saying goodbye to the family home

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the words ‘good bye’ are said daily.  we have countless euphemisms for our departures: “cheerio” “see you later” “ciao” but the words “good bye” suggests a certain finality.

i have said these words countless times but, today, i uttered those words, with finality, as i said “good bye” to the house i grew up in.

today was the hardest day.  saying ‘good bye’ to such a ‘friend’ was the only time those words have strangulated.  it was the only time i have felt a sadness unlike any other sadness i have felt. as i closed the door, for the last time, i felt something close inside me.  it was final.  something was severed, just as my umbilical cord was cut many years ago.  i now had to breathe my own breaths.  it was the first time i ever felt alone. it was the first time i felt real loneliness. i felt at a loss for a loss that was not yet gone. i felt orphaned by the searing pain of familiar nostalgia and the gnawing ache of a new melancholy.

today was the hardest day.

home is where the heart is and our home was filled with love.  as i drove down our old street, looking for a place to park, i already felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness.

and then it hit me.  this would be the last time i would ever return to this place. this place called home, to which i had returned countless times.  this place was sacred. somewhere I knew would always be there for me from when i returned from my travels.  this place was my rock.  it was grounded.  earthed.  steadfast.

a light would always be left on.  it was a place i knew i could return to and be safe when I needed to feel. to feel loved. to feel comforted.  it was my home.  it was the only family home i knew.  this home was more than a house. more than mere bricks and mortar with a few roses planted by the door.  my home was sentient.  this home was my friend.  and now i had to say ‘good bye’.

i parked the car outside and composed myself.  i sat, gripping the steering wheel, and looked into the garden.  a garden where roses grew.  roses that my late father planted.  a garden where ghosts of little Kathryns played.  i could see them all so clearly.  i could see a seven-year old Kathryn, with long blonde hair, playing with her little black poodle and giggling happily.  i could hear her.  she was truly happy and oblivious to the black clouds that would darken her future skies.  i saw a teenage Kathryn sitting on the back porch steps, on a hot summer night, with girlfriends from school – music blaring out; and i could see her saying ‘good night’ to old boyfriends.  i could see her returning home and the joy in my mother’s face, beaming, as she reached out her hands to welcome her, whether that had been returning from a trip to Sri Lanka or a trip to the local shops… my mother, she was always like that. always happy to see me home, safe.

but today she wasn’t there to welcome me.  sadly, she is now in a care home.  dementia has her in its vice-like grip and i cannot do anything to pull her out of its clutches.  she is slowly disappearing from me and, in some strange way, saying ‘good bye’ to the home was like saying ‘good bye’ to her because she, too, was home.  i have no idea where that home is now.  but i have my own home, life, love and career and i am happy.  i am happy that she could see me grow up and become the woman that i am today.

but today…

…today was the hardest day.

with a sigh, and heavy heart, i got out the car and went into the garden, fumbling in my numerous pockets for my key, whilst trying not to spill the hot coffee i had taken with me.

that garden. that garden was where i played as a young child. it was in that garden that my father taught me how to skip.  it was in that garden i played with my rabbit, Benjamin. it was in that garden i would twirl around the clothes pole until i was dizzy and giddy.  it was in that garden that i would sunbathe and it was in that garden that i would often sit and read on warm summer nights, drinking in the heady fragrance of night-scented stock that my father had planted beneath my bedroom window.

my father.  i could see his ghost too. i lingered by the old garden shed and i swear i could see him in there, through the small dirty window.  i could see his weather-beaten face. he looked as though he was working on something.  as i recall, he would spend many happy hours in that garden shed, pottering around, making hand-sculpted wooden toys and odd boxes for me to keep my secrets in.  or he would be sharpening his tools, the lawnmower’s blades or cutting the neighbour’s kids’ hair.  he was always busy but he always had time for good people and animals.

i could see the ghosts of our dogs. i could see them running about the garden and jumping up to welcome me home.

there were no little dogs to welcome me today.

i climbed the steps and put my key in the lock and turned it open.

the sun-filled porch was warm and the air was musty and hot, like a hothouse.  my mother’s bird of paradise plant stood alone.  it took seven years to flower. i am glad she got to see this happen.

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the back porch as we called it, even although, technically, was the front of the house, was a place where i would sit with my mother on lazy summer Sundays.  we would sip iced lemonade and play Scrabble, or we would talk until the small hours of the morning.

there were so many ghosts here today…

i opened the door to home.  the staircase was first to greet me.  a staircase that was not just a means of getting upstairs, or  downstairs.  this staircase was an old friend.  a place i would retreat to when i needed space from family gatherings.  a place where i could just sit and be alone with my thoughts.  thoughts often broken by the family dog licking my hand.  that staircase held so many ghosts…  as a child that staircase was a pirate ship, a jungle, an alpine mountain, the Empire State Building and a spaceship… that staircase was anything and everything that my childhood imagination could envisage.  my friends and i played on that staircase.  we would slide down it, head first… racing each other to the bottom. we would do this countless times until either my mother’s patience or the skin on my knees wore thin.

latterly, that staircase had a stair-lift.  that had now been removed but the scars remain:

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the carpet, discoloured; and holes in wall-papered walls where its fixtures once secured a safe means of aiding my mother’s mobility.

the dining room was bare.  the dining table and chairs were gone.  table and chairs.  table and chairs where once we all sat around together to eat many a family meal together.  ghosts of birthday parties.  so many candles and wishes.  so many Christmas dinners and crackers pulled. so many NYE parties, and so many times i sat at that table with my friends. so many ghosts here today – all seeking one more seat at that table.  i could hear laughter and voices from the past.  so much joy.  all that remains now is faded wallpaper and cobwebs, with patches intact where pictures once hung.

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the dining room now empty and forlorn.  a room where there once was so much love. so much laughter, and tears.  a room once filled with life and belongings now empty.  a room where, as a young child, i would play with my friends.  the old dining room table was not just a table.  in the wilds of childhood imagination, it was a Sherman tank… a spaceship… a tree-house… a cave…  or a place to hide when i hurt myself.  i used to run and hide each time i hurt myself, as i was scared of pain.  there was no table to hide beneath today. and i was hurting.

i took a deep breath and stepped into the living room. the ‘living‘ room. there was no life there today. it was empty.  boxes of stuff sat in the centre of the room waiting for someone to make a decision as to what best be done with them.  a lifetime of stuff, now in boxes waiting to be discarded.  my mother, the hoarder.

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before the wall unit took pride of place in my family’s living room, there was a piano. our family home was always filled with music.  always filled with music, love and friends.  so many family gatherings. so much joy and song.

this living room… this living space was once alive and filled with laughter; with love; with breath, now lay empty.  loveless.

the old gramophone was, as a child, the core of entertainment.  more so than the television. music was a big part of my childhood.  the house reverberated with music and song, and i am sure i once heard it sing along. but not today.

i decided to take the old gramophone home with me. i have nowhere to put it, as yet, but it pains me to see it end up on a landfill site somewhere… unwanted and discarded as junk. to me it was worthy of saving, of salvaging.  it was something i could cling onto as many hours of my childhood were had listening to scratchy old ’78s.  jesus. what will become of them?

i look out across the street. houses, where friends once lived and hear the music that we all once took great pleasure in listening to.

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and then there was the fireplace that my brother built, when he was learning how to work with stone and brick.  it quickly became the heart and electric hearth around which we sat.  me. family. friends.  i would sit by the fire, on a cold winter night, basking in the incandescent warmth of fake coals and play solitaire or read; or fall asleep curled up like my dog, faithfully by my side.

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but now the fireplace is cold. it offers no real warmth today.  i could turn it on, but it’s not ever going to be the same.  things have changed. my life has changed and like this house… this home, i feel it emptying of something irreplaceable.  is this preparation for her death?  is this symbolic?

this living room. this living space once filled with breath. once filled with laughter and love now lay empty. as i turned to close the door, i took one last ‘snapshot’ of memories but all that remains now is lampshades, covered in dust – the only tangible reminder of those who lived here lies in the minute particles of their skin as they slowly shed their mortal coil; and indentations and footprints upon the carpet – impressions of what once was there – a coffee table, sofas, armchairs… the shuffle of countless footsteps.  footsteps that once danced, but now are crippled.  these impressions will soon be gone and a new family will make this home.  fuck.  i hope they can make as many happy memories as i have accumulated over the past forty years.

but the ghosts don’t want me to leave. they are liveliest here.  they beg me to stay.  i watch them dance and play, and walk around and through me,  just as i have walked through this house.  this home.  am i a ghost now, too?

this was once the liveliest of spaces. now it feels the most empty of all the rooms; except, perhaps, for the chambers of my heart.  i linger and hear distant voices: my mother singing; my father’s laughter; old Hank Williams records, crackling.  someone, please return the stylus to the start because i, too, feel so lonesome, i could cry.

and cry i did.

i hear someone play the piano… badly.  i see the ghosts of old friends and family, baby nieces and cousins from Shetland.  i see conversations dance before me;  i can smell the sound of the old projector of when we would have family gatherings and plough through troughs of old photographs and super8 home movies.  i can smell the perfume and feel the smiles of beloved aunts.  i see so many bad choices of wallpaper.

there have been many tears, over the past forty years and more.

so i closed the door and broke down.

it feels like a loved one has died.  for so long, this house was the only home i knew.  it was where i learned to walk and talk; where i learned to read and write (thank you, Mum – for equipping me with these skills before i started school);  where i also learned how to take a photograph, roller skate and jive;  how to ride a bike (thank you to my eldest brother, home on leave from the Royal Air Force, for his patience and determination); and how to skip and knit… and kiss.

it is where i learned about life, love and loss.  it is where i now learned about myself, that i am, perhaps, not as strong as i once thought.

i exhausted myself of tears, wiped my face with trembling hands and picked myself up off the floor and continued on my quest to say goodbye to this loyal friend; to say ‘goodbye’ to this house and the ghosts of former Kathryns… the ghosts of all tomorrow’s parties.

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before heading upstairs, i ventured into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water.  but there were no glasses. no cups.  no cups overflowing with love and hot tea.  and so i sipped the cold water from my cupped hands.

our kitchen was small, but functional. and always clean and tidy.  and there was always the fragrance of fresh laundry hanging in the air.

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upon returning home, from anywhere at any time, my mother would most likely be found in the kitchen.  she loved to bake and used to bake the most incredible scones and cookies.  i remember, as a child, following her around like a greedy pup – waiting for her to let me scrape out the remains of the cookie dough.  i can still taste its sweetness.  sadly, due to illness and depression, she hasn’t baked in a long, long time but i can still smell that warm aroma of toasted sugar and chocolate.

i look out through the net curtain to the house across the street where one of my closest friends grew up.  Linda.  we were the same age and looked similar:  two little skinny waifs with long blonde hair and huge eyes.  hers green, mine blue.  she was my soul mate and to this day, although we don’t see as much of each other as we perhaps should as life is short, when we get together it is like not one day has passed since we last hugged each other.

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i see the ghosts of these little blonde girls, playing on roller skates or bicycles or running with kites.  i see ghosts of them as teenage girls, standing on her doorstep and discussing what to wear to the next high school dance.  i see it all: pages of those old teen diaries coming to life and i reminisce, with a smile.  but where has the time gone?  it seems like only yesterday.

i remember the Belfast sink by the kitchen window and how, as children, many of us in this street were bathed in the sink.  this was mainly for convenience, i think… i hope!  i remember the teasing of friends as those who were allowed out later than my own curfew would stand by the window, and laugh and point; and me gesticulating wildly and shouting back at them, laughing.  they would only laugh until it was their turn to be the spectacle in the window. oh precious memories.  my friends and i still joke about these moments to this day.

food was a big part of our family life and social gatherings.  for many years, and much to the chagrin of my mother, i had no interest in food and she, my father and brothers tried everything from cajoling me, bribing me – even ridiculing me – in their attempts to coax me into eating.  i had become a worry.  a talking point.  i received a scolding from a red-faced aunt.  still, i couldn’t care less about food.  i wasn’t interested.  my cousin once highlighted to me that i once went through a phase of only eating food that was white.  jesus.  what a little freak!  i would only eat haddock fish, boiled potatoes, pickled onions, milk, cauliflower or lean chicken breast.  it was a  major concern.  so much so, my mother took me to the Doctor who duly examined me but seemed more preoccupied with the length of my eyelashes and my precocious stare than my incongruous diet. it was a relief to all when i became a teenager and becoming more interested in food.  food and boys.  i realised that the two can be fun. and so i learned to cook in this kitchen.

it was here that i also learned about the loss of another kind of friend.

i remember the dove grey and sky blue chequered pattern on the tiled floor. i remember finding one of our family dogs, Bonnie, lying dead there one Sunday morning.  she had been ill – more ill than the Vet had realised.  i remember the pain in my heart and the sound of my own shock and grief.  i remember curling up beside her – just as i had done so many times before by the fireplace – cradling her cold and lifeless body in my arms and seeing a trickle of blood weep from her little black nose that i loved to kiss.  i remember the sound of my heart breaking.

and as i close the kitchen door, i hear that sound again.  as fresh and raw as it was that Sunday.

and so i ventured upstairs, one step at a time.  it’s strange, but the wood of the banister felt unusually warm to the touch – almost like skin.  it felt as though this house… this home… still had a pulse.  it was like she was still breathing, and breathing with me.  as i climbed the stairs, which seemed to be endless, i noted stairway walls anointed with the oily marks, from repeated hand placements; and the faded frames of blank images, where once pictures hung, often at odd angles. unambiguous; these empty spaces will remain, until my home’s new occupants paint over them.  they are, today, the only proof  of our lives here.  they still, in a strange way, adorned the stairway – or gateway – to the quieter spaces in this home. spaces where meditative rituals took place: the brushing of hair before bedtime; the bathing; the faint mutterings of my mother’s prayers and the dreams. what dreams may come now is anyone’s guess.

i pause and take a deep breath, then step into my old bedroom. immediately, i am greeted by the same funky pink plastic lampshade i chose when i was seven years old. a lampshade i once so sorely wanted – now faded, jaded, dusty and discoloured.  that pink shade saw many a dream and was a comforting pink cloud of solace on many a sleepless night. a pink cloud of optimism, at a time when my grief for my father completely overwhelmed me.

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it was here, in this room, on this bed, that i was when i first knew real darkness.  it was here, one Sunday morning in May, that my mother came to wake me to tell me that my father had died.  it was as if someone took the sun from my sky.  it was as though all the light from life was sucked out.   as though the fires inside were extinguished.  those screams of anguish and grief, i could still hear them.  they were deafening.  they are now recorded in the very fabric of this room.  they still deafen and defy.  if i were to touch those walls, i would still hear those screams,  screams like those from a wounded animal.

my old bed, still covered with the furry horsey blanket -a gift from a favourite aunt, looked small.  and yet, at some points in my life, this was my island, my haven – a place to retreat to and listen to the radio or to write in my diary, or a place where i would go to just to think… or disappear.

i removed the clutter from it and lay down on the bed with a box of old diaries, i kept as a teenager, and thumbed through them. teenage tales beneath a pink cloud brought a little light and humour into an otherwise dark day – despite the sunshine outside.  i felt a smile break my fall.

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i opened the old built-in cupboard and was immediately transported back in time. a time where i collected Ladybird books and erasers.  although the cupboard was now empty, i could see my white ice-skates hanging up, and i could momentarily hear the slice of blades on ice; i could see, in my mind’s eye, my books – all lined up neatly; stacks of magazines, scrapbooks and old Polaroids.

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i could also see a complete collection of ‘Family of Man’ magazines i collected a child. i was precocious. how many 9 year-old girls do you know that have such an avid interest in anthropology at that tender age?

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a gentle breeze carried voices of children, playing outside in the sunshine, through the house.  i followed the voices into the toilet and was touched by the sight of a picture of the sun my mother, in her early stages of dementia, had drawn and stuck fast to the toilet wall with sellotape.

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it made me laugh out loud.

i ran my wrists under the cold tap and shook my hands dry, blotting  the excess water on my jeans as, for once, there was no fresh towel.   the children’s voices seemed to be getting louder. i followed them into the bathroom where i found the net curtain billowing softly in the breeze of an open window.  the bathroom felt cold and airy; the blue dolphin patterned wallpaper, faded and peeling.

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the old 1970s bathroom cabinet was open and empty. it once held a collection of toothbrushes, all in various states of fray; tubes of pile cream and minty fresh toothpaste, squeezed until every last drop was used, as though they had been passed through a mangle; bottles of clear Avon nail polish, with the caps screwed on squint and stuck-fast; a tub of cotton buds;  a tin of Germolene ointment; and a box full of discarded dentures.  like i say, my mother – the hoarder.

the upstairs landing, once filled with the fresh smell of pine-scented steam from hot bubble baths and the sweet stench of baby powder from habitual dustings. but now, only a strange smell of stale toiletries and cosmetics lingered there.  no fresh smell of pine. and no steam.  both the house and i had run out of steam.

i felt weary. exhausted.

standing at the entrance to my mother’s old bedroom, i caught my own reflection in the dressing table mirror.  i looked empty. i looked lost. i looked dead.

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i could not bring myself to enter.  i could still smell her perfume.  i realised then that i was beginning to mourn her, even though she was still clinging onto life. but that smell of perfume.  Youth Dew.  it was her signature fragrance.  it is not a scent i care for, however, at this point in time it was the most beautiful aroma. it filled my lungs and evoked many happy memories of special ‘mother-daughter’ moments in this little room. this room used to be my room, as a young child.  a room where my mother would sing me to sleep, or lie beside me and stroke my face until i fell asleep when i was ill. it was a room once filled with toys and dolls.  fuck.  how i hated those dolls. i used to ask my mum to chuck them in the cupboard each night as their dead eyes scared me.  feeling brave, in the throes of that memory, i opened the cupboard.  i was relieved to find it empty.  no dead-eyed dolls glaring back at me.  just empty space.   yet in the mirror, it was my own dead-eyed doll expression that would now haunt me.  taunt me.  scare me.  scare me of my own mortality and the harsh realisation that our parents are not immortal.

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my mother’s wardrobes were now empty.  this was a task i could not bring myself to undertake but never voiced my concerns.  my sister-in-law took it upon herself to remove all my mother’s clothes and donate the best of them to the charity shops that my mother believes are worthy.  i cannot begin to say just how much i appreciate my sister-in-law’s interception.  it was a very mindful and kind thing to do.  a task that i think, in hindsight, would have broke me completely.

with a heavy heart, i sat at the top of the stairs and cried so hard that i thought i would never be able to stop, cradling myself in my arms.

this was the hardest day.

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Words & Images (c) Kat McDonald 2017

dedicated to my mother.  they say home is where the heart is.  she has my heart. she is, and will always be, my home.

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for my birthday, i had a tattoo done of a little drawing she did of her and i… she says she doesn’t recall drawing it on my leg. [smile]

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i intend to have her ‘doodle’ made into a necklace for her to cherish… as a ‘mother-daughter’ thing.

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Today in my heart a vague trembling of stars and all roses are as white as my pain…

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“Hello Mum…” i say

from closed throat
as i choke on tears
of the inevitable.

she is slumped
on one side.
three pillows.
three pillows hold you
and support you as
you gaze through me
with eyes dim
and full of antipsychotic
medicine.
“medicine”
medicine that has taken
my Mother and held her hostage.
it seems dark in here, in there.
there is precious little light
here now…
and it is fading fast.

i wipe the tears from my eyes
and the drool from her chin.
‘medicine’ they say.

her hands, the skin – so soft, flaccid
and thin
like tracing paper
delicate like a trace
of life… where is that spark?

where is that fire?
that spirit?
that beautiful soul?
where is my hero –
where is she?
where did she go?

“oh Mum…” i say
and hold her hand, tight.
i don’t want to let go.

“Mum? Can you hear me?”
i know you’re in there, somewhere…
do you hear me?
do you hear me, crying in the night for you
like i did, as a child,
when the monsters would come
into my dreams.
i need you, Mother.
i need you – but i can’t find you.
i can see you but
you are no longer here,
in my world.
where are you?
where did you go?
i have so many questions, Mother.
so many questions…

“Let me sing to you…” i say, choking
on dread.
i can barely breathe. gravity is
crushing and caving my chest.

i can see you, but
you’re not there.
do you hear me?
please, come back to me.
do you want to come back?
is it better where you are?
away from the grieving for the lost one;
away from the pain and prison of illness
and isolation;
away from the four walls that house you;
away from the loneliness of not hearing
or remembering…
“Oh Mum…” i say
“come back to me…”

come back to this world
where we wait…
where we, your flesh and blood, wait
for you to return.
but…
looking into your eyes, i can tell
that you are
not coming
back…
are you?

Oh Mother.
you are unaware of how my mind
tortures my heart
as i think of you,
now a prisoner of the bones
and flesh that house you…
… and your smile.

i watch you smile at me,
your mouth quivering,
frail… failing.
i think of your voice and
how you loved to sing.
is there music where you are?
because you love music and
you love to
sing…
sing for me, Mother.
sing a song for me
to comfort me –
just like you did when
i was a child.
sing out loud so i know you are there…
so i can follow your voice…
so i can find you.
i know you are in there… somewhere.

where did you go?
you left so quickly.
your eyes are shadows.
your eyes, once teeming with light,
now tired.
tired of seeing.
tired of seeing this
broken slideshow of your life.
do you see me?

do you think of me,
your youngest child.
your youngest daughter.
do you remember my laugh;
my face;
my name?

where are you, Mother?
i wish you could return
so we could take a walk
through the woods
and talk, like
we used to.
where are you, Mother?
i wish you could return
and brush my hair and
you could tell me all about where
you have been… and
what it’s like there.

because…

“i miss you, Mum…”

i seek a moment’s comfort
in knowing in your fugue
state of mind
that you are, perhaps, blissfully
unaware of
what this world has become
without you.

and yet… i am full of fear:
fear of knowing that this is the end;
fear of knowing that you are alone… there;
fear of knowing you are struggling, perhaps,
to return… clutching thoughts
with only fragments of this
and that
and this reality; with only
broken
and dis-
jointed memories and
not knowing
what
is
real.

are you lost?
or are you rambling through
the forest of your mind?
lost in that deep, dark forest.
do you know where you are?
or are you lost – in a manic
panic –
desperately searching
for a way
to come
back.

if you could, would you find your
way back
to me?
to us?
to the world you have left behind?
or…

are you happier in this sedative dream?

what is it like there, Mother?

sleep does not come easy to me these days.
i lie awake, listening to the sea and
think of you, drowning… choking… fighting
for breath… searching
for the familiar… a lifeline… to
fight against the black water
and return to us.

Oh Mother. what am i to do?
what am i to do, without you?
i am not yet ready to be an orphan.
sure, i am a grown woman
but you are my mother.
you gave me life
and now i look
towards the end
of yours.

Oh Mother.
are you too far gone?
somewhere… in that frail
and useless body
i know you exist.
i know you are in there…
but…
i can’t get to you.
i hope you can hear me?
hear my thoughts?

i hope you can hear me, Mother
as i have not abandoned you.
i am right here.

i worry that in this pergatory
you can see us… see our tears.

“why is it so dark in here?”

is it dark where you are, Mother?
is it?
i wish i could let some light in.

i wish i could just…
i wish…
i…

if you find light in your darkness, Mother,
don’t be afraid.
i have not abandoned you.
i am right here.
i will always be right here.
i hope you find some light
in your forest…
“it’s a beautiful day today, Mum”
“the sun is shining…”

what is that sound?
oh it’s my own voice.

(c) Kat McDonald 2017

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– watching someone you love be consumed with dementia is heart-wrenching… especially so when that someone is your mother… the one who gave you life and light and love.
it’s hard to watch your world become slowly starved of that light as her life slips from her, and you, with certainty of lengthening shadows and loss, can do nothing but wait.

and that weight is unbearable.

today, my heart was broken… more than i ever thought possible.  my Mother had not been allowed any visitors for almost a week as she, sadly, had to be sectioned for her own safety.  today was the first of me seeing her in a little over a week.  the change was, inevitably, a huge departure from the soul i last saw.  she is fading fast, like roses.

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my mother, aged 15

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my mother, a keen photographer it would seem…

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my  mother, on her wedding day…

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my mother, with my lost brother, William, who died 10 weeks before i was born. he was 18.

Title borrowed from one of my other heroes… Federico Garcia Lorca:

Autumn Song
November 1918

[translated by DK Fennell]

Today I sense in my heart
a vague tremor of stars,
but I lost my way
in the midst of fog.
The light trims my wings
and the pang of my gloom
will moisten the memories
at the font of knowledge.

All roses are white,
as white as my sorrow,
but the roses are not white
that have snow on them.
Once they dressed in a rainbow.
Besides there’s snow on my soul.
The snow of my soul is
kissed by flakes and scenes
which disappear in shadow
or in light when thought of.

The snow falls from the roses,
but the soul’s remains,
and the grapple of the years
makes a shroud of it.

Will the snow melt
when death takes us?
Or will there then be other snow
and other roses more perfect?
Will there be peace among us
as Christ teaches us?
Or will there never be
a solution to this question?

And if love cheats us?
Who will resurrect us
if twilight buries us
in the scientific truth
of Good, which perhaps doesn’t exist,
and Evil which flutters nearby.

What if hope gives way
and Babel ensues,
what torch will light
the roads on Earth?

If the blue sky is a fantasy,
what will become of innocence?
What will become of the heart
if Love has no arrows?

And if death is death,
what will become of poets?
and things in a cocoon
which no one remembers?
Oh sun of hopes!
Clear water! New moon!
Dull souls of stones!
Today I sense in my heart
a vague tremor of stars
and all roses are
as white as my sorrow.

into the wild… the making of ‘Wilderness’

“WILDERNESS” – a collection of 13 songs inspired by animals; animals that have been totemic in the relation between a man (Robert Davidson) and a woman (myself, Kat McDonald).

a sound born in a storm. this is what happened when a bird fell from the sky and foxes followed us home. this is supernatural, homespun honesty. this is soup, at 4am. this is a map of the stars that trace our fate. this is paprika tea. this is animal instinct. this is our story. our music.

this is the sound that came from a gorge . this is what happened when lovers cut each others hair with a samurai sword. this is inside out and up ‘n’ down. this humble creation from this hibernation. baring and purging. this is defining heroes. this is katsu curry & fermented pears. this could be winter. these are our scars. this is our music.

this is the chaos of living with panthers in a house by the sea, where ravens share their secrets with those who speak their language. this is our allegiance to our ancestors and the salt in our Bourbon. two years of travelling the sun, we are finally home.

Source: into the wild… the making of ‘Wilderness’

Listen to WILDERNESS >> HERE <<

a psalm for the loveless

IMG_5386

there is comfort in clean sheets and the promise of “a good night’s sleep”. the allure of cool, crisp cotton beckons. the black ink of night fuels my scribe as i scratch across cheap paper in the dim of my lonely room. writing a song, in the dark, with a 5-string guitar, is cathartic. but there are too many distractions. my thoughts resolve back to the dead fox cub on the Standing Stanes Road and i sob,  my arms wrapped around Julio*,  my shoulders shaking. outside, the street lights shine like beacons for breaking hearts, insomniacs, poets and moths. someone is yelling. God knows what, but it’s 4.42am and the streets are already wet. the atonal hum of summer rain sounds like a song for the hopeless or a psalm for the loveless. a burgeoning hope, that tomorrow will be a brighter day.  the sea sounds so far away; weak, and diluted by this new precipitation. this time of calm is stirred by an itch in my [open] left palm. and, a ringing in my ears breaks my thoughts in Fmaj7.  i play along.  words fold and unfold and float by me, like soggy paper boats in my own sea of rambling.  i lay down and strum. sleep will come, easily.  songs often manifest in my dreams. there are six planets on their rise, elliptical. they are all visible with the naked eye, if you know where to look.  i close my eyes, put down the pen and close my book.  i hold on tight to Julio, in the absurd hope that he will sing me to sleep, as i pluck strings in harmony with the gentle peal of the wind chime above my head, as the palest breeze waxes lyrical.

[i don’t remember falling asleep, but i guess i must’ve………………….]

5 hours later, i find myself awake and Julio still asleep on the bed beside me.  quiet. there is paper and guitar picks everywhere.  my thoughts resolve to my lover, along the coast; i can still smell his scent in the tangled mess of my hair.

 

 

(c) Kat McDonald 2016

-for Robert – with you, i never feel loveless. i love you, like i was born to.

pink lemonade for a blue girl

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barefoot on cool grass,
summer has spoken
in soft
dulcet tones:
of honey-bee drones
and the hum of distant traffic.

grateful flowers herald her arrival
with trumpets blaring blue and yellow.

she moves,
with sand in her shoes,
but still…
she’s here…
but only just.

i hear her
in the sea’s breath
and the depth of tide;
in gulls’ cries
and the clink of ice.

(c) Kat McDonald 2016

love is cutting each other’s hair with a samurai sword

synesthesia

i/
images and words are, to me, inextricably linked.  words can paint as vivid a picture of a person, an animal, a beautiful vista or a situation as memorably as a timeless photograph or a painting.  words can also make memories.  images are memories, past and new.

for me, there is another voice. music. song. rhythm. harmony.

as writer, photographer and musician, i crave all three. i crave them.  for me, one does not exist without the other, or the other two.

i hear music in my lover’s heartbeat. i hear music in traffic and the cacophony of voices on a city’s subway.  i see stories unfold before me, when i look into the eyes of a tiger.  i see my lifestory in the eye of a wild horse. i can taste colour. i can smell the rain before it falls.  perhaps i walk to a different drum beat than most. i find beauty in the mundane – words, scribbled on an abandoned piece of paper in the gutter;  scarecrows;  a dead moth in a broken lightbulb;  a dead deer lying burst open at the side of the road; fallen spirals of orange peel.

for me, image (both moving and still) does not exist in isolation.  there is a soundtrack, there is music, there are voices and rhythms, and colour, in everything around me.  words do not just hang in the air, like clouds.  they move. they hit. they often resound and reverberate, resonating deep inside.  words, too, have colour and form and their own unique fragrance.   music is in everything. it is our oldest form of communication.  there is rhythm in life – its seasons, our lives, and the patterns and archetypes we define ourselves by.

for me, this trinity, is all that i am.

twice, we have travelled around the sun twice…

 

ii/

love is a strange entity.  its power and grace can overwhelm and overturn.  it can even bring a country to its knees. it is something we all succumb to. it is consuming and transporting and, if done right, it never leaves you.  it tugs at you, it keeps you awake at night. it overrides your need for food and water. it is addictive.  it is the most powerful entity in the universe.  and when you meet someone that seems to be a reflection of you and all you aspire to be, someone who hijacks your thoughts on awakening and your hypnagogic dreamstate, then the world around you can become a very strange and beautiful place. a better place, but a wondrous and strange place – almost a surreality.

one day, a bird fell from the sky and landed on my lap.  it was a sign.  a sign that my life was about to change.  and it did.

Robert and i found each other in a storm.  love, born in a storm.  and we have clung to each other ever since, knowing that we have something powerful, something unique and something that many have envied.  the beginning wasn’t easy.  people we thought were friends preyed upon us, like a shiver of sharks;  each with their own agenda, waiting for a weakness to appear – even trying to divide and conquer.

but we are stronger than that, because we have loved before…

i sought counsel from a tiger.  he told me not to be afraid, just as i was not afraid of him; as he, this 800lb cat, took meat from my hands with all the tenderness of small child.

and so, we embarked on this journey.  we have travelled twice around the sun and have come to learn that all we have and all that we are are the most important things in life.

“nurture & protect”

we are both musicians, writers and visual artists. that was the arena in which we first came to know one another and acknowledged a mutual respect. but it was music that brought us to this point, this journey, this pilgrimage.

and we are but Pilgrims; seeking truth, love and spiritual nourishment in this life.  a life together.

through this journey, our lives have been inextricably fused with music, images and words.  and the journey journeys on as we make soup at 4am;  make love in public libraries;  make travel plans to visit volcanic islands and to fall sleep on desolate beaches; make memories – old and yet to savour, like paprika tea.   we forge songs.  we laugh. we laugh a lot.   we share the same need to be connected, to be connected with nature… the universe, with our selves to ourselves, and to each other.

we have cut each other’s hair with a samurai sword and we have stared into deepest space, with our backs to the sun, and marvelled at our universe, knowing that we have loved before…

T H I S    I S    O U R    S O N G S ……

WILDERNESS (parts 1 & 2, part 3 available later this year, with accompanying film) – FEEL FREE TO TAKE FOR FREE… OR LEAVE A LITTLE GIFT!

PART ONE:  a lone wolf, wild horses, a familiar fox and a room full of 100 butterflies… (click and listen…)

ep art1

PART TWO:  seeking counsel from a tiger, a playful wolverine,  charming bees, humming bird kisses and a shiver of sharks… (click and listen…)

wilderness part 2 COVER

PART THREE:  coming later this year, with accompanying film….

ALL songs inspired (mostly) by my poetry and prose (all of which can be found in my ‘older posts’)

ALL SONGS & MUSIC  (C)(P) Pilgrims UK, Robert Davidson & Kat McDonald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

talisman

the shirt

these eyes
can see.
they see more than most.

this blue shirt?
it means nothing…
NOTHING without
what lies beneath
this skin.
i am happy in this skin;
but happiest when you
caress what resides within.
this heart, this beating heart,
that beats with aplomb,
when you plant
a bomb.
this view?
this stronghold place of my own?
’tis nothing
without your arms
to fold
and unfold me.
this bed?
this bed was made
with love
for you to (not)
sleep in
every night.
without you
it is only
discomfort.
the food
in the fridge?
it would no longer
a love-thing be;
neither comfort
or nourishment
without your tempered blade
and steam.
i could let it rot.
why not?
without you
it is a
vomit
i cannot swallow.
these nights,
long as time,
are the longest time.
and the stars no longer
impress me.
they lack lustre
and seem inept.
they can’t catch wishes.
they lied.
the sun in the sky
try as he might
to bring light
to brighten
and share the burden;
for my heart
would be crushed,
to mush.
without the love
of my love,
i am numb.
numb, blind and
a dumb automaton.
i don’t want to feel
or to see
or utter a word,
or a sigh.
and why?
because without
this love, my love,
everything means nothing.

words (c) Kat McDonald 2015 (a lost poem, and a found philosophy: there is no such thing as loving someone too much. love is everything)
image (c) Ewan Rollo of Avatar Photography

for Robert, my nourishment & protection.  my talisman. my anchor. the love of my life.

sand-paper & seraphim

IMG_7597

i/

Pain.
her name is Pain

[for fuck’s sake!]

she, by any other name, would still remain
as ugly.
and she IS ugly.
desperately ugly.
she is a creep.
she is unwelcome.
despite my best effort to keep her
OUT
of my world, she
always
seems to find a way to creep
BACK
in and fuck
with me: meddle
with my mind, screw
up my plans, piss
on my parade
in her
USUAL
cuntish
way.
she is relentless.
she makes her presence
FELT
when i am at my happiest, my
most comfortable, my
most vulnerable, my
most…
or when i have
plans.
i am convinced
that she does
this
to seek attention, or
unsettle,
again.
and again,
and
again,
when i am alone
with
my
thoughts, and
almost every night it seems,
she SEEPS
back; back
into my consciousness.
sly, septic seraphim,
she is
a
BAD TRIP.
she turns,
and returns;
laughing at me,
mocking me,
like a barfly whore with her lips
around my lover’s cock…
Hell-bent
and bent out of shape.
her mouth like a ravenous beast.
Hell-bent on having.

[I HOPE YOU CHOKE…]
sly.
smiling. sweet.
sly
lies.
lies.
she finds
a way to be
there, in my mind
and in my bones…
conniving cunt.

it’s exhausting.

and she can be emotional-
like a scorned
LOVER or a jealous ex-girlfriend,
all tragic and bitter, to play
the “i’m gonna fuck with you”
card.
she returns when i least expect it.
and return
she does,
like a tragic memory,
she haunts me and
taunts me
and calls me delusional;
or she’ll hit me
like
a new bereavement;
tearing me apart
and
GRINDING my
BONES.
and oh how she wants those bones.
those bones.
i see her: grinding her pelvis
trying to seduce.
sucking on fingers,
touching, twirling hair,
saying all the right things
and laughing, as appropriate.

she wants those bones.
those bones. my bones.
the ones i love
and cherish.
the ones i cling to.
the ones only i
should
cling
to.

[FUCK OFF!]

but with one hit, i can silence her.

ii/

and so
i cave.
i take THREE PILLS
and nestle
beneath
the furry blanket
of self-medication.
i take three pills and allow
my cerebral cortex
to drive.
drive me insane.

i can hear the sea.

a candle flickers,
in the corner of my room,
and shadows spill
and twirl
and dance their
odd languid
little dance around the room,
to the music of the
sea.

a sea of thoughts.
a sea of words.
a sea of worths.

automatic writing.
i hold pen to pad
and
let my incoherent musings
spill and twirl
out onto the paper.

the pen makes a scratchy sound.
am i writing on sand paper?

what visions will come, if any?

i need to see so
i close my eyes.

in my mind’s eye, i wipe
the window, in hope
of a clearer view
but… PAIN, again,
she laughs in my face.
her mouth, wide
enough to accommodate my fist.
she is a painted harlot, a whore.
[FUCK RIGHT OFF!]
brain, give me something pretty
to distract.
nothing.
i search the dark and dimming
light for pattern;
sand-SHAPES; for
fucks’ sakes and
familiarities…
nothing.

i sigh.
i weigh the sky.
i feel it bear down on me.
such a crushing weight.
like a kick to the stomach
from a crazy mare.
a nightmare.

i can still hear the sea.

so i listen to her. her voice is soft
and low.
she sounds exhausted.
empathy.
what if…?

what if she were to just… stop??

STOP.

 

what if all the tides
of all the world’s oceans were to
rebel
against the push and the pull?
what would become of
us,
in the throes of
such mutiny?

iii/

once upon a time
there lived a MOMENT.
a beautiful moment of clarity.
she was called Epiphany.
one day,
she took a tumble
and stumbled
upon
the meaning of life.
she saw it all.
everything.
so clear;
everything.
so simple.
Rumour has it, she stood
at the very edge of the Universe
and that she actually skated
on the fabric
of the space-time
continuum.
she never speaks of it, but
she was
overwhelmed with
BLISS
and bathed in golden light.

she was shown all existence.

she saw, in particles
and quanta,
the past, the present and the future
of all
existence.
she was taught how
it
all pieced together
and, with the nascent
spongiform curiosity of
a newborn,
she watched everything unfold,
fold and unfold.
a story was told.
she saw her own birth.
she witnessed her own death.
simultaneously.
in the blink
of an eye.

she was
unafraid.
she saw
distant memories,
dissonant and
beyond reach.
she felt the pang
of past grieving.
she watched the birth
of the Universe, our Universe;
and other
Universes.

she held an
embryonic Earth
in her hands
and saw how everything
– all pasts, presents and futures –
are connected; and
over-lapping,
flapping
and floundering.
where?
there…!

[just there… like a glass of water for a thirsty ocean – just beyond reach.]

 

iv/

human life.
rancid.

where did we go wrong?

we assume. we skull-fuck each other with our egos, our super-egos and our pushed asides.
we are foolhardy and arrogant.
crass,
and myopic.
predictably acidic,
we are lame
and dull.
our vanity; unquantifiable.
“do you see me?”
“are you watching?”
“attention without intention”
we flirt.
cause and effect.
who gives a fuck about the butterflies
and their repercussive wings?
we are dirt.

truth?

oh it will out. it always does.

where is home? who will take me there?

i don’t believe in angels.

we are but a speck of dirt on something big… bigger than all of us…

something bigger than any one of us
can comprehend with our little brains.

we are ridiculous.

it would seem
we have a lust
for the meaningless,
meaning thus –
we could have more,
but…

we humans are stupid
despite our brilliance.

as pioneers, inventors, artists and thinkers
yes! they can all CREATE
but! they are
masters of destruction.

humans kill.
it’s what they do.
it’s what they do best.
humans kill all that is beautiful.

why do we do that?

i spoke with Epiphany about this.
we talked all night;
until Dawn
told me
that humans will never
fully evolve or
reach their full potential because
they will be
EXTINCT long before
this is realised.

she showed me a DIFFERENT
Universe; a Universe
where maximum human potential
had
been realised.

she showed me a Universe
so beautiful;
so completely unbroken
that it broke my
heart.

v/

with tingling hands, i enter the dream.
is it a dream?
i feel awake.
more awakened than i will ever be.

i turn onto my side, squeeze my eyes shut, and nestle into the Amur tiger that sleeps by my side. i breathe in his scent and open my eyes. with telepathic fingers, i can see his chest fall and rise with sleep. i trace his striped flank. i stroke his face. [those jaws…] he could CRUSH my head, like a fucking watermelon. such powerful jaws. yet he chooses not to. here he lies, by my side, with a paw as large as a guitar, heavy on my hipbone. he is my animus, my guardian.

my protector.

vi/

and where is
MOON tonight?

SKY lied.
Sky told me of TWO MOONS
and now there are none?

Sky looked back at me
all dark
and empty;
wombless
and desolate.

what has become of her
and her
nubility?
Moon must be out there
somewhere.
what will become of her
or her sisters?
her role-models and
ladies in waiting?
her unborn daughters?

Mother Moon,
she must be out there
somewhere…
cut adrift.
like a lost balloon,
abandoned by
a spoilt sulk of a child.

maybe…

maybe Moon is
the spoilt sulk of a child?
skulking off somewhere,
hiding, and hiding her humility
in the folds of Sky’s skirts;
lost amid the
pleats of that inky
black velvet;
sulking,
because Oceans no longer
want to play with her.

vii/

i remember what Dawn showed me.

i remember space.
the vastness of space.
the immeasurable amount
of space.

i remember the reality of seeing
for the first time.
a pin-prick.
eyes smarting,
or are they tears of joy.
what have i just been witness to?
a birth?
the birth?
the birth of the Universe.

the beginning of the end?
i remember holding a newborn Earth
in my fumbling clay hands;
the realisation;
the dawning of
the fragility
of
us.

single-mindedly, singlehandedly;
we will, ultimately,
be the demise
of us.

our futures will lay
in fragments
and frayed filaments of fiction
and fable as
our furrows unfold.
fate, feverish fashions
furtively unfurl.

we have become slaves
to our selves;
to
Superficiality and whatever
that whore brings to the party;
she is but a Christmas jingle.
except,
she doesn’t rock.

she is a sexually-transmitted disease.

humans are pathogens.
humans are germs.
humans are disgusting.
dirty specks of dust and
mould to blight
the fabric of our own existence
and existentialisms.

no seraphim to guide us.

there are no angels.  there is no home.

we sully it
dirty it
maim it
kill it
pervert it.
cut it.
cull it.
shoot it.
torture it.
buy it.
improve it.
rape it.
choke on it.
try to defy it.
try to deny it.
shake it.
break it.
make it.
force it.
coerce it.
disable it.

engage.

lick it.
suck it.
fuck it.
kiss it.
kiss it better?
too late.

we bend it, like a lie. colour it white.
pretend it.
pretend it never happened it.
distend it.

lie about it. in the dark. can you live with it? can you live without it?

recoil.
cry about it.
illuminate it.
ruminate it.

double it.
decouple it.

sell it.
condone it.
provoke it.
promote it.

make it a cult
or cultivate it.

mock it.
dock it.
doctor it.

a Doctorate.
rate it.
abate it.
corroborate it.

syllables
in syllabus

salubrious symbols
and drums.
thumbs up.

finger it.
powder it.

blow it up.
or just blow it.

snort it.
inject it.
ingest it.

and that’s just it.

it’s fake.
fake it.

guilt-free, fat free, duty free

when all is said and done, and the pleasure of pain breaks, and all is lost- no dogs or angels to take you home. this body was home.  but home is gone.  ask yourself:

how was it for you?
do you feel enriched?

was it good?
was it the fuck of the Century?

[FUCK OFF!]

just open your fucking eyes.

looking back, in that blink of an eye, was it worth it?

IMG_4018
words & images: (c) Kat McDonald Photography 2015

alive, alive-o

seashell-on-beach-photograph-

i live, with my lover, in a sea-shell upon a distant shore.

we can hear the sea sing all day as it slams onto the shore and breaks – casting echoes like magic spells around the bay. we feel its song resonate and reverberate around and through the pink and unholy curves of our shell’s cathedral vaults and brittle ceiling.

‘Kathryn… come here, my love…’

i feel its pearlesque floor silky smooth beneath my feet as i walk, barefoot, towards my love. the ozone air wafts through its iridescent corridors and toys with my hair and soft fabric of my pale indigo dress. my lover stands with his arm outstretched to me. he stands there, bare of foot and chest. his hair is noticeably longer than it was yesterday and the tips are indigo. his beard is indigo and long enough for me to curl up and fall asleep in, like i have done countless times. he looks good. his denims are indigo and hug his slender frame. i take his hand and he wraps me up in his arms. we hold each other close, swaying to music only he and i can hear. the dance floor is pearly pink and shining. the twinkle of sand particles catch the morning sunlight and scatter patterns of light around inside. our very own private disco in the diamond dust. we defy gravity, spiraling into its hollow core. the canon of our laughter swells and fills the chambers of this hollow shell that we call home and it is the most beautiful noise. he presses me against the wall. urgent. the walls of the shell feel as warm and smooth as the skin on my lover’s back. i love mornings like this.

we walk to the frayed edge where land meets the sea. the sea bears many gifts and fruits of the ocean… today we have an abundance of giant green olives – many of them conveniently pitted and halved. i watch as one of the many giant olives drift ashore. we climb inside and sail out to sea, headed for the distant horizon – to Neighborland’s Grand Market.

Neighborland: a former landfill site, made of reclaimed rice-cakes, stray socks and discarded McDonald’s happy meal toys is home to a population of almost 5000. every Sunday people come from near and far; by air, by land or sea; on foot or gryphon, to peruse the market stalls and haggle with stall holders. there is much bartering or swapping – a goat for poem; a kiss for a bottle of wine; a loaf of bread for a new pair of boots.

we moor our olive at the Lesser Western Pier and head straight for the Neighborland Bar where we order some cocktails. the Barman looks like my brother from Earth, Stewart Munro McDonald. he even has the same sense of humour. i ask the Barman his name. he tells me his name is Arty. the Bar is quiet. there are only the two of us and an albino troll seated near the entrance to the mens’ toilets. he looks a little worse for wear and is muttering to himself. Arty picks up his guitar and begins to play some Faron Young.

“God, my brother would LOVE this place…” i say to my love. we finish our drinks and leave. we have some poems to trade today.

it’s a busy place, patrolled by giant wasps, there is very little crime in Neighborland.

the Market is a colourful, lively hive of activity. we stop at the Hookah pipe corner and swop a poem for some bloodberry elixir.   this is headier than cinnamon, more sour than black cherry and more potent than a vintage port. this will be a sweet delight for us when we return home to the cool comfort of our shell.

music… we hear music…  a strange and haunting sound and decide to follow it… we meander through the crowds of drunks and queers, the jokers and clowns, through the limbo dancers and jazzers, down by the whores selling fake gold and prawns, through the spice trail to a little blue tent at the farthest corner of the Market place. the sound is louder now.  it sounds like nothing we have heard… we enter the tent.

inside the cool darkness of the tent, we let our eyes adjust to the dim shimmer of phosphorescent glowworms, weaving all across the floor. we take off our red shoes and walk, carefully, across the floor to speak with the stall owner. he is a rotund man with a large mop of black curly hair. He is seated, cross-legged, on the floor playing a vintage Electrolux vacuum cleaner. he seems lost in his ‘music’. we take a seat next to him and hold hands as we listen to him play.  sensing our presence, he stops playing, opens his eyes, and says “if you have come to sell me those red shoes, i am not interested…” we laugh. he introduces himself as “Keef”. i offer him nine poems for the Hoover. reluctantly, after much deliberation, he accepts – on the promise that we take good care of it and make music with it. he offers us something to eat “a snake-flavoured cookie, perhaps…. or a juicy glow-worm…?” he says, giddy like a child with a secret…. “and i have some botanical tea.  it’s the best in town…?”

the tea was a strange brew – of bamboo, garlic and fermented panda poo, served with  a splash of (organic) tiger milk.  Keef holds up a large ewer, full of the bubbling and foul-smelling ‘tea’, and laughs maniacally as we leave the tent.

as we walk away, i hear him, shuffling around inside his tent, slurping down his strange brew and his booming voice reading one of my poems aloud – only it is punctuated with giggles as he picks up glow-worms and eats them “alive alive-o…”

we leave the Market with no more poems in our hearts to sell.

back at the Lesser Western Pier, we clambour back on board our giant green olive and i row back across the sea, to our shell home, while my lover sings Faron Young songs…

words / dream recollection (c) Kat McDonald 2015

– they do say that we should make note of our dreams as soon as we can upon wakening…  as soon as one foot hits the floor, all dreams are lost…