By Bob Beagrie
In these days before excavation we are learning to exist inside the sarcophagi of cooled rock. For hours I’ll sit, seemingly fossilised, maintaining my asana like a mystic yogi, feeling the weight of earth pressing in upon me, holding me tight like a good mother should.
Hours, days, weeks, months and years slide away, and against enforced inactivity I sense the planet’s spin around the sun. The fiery eyes of Medusa still fill my mind’s eye, lava bright and exploding; magnificent, it was, how the sight itself was a fishing line dropped into my own liquidity, which snared and extracted my skittery will to move and like a solar flare bleached the colours from me.
Ash is breath. Scorched clinker is flesh. Bones are porous pumice. Hair and nail and facial expressions burnt away in the initial blast. Our shadows were pinned to the walls.
And yet, our encased lifestyles go on remotely, we’re busy-busy-busy, being stone. Stolen for centuries from plain sight. But are we not marvels, survivors who did not survive yet remain intact longer than those who did? We endure, and wait for the archaeologists to arrive and break through the crust of our isolation. They will exhume our Golem grammar, measure the rate of our beautiful metamorphosis, hypothesise over our closely held tragedies, finding curious parallels with their own suspect agency and make gallows-jokes about ‘stiffs’ to dismiss their own mortality.
Post Pandemic Cabinet Briefing
Pinched and pitted faces around an oil-drum brazier. The familiar stink of the nearby river and a mountain range of reclaimed bricks, icy to the touch, their breaths are muddled speech bubbles and the talk is all about what should be done and more importantly when. None of these men are experts, if they were they wouldn’t be here, each of them has been juggled around from pillar to post in shuffle after reshuffle, each time applying their instincts of self-preservation and their stubborn will to ride out any difficult situation. Besides, expertise is a discredited thing of the past. What matters now is controlling the narrative.
The flickering light from the fire washes across the mud, the puddles and the foothills of the bricks. The men keep their backs to the slopes, making a tight circle around the rusty drum. But over the shoulders of the one standing opposite they can catch what looks like dumped bodies among the rubble, an arm here, there a protruding knee, soft, fleshy lumps in the darkness. But it is better not to be seen to be looking beyond the circle. Keep it tight. Maintain the appearance of unity. Never acknowledge mistakes.
The firelight plays tricks with their poker faces, making zoomorphic masks. One resembles a lizard, another a wolf, there are hyenas there, a gorilla, a cobra, several parrots, foxes, a ram and a bear. They’re all driven by their natures, their upbringing, and their sense of status. No one should think they would be capable of acting otherwise, like the scorpion hitching a ride across the river on the back of a frog.
“Didn’t we promise to get this thing done?” says one.
“But our own survival does depend upon the herd.” Someone else mutters into the flaming oil drum.
“All of them?” replies another, “There’s long been the need for a cull.”
“This,” replies the first, “is our best chance to rebuild and restock. We have a brave new world to make.”
Each of these creatures considers himself above the law. Their positions, birth rights and super injunctions have long protected them from close scrutiny of their lives. A peeling billboard beside the bus stop at the end of the known world shows the torn figure of Jonny Depp sitting in front of a campfire, a bottle of Sauvage by his side, his cheekbones are rugged rock formations in the dry Arizona desert. Beneath the brand name of the perfume is the legend ‘WE ARE THE LAND’.
Popping The Bubble
“Bubbles in a tube smaller than a millimeter wide appear to retain no “memory” of the details that led to the break.”
Who really expected anything else, by which I mean
you don’t have to be a 21st Century Nostradamus
to suspect the day would all end in tears, how
midway through a conversation about the weather
and the wish for a holiday abroad somewhere
maybe Ibiza or Tenerife, some place sunny at least,
because you deserve it – especially after the year we’ve had,
you remember over the bevelled lip of the pint glass
you said you wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t be caught dead in fact,
just like you once claimed that you would never-ever
become your dad and yet the resemblance grows
like bamboo shoots almost overnight, and you hear him
in the words that stick now in your craw or fall flat into the drink
without as much as a splash to disturb these wary celebrations
and inside it there’s a twinge of forgiveness toward him
now that you’ve learned the trick of turning his skin into glass
so you can watch the regular pump of his human heart,
although in yourself there is only the tang of disappointment
because we do unknowingly what is expected even
and in spite of our best efforts of rebellion. The jukebox
is playing Cosmic Dancer, don’t we both love this track,
and then you’re free-falling from the bevelled lip of the glass
down toward the foamy head of the draught like it’s a snowfield
or a torn feather mattress or a handful of his whitened hair.
Bob Beagrie has published numerous collections of poetry and several pamphlets, most recently And Then We Saw The Daughter of the Minotaur (The Black Light Engine Press 2020), Civil Insolencies (Smokestack 2019), Remnants written with Jane Burn (Knives, Forks & Spoons Press (2019), This Game of Strangers – written with Jane Burn (Wyrd Harvest Press 2017), Leasungspell (Smokestack 2016). He lives in Middlesbrough.
I have written regularly throughout the pandemic as a way of processing my feelings and reactions to the various events and stages of the global and national response.
Photo by Kev Howard