The lodge sat at the bottom of the hill, and gave me my name. Near the rivers and the great marshes I dwelt; in the lodge filled with clutter. Unpainted wood. Cold cups sitting. Books piled up. A mattress on the floor. I lived in the lodge. I defended its sanctity. The minimalism of its pure energy. Spartan, but not clean. A place to think, to paint and dream. Animals moved in around the building, in the peripheries. I left only to gather food from nearby. Fish from the river. Fruit from the trees. In the woods outside I’d paint sometimes.
I write in the lodge and I sleep in the lodge. I go outside to find sunlight or wood for the fire. Those batteries which make themselves out of air, sun, water and soil. Trees take the sun in and store it locked in. The sun comes back when they burn. Trees reach up like matches, they wend themselves together, and by mysterious processes alien to us they capture pieces of the sun. Applying heat in the hearth, the process is reversed and the sun bursts forth. A piece of sun in your room. I feel his velvet hand on my skin outside in the day and at night by the fire, warming me with the same heat, over different distances. Diluted sun, weak sun. Enough to warm us weak creatures.
And not just wood for burning. Each season I would go out and sit, observing and soaking up what was there. The colours, the softness of the ground; things I found. Discarded snakeskin amongst dry leaves. Bird-calls. I took leaves, pebbles, dead beetles and moths, shell and bone, all back to the lodge. I put them on the wall and made drawings, cut out paper and made notes. After one month of the season had passed I painted a large piece of wood and it was a painting of the season. I hung this on the wall and threw everything else away. My collection of objects, carapaces, stones, twigs, beetle-shells, tin and bone. I destroyed the drawings and writings too, left only with the one image – a symbol of the season. When spring came around I painted the spring. When summer came around I painted over spring. And I painted autumn over summer and winter over autumn at last.
I had a small record player and I made my own records too. Sat with a wood or stone disc carving songs into the rock and petrified wood. I sang and it vibrated the bones and the vibrations went down my fingers and they shook the knife and at the knife-point the vibrations passed to the molecules of the rock and wood and I spun it around slowly, in spiralling rings, sometimes following those of the tree. The knife-point pushing its way through like the hull of a boat cutting through the salt-sea. Every little wave recorded, every wobble translated, fossilized into the new material. Songs made physical, given presence. Like the small pieces of sun stored in the logs, so the ephemeral song is made real to the touch, made physical. The heat in the rings of the tree, the words and melodies in the grooves riven into the rock, into the wood itself. Forced in from one body to another. Act of translation – alchemy and transmutation. The hollowing out. Songs cut deep. The rest is just dust.
Sometimes it was necessary to travel to the town for supplies or entertainment. I’d drip down through a network of hazel tunnels. Subterranean, cut into the very rock itself, all interconnected like worm trails in the soil, criss-crossing and throwing people out like dirt. Holloways. Follow the old railway line to town and back. I was diverted. At night I locked the door of the lodge, marked the threshold, slept alone on the floor. Pulsating, vibrating. Moss-covered and hid like a bivouac. I remember, I dreamed the lodge was a glass cube. I went out leaving the lights on, and when I came back the glass was crawling and alive with a thousand insects vying for the light. Hungry for heat.
Shadows moved around the lodge at night — intangible things like those fragments of an idea that suddenly flutter into the corner of a thought, whose wide wings suddenly, for a moment, superimpose themselves over everything.
I would take long walks sometimes. Up through the fens to the heath, further towards the hills where lakes filled up the hollows. There I sat against warm trees in the sun and felt its velvet hand on my face and my arms and neck. Things came out in the rain. Things push up and things push down. I would walk the hills and camp out under the stars, alone and tentless, letting stone and thistle break my skin and the sun and the wind do what they would. I would find my place in this wilderness. Drink water from the stream, catch fish for the fire, become part of a tapestry, woven into the land that I held in my hand. Being in it and part of it with no mastery. Time moved at a slower pace and I felt the rhythm. I saw, just for a second, a real truth in the soil, in the sky. Hid in the details; the pattern of the whole. It is each thing intertwined that maketh the whole. And I felt privy to and part of a great truth, unfurled to me revealing new poems. A great unorchestrated lurching; the making of something out of something else. Real alchemy from inert substance to living flesh, smoking mountain, flowering plants. As a billion new things are born so a billion others die. A great formation of wooden spinning tops are wound up and let go, stabilizing, madly knocking into one another before wobbling, swaying, tilting at the climax, finally to stop. Billions of spinning tops going, whirling and bumping into one another, and when one stops another is launched in, replacing it. And so it goes. All painted and spinning, all around and over and under on another. Still the worms work. Building are put up, the function is forgot, they crumble. New buildings go up in their place. Leaves turn towards the sun. Leaves fall and die. Insects move like twigs with purpose. All the smallest movements together, seen as one. A massive clunking dancing wave where nothing is ever still. Perpetual motion exists if you look from far enough away. And I would walk in these places and catch glimpses from behind rocks, from behind waterfalls, in shadows soaking across the hill.
I was visited in the lodge by a stranger. She came to the door and greeted me as if she had known me all her life. She immediately went to the desk, made herself comfortable and began to work — fingers poised like snakes over her papers. I did not question it; I accepted her presence like it was part of my everyday existence here in the lodge. The place seemed filled with light in those days.
Every day I would take a walk outside, on the cusp of the quickening dawn, stretching my legs, leaving a trail through the haze. I picked up stones, like jewels. Rolled and cleaned them in my hand. Sometimes I would walk to where then land stopped and fell away into the salt-sea. Preserving itself and everything in it. I often took things with me and threw them off the edge, especially the sea-wet stones I picked up. I would take them back to the lodge and arrange them on the small windowsill next to the desk. The next day I would take them out, walking far and feeling them clack like marbles in my pockets. Then I would hurl them back into the waves. I was collecting thoughts.
Often I woke up and the visitor was not there, but there would be a new collection of stones on the sill and I knew she would return and continue with her work. I guessed she was making the same trip out to the edge of the land, and I saw her silver footprints in the dew in the morning. The visitor stayed and worked and smiled. I could not tell what she was working on. It was never finished. There were drawings and maquettes and plans, but I could not make out what for. There were boxes all sealed up with black tape or plastic, and I never opened them.
I accepted the visitor’s continued presence without question. I began to feel a peculiar feeling: infinitely vast and infinitely tiny at the same time, and I felt sort of smooth all over, and frictionless and I didn’t really feel the shape of of my body or limbs. I felt just like a smooth oval pebble, like the ones in my collection. I felt like that’s all I was, just a smooth pebble suspended in space, maybe mid-flight, being thrown into the sea, or perhaps tumbling around on the sea-bed, being gently buffeted by the waves.
One day I woke up to find a singular, sea-wetted black stone in a bottle of saltwater, like a whale’s eye. The drawings and maquettes had gone. There was no trace of the visitor. No note. I waited but she did not return. I waited longer and I stared at the black stone. Night fell and still she did not come. I knew I would not see her again. I still have the stone, and I know there is some message to be deciphered in it, but I cannot read the code.
Sometimes I would hoot out to the owls and they answered back, after a time. They were somewhere in the woods. There are many paths beaten out here, but it’s hard to get onto the ones you’re not already on. Beat the thorns and make a way...hacking solo through the murk, I found a small bow in the crook of a tree. I found forked sticks for arrows and I left them with the bow as a gift in case the owner ever came back.
You found those arrows and I found you. You looked right through me. I found you on the coral beach, where the maerl drifts and the white bodies crunch under feet. At the end of the earth where it goes back, crumbling into the sea. The moon wobbled, splintered a halo in its perch, dripping yellow butter on the water. Like otters we swam out in the salt waves in the wine-dark sea. Shedding our fur we were smooth and pale among the waves and the tickling fronds dancing silent beneath us. Between my skin and the sea, between your body and me: nothing. My hand’s the ice cream the sand the chopped nuts. Surrounded on all sides by mountain, we sat staring out across the channel – back to where we came from.
From the edge of the land where the surf makes the sand where the white coral falls through the cracks in your hand.
In the lodge I painted and I wrote and I slept. And in the lodge I listened to the outside noises. The birds and the foxes and the humans moving. And I learned to trust my feelings. I sat in the ruins of the amphitheatre and sang songs, old songs. Removing time and distance. Movements repeated. Thoughts re-thought over and over. Exact facsimile, mouths opening spilling song out onto the stone, drawn down to the sandy pit. Each new action and old action, its origins somewhere else. Taking my place at the head of the unbroken arrow. A bit of fruit, a bit of meat on time’s skewer. Becoming a conduit, a vessel connected by experience to all vessels past, present and future. What has already happened, and everything that will ever be. Sitting in the ruins feeling the old ghosts.
From the window I saw a procession. People clinging desperately onto that last piece of life, clinging to flesh. Frenzy of sex. Wild-eyes, hollow-socket stare. Nobody knowing where they began or ended. One heaving tumultuous mass. Understanding everything in the embers. Death, dancing among them, rattles his stick, staring with nothing in his eyes. Whipping up the frenzy, enjoying it for the irrationality, the total abandon and breakdown of all normal, stable rules. He has given them the sentence, and in doing so increases their life-force. He grins a gummy grin, puts on his sunglasses, shakes his hips in time with the terrible rhythm. The place where terror and ecstasy collide into one final sensory spurt. Finally, the crowd moves on and I am alone again.
In the lodge I read books and sometimes I put out my makeshift aerial made from coat hangers and bits of wire and tin. I picked up signals from outside. News and sound wailed in. Converging thoughts making magnetic bee-lines for the metal. The signals were weak and broken. I heard music and I heard news. I heard about wars and which politicians to choose. The signals told of food and how to prepare it. How to live today. They told stories. They would tell about what they had just eaten, they told about animals and strange places, about buildings and about a town. They swarmed and swam and drowned each other out. They broke in on one another. They were not content to be silent. There was always some static, but rarely space because they had to fill it up; every little moment. In the end the signals began to break each other up into small indecipherable chunks. That was when I began to broadcast.
I sit in the lodge all day writing or staring at the wall; making objects for an unknown reason. I mould strange shapes from clay, assembling pieces of material — junk — into something with a purpose. Some sort of tool, or ornament? I receive instructions through my aerial telling me what to build and how. Various mechanical and material techniques. I leave the finished objects in a box outside for them to be picked up. I never see them come to collect them and I do not know where they go, or what they do.
I began to broadcast, and to receive. Fragments of thought, the clattering of pots and pans, field recordings from the woods. And I navigated the cluttering signals coming in. Through the mess there were glimmers of something else. Pure, lost, hidden gems in the mud. Diamonds in the hills. Lost signals leaked out somehow and found their way to me. At first all I noticed was a low sine wave, gently undulating, like the ground in a field. It was hard to locate beneath all the static, and for many days I could not find it or fix the frequency on my makeshift equipment. Gradually I closed the gap, and at last I hit upon it. Strange and wondrous sounds emerged. Breaking glass, the sound of wood being cut. A kettle boiling. Rocks being scraped together. Sighing. The roar of a mountain stream in speight. Footsteps and whispers. I sent out a rhythm and after a few days the same rhythm was tapped back from the strange station. It became a code which neither party could or needed to decipher. Later I heard a human voice and it was yours and it was soft and slow.
The animals were closing in, circling the lodge. Sometimes I would come back and my stuff had been moved around. Nothing was taken. Often things were returned, or things I’d thought lost would reappear. Sometimes they would hide trinkets and stones and I wouldn’t be able to find them for days. Later they began bringing things into the lodge from outside. Leaves and other detritus from the forest. Dead animals, severed limbs. I never caught them at it and I could not find them.
I dismantled the aerial, threw away all of my drawings, burned the furniture and stripped off everything from the walls. I put things into bags and I walked to where the sea meets the land and I threw everything off. I prised off the timbers and took down the roof. With the wood I made a vessel, a small boat — setting up the aerial on the back. By the meadow I dragged the boat towards the river, cutting a ploughline in the dirt. I threw acorns in as I went, knowing one day a trail of oak trees would trace the path of my departure.
In a fervour, I ran down to the water and hauled the boat in with a splash, my body following. With timber and tools — an adze and an axe — I’d made a makeshift ship from the very structure of the lodge. I was a hermit crab, taking my home with me, finally to burn. The current was deep and strong. It was the summer but the water was still cold to the touch. From the banks the eyes looked on. I stayed the course — these waterways go underground too — descend into blackness and you can’t see anything. Navigated by intuition alone beneath the damp and dimpled arches vaulting above. Rivers that once were alive and a feature of the town were forced underground, hidden from sight. This place used to be filled with machines, moving people all about the land. Excavating people as the worms do the soil. Since the rivers returned, they are the only thoroughfare. The rivers have risen, dropping now and again into shafts, carrying fish and flotsam, small craft, twigs and plastic. In the day I navigated by the sun and by the radio signals still being picked up by the receiver. I tethered to old mooring posts hidden in the grass, all mossed over. As I went westwards one evening, dusk picked out the lights of a hut on the banks, glowing now in the dim light. Tall grass waving and myriad flowers almost hid the house, and folk songs emanated from the yellow sills. Walking like a child among the azaleas, absentmindedly reaching out a hand, lightly touching the petals, rolling blades of grass in her hands. The mushroom patch, the flowerbed. The walnut tree. Willow hanging over the flat calm. In the morning I saw her bathing — elfin and lithe.
Breakfasted on yoghurt, honey and fresh walnuts from the garden. A mug of tea. She gardened and sat; I read and drew inside. My purpose almost forgotten and the broadcasts ignored on the small boat, hidden in the reeds. Unread messages, lost on the wind. She tended to me as she did her beloved plants. Brought me tea, food from the garden. And so I slept, read, grew stronger in the sun. And I was happy. But I had forgotten the signals. One morning, out swimming, I came across the boat in the reeds. The static, plaintive and strange, woke me from my riverine dream and I left. I watched her turn back to her flowers without even a glance.
On and on, under warm sun in a hot wooden boat. Mighty canals and locks, streams and gorges, raging rapid sections in valley-walls of scree. The acropolis behind the trees, the signals stronger. A meadow opening up and you standing alone, a radio in your hand. A rope around a tree, pulled myself in. Water rushed over the boat, ripped out the aerial, swept it downriver. I hauled the vessel, my timber shell, out the torrent, onto dry land. I saw you and you saw me…
A ceremonial burning. The lodge, the boat, soaked in kerosene, lighted with a match struck on a rock. We sat, eye to eye over the bonfire, watching it turn to grey ash and salt. The sun in the wood spilling out, licking the outlines and lapping the purple sky. The time and the very air I breathed in the lodge — the sweat and the heat, the words I wrote and scratched into its surface, the songs it housed and fermented — all burned jumping from the wood, spitting into its composite parts. If we could have leaned in close enough we would have been able to hear those songs, those thoughts all bubbling and crackling, popping out of each other, trembling and breaking and together forming the great crackle and roaring of the fire. Fizzing river of song, a great flow of time. Released at last into the night air, into us, into memory. We watched and listened until the fire died down and there was nothing but salt and ash on the bank.