,
Where the wind whips the waves
Onto the lighthouse by the edge
Of the sea. Did you?

‘Did you climb the thousand stone steps
To the castle in the sky,
Where the world ends
And life unfolds like a paper chain?’

‘Did you finally find that missing moment,
Capture it in a photograph,
A half-truth bent into a scrap
Of happiness?
Or did you leave it behind?’

Her chestnut eyes leave mine,
Trail the cracks on the ceiling
And rest in the corner of room.
The sound of my footsteps echo
After I leave.

Eilidh G Clark

The Lift

There’s a story behind this poem. We were staying in a hotel because the floor in the flat we were living in had wood worm and the council were ripping it up. It was a weird set up, two of us and two dogs crammed into a double room in a Travel Lodge for a week;  in the middle of an industrial estate! Needless to say we used the lift a lot. It was a busy lift with people from all nationalities coming and going, so I wrote this poem (or a version of it) on a piece of paper and stuck it to the mirror. I told whoever found it to take it with them and stick it in a lift in the next hotel they visited and so on and so on. I don’t know if it made it anywhere else because I saw a cleaner go into the lift shortly afterwards but I like to think it travelled the world.

photography of a woman on elevator

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The Lift

Welcome to the smallest room in the hotel,
The shiny box, The bare bones, the up and downs
The coming’s
The going’s.

I offer you ten seconds to make a friend,
Eight to fall in love. Make somebody’s morning –
Hello, Hallo, Salut, Ciao, Hola, ……

I offer six seconds, to put on your face,
Four to wipe it clean. Make up excuses –
Traffic, Arbeit, Slaap, Morte

For two seconds you can pick a floor,
Tell a truth behind closed doors, tell a truth
You never told before –
Ma olen segaduses
Jestem samotny
Jeg er red
Je suis gay

I am the quietest room in the hotel,
I offer you a second alone,
One delicious seconds, to be who you truly are
Before I set you free.

I hope you have enjoyed your stay.

The Break of Dawn

Now published in Veggie Wagon Website.

two white and black cows inside shed

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It was dawn when they arrived.
Two orange beams of light
Cutting tight between the lines of furrows,
And illuminating trees.
Her baby stirred.

It was dawn when they arrived.
Gravel crumbling under tyres.
A slither of sun crowning the hill,
And puffs of cloud lay as still
As her sleeping calf.

It was dawn when they arrived.
Two brown rubber boots crunching
On grass, still tipped with frozen dew.
A banging gate. A magpie flew.
The baby shook.

It was dawn when they arrived.
Two white hands and a noose.
A gate held ajar by a damp lump of wood
Four white walls, a nest of hay,
A trembling baby stood.

It was dawn when they arrived.
Two blue eyes trailing the floor,
Stealing her crying calf out of the door
White walls, empty bed, empty floor
Her mother stood – alone.

It was dawn they left.

Scottish Oral Storytelling Tradition & The Ballad

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Sir Walter Scott recalls in his book Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border that ‘The Twa Corbies’ was ‘communicated to [him] by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, esq. jun. of Hoddom, as written down, from tradition, by a lady.’ [1] The use of the word ‘Tradition’ suggests that ‘The Twa Corbies’ ballad survived orally. According to Buchan

The nonliterate person does not possess […] visual imagination, words for him cannot be translated into pictorial symbols, they exist in sound groups; his facility for imaginative retention is largely auditory. [2]

The traditional methods of ballad structure such as form, convention, uncomplicated language, and rhyme create the sound groups that Buchan is suggesting. Whilst assisting the performer and the audience in memorising the ballad, the construction of the ballad ensures that its bones remain intact regardless of time and place. This allows the longevity of the story.

The anonymous ballad, ‘The Twa Corbies’ has a chivalric theme. Morgan suggests that in the chivalric ballad ‘Neither historical figures nor legendary idols escape criticism, [in] the ballads of chivalry [they] serve to strip the façade of honor from their social betters.’ [3] Within a particular genre, the use of common tropes assists in memorising the narrative through fixed characters and themes. This also allows a performer to make a ballad contemporary whilst retaining the familiar narrative. Like most medieval ballads, ‘The Twa Corbies’ begins in Media Res, keeping the narrative brief whilst allowing the audience to quickly interpret the ballad’s intended meaning. The commonality of ballad themes means that multiplicity may occur, for example, ‘The Twa Corbies’ has great similarities to the English ballad ‘The Three Ravens’. Although the narrative of these ballads is similar, the tone sets them apart. ‘The Three Ravens’ conveys an optimistic tone which Morgan suggests ‘upholds the chivalric tradition of romance, complete with references to knightly behaviour, courtly love, and Christian piety’, (Morgan, p.119-120). The sombre tone of ‘The Twa Corbies’ however, implies a negative interpretation of chivalry with a realistic view of a social situation in which the importance of survival is crucial. This is found in the following three lines:

‘His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s ta’en another mate, [4]

The abandonment and disregard for the dead knight’s body offers the audience a natural and realistic account of life and death and the nature of survival. These three characters resume living in the most natural way. The theme of survival is clarified in the final line of the stanza:

So we may mak our dinner sweet. (TTC, 12)

This line highlights not only that compassion is essential for survival but also that all creatures are equal, a direct criticism of chivalric hierarchy. The tone of ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, is similar to ‘The Twa Corbies,’ in that it demonstrates the danger of the hierarchal structure, for example

‘O wha is this has duin this deed
An tauld the king o me [5]

The phrase ‘duin this deed’, suggests that the speaker has already accepted his deadly fate which, predetermines the remainder of the ballad. In addition, these lines not only demonstrate danger of royal hierarchy but also of the Kings right to assume the role of God. The ballad audience however, are already aware that the elderly knight is responsible:

O up and sat an eldern knight (SPS, 5)

The use of ‘O’ at the beginning of the line mimics the form of the traditional hymn. As a result, this technique elevates the position of the knight to God. This allows the audience to question not only the idealism of royalty, but also the hierarchal structure of the royal court and it’s danger of improper decision-making. The effect of tone in both ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ and ‘The Twa Corbies’, in addition to theme, structure and word choice directs the reader to the underlying meaning and intention of the ballad.
The generic ballad form allows the performer to navigate his way through the ballad by creating self-contained narrative frames, or stanzas. Each frame consists of a variety of stylistic conventions that create auditory symbols, instructions, and prompts, essential for the performer and the audience in memorising the song. For example, the opening couplet in ‘The Twa Corbies’ acts as an essential idea, setting the scene of the narrative. The first person speaker recalls an incident in past tense:

As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane; (TTC, 1.2)

The use the of verbs ‘Walking’ and ‘makin’ rather than ‘walked’ and ‘make’ are coded words which have a dual purpose, firstly to fulfil the rhythm of iambic tetrameter and also to describe movement, firstly from the speaker then followed by the corbies. The progressive verb choices, in addition to the past tense narration demonstrate the continuity of life and the underlying theme of the narrative, which is survival. Performed in thin Scots, the mixed dialect gives the audience a sense of place, whilst acting as a comparison to the English dialect – the dialect of the hierarchal chivalry. In addition, the refrain of the rhyming couplets assist the performer in memorising the sound units whilst allowing the narrative to be adapted and developed within a set structure. In the first couplet ‘all alane’ (TTC, 1) is a triad of assonance, with the ‘a’ sound at the start of the three syllables. This acts as a sound group, important for memorising. In line two, ‘making a mane’ (TTC, 2) is a refrain of consonance. The ‘m’ sound lands at the beginning of a two-syllable word followed by a one-syllable word. This elongates the sentence making the ‘mane’ onomatopoeia. It is therefore the manipulation of sounds and beats that aid the speakers memory rather than the words themselves.
The symbolism of the corbies – a Scottish word for ravens, has various mythological connotations, one of which is that ‘Ravens as birds of knowledge appear throughout myth, especially in Odin’s two ravens, Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory)’. [6] This tale will have been familiar to audiences in medieval times, therefore informing the audience of the role of the corbies within in this ballad to represent thought and memory, crucial for the survival of the narrative.
There is a tense change in the final line of the first stanza when the narrative changes into dialogue:

‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’(TTC, 4)

This change indicates a scene break that allows the oral storyteller to move on to a different frame with different conventions. The leaping between scenes or frames requires the audience to read between the lines and flesh out the narrative themselves. This closing line in stanza one is the last line in a long sentence, moving from past to present. This demonstrates movement in time, also survival and tradition – which is the link between past and present. The introduction of ‘we’ prompts audience participation, a further mode of memorising.
In stanza two, the speaker uses ironic juxtaposition in a couplet. The ‘auld fail dyke’ (TTC, 4) conceals ‘a new slain knight’ (TTC, 5). ‘Auld’ is the primary word, situated before ‘new’ in the stanza. This gives the former superiority. Not only does this romanticise an older way of life but also demonstrates the strength of the old through the symbolism of the wall and its survival. These conventions are important to allow the framing and unfolding of each stanza, important for prompting memory, and continuity.
The generic form found in ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ is the most commonly found traditional ballad form; a four foot line followed by a three foot line. The consistent rhyming scheme, ABCB allows the framing of each stanza, which, like ‘The Twa Corbies’ is an arrangement of quatrains. Whilst this ballad is greater in length, the techniques are consistent of the ballad tradition. The sound refrains such as ‘whare will’ (SPS, 3) creates a sound like the wind, whilst ‘skeely skipper’ (SPS, 3) makes a storm like sound. These techniques not only create an ambiance, but also are sound symbols. Due to the length of this ballad, the refrain is demonstrated on a wider scale, such as ‘To Norway’ is repeated three times in stanza four. Using a variety of different conventions within each frame, aids the memory of the oral storyteller through the use of sound, symbols and prompts.
Whilst ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ is a much larger poem in length than ‘The Twa Corbies’ the techniques of style and convention are similar. The overall effect of the style and convention in both ballads is to aid the memory of the performer whilst guiding and prompting himself and the audience. The purpose of this is to deliver a story within the bones of a well-known narrative theme, which, through auditory symbols and sound groups, makes it adaptable as it is re-told and reworked over time. Moreover, whilst many medieval ballads adopt a familiar theme, resulting in multiplicity, the tone and dialect set them apart.

 

Bibliography

Anonymous, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, in The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse, ed. by Robert Crawford and Mick Imlah (London: Penguin Books, 2006)

Anonymous, ‘The Twa Corbies’, in The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse, ed. by Robert Crawford and Mick Imlah (London: Penguin Books, 2006)

Buchan, David, The Ballad and the Folk (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1997)

Frankel, Valerie Estelle, The Symbolism and Sources of Outlander: The Scottish Fairies, Folklore, Ballads, Magic and Meanings that Inspired the Series (North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2015)

Morgan, Gwendolyn A., Medieval Ballads: Chivalry, Romance, and Everyday Life. A Critical Anthology (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1996)

Scott, Sir Walter, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 2nd edn (Edinburgh: James Ballantyne, 1803)