Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The story continues: Chapter 1 The Monk

Thelonius the monk paused in the act of bending down to pick up the fallen lemons. He had just come to the small lemon grove, checking on his way on the goats grazing the sparse hillside. It was midday, the sun high in the sky and unrelenting, but here in the grove there was a little shade. But something made him pause. Something nibbling at the edge of his consciousness. He shook his head and shook away the sense that there was something about to happen. What could happen, here in this remote spot, this remote monastery. Perhaps Brother Michael would surprise them all with dinner tonight, he chuckled to himself, and continued gathering the fallen lemons into the small basket he had brought for the purpose. It was a short walk back to the main monastery building, but between here and there was the stone dairy. A small stream rose from a spring within the dairy, and the water would be cool. He would stop in there, and take a long drink of cold water to quench his thirst.

As he passed back over the hillside towards the dairy, two or three of the goats came up, and nuzzled him, affectionately. He was fond of the goats. They had some character, and individuality, not like the silly sheep. Ah well. They needed both. What little meat they had was provided to them by these affectionate goats and silly sheep.

He ducked his head low to enter the shady, whitewashed dairy building. Placing the basket of lemons on the stone shelf beside the spring, he picked up the wooden cup, and scooped cold water from the square, shallow pool built around the spring to capture the rising water. Thelonius liked this place. It was generally quiet, except just after milking. It was cool. It offered some small solitude. Strange that in such an isolated place, and with so few of them living together here in this community, he would still crave solitude.

Sighing to himself, Thelonius turned and ducked again under the low door frame to leave the dairy. As he walked away, something again pulled at his consciousness, and he turned and scanned the horizon. It was as if he could hear something in the distance, but yet there was no sound. Chiding himself for his folly, he walked on.

Just as he reached the walls of the monastery, and the small gate into the enclosed vegetable garden, he realised that he had left the basket of lemons, sitting on the shelf in the dairy. This forgetfulness was getting worse, and he gently chastised himself as he retraced his steps back to the dairy. His eyes moved almost automatically to the horizon, once more..... - and -  this time - there, in the shimmering haze of undergrowth, at the edge of the Eastern Wastelands - there was - something. A shadowy, indistinct shape. Was it an animal? Should he sound the alarm, and start gathering the scattered sheep and goats into safety? No, it loooked too vertical, almost like a person. Not a person, it was too small. Almost like a child. A child? Impossible. A child, approaching the monastery from the eastern wastelands? No.

Slowly, Thelonius began to walk towards the still distant figure, his mind racing. There were no settlements nearby, nowhere a child could have wandered away from. Not a small child, no this was a boy, he could see now. A boy not yet approaching manhood, but not a small child. He knew little of children, but this boy might be ten, or maybe twelve years of age? Still the slim shape of a child. The boy stepped forward towards him, almost as if in a daze, staring straight ahead. They were still some fifty paces apart, when the boy's striding pace faltered. As if the breath had left his body, he suddenly crumpled onto the thorny ground.

Thelonius began to run towards the shape on the ground. Reaching him, he saw that the boy carried only a pumpkin shell water bottle, and as the cork was handing on its leather thong beside the bottle, it appeared the bottle was empty. Lifting the boy, he could hear his shallow breathing, and feel the heat radiating from the small, thin body. Half walking, half running, Thelonius made his way down to the monastery gate, with the all but lifeless boy in his arms. Pushing open the gate, he saw Brother Thomas bent over in the vegetable garden. "Brother Thomas" he shouted. Thomas stood, turned, then dropped the trowel in his hand, and ran to Thelonius. His mouth opened and questions began to spill out. "Not now." Thelonius whispered. " Let's get him inside".

Together, the two elderly men carried the limp form of the boy into the shady interior. From its depths , the bell for the midday meal sounded; normal monastery life. But something extraordinary had happened. A strange boy had walked into their lives, from that wasteland to the East where nobody went.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Change the Be

Change is the constant. Tomorrow is un-anticipatable.
Yesterday is a dream. This moment. Being. Changing.
This moment IS the change. Change and be. Being.
Changing. This moment - your need is these words.
Words can only aproximate meaning. Cease reading.
Change. Be. This is now. Only this. Look to your
Needs now. Be change. Change the Be. Be the change.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cape Gannet

Explosion of Flowering


My Grandmother

I'm sitting here this morning, looking at my grandmother's papers from her first years in England after the war. She arrived in England on 11 December 1947 with the Polish Forces from Egypt. (exactly one week after my mother arrived in Southampton from Mombassa). Her profession is described as Junior Nursing Sister.

She was born in 1906 in Lwow, Poland, (now Lviv, Ukraine). I have her school reports, the first one (see below) from 1914, during the Austrian Anschluss, in Austrian German, the later ones in Polish, after Poland became an independent republic for the first time in centuries in 1921, her reports stretching from 1922 to her graduation in 1926.


She qualified as a teacher in Poland, married an army officer, had my father. She was working as a teacher in Poland when the second world war broke out. Her husband, my grandfather, died in January 1940 after interrogation by the Soviet army, and shortly afterwards, she and my father were deported to Siberia, in cattle trucks. From Siberia to Kazakhstan, to Pahlevi, to Isfahan, to Teheran, to Palestine, to Egypt. Finally, after the war, to England.

On arrival in England (with the Polish Army), she was with the Polish Resettlement Corps for a few months, and then moved to work at No4 Polish General Hospital, Iscoyd Park, near Witchurch (in Shropshire). This hospital cared for Polish refugees with TB and with mental health issues.

She remarried in 1948, an ill fated and short lived marriage, and moved to Bury St Edmunds. She is reported as intending to return to Poland in Dec 1948. As the news filtered back from Poland of what was happening to returning poles in now Soviet occupied Poland (terrible things, imprisonment and execution), the plan changed and she and my father decided to stay in England. By 1949, she was living in Oxford and working as a canteen assistant, and in October 1949, she moved to Birmingham, and to a job with W.W.Greener, a firearms manufacturer, as a factory worker. Although my grandmother died when I was eight or nine years old, I still remember her stories of working in the factory. She was trying to teach herself English, and her job was testing rifles, which meant working in a small booth, and firing rifles. She would have her books open in her lap and read and work at the same time. I often wonder how many faulty rifles went out into the marketplace as a result.

In 1951, she moved to Wheaton Aston in Shropshire. She is reported as "now employed at committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain". In 1952, she moved to Fairford, and then in 1954 to Shepalbury Mansion, a boarding school for Polish orphans. The document ends here.

I was born in 1963, my brothers before me in 1955 and 1959. My grandmother lived with us in Birmingham when I was very small, then moved to her own flat, a mile away. She worked as a primary school teacher in Montgomery Street primary school, in a multi ethnic, working class area of Birmingham until her death, just days before her retirement at 60.

My grandmother was always a natural teacher, and taught me how to learn and be curious about the world in the gentlest fashion. When I think of her life, from Lwow - under Austrian occupation at the time of her birth - through Siberia, Persia (Iran) , Egypt and Palestine, then all those different places in England - such a peripatetic life, and yet, she was the steadiest person I knew. When people say that he or she is a "rock", I think of my grandmother, who was indeed a rock.

So today, I want to pay tribute to this fine woman, who survived so much, and gave me many of the building blocks for my life.

                                          Zofia Chobrzynska. My grandmother.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Interviewing Tommorow

This unsafe world, where we
Work and work, and do all the
Right Things; and still - we
Sit now and watch it crumble.
Crumbling, crumbling, crumbling.
Hard saved securities fade to
Nothing. The key, I hear, is
To lose attachment. Stop needing
control. But those worry worms
Don't stop their wriggling.
"Do this! Do that! Try this!
Try that!" And that loud committee
In your head shouts "It's all YOUR
Fault!" So now. Instead of plodding on
Grimly, head bowed, I'm going to
Tell that committee where it can go.
It's raining. I'm tired. And cold.
The world feels hard, hard, hard.
I need a new commitee. One that's on
My side. Spread the word.
I'm interviewing tommorow.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Leaving the Palace

The Start

The first pink light of day was just starting to touch the edges of the palace. The courtyard was still in darkness, as Rafael stood silently at it's edge. In the centre of the courtyard, the long, expanse of shallow water glistened, flat and dark. Such a beautiful place. Such a beautiful prison cell, this palace. Rafael knew today was the day to leave. nevertheless, sadness at leaving encircled his fear. It must be now, before it grew any lighter.

The boy felt his way lightly around the edge of the courtyard, keeping to the shadows, moving silently as his heart beat so loudly, he was sure it would be heard. Rafael made his way to the Easternmost edge of the palace, and looked over the wall to the drop below. Even with his makeshift rope, he would still have to drop the last part - the height of three or four men - to the rocky hillside below. If he hurt himself, if he twisted an ankle, that would be the end of it all. He secured the torn and twisted together sheet rope to an iron hoop set in the wall, and quickly, stealthily, slid down the rope. There would be no way of bringing it after him, and once it was fully light, the rope would be seen, and they would know he had gone.

Time to let go, and take his chances. He felt resigned now. The overwhelming fear had passed. Now, he would either get away - or they would find him, injured, and he would die. He looked down, and tried to focus on a clear spot. Boulders, rocks, everywhere he looked. No point in waiting any longer. He let go - and astonishingly, landed grazing only his ankle and his wrist. Nothing broken. Nothing sprained. He stood up. Long shadows now, as the first rays of sunlight made their way over the horizon in front of him He was facing the sun, facing East. He needed to go West. Keeping close to in the shadow of the walls, he made his way as quickly as he could to the opposite side of the palace.

Now, now it was time to go down the hillside, and cross the dry, rocky, boulder strewn plain ahead of him, stretching to the far, still dark horizon. Now is when he would be seen, if he was to be seen. He could hear already, the single note of the bugle shouting out the alarm, the baying of the hounds set loose and the desperate knowledge that he would be torn apart when they reached him. There was still time to turn back, maybe get back up the rope before anyone noticed. Life wasn't so very bad in the palace. He had plenty to eat. His work was not too hard. Nobody was too cruel. But the dream he had had so many times now kept calling him, telling him he was to go West, that he needed to find someone. Another boy, like himself, but living a very different life, in a very different place. There was something they had to do together. What it was was unclear, and now, standing shivering by the towering, shadowy walls, it seemed stupid and pointless. He didn't know where he was going, and he didn't know why.

Taking his courage in his hands, he stepped away from the wall and began walking steadily towards the dark horizon. Not running. Running would be too obvious, would be visible to even the sleepiest sentry on duty high above. His hope was that a steady walk would be less easily seen in this half light. Step by step, he made his way down the hillside. Step by step, he moved west, leaving the palace behind him.

Up in the highest tower, the woman looked out, watching him. So, he had done it. She had thought he might, but hadn't been at all sure he would. He was young - only twelve years old. Perhaps too young to face what lay ahead of him. She watched for a long time, until finally, his small, slight frame disappeared over the horizon.

Somewhere else, another boy opened his eyes. He had had such a lovely dream.  A dream of a hot, sunny place, and a palace with pink walls. He pulled the thin blanket over his thin shoulders, and tried to hold the vision of warmth and comfort in his head for as long as possible. A shout brought him back to his surroundings. It was the drayman, shouting for him to get up and see to the horses. He shook himself awake and stood up from the lumpy mattress in the corner of the kitchen. He made his way through the grey early morning light in the yard, to the stable. His first task was to see to the horses. Huge draught horses, they were. He had been so scared of them, when the drayman had first taken him on as his boy. Now, he liked them. He trusted them, and they trusted him. In his whole day, they would most likely be the only living things to look at him with kindness.

First, he filled the pail with oats. This time of year, they needed the heat of the oats to keep them well. Next, he brushed their coats, picked out their hooves, and brushed their tails. The horses had to look good. It was very important, the drayman told him constantly. He brushed until their dark coats gleamed in the lamplight. Then he filled the metal pail with freezing cold water from the barrel outside and brought it in for them. Later, when they were being harnessed, he would clean out the stable. He liked being in the stable, liked feeling the heat of these massive bodies and smelling their comforting horsey smell.

It would be a long day, as every day was. He would be out all day with the drayman and his men; big, strong men who could roll full barrels of beer without effort. He would run in to the public houses, dodge the drinking men with their coarse shouts and coarse hands, and find the landlord, race into the cellar to unlatch the huge wooden hatches from underneath, so that the men could deliver the wooden barrels, run on to wherever the drayman told him with whatever message he had to carry; at midday, when the men went into whichever public house they happened to be at for their pints and their pies, he would again feed and water the horses, hoping the men would remember to bring food out for him too. Sometimes, when they forgot, he shared the oats which he fed to the horses with them. He knew better than to go into the public house with the men. He was a target, in too many ways, for drunken badly behaved men. If it was raining, he would sit under the cart; if dry, he perched among the barrels.

He was an observant boy, and watched the world around him. In the mornings, he watched the well dressed men, in suits and hats, and carrying black leather bags, board the tramcars and leave for a very different kind of working day. He wondered what that sort of life was like. He wondered whether those men had wives and children, and what kind of a life they might lead.

"Tom!" The drayman's rough voice cut through his daydreaming. Time to pay attention again, avoid anything that might lead to a beating. He was too sore for another beating. Time to get back to work.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Holding a peaceful space.

I would like a small place to rest a little while. White sheets, clean and crisp, and a soft, light duvet to nestle under. A wooden window opening onto sunlight, and the sound of bees buzzing around their business with the flowers. A blue vase sitting on a wooden stool. The sound of someone in the other room, humming. The smell of baking mingling with honeysuckle from the garden. The combination of softness and crispness in the bed. I'm holding this vision as I bump along in the coach, in the dark, drizzling outside, and miles to go yet before home.

Dancing to Grace - Red

Thursday, 17 November 2011


Sitting on a bench, in this "big city" park,
Anonymous, in the way you can only be
In such a big city. Mid-November feels like
September. Sunshine, warm emough to take off
My coat. Women in lycra running through the
Leaves. Constant backdrop of traffic noise,
And the occasional squeal of brakes. Old trees.
Old. This park here more than four hundred years.
Was a park before the city enclosed it. These
Trees standing sentinel to the changes, day after
Year after decade. Between me and the traffic,
If I listen carefully, the sound of trees. A
Steady rustle, as the breeze dances
Big brown leaves and small branches.
Standing sentinel to an unfolding world, and
Silently holding this space. We pass by without
Notice mostly. I notice now. Breathe it in.
Trees; Park; Centuries.

Peace in Silver and Blue

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Redemption comes like a flower, like a butterfly landing suddenly beside you, like someone jumping out of the sidelines to surprise you, glittery and sparkly and utterly unexpected.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Confused World

Confused world. Everyone lost and running around.
Miserable. Leaderless. Busy standing still.
Moving out of the void, a strange connectedness.
Everyone together in this mystery. Strange world.
Arising like a whisper on the horizon.... "come...
come to...come to a...wait...I am... come.."
World not lost. This is not an end.
This is ....... beginning.

Root and Branch

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Long Dark Tunnel

My mom knows "The long dark tunnel from which there is no return".
She has always known it. It has lived her life alongside her.

Three years ago, she was dying. She was so very sick, we were told these were her last hours. She knew it was her time to enter that tunnel. And -she was ready to go. She WANTED to go. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that at the end of that tunnel would be, waiting for, arms outstretched, her mother; her father; her brothers and sisters; her baby boy, my brother, Oles. She wanted to enter that tunnel. She was so sick, she couldn't even open her mouth or lift her head. We moistened her lips with pieces of cotton wool dipped in water.

I spent nights with her. This last night, I believed to be her last night on the planet. She could barely move. Every time I closed my eyes, I expected to open them and find her still. Instead, at 3am, I opened them to find her sitting on her bed, cross legged, blanket over her shoulders, eyes fixed on me.

"Krysia, - how can I be an angel?"

That endless night, on the shores of death. On the threshold of another plaace. Not ending; -  just another place to which we go.

My mother got better. And, for me, the veil between this place and that was torn. There IS another place. We all go thrre. This planet, this experience - a dream..
Beautiful, terrible, but temporary.
There is something bigger. A home to which we are pulled.
We are here and we are homesick. For what, we don't know. But it draws us, invisibly, each day. We miss it, but don't know what it is.

One day, each one of us will enter the tunnel. "The long dark tunnel, from which there is no return."

Lile my mother, I too want to know "how can I be an angel?".

But the question is premature. Ask instead " how can I be human?".

Let me be truly human. Weak and frail. Strong and noble. Kind. Unkind. Full of love. Full of envy and jealousy. My humanness the gift of these days.

Let me not give it away, ignore it, subdue it, lose it, deny it, forget it.

Human - ness

So Crucify Me....

History Lesson

In 1939, Stalin began forcibly removing Polish civilians and transporting them to various parts of the Soviet Union (primarily Siberia and Kazakhstan), where they were effectively enslaved. Between 1.5 million and 2 million people were taken in this way, by cattle truck and barge boat, ending up, after horrendous and gruelling journeys, in Kolhozes (communal villages) or Gulags (forced labour camps). Nobody knows the exact numbers of people taken. Unlike the Germans, who recorded everything in ruthless detail, the Soviets kept no such records.

In 1941, when Stalin switched sides and joined the allies, these Polish people were, for a very short window of time, "allowed" to leave the Soviet Union. These people were starving, penniless and sick. They had no means. No resources. No way of leaving was offered to them. Individually, they began journeys, each of which deserves a book in its own right. They headed south, often on foot, hearing rumours that an army in exile may be forming, and following those rumours with every last ounce of their heart and soul. These were journeys of thousands of miles, and the destination was unknown.

General Anders, himself recently released from a Soviet labour camp, had begun gathering together a raggle taggle army in exile. Meagre, grudging rations were granted to this army (these "allies") by the Soviet government. However, there was nothing for the tens of thousands of civilians, women, children, unfit men, who were also congregating at the army recruiting centres, in the hope of finding a way of escape. Then something extraordinary took place; something which bears testimony to the greatness of what is best in human nature. This army, under General Andres command, decided to take the women and children with them. Starving men shared their inadequate food with starving women and starving children. The helpless, the vulnerable, the weak, were not abandoned, but recruited into the army and given papers.

In total, 115,000 Polish men, women and children left the Soviet Union.. Less than one in ten of those who had been taken there. They travelled with Anders army overland, then across the Persian Sea, arriving in Pahlevi to be quarantined and slowly nursed to health by the British Red Cross. Of these 115,000 people, 15,000 were children. My mother and my father were amongst these children.

In a time of war, having already lost everything, as they prepared to go to fight, probably to die, these men, this army, looked at the bigger human picture and, individually and collectively, did what it could to bring the weak, the helpless, the sick, the vulnerable. I owe my existence to this compassionate human impulse, which allowed my parents to survive.

This honourable compassion shaped my parents into their adult survival. Many times, in my childhood, in that strange land of exiled poles in Britain, that sense of honourable compassion was visible around me. Remember that all these people were survivors. They had seen and lived through times and experiences I can barely begin to imagine. But I felt that dignified, honourable connection as we stood, seven, eight, nine, ten year olds at summer camps, and watched as the sun set and the Polish flag was slowly, reverently lowered in the stillness of an english country evening, words of a Polish hymn reverberating through the stillness. This was more than patriotism. I felt it when, on Christmas Day, my father and I drove many miles to visit the old priest whose mind had gone, in the mental hospital, bringing him Polish christmas fare - their connection stretching back all the way to Siberia. I felt it on Sundays, in the dark old church, crowded, aisles full of standing Poles, as the whole mass of people as one fell to one knee as the first words of the hymn "Upadnij na kolano" ("Fall to your knee") rang out around my five year old ears.

Over a million and a half Polish people did not make it out of Russia. Among them, my grandfather; - taken off the cattle truck and left by the Soviets in some railway station when he fell sick. My grandmother; - died of typhus somewhere in Kazakhstan. My uncles and aunts; - died one by one of sickness and starvation after losing their parents, in Russia.

This morning, as I sit in a warm, comfortable, secure home, looking out over beautiful, peaceful mountains bathed in sunshine, I notice the impulse arising, for me as for so many, to fret and worry the weekend away over my financial concerns. I stop myself. I remind myself instead of the miracle that allowed my parents to survive. I try to connect to that impulse of honourable compassion that allowed starving men to gladly share what they had with starving women and children. The best of what is human.

Moon Man

The bowl is empty, the well runs dry. Quo vadis, planet earth?
Tonight, I followed a full moon home. Brilliant, bright
Buttery yellow, hanging low in the fields, as it's hung for ever.
We're so rooted in our lives, in the communal lies we've created.
The man in the moon doesn't care. He doesn't have a mortgage,
Or national debt. He doesn't use credit cards to feed his
Children, or buy up cheap, sell by date food late in the day.
Moon man show me a new source. Shine on me, light up
My sky. I hear you whisper "not quo vadis, but venire". Come
With me. Tonight I'll listen to what the man in the moon has to say.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On Pink

On A Wing and A Prayer

In the darkness, shower me with stars.
Fill my plate with fairy cakes and buns.
Give me small children and animals to hold.
But most of all, let me feel love.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Hard Shoulder

This car has stopped. It's sitting on the
Hard shoulder of the M11. "Hard Shoulder"
What is the hard shoulder? It's not in the
Mainstream. It's at the edge. All these
Cars driving by, driving on, red tailights
Steadily passing. Moving on to their
Destinations, while I sit here, as the sky
Grows dark. Stuck on the hard shoulder.
This hard place. The destination I envisaged
Thwarted for now. Waiting. In a hard place.
On the edge. This hard shoulder of life.

Imagine That

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A Day

The boy opened his eyes. It was still dark. Dawn was approaching, time soon to rise from the wooden bed, with it's lumpy, horsehair mattress and thin blanket. The hut was cold. The little heat provided by the stove had escaped through the gaps between the boards which formed the walls of the hut, during the night. Soon, it would be time to get up, and start his work. But for these few moments, he lay still, and indulged himself in memory.

He thought first about his father, dead now. Remembered him standing in the doorway, in his officer's uniform, proud and full of honour. Thought next about the school he should have been at now; the reputable, old military school that his father and his father before him had attended. He had been scared, then, at the prospect. Scared to leave mother and father, nanny and the comfortable apartment. Scared at the thought of the spartan, strict regime of boarding school. He would give anything, now, to have that life back. To have his father back. With a sigh, he brought himself back to the present; to the cold hut; to his mother, asleep beside him, and the other family, breathing noisily at the far side of the space. He knew it was time for him to get up, get started. His mother stirred beside him. "Stasiu, czas wstawac". Time to get up.

They dressed quickly, quietly, in the dark. Mother coaxed the stove back to life, using a few of the precious sticks collected last night, and placed a pot of water on the stove to boil. There was nothing to put in the water, but at least it would be hot, and his stomach would be fooled for a few short moments into believing it was less empty than it really was. Boots on, and time for Stas to start his day's work.

His job was to take the cattle belonging to the villagers out onto the steppe to graze. He hadn't wanted the job. He'd been happy picking cotton with mother; occasionally coming across an egg, laid by one of the village chickens. His mother would crack the egg straight into his mouth, silently, then bury the fragments of shell as quickly as possible, to hide the evidence. But he was small, and couldn't pick as much as the others. It hurt his fingers. It hurt his arms. The kolhozniks had decided he could be put to better use herding the cattle, out on the steppe every day. Mother told him he had to do it; told him how lucky he was to be given this job. Lucky; because every day, one of the villagers in turn would give him a piece of bread to take out with him for the day. Lucky, because out there on the steppe, he could steal a drink of warm milk. But he hated the work. He hated saddling up the old horse in the half light of dawn. He hated trudging through the mud, from hut to hut, to collect the cows. He hated riding out to find pasture, and spending the whole day, every day, day after day, out there on his own. But choice was a luxury no longer available. He laced his boots, and drank the hot water.

Soon, he was riding out of the village and onto the steppe, his hunk of hard bread reassuring in his pocket. He had to ride for at least an hour to find decent grazing. When he found a place, he dismounted, unsaddled the horse, let him drink from the stream, then let him loose to graze also. He desperately wanted to eat the bread, but once eaten, there would be nothing until evening. So began the familiar daily battle between hunger and willpower. Eventually, hunger won. He took the bread out, unwrapped it from the dirty cloth, and broke off a piece of hard crust. Re-wrapping the rest of the bread, he put the hard crust in his mouth, fighting the urge to chew. If he held it in his mouth for a while, the flavour and taste let him pretend he was eating. He hadn't seen himself in a mirror for many months, but he knew he was skin and bone. He knew by looking at the other Polish people in the Kolhoz. Cheekbones visible and prominent. Clothes hanging like sacks. Once he'd eaten the crust, he started to search the ground. You could be lucky. Sometimes a few berries, some wild seeds. Sometimes, if he was very lucky, he'd find a bird's nest, with eggs still warm; he'd crack them and eat them raw. No need to hide the shells out here. Wash them down with water from the stream.

Then, when the sun was overhead, at midday, he'd decide which cow to steal milk from today. The cows were placid, easy going - skinny and underfed, like himself. He'd position himself under the cow, lying in the long grass, and squirt the warm milk directly into his mouth. Three squirts, four, - maybe five if he was daring. No more. any more would be noticed.

Later, he would eat the rest of the bread. Make it last as long as he could. Mother sent out lessons with him, every day. The teacher in her refused to give up. She told him he had to continue to learn, to study, and every day, she would write out exercises for him, using the stub of a pencil, and whatever she could find - the wrapper from the tea, an old envelope. Sums to do. Spellings to learn. Tonight, by the light of the naphta lamp, she would check and correct his work with him. He knew it was no good leaving it, It would be harder to do in the dark, in the hut, the life of another family beside him. So, he worked his way through the exercises, as the sun made it's way across the expanse of sky.

When he was finished, he walked around and checked each of the cows. Sometimes they might scratch or cut themselves, and if this happened, he would be to blame, so he liked to check each one, carefully, before heading back. All alright today. No beating tonight. A little while more, and it would be time to return. Time now to dream a little. Remember again. Remember the visits at the weekend and in the summer to the country house. How his pet mouse disappeared, and was found at the end of the week, at the bottom of the bucket of cream in the cellar. Poor Myszka. Remember how his half brothers and sisters would alternately tease and spoil him; the baby, the youngest, little Stasiu. The one who lived in town, in the apartment with tata and their kind young stepmother, his mother, Zofia. The rest of them, adults, or nearly so, living in the country house. Were they still there, he wondered? Had they been taken away, like he and his mother had been? Or were they still living that simple, peaceful, comfortable country life, full of good food, good books, music and happiness?

Shaking himself back to reality, he resaddled the horse and began the return ride to the village. Returned the cows, one by one, each one checked carefully by its owner. Returned the horse and settled it for the night. Returned to the hut, mama waiting. Time now to collect sticks and reeds to feed the stove tonight.

A thin soup for dinner, shared with the other family. Shared prayers before eating, the familiar Polish words bringing succour in this alien land. Slow eating, eking out the food for as long as possible. After the food, time to correct his lessons. Mama sitting close to him under the dim light of the naphta lamp. Close and comforting, his safety here in this world. After the lessons, the two families gather round the stove, and one of the adults begins to recite, from memory, the Polish classic, Pan Tadeusz. "Litwo! Ojczyzna moja!, ty jestes jak zdrowie. Ile cie trzeba cenic ten tylko sie dowie kto cie stracil..."* The familiar words wash over him, as he snuggles into his mother's side, as his eyelids begin to droop. He's nine years old. Soon he'll be ten. He feels his mother lifting him, into the bed, pulling the covers over him, but he knows no more. He's asleep now. Dreaming. Somewhere else until morning

Translation: *Lithuania, my country! You are as good health:
How much one should prize you, he only can tell
Who has lost you."

Friday, 4 November 2011

Quicksilver circling

There, far away,
There, somewhere else.
There, not here.
Be here, not there.
Be. Here. You are.
You are here, now.
Be. Here. Now.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Magic Carpet - a Story

Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a young boy. His name doesn't matter, as very few people remembered that he even had a name. He lived with the King's blacksmith.  He was an orphan, and the blacksmith had taken him on as an apprentice. The blacksmith was not unkind, although he wasn't kind either.   He just expected the boy to do what was required, and in return, fed him, and gave him a bed in the forge at night, where, at least, it was warm. .

The boy worked hard. He didn't mind working hard. He collected wood, he led horses in, and held their heads while the blacksmith worked. He stoked the fire, and he brought the blacksmith what he needed, when he needed it, to do his work. He worked hard,  not because he liked the work, but because when he worked,  it filled up his attention, and he was able to forget everything else. Forget that he was an orphan. Forget that there was no kindness in his everyday life. Forget that he had no family, and that nowhere felt like home.

One day, the boy was out in the forest, collecting wood. He had walked out with an empty basket, held by worn  leather straps to his back. He reached a spot that looked promising, and took the basket off, placing it on a steady spot, nestled in the mossy grass.

As he stood and stepped backwards after putting the basket down, his foot caught in a small hole, perhaps a rabbit hole, or maybe just a small hollow in the ground.. He  fell to the ground, not hurting himself, but surprised by the sudden change from upright to flat. Opening his eyes, he could see the sky above him, grey blue through the canopy of trees.

It looked so beautiful, he decided to stay where he lay, at least for a few minutes. The ground was soft and mossy beneath him, and for once, rather than rush and race to do the work he had to do, he stopped.

Closing his eyes, he listened to the forest around him. Slowly, as his ears tuned in, he heard more. Not just the wind whispering in the trees, but the small sounds of birds flipping and flapping their way through the undergrowth. The sound of small buzzing creatures. The sound of leaves lifted by the wind. And finally, finally - the sounds inside him of  his own self.  Heart beating. Breath entering his chest and leaving again. The sound of his swallowing, reverberating through his whole head.

Finally, he opened his eyes. "Enough" he thought. "Time to gather wood". He quickly set to, and soon had a full basket of sticks and small logs. He hoisted the heavy basket onto his back and started to make his way back.

He reached the stepping stones, where he had crossed to enter the forest - and found they were under water and partly submerged. He began to tentatively cross, feeling his way, one footstep at a time, over the slippery rocks. It was hard, the heavy weight on his back unbalancing him. But steadfastly, he continued, one step, then another. Until suddenly, the rock beneath him shifted. He tried to right himself, but the weight of the basket was too much, and he felt himself slipping sideways, into the water, and landing on his side, pinned by the weight of the basket and unable to rise, the water rushing over his head. Mouth and nose under water, he struggled and thrashed - and then, as he reached the point where there was no breath left, no struggle left inside him, he opened his eyes - and saw something quite extraordinary. Instead of the water, and the watery river bank, he saw colour and texture, bright and soft and welcoming.

Pulling himself forward, unable to believe what he was seeing, he found himself in the middle of a beautiful, multi coloured carpet. Soft and yielding, like a feather bed. And inside his head, he heard words forming. "I have come to take you home". The carpet lifted, away from the river, away from the forest, away from the blacksmith and the town. More sure, suddenly, than  he had ever been in his life, the boy knew. He was going home.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Halloween Fireworks

Observe Now

Children's voices. Shouting. Demanding.
Traffic in the road outside.
Sunlight reflecting off white walls,
Wooden slats, making a grid of landscape.
Condensation on the window pane.
Pounding footsteps up the stairs.
Cast iron fireplace, dark and cold.
Heavy eyes. Dirty fingers. Wailing child.