Smoke

November 11, 2019

Take a deep breath and watch her –
the witch of old leaves
burning
in the allotments –
how she sticks out her grey gnarly fingers
that wrap around you
and throw you back
to the land of campfires and songs

and there you are –
your dreamy purple orchid self
sitting on a half rotten log,
uncomfortable as hell,
your face burning and your back freezing,
your feet sore from walking.

Yet all you feel
(because you’re seventeen)
is that your badly tuned guitar and the unpredictable universe
sing in harmony,

pure beauty.
You’ll sleep under the sky tonight,
the wolves will stay away,
and tomorrow when you get home
your clothes will smell of
smoke.

Renata Connors

SUMMER DEVILRY

November 10, 2019

The sky is very near to me to-night:
It breathes, as from a throat of molten lead,
A damnèd effluence about my head,
An effluence of hell, a fœtid blight:
Dark visions break on my distorted sight
Of bloody lust and cruelty and dread,
Devils unnamed in their own likeness tread
The ways of earth, and are not put to flight.
In rifts of voiceless lightning, such as breaks
This goitrous firmament, have stood revealed
Over the dead in some old battlefield
The ghastly dogs of death, and bloated snakes
Dripping the slime of Acherontian lakes
On some dead sovereign’s blood-emblazoned shield.

L. GIELGUD

Saturday night, hearing the Durrells could not come to Paris, I boarded a train and went to Nîmes. I’m so glad I did. Not only are Durrell and his wife wonderful, he so deep and she so gay, but to see the Arlesienne countryside, the Nîmes Arena, to find again the beauty I had missed so much, the river, the house, the Roman town, the bridges, the castles. The Durrells have a small peasant house, but a lovely garden. They grow all their own vegetables. No hot water, no bathroom, no W.C.! It is like Mexico.

You cool bottles by lowering them down the well. He is very poor as they have two sets of children whom other parents take half the time. Both were married before. Claude is more international than I am—Irish, French, brought up in Alexandria, in New Zealand, in France — a saucy girl. They took me to an arena where bulls wear tassels on their horns and the men have to remove them for a prize. They try, and they run for their lives and jump the barrier, and some bulls jump too. The whole thing is very gay as there is no death. The men do get hurt now and then, but not as seriously as during bullfights. They drink red wine from morning till night, which keeps everyone glowing but never really drunk. Durrell has known so much poverty that he is obsessed with succeeding. He has already been compared to Proust in France.

We explored Nîmes, sat at the cafés, talked non-stop for two days, and I returned this morning tired out, but with my spiritual batteries recharged for years to come. I had to see Durrell to complete the carnet de bal. No one could be homelier and so humorous. He has an Irish prizefighter face, a thick potato nose, a large head on a small body, shorter than I, and as fat as [my brother] Joaquín…So there is nothing to threaten any husband! But you and he would hit it off — he hates cities, loves the sea, used to have a boat; they paddle a canoe down the river and swim. As soon as you get out of Paris you can live on nothing.

Anaïs Nin
13th May 1958 letter to her lover Rupert Pole

Let Birds

November 7, 2019

Eight deer on the slope
in the summer morning mist.
The night sky blue.
Me like a mare let out to pasture.
The Tao does not console me.
I was given the Way
in the milk of childhood.
Breathing it waking and sleeping.
But now there is no amazing smell
of sperm on my thighs,
no spreading it on my stomach
to show pleasure.
I will never give up longing.
I will let my hair stay long.
The rain proclaims these trees,
the trees tell of the sun.
Let birds, let birds.
Let leaf be passion.
Let jaw, let teeth, let tongue be
between us. Let joy.
Let entering. Let rage and calm join.
Let quail come.
Let winter impress you. Let spring.
Allow the ocean to wake in you.
Let the mare in the field
in the summer morning mist
make you whinny. Make you come
to the fence and whinny. Let birds.

Linda Gregg

Henry [Miller] returns from his wanderings. We talk about America. I said, “Were you looking for something to love? There is nothing to love here, it is a monster, a huge prosaic monster, buying all the creative wealth of Europe at bargain prices, buying it as they buy paintings, giving jobs to the refugees, yes, but only jobs, only money, no respect or evaluation or devotion, devouring with huge, empty jaws. It is nothing, a void, a colossal robot, a commercial empire, made for caricature, all ugly because it is all materialistic. Every artist born here was killed. You escaped and found yourself, and now you have the strength to grapple with it; it cannot swallow you into its rivers of cement. Look at America for what it is: concrete, iron, cement, lead, bricks, machines, and a mass of blind, anonymous robots. It is a huge monster, but made of papier mâché with marble eyes.

Anaïs Nin
Diary entry, November 24, 1940

as if you’re flying

November 6, 2019

Outside my kitchen window the long afternoon empties of light. I look at London stretched out far below, my dripping hands held poised above the sink. The doorbell rings, one long high peal; The broken intercom vibrates. The view from up here, it’s incredible, as if you’re flying. Deptford and Greenwich, New Cross and Erith, then the river, and beyond that there’s the Gherkin, over there the Shard. From my top floor flat here on Telegraph Hill, you can see forever and as usual it calms me, soothes me: how big it is, how small I am, how far from where I used to be.

The doorbell rings more urgently – whoever it is, is putting their finger on the buzzer and holding it there. The night hovers.

Camilla Way
Watching Edie

mirages of repose

November 6, 2019

Out of the mists of morning charred by the smoke from ruins each day rose to a height of unmisty glitter; between the last of sunset and first note of the siren the darkening glassy tenseness of evening was drawn fine. . . . The diversion of traffic out of blocked main thoroughfares into byways, the unstopping phantasmagoric streaming of lorries, buses, vans, drays, taxis past modest windows and quiet doorways set up an overpowering sense of London’s organic power–somewhere here was a source from which heavy motion boiled, surged and, not to be damned up, forced itself new channels.

The very soil of the city at this time seemed to generate more strength: in parks the outsize dahlias, velvet and wine, and the trees on which each vein in each yellow leaf stretched out perfect against the sun blazoned out the idea of the finest hour. Parks suddenly closed because of time – bombs – drifts of leaves in the empty deck chairs, birds afloat on the dazzlingly silent lakes – presented, between the railings which girt them, mirages of repose. All this was beheld each morning more light-headedly: sleeplessness disembodied the lookers-on.

In reality there were no holidays; few were free however light-headedly to wander. The night behind and the night to come met across every noon in an arch of strain. To work or think was to ache. In offices, factories, ministries, shops, kitchens the hot yellow sands of each afternoon ran out slowly; fatigue was the one reality. You dared not envisage sleep.

Elizabeth Bowen
The Heat of the Day

Vital to the modern moment…are the novels of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper; especially Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Owl Service (1967), and Cooper’s dazzling The Dark Is Rising sequence, published between 1965 and 1977. Once read, these novels are hard to forget. They lodge and loom in the memory. Garner turned eighty last autumn, and a volume of essays exploring his legacy, called First Light, is being compiled at present, with contributions from Philip Pullman, Ali Smith and Neil Gaiman among others. I regard the second book of Cooper’s sequence as among the eeriest texts I know; Helen Macdonald is another for whom Cooper’s novels have been imaginatively vital.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as an excess of hokey woo-woo; a surge of something-in-the-woodshed rustic gothic. But engaging with the eerie emphatically doesn’t mean believing in ghosts. Few of the practitioners named here would endorse earth mysteries or ectoplasm. What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).

Robert Macfarlane
The eeriness of the English countryside

Haunted

November 2, 2019

My childhood home in rural Tennessee was built in the late 1800s and was, to put it mildly, rundown when my family moved in. It was the kind of place a real estate agent might describe as having “good bones.” And in its state of neglect, critters had moved in. There were mice in the cupboards, squirrels in the attic, and even once a rat snake draped casually across a doorframe. Many of the bumps in the night that frightened me were animal rather than spirit in nature. To be fair, I don’t remember the place looking like a house of horrors. I was too young, and by the time I really started forming memories, my parents had turned the place into a lovely albeit unique place to grow up. But odd, unexplainable phenomena never went away.

I remember voices one afternoon, high-pitched and staccato, coming from our downstairs hallway. Not words, more like giggles and shrieks. They suggested children playing some sort of game, hide-and-seek maybe or simply tag. I was in my bedroom, around nine or ten years old, and at first, I froze. I called out to them, but when I received no response, I crept toward the bannister and peered over. Empty. Completely empty. A few decades have passed, yet I can still remember the chill I felt as I realized that I was alone. Intrepid – or foolhardy – I went exploring, but no matter how many closets I opened or curtains I peeked behind, I couldn’t find the source of the noises, now fled. This mystery didn’t derail my day, though I did spend the rest of it pausing from time to time, straining to hear the laughter again. It didn’t derail my day because strange occurrences happened regularly, and I’d learned to live with ghosts.

Erica Wright
The Perks of Living in a Haunted House

(Erica Wright’s latest novel is Famous in Cedarville. Her poetry collections are All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned, and Instructions for Killing the Jackal. She is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine.)

Anxiety: A Ghost Story

October 31, 2019

We have got to talk about the kids
in all those Goosebumps books.
For example,
if your family vacation
is to an amusement park
called HORRORLAND,
and your station wagon explodes
in the parking lot upon arrival,
maybe
shrugging it off,
buying an extra large popcorn,
and heading straight for
The Deadly Doom Slide
is not your best possible
course of action.

Or,
if you steal a weird camera
from your creepy neighbour’s basement
and every picture you take
shows bad things happening,
like decapitation
and Tofurkey,
and then all the bad things
from the pictures
start happening,
Stop Taking Pictures.

Or,
if you move into your new house
and there are a bunch of small children already living in your bedroom
that your parents cannot see,
maybe,
don’t just grab a juice box
and go play in the cemetery
that
is
in
your
backyard.

Or,
when I tell you of the ghosts
that live inside my body;
When I tell you
I have a cemetery in my backyard
and in my front yard
and in my bedroom;
When I tell you
trauma is a steep slide
you cannot see the bottom of,
that my anxiety is a camera
that shows everyone I love as bones,
when I tell you
panic is a stubborn phantom,
she will grab hold of me
and not let go for months–
this is the part of the story
when everyone is telling you to run.

To love me
is to love a haunted house–
it’s fun to visit once a year,
but no one wants to live there,
and when you say,
“Tell me about the bad days,”
it sounds like all the neighbourhood kids daring each other to ring the doorbell,
you love me
like the family walking through Horrorland holding hands–
You are not stupid,
or careless,
or even brave,
you’ve just never seen
the close-up of a haunting.

Darling,
this love will not cure me.
And this love will not scrape
the blood from the baseboards,
but it will turn all the lights on,
it will bring basil
back from the farmer’s market
and it will plant it in every windowsill,
it is the kind of love
that gives me goosebumps,
when you say to the ghosts,
“If you’re staying,
then you better make room,”
and we kiss against the walls
that tonight are not shaking,
so we turn the music up
and we dance to Miles Davis,
and you say,
“My god,
this house.
The way that it stands
even on the months
that no one goes into
or comes out of it.”

How reckless, the way that I love
like the first chapter of a ghost story.
Like the gentlest hand
reaching out of a grave.

Brenna Twohy