Thursday, 23 July 2009
Did I tell you about when I met a boy gazing into a rockpool?
He pointed out for me the myriad of colours and species that inhabit such a small space and
I followed the golden line of his arm and saw too, all the lighter colours, and all the softer ones-
We marveled for a while then he walked off, across the water, to see something else.
Next time I clapped eyes on him he was standing in a tall forest with squirrels,
Wood pigeons, mice, voles, baby rabbits, foxes, badgers and the like all round his feet:
He had one hand out with a palm turned to the sky and small colourful birds were landing
On his fingers, singing and taking food (he had pocketsfull).
Another time I followed him up a mountain where he went to get a good view:
At the top, he turned into a goat and danced crazy on the rocks,
Then ran down the long spine of the great tremendous Beinn and never tripped once, just
Sat laughing and breathless at the bottom of that great inestimable rock.
One day he said he was going to walk from where a river started with the smallest rain drop in these High lands, down, down through the valleys to see where it all ended -
He was going exploring to find the metropolis where the river finally met the sea.
He tipped his cap, and left me standing in a cornfield.
The ceiling where he stayed was low, and so was the sky, and you had to adopt a kind of stooped
posture just to get about a lot of the time. The city was riddled with subterranean trains, shaking the foundations night and day, and screeching as they passed underneath. Helicopters and fighter planes tore with sirens through the few clouds that were left.
When I next saw him, he didn't follow a lot of what I was saying, and seemed to have
Lost his ear for my accent. They all spoke different where he stayed now.
Sometimes he mumbled something then said it again without the Scots:
“I'm learning all about life,” he said, “there's a lot to see.” I didn't disagree.
One night he found a strange green beetle, and held it gently on his palm with joy,
Pointing out the mandibles and the iridescence and the sheer magical beauty of life -
But he dropped it on the pavement, and the next man that passed crushed it to cochineal with his Boot. The stain was clear on dusty concrete, as was the big splash of his tear...
“If only that had been grass,” he whispered, “we'd both still have been alive…”
“It's always been like this,” I told him. “There's always been vagabonds and scallywags and drunken sailors and men who rape and take and who'd stop at nothing. Women who tear jewellery and babies from one another: whores and bitches, tinkers: it's always been like this in the big city – dark clouds, low and polluted over cemeteries and destructive roads, excrement and filth poured into our river arteries, and sometimes the people swarm in too like rats, out of plain terror…There was a great fire, a bubonic plague, other terrible diseases with red crosses on the doors, and poverty, always, always hunger and then there were the damn irish, stray dogs, bombs, war planes... don’t you remember?”
And not unpredictably, War came next
And I watched his eyes get flinty, filled with soot – and he started watching his back.
Vast torrents of people poured out from their homes wearing white T-shirts
And waving banners around.
And one day, I spotted him across the street and he'd taken
His beautiful, carved shepherd's crook
and was holding some guy pinned to a wall with it, saying something low,
he was at him, crook to throat, and the boy looked scared…
Another time I went round and his ukelele was broken -
There had been a break-in, two thugs in balaclavas, and he'd had
No sharp instruments to hand so he'd just gone for them with this
And ended up tearing his own instrument in two, broken at the neck now.
“I'll fight with my bare hands,” he said, looking like he needed a rest.
I looked at his bare hands and they were all calloused, sore and dirty.
“You could try loving me with your bare hands instead,” I offered.
He peeled back his dry upper lip and showed his teeth.