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Monday, 10 August 2009

Three Easy Pieces


File:Blue Turkish Tiles.JPG

The Anarchist

When it got dark, a girl began to sing. She sang in Russian, and, with the wind sighing in the trees as accompaniment, it sounded very sad. A chill crept up the lawn from the lake, where a mist had started to rise off the water, creating green, blue and red halos around the lanterns of the piers. Across the lake, lights danced in the windows of the big estates. Stars gleamed overhead, notes on the musical score of the dark. When the wind went through the trees it made a sound like the strumming of a vast harp. Suddenly the girl stopped singing. The night crouched on all fours, poised to spring; then a clear peal of laughter rang out.

Core Sample

The continuing overtaxing pressure to adjust to the administered world leaves people no time to do anything but bore into the material clay of their lives, as though their destiny had been to evolve into drill bits, boring deeper and deeper, moving vertically downward forever, indexing, storing, scooping out new data, the important questions met along the way drowned out by the roar of the earthworms.


One wants to be able to reach out without looking and touch death on the shoulder; but when one's hands encounter something cold and hard in the alien dark, like a touch of the marble statue's arm, with bits of loam still clinging to it, one draws back, realizing this is not the way.

Blue Turkish Tiles: photo by Khalid Mahmood, 2009


ExitBarnadine said...

Hi Tom,

Many thanks for your comments on my story. Have left a longer response there.

Your vision of the drill-bit applies, perhaps, equally to those with generous hours for self-reflection, drilling down into their own memories and ephemera, compiling self-myths, writing fiction...

TC said...


Thanks very much for coming over.

You've read my mind (another fiction).

Yes, I've been back to see your response. The story is still in my mind, speaking of that fiction. The fiction sits well within the fiction, at any rate. One more night we have survived thus interconnected (of course I know it's not night where you are... forgetting that was the work of my own drill bit, hymned by my own earthworms, the way it always seems to be for writers who attempt to reflect and/or recollect.)

ExitBarnadine said...

'hymned by my own earthworms'

Lovely. Something Hamlet might say in a better mood than we get to see him in.

My obsession is not so much reflecting or recollection as mis-reflection and mis-recollection, which - I feel - is the best we can hope for. These memorial misunderstandings are the foundations upon which we build ourselves.

TC said...


Sad but true.

The never overly optimistic Thomas Wyatt in a poem employs the old proverb about sandy foundations providing poor sites for building what we would now call "relationships". Alas, in so many areas of mental and emotional activity those memorial misunderstandings are the only soil we have to build upon. So hand me that trowel.

Perhaps my favourite of modern novelists Henry Green (not his real name, just like a blogger), a man very shy of public identity construction, undermined at least one attempt at interviewing him by pretending to misunderstand the questions. A strategy perhaps curiously mimetic of what constantly happens in "real life", a generalized entropic confusion, though rarely intended.

The roaring or hymning earthworms doubtless mean well, they're just issuing warnings we refuse to hear.

I've always been intrigued by those extravagant 18th C. "follies" like Fonthill Abbey and Strawberry Hill. No pre-construction soil-sampling, devil take the hindmost, a great whoosh and whole sections of the structure collapsing into the unstable earth by night.

The idea of Hamlet in a good mood bears some thinking upon. Whereas it's fairy easy, thanks in part to Tom Stoppard, to imagine Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being silly.

But would five hundred years of self conscious melancholics have had half the fun without this miserable poster boy's endless moping to emulate?

ExitBarnadine said...

Sometimes, of course, a misunderstanding can be a blessing. An idealised vision of the past can inspire and motivate (or ennevate through its perfection). I think we unconsciously misunderstand to suit our own purposes.

As I've versified on in the past, where I grew up, Norfolk (UK), everything is a folly, built on sand. Every year houses fall into the sea as the land erodes. My mother grew up with the story of Dunwich, a swallowed village; she was told one could hear the church bell tolling on certain nights. Like most rural regions, Norfolk is full of these tales. I would find fossils in the garden of sea-bed dwellers, urchins and plant stems, reminders and auguries.

I think we see Hamlet in a good mood. Perhaps when the players enter? But as one university tutor observed, 'there ain't no Hamlet..just three cliches and a sponge'.

Alva Svoboda said...

I'm fascinated by how the diction and formality of these prose poems makes them look and sound like translations -- most likely, to my ear, from the "German," meaning a heavy and philosophically weighted tongue I have no real knowledge of. Perhaps it's also that each poem of the three is constructed as an argument leading up to conclusions that in each case fill the reader with an uncertain dread...

TC said...


I spent two winters in a small isolated cottage by the North Sea in Brightlingsea. A strand of shifting sands and Wilkie Collins visions on one's trek through mists to the fish & chips shop. (Lovely greasy chips.) For a period a strange Night Being was rumored to be stalking the town with dark intent. One night of howling winds there was a faintly audible sound in the road, then came a knock at the door. A fellow turned away and fled... in my mind I thereafter made him a character in the local legend. What "evidence" had I? None.

Would agree that we constantly and inevitably misunderstand everything, but are mercifully protected from knowing it.


I couldn't have described the ingenious architecture of these better myself. To provoke an uncertain dread in the reader remains ever one's goal.

But then for a balancing view, the dawn muse, my great fount of modesty-instilling remarks, looking over my shoulder at your comment:

"You [TC] *are* being Wittgenstein, Junior.

"... though 'The Anarchist' could be tongue-in-cheek."

I think she and you are right about these being pseudo-Germanic faux philosophical constructions that make fun of themselves because, to be honest, what other choice is there.

Anonymous said...

There so many people out there getting bored into "the material clay of their lives" that I cannot help feeling helpless. If only we could dare to build the craziest shapes with that clay, we would all be happier people.

Wonderful pieces, Tom.

human being said...

for me... the image of the modern man mostly resembles a kind of superficial expansion... crawling just on the skin of phenomena...

digging has got a very positive connotation for me...
earthworms are good for the plants... and planets...