Fine weather. Sky dotted with clouds, otherwise delightful porcelain blue. That thin bright light — known to all roamers of northern shores. Refreshing sea breeze. Perfectly comfortable in linen trousers and shirt. Glad of the proper shoes however. Sandals would have been a concession too far to the Scandinavian summer. One slight drawback is their tendency to fill with sand. Creeps in around the ankles. Somehow contrives to penetrate the socks.
Wide, wide open spaces! Can't be a soul within miles of me. Unless supine behind a dune, holding himself. Loose footprints in the loose sand. Could have been a yeti strolling here — or a black.
Obvious solution to the quandary of infiltrated shoes: walk on the wet sand. Over the tideline Aberystwyth! Waft of rotting vegetation, plastic bottles smothered in seaweed. Much better. Firm underfoot, tracks compact and well defined. Breeze picking up. One can fairly taste the Arctic at these latitudes. Down, Aberystwyth, and give me twenty! A hup, hup, hup, back straight, hup, hands shoulder-width apart, hup, hup, sand gets closer, further away, hup, hup, itchy nose, hup, shoulders burning, hup, arms shaking, hup, one more for God, hup, and rest.
Fresh salt air filling the lungs. Pulse and respiration slowly back to normal. That thin bright light, watercolourist of Boreal seas. Gulls wheeling overhead. Distant cry of a howler monkey. Hello — what have we here? An overturned milk crate. Crushed beer can beside it — extra strength. Not hard to imagine a pair of buttocks flattened against the latticework of plastic struts. Sharp pressure through the trousers, painful at first, then surprisingly pleasant, a sort of massage. This poor man's sunlounger can't have been here long. Eight hours between tides. Footprints leading down, others leading back.
Funny how the need takes you. Minute longer and I swear I'd burst. Well no need to stand on ceremony here. Down with the zip. Wind behind me of course. Back to the sea. Better that way. Always think of the ocean as female. Bliss, Aberystwyth, bliss. Fascinating how the stream is fractured by the plastic struts. Splashing off at odd angles. Dripping from joint to joint like the remnants of a storm cupped by banana leaves. A good general hosing. Left to right to left to right. The sea will wash it clean. Or take it whence it came.
On, Aberystwyth. On along the wrinkled sand. Water gathered in the furrows. Coiled casts of lugworms. Dig here, Aberystwyth, here and here. Ah, these voices that speak from the past. Into the bucket Aberystwyth, into the bucket! Voices of childhood, voices of innocence. I don't know why some are red. Maybe their hearts are bleeding. Will I still hear them when I lie down to die? Through the middle, Aberystwyth, pierce them through the middle! No use to us if they wriggle off the hook.
Flat channels run to the sea, branching near the end. No sense of scale out here — Nile deltas seen from space, veins spreading through a sunlit leaf. I stride from bank to bank, a colossus, my shoes stay dry. Boyish urge to divert and dam. Look daddy look — I've made an aqueduct! Very good Aberystwyth. Why does water not flow along it?
The glory of the northern races writ upon the sand. While I was constructing my aqueducts and dams, my strong Teutonic walls, the idle sons of sunnier climes Rumba'd on the beach. Salsa and Merengue. Something of a mover in my day. The music has not quite left my limbs. The breeze, Aberystwyth! The heart stirs, the pace quickens, I'm sprinting before I know it. A Nordic dance, this one, in four four time. Knees and elbows pumping like pistons, body surging forwards, salt air whipped against my face. Way my feet avoid the shallow pools, the sea bleached wood, with no recourse to my mind. I am alive!
Hold Aberystwyth! Brake hard! Thunderous halt on the water's brink. Sand crumbles in before me, cliffs swooning into the sea. Whole beach cleft in two by a shallow strip of water. How to continue? Could wade, of course, trousers rolled to the knee, shoes tied by the laces and slung around the neck. But I fancy a detour to the dunes is the better option. No irksome drying of feet and wiping off of sand. So difficult to clean between the toes. Hey ho, inland I go! Tideline recrossed. Shoes infiltrated once more by sand. Dunes seem larger than before. Or merely closer? Impossible to tell — all distances drown in these great spaces. Glad of the breeze at my back. Worked up a bit of a lather there. Fairly shows the sweat, linen. No-one here to see of course. Thankfully. My mind like one of those delicate scientific instruments: catch every flutter of a distant earthquake but quite undone by passing footsteps. Or an astronomical telescope, high in the mountains, away from the taint of human light. At the dunes already. How time flies when one is lost in thought!
I scramble up, sand slipping down beneath me, clumps of seagrass tearing loose in my hands. Fine view from the top. Grass thickens behind the dunes, that dry, sandy turf beneath, so dear to we vagrants of Canadian coasts. Gorse bushes dotted around, flaunting their yellow flowers. Impenetrable wall of jungle. Ho — what's this? Circle of stones on the turf. I descend to investigate. Split, blackened stones. Bed of cinders between them. One touch and they disintegrate into grey ash. Disintegrate, Aberystwyth, disintegrate! Long sharpened stick, scorched at the end, discarded nearby. Ah, campfires! Barbecuing marshmallows and singing songs, lifting one's jacket to toast one's midriff above the flame!
An old oil drum standing by the stones. More rust than metal. Orange flakes peeling off, withered and curled as winter leaves. Appears to be something inside. Hard to resist peeking. Human instinct, I suppose — even out here, where the influence of humanity can scarce be felt. Stuffed full of beer cans. The odd bottle too, glinting in the depths. Inexplicable desire to kick it over, spew the refuse across the beach. Resisted though — embers of civic pride. Two paces on and I damn near turn my ankle. Hollow in the turf. Filled with sand like a golf bunker. Concealed by the long grass. Something in here too. Bundle of rolled up rags — bedding, apparently. Another of those fortified lager cans. And what's this, half buried in the sand. A salacious magazine! All that running must have loosened something inside. I can scarce drop my britches fast enough. Perhaps an unconscious reaction to concealment. The urge to sequester one's bodily motions lodged so deep in the civilised soul as to form a kind of Pavlovian link with the bowels. And we're off! Odour fairly assails one in these cramped quarters. So tiresome to squat on one's heels — one wonders how Hindoos can sleep that way. Gently does it. Don't want to bring down the haemorrhoids. There, how empty I feel. Small matter of cleaning material. Not foresightful enough to bring my own. The bedding of course, but who knows what pathogens it may carry. No option but the magazine. Have to dig it from the sand — careful, Aberystwyth, your pale slacks! There. Brush away the last few grains. Centre pages easily detached from their staples. Sorry, Tracy. Cheap, glossy paper — hardly ideal for the task in hand. Two strokes and I'm chafed quite raw. Best air dry the rest of the way. Read the magazine meanwhile — like the copy of Who's Who one peruses in a friend's lavatory to while away their tedious soirée. Not a few pages missing already. Bizarre confluence of interrupted scripts. One side Mandy getting down to her smalls, next Christina blowing a goodbye kiss to the plumber. Sandra all smiles in white socks and cheerleader skirt beside Erica scowling through a rubber mask. Next page, poor fellow roped to a chair with what looks like a ping-pong ball stuffed in his mouth. Page after, led around like a dog in a spiked metal collar. One wonders if he knew what he was letting himself in for. Page after, great Scott! An Arab stallion could scarce lay claim to such an appendage. Surprisingly lifelike however. Held in place by a low slung leather belt that would not look amiss in a Western. Next page, what on earth had the poor chap done to warrant such abuse? I cannot bear to look further. It suits me ill to play the censor, but needs must when the devil drives. And the devil's drive is most certainly in evidence here! There, Erica expunged. Mustn't leave the pages behind though. A child could happen across them while rollicking in the dunes. I shall pocket them for future disposal.
Whither now, Aberystwyth? Back to the beach? Along the line of dunes, rising and falling like a sea monster's back. Daddy, daddy, are there monsters in the sea? No. Or into the woods? The sombre needled woods. What delight, to lose oneself among those tall Siberian pines, in all that Finnish silence. A bird of paradise fans its wings. I will return to the beach.
Giant strides down the side of the dune. A giant's land, vast brushstrokes of beige and fawn, the hard varnished blue of the sea, the feathered spray upon it, the aquarelle azure above. Make a painter of anyone, this desolate shore! Traces of a storm. Great branches washed ashore, blanched and smoothed by the sea. Upturned rowboat. Rotted clean through, ribs splintered like broken glass. Vivid green creeper trailing across the sand. The breeze, Aberystwyth! Whips the very breath from one's mouth. Only to replace it with a richer, heartier draught. Drink deep, my friend… my only friend. Fie! What need friendship when the cold north wind slaps one's face with spray? When the waves crash and hiss on the sand and the fading foam sizzles in their wake? I am my own North pole! My own end to all exploring! Compass needles twitter around me, I have no need of their accord. Nor of balmy seas, nor bursting fruit, nor dusky southern whores. The Arctic is my Caribbean! The Bering strait is my Gibraltar! Crouch, Aberystwyth, and leap for the skies! Crouch, and leap, and crouch, fingertips touching the sand, and leap, hands meeting above the head. The thrust in the thighs, the rapturous erupting outwards. Crouch, and leap. The heart beats, beats, the tingle on the skin. Crouch, the ecstasy of bended knee, on your knees, get on your knees, yes, Erica, I'm on my knees, I'm on my knees.
Waders strut along a sandbar, pecking at the sediment. Damp seeps through the knees of my trousers. Fist fairly flying now — right hand a blur. Sudden commotion among the waders. Fear of my purple-headed predator? More likely an Orca is among them. So awkward to reach behind oneself. And no free hand to hold the pages. Have to spread them out on the beach. Trapped by my knees so the breeze can't claim them. Sleek swell of a seal's head. Please, Mistress, spare me that humiliation. Of course, how dare I, how dare I speak. An oil tanker breaches the horizon. I have no voice. I am your slave. Your whore. The tide is advancing. I must not tarry. Painful entry. Should have trimmed my nails. A crab scuttles by, headed for the water. Followed by an anaconda. I am not a man. Not a man. Oh mistress, mistress you are hurting me! Second fingernail no less jagged than the first. I really must be more assiduous in my toilet. Both the scissors and the file required.
Uranus! Uranus! Uranus!
And breathe, and breathe, no need for tears, no need for tears. Swim, my children! Out to sea. To Svalbard, Greenland, Ostrov Nakhodka! Colonize those empty places. But not with people, no, not for you the mindless replication of the Fenian or the Golliwog. Inhabit them up with purity, fill them up with desolation!
A coarse bellow echoes 'cross the strand. "Shat my fucking bed!" Voice of an ogre, a brute. "Wrecked my fucking porno!"
What deceptions the mind is capable of! A voice, out here, where the only language is the harsh sibilation of the sea, the seagulls' mocking vowels. Britches back up, wet sand wiped from the knees.
And on, again, along the beach that never ends. Unintentional rhyme. Sign of bad breeding. Crude jingle of the music hall and the cockney singalong. Better to run. Why walk when one can run? Imagination at work again, huffs and puffs behind me, words borne in on the waves, wavewhite wedded words, "Filthy little turd!", soft phutt of something landing on the sand. Oppressive canopy of green. Light spilling through like towers of milk. Air thick as a quilt. Milk, quilt, a bad rhyme — even worse than an unintended one. An assonance aspiring to be a rhyme, vulgar as the lower middle classes. Phutt, phutt, damn these auditory hallucinations, phutt, haptic too, stabs in my back like voodoo pins, phutt, phutt, that's right, you gaudy savages, phutt, shoot your poisoned darts, phutt, phutt, dipped in frog's skin, "I'll soil you you little skunk!", phutt, long hollow canes, phutt, phutt, quick sharp breaths, hiding in the shadows, phutt, phutt, sharp little smiles in the dripping shadows, phutt, darts in my back like a porcupine's quills, hanging from my back like a porcupine's quills, sweat on my brow, heat of the jungle, weight of the jungle, insects whirring through the swollen air, I am not beaten, I am not beaten, and if I lie down, "I'll soil you!", if I lie down, face down in the mud and moss and twisted roots, if I lie down and cover my face, so the ants and the centipedes can't swarm up my nose, devour my eyes, if I lie down with my back exposed, my tenderness exposed, "I've got you now!", it does not mean I am defeated, does not mean I am destroyed, the jungle cannot sap my strength, serpents and lizards and scorpions and flies, the wicked jungle, the murderous jungle, "I've got you now!", growing around me, twining around me, the horror! The horror! roots and vines rip off my clothes, they slither inside me, swell inside me, the fisherman's wife never dreamt of this! Breath of the jungle rank upon me, "Like that don't you!", breath like beer and rotten teeth, weight of the jungle dense upon me, the pain inside me, growing and tearing and grinding inside me, berries bursting and bleeding inside me, "Like… that… don't… you!", I won't give in, I won't give in, I'll wrestle free, free of these tendrils and their sickening slime, one day, I'll wrestle free, one day I will return, to the cold clean shores where I belong, one day, to the porcelain sky dotted with clouds, one day, the thin bright light, one day, the pale sand, one day, the sharp dry grass, one day, one day, one day in spring it was, with the light coming down through that bowed old tree in the garden where we always used to hide, quiet little garden in the old school grounds with the stone wall around three sides, and the wooden bench below the tree, and the breeze in the leaves, just ruffling the leaves, all the leaves shifting and swaying this way and that, and the light dancing across your shoulders as we sat on the bench beneath the tree, so close on the bench beneath the tree, the light dancing on that navy blue jumper you always wore to school, and your collar undone all loose and white, so lovely and white against your brown skin, your smooth brown skin. A 'friend' here to see you Aberystwyth. See to it that the silverware doesn't leave with him. One day in spring, in May it was, the first warm day of spring, the sky all blue without a cloud and the fresh green smell of fresh-mowed grass, and the school so dark and gloomy inside, we could not stay inside, we had to run and we knew where to run and we knew they would catch us, and it didn't matter, we had climbed so high it didn't matter if they caught us, we were like a big red balloon floating over the old school grounds, and the masters who came to cane us and send us home, send us crushed and sobbing home, they were just dots on the green green grass and we could not sit in the gloomy room and we could not listen to the squeaking chalk and then you said — as the sun danced across your shoulders! — and then you said, On his wise shoulders, and my heart knew the rest and my lips knew the rest and the words sang like chimes across the page, it was not a page like the books in school, musty-tongued and sallow-eyed, it was a page of living love and the words sang out inside my head, that day in spring in the little garden with the old stone wall around three sides and the weeds growing in the cracks in the wall and that bench beneath the tree where we always used to sit, where we always ran to sit, On his wise shoulders, to hear my loved words in your lovely voice, the sun coming down between the leaves and your skin so smooth and brown with your clean white collar to frame it, your neat white teeth between your lips as you spoke, lips so fine and soft and dark, even darker than your skin. The head of a native to the head of a white. Like a child, Aberystwyth, a child beside a man. Mystery of oriental darkness around your eyes and in your lips and when you spoke, On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves, when you spoke and the words flowed out across my heart, flowing free of punctuation, only the rise and fall of human speech to separate the phrases. What's this? A poem? Are we a poet now Aberystwyth? Rise and fall, ebb and flow, natural as a stream that winds through a wood with the shadows of leaves thick upon it, the sun sparkling in between them, cool stream of words flowing through woods, flowing through silence, flowing and winding and burbling on to the comma that will break and thrill like a waterfall, thrill like a waterfall, On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, cool stream of words through your soft dark lips, your fine dark lips. Our son is a poet Maude. Let's hope he knows where to dip his quill. It was only a kiss! Only a kiss! One soft sweet kiss with my hand in your hair, my hand in your soft black hair and your long dark fingers stroking my neck and it was only a kiss, it was only because, that day in spring beneath the tree with the sun coming down between the leaves and the clean fresh smell of fresh-mowed grass, it was only a kiss, it was only because, with your tie undone and your collar undone and your skin so brown and rich against your shirt, it was only because you knew the words that framed the picture that glowed in my heart, the light dancing on your slender shoulders and my young life unfolding like a flower around you, like a lotus flower all around you, and all I wanted was in your eyes and in your lips and we had to kiss, Rajiv, Rajiv, we had to kiss that day in spring, we had to kiss because you said, On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.