You Who, I call you the Mother-of-Son, of The Seals, please hear me, let me see you, be you bleeding in salt-water weed, or suckling with the pup in brine. You Who! I cry, and I could cry my eyes out, but I try to smile.
And, My! How he grows like a shrub on the doorstep! There I caught him, playing with a mirror by the portal, just as we were coming in, to find a damp spread for a bed, and in the morning then we brought him in excitement to the fringe of sea.
The conception flashed as recognition, what has brought us here to this emergent sea, as jaded as a dream may be, with rocky groans and deep suspicion. What fate dropped us in this fluid plot?
I thought I knew how I might show you through the passages with moonlight on the walls, and how break through to daylight, hearing bullcalf calls and baby gurgles from the caves where ground falls to a base in crashing foam, and we must swim or drown. We breathe, we struggle, squirm, and somehow have been saved, and found out in the blue extent of sound, and turn to wave back at our selves, back on the shore. But it turned out I had to find my own way home, to find deep sleep.
For it turned out, you were a wraith, an insubstantial shawl-like something, wrapped, and twisting from my grasp. I found myself here in the dream sound fast asleep. I seemed to dream I saw your sinking mouth give forth the fronds of wrack and sea-lace, flowerless weeds, steeped in salt and drowned in a creek of the rocks. And it had been my fault. The brine was on my brain. The blame was mine. Like that I've seen me out there in my underpants and socks.
I went back to the house we had come to, with the boy at the door. And I can see the doorkey turning, clearly, in my hand. And on the other side we found no floor at all, but faced each other in a space of no response.
Eventually the sky ceased crumbling. We had tumbled through a skylight, so it seems. I could draw a circle round the landing where we settled down, living over the brush on a windy hillside, coloured with flowers of harebell, broom and gorse, heath, heather, hearth and bedroom, with small bouts of happiness, but little understanding underneath.
We feel each other lie there in a dip, exposed to wind that laps and lapses, flaps, and finally at last collapses in our laps. And then the chilly fan of wings was either like an angel folding up a book or else some snakish long cold thing that strings our necks, our backs, our feet, our buttocks, and has bound us so we're found estranged and strangely puzzled by a door that opens for a moment and then shuts, up in the sky above.
And there it was we lived through years of little money, easy come, as I withdrew my smack from the bank of clouds congealing on my naked legs. I'm half-ashamed the little laddie in a sailor suit must mean my semen. I can see him standing for some little moon-faced member of the otherworldly race you bore and carried through the future in a pram. The steam-age just evaporated then. I'm here, but you are gone. I live alone awhile, and then move on.
And this could be the station where I might have caught a train. That might explain the British Railways Nurses who were keen to know with whom I'd been. I wasn't keen, but I explain how I had heard they might have had a vacancy that wasn't filled. This was Dream Manchester, and this was the Dream Midland Hotel, where I was given a floor to myself because my soul was seriously ill, before they find flaws in my dressing, find me perfectly unskilled, and I get expelled.
I still felt sick but I was seeking work and heard about your saturated dwelling, and I thought you might want me to sort some slates or point your frontage, or replace all perishing seals and such, but when I got there it was wet, and all of your windows were out, and cows and pups were sporting in the passageway with waterwings and inner tubes, and bathing in the rain. The job seemed much too much.
These pups, it seems, now you explain, do not comply with the Conjugal Regulations, and have been condemned. The Twin Inspectors called the other day. They say they must be culled. I say, I'm willing, and at once unroll my bedroll to expose my bag of tools, and start to sort my hammers, chisels, trowels. I find nothing fit for killing seals. Suddenly I felt cold as chilled, and badly in need of bedding, somewhere snug in which to make a child. So there we slept, over slippery steps, in some sort of transparent membrane, warm but not unwet, and made this our dream wedding.
I was quite alone when I was woken by those men, and I am told: We found these things, sir, at the smithy on the headland. We have reason to believe them yours. It was my bag of tools: the chisels, trowels, rusted saws. And this, nearby, uncovered by the tide. And they produced a brand-new culling-knife. Thank you! I cried. All this is mine, I lied. My mouth stayed open wide.
They had me rudely bundled through into the kitchen where they sat me on the stool, the very model of a dunce at school, where they embarked upon a lengthy story about how the unborn souls slowly unroll from a blanket of sea, miscarriage and abortion in among them, drifting dead, or half-dead, on the floating weed. Any life left in them fills with a lust to be free. I couldn't see what this might have to do with me, and slipped into half-sleep.
When I came to, I heard them speak of the disposal of the means of their control, and how to call the roll of sea, and of the register that can be raised, and can be folded us to close with such a clap! Like angel wings. And with giggles and squeals they came to the point: You need to train. You need our ticket to kill seals.
It seems I've been enrolled upon their course. The Keeper and the Culler continue. They have these sundry places: sand, and rocky carregs, skerries of the rougher sort. They have no legal standing. Seals. They foul the beauty spots around them. Holy places such as should enhance the reputation of the finest sea-girt spots have been infested with the pests. They verminate the numinous. They must be cut. They could be clubbed or shot. They should be hounded over water, sand and rock. And you, they said to me, have been selected as the one to do it.
And everything I noticed then was hooded from the sun: the gulls, the crows, my genitalia, these men. They made a sign to make me sign, and sealed, they said, and smiled, and redelivered what was mine. Before the clouding cleared I had resigned my mind.
I had to train. I had to learn a lot of what was taught. It would be a while before I could begin to earn. I got to slice and fillet fish with women, so many a minute. Chop and twist and turn. Make sure the brain has nothing in it. But I'd trawl and drift, and dream the soul a fish, just lifted out of water by a pair of hands. Don't think. Maintain the rate of slaughter. I proved far too slow. I dropped the knife. I dropped the course. I wanted to get back to sand, cement and water.
Instead of that I found I had been taken on probation at the smithy, with an apron for apparel, and was handling hammers, plying bellows, learning not to snatch at tongs, but sing out with an anvil clangour, giving malleable blows. I loved to plunge a bar red hot into a barrel, feel the steam hiss up the shaft, and crying as the furnace sparks to stars: I'm coming now, ready or not.
The things I wrought, though, did go wrong. I couldn't get the hang of it. The labile turned out liable, and I should have used a ladle, and my pliable was proved unplayable, my fire burned out. I felt deplorably unemployable, unfit. So I resigned. I quit before I got thrown out, thrown back, rejected, cast into the pit.
I caught the train from the station I left in the dark, and by morning was up to my knees in the mud of a farm. My hope was here to hide my shame in what I'd call an isolated cot, but really any sort of shed or hut, but I could not. When I regained the platform I still had it on my arm. The train was there, just building up a head of steam. There is a line, it seems, runs through the dream, that isn't what it means.
Then I was stepping from my carriage at a halt along the coast: a long-strung strand with pylons, poles, a superannuated post. Here I could fling the thing, my marriage and my fault, my brain, the ring, the knife, the bag, the ghost: I could get shut, and so I did, believing that my sense of losing was now lost. And then I caught another train and found another place to live. It is myself, I do conceive, that's needing to be hid.
Despite respite, the Twins come in recurrence, dressed this time in medical garb. The foremost holds a certain something like a dangling youngling in between his forefinger and thumb. They turn offensive, shouting Loser! Wanker! Look! We got this from thy cot! Are t' thou ashamed, or not?
A sudden sympathy was what I felt for just this wriggling, struggling thing, whose life just is: it squiggles like these lines of writing, trying to do justice to unspeakable banality. I knew the shape, and have to own, this too is mine, and here and now I do re-sign my resignation. In formality I re-resign, and I'm arrested, re-arrested. On the spot I'm taken down, to have my sentence tested. But in some scuffle-muffle, that I can't account for or explain, I slip the cuffs, snatch up the slimed and queasy thing, and make completely safe escape, and made my way to re-appear again at the old gaslit railway station.
By now the train I must have travelled on was gone, and the station we left in the dark was closed. I don't know how I made my way back to the cot, in the desolate spot, except I did, unable to remember where I'd been, or how come in due time I came to feed a fire with the conviviality of company. The squirmy mystery was covered with a lid.
So I was cheerful in my cups with chums one night, when a bottle in the pantry blew, and decked its neck in fizz; or else another image is: a something wick to sprout sprung as a seed of pulse, or like a teapot foaming from the spout: and there he stands, and there he is. And all my company ran from the parlour to the night without. And I felt dreadful. And I don't know what the damage is.
In disgust I drew it from my chest and stuffed it in my bag, and took it on the train again, and as I sat in my compartment, tried to open my accounts. So much a child, I reckon, needs to find a mother. Maybe I could palm it off, or have it farmed, or maybe fostered. He could be apprenticed to the dream-trade. I could be a hawkish salesman, beading eyes upon my prospects: Take him, I am losing on this deal. I can invent another. All these prospects slither when they see my keenness to be rid, and patter out beyond my sight.
I know it cannot be forsaken, little something, spirit-mite. In the collapse of the negotiation we, the author and his brat, had got thrown out, expelled from the adoption-trade. And a dejected pair we made.
It had been growing duller day by day over the years and all the while he trailed me, as I combed the coast, seeking the pylons, poles, a certain post, and all the wires I'd seen before, strung out across the skyline, seeking that particular shore where I'd been lost. Then day by day between us grew the distance. The extension grown seemed infinite at which point it could be easily cut. And I thought, we are free at last, and both of us are lost. Let all the world come unconjoint and I'll be incognisant.
I don't need seaside any more, just a hole for solitude in ordinary silence. So the train had brought me to a dark stone town, where I rented the house I had always dreamed of: dark steep stairs with many rooms off, green or brown, but each a space of fresh distraction.
But one night in the dark at the top of the stairs, the banister gave way, and I woke to hear him squalling in the next room. And, desperate for want, I called you, Love, and you called him your lovely little changeling, and armed him on your bosom, and you honeysuckled him with lullabies of broom and besom, like, but not like, when you sucked me once upon a sunny hillside: heather plum, the rowan-berry red, a silence good as gold, the gorse, and bliss rings in my head. And all beneath us then was then no floor but earthen moor. We had passed through the spiky spirit-gate, and had conceived our fate.
And when the morning light was like a pigeon-breast, in grey and pearl and pink, and golden light along the ocean avenue, the harebells tremulously quivering and blue, and all the grasses on the cliff were shivering, I took him away with me, across the causeway, singing out You Who! and garbling this, my version of The Foggy Dew.
Back to Juveniliad