A Hundred and One Days

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THIRTEENTH OF MAY

It’s like being in a war movie. A hundred feet below the ground. I never liked tunnels, but here I am, sitting in a shelter of strangers listening to an air-raid warning. It is oppressively dramatic, and even slightly cruel, to simulate a situation of danger, knowing we are pretending, our lives are not in danger, we have immersed ourselves in Operation Dynamo, this is performance art where location is the main actor, and us the willing extras. Our guide is Chinese, and at one point the annoying unceasing chatter of two boys being dragged around by their bored ma and made-up grandma disorients him so much he forgets his spiel, and has to start again. No one laughs. We admire the facts he can reel off, we have been told that if we wander away, down one of the side-tunnels we could be lost in miles and miles of labyrinth. We need him to guide us out. We are in the secret wartime tunnels of Dover Castle, being lined up against a cold cold wall as if about to be executed. Opposite us, on the curved wall of the tunnel, a film is being played. The sound of gunfire is overwhelming. The boys are riveted. The only time they shut up is when fire blazes around, in front and below them, when the sound of gunfire drills through their heads out of the past they have no interest in. Later, when the guide leaves us to follow the signs out to the exit, us suddenly untethered as we wander through the open sections like stray sheep, there is one room that affects me. The Repeater Station. It feels shockingly quiet after the thunderously spectacular effects we have just come through. I cannot tear my eyes away from the long depth of the room. The equipment, the lamps, everything is as it was, we were told. I imagine people sitting here, hunched over the transmitters and receivers, in a haze of blue smoke. I would like more than anything to walk to the end of this tunnel, touching everything. Instead, I must leave, nothing could be worse than being left here, the last straggler. In the curio shop before the exit the bored ma is galvanized at last – buying army caps for her boys with the zeal of a patriot. The hospital tunnels are harder to survive. The light is dim, the air close. The recordings of voices, soldiers eating their chow, kitchen sounds, the surgeon talking to his assistant, the lights going out, all of it is horribly effective, and depressing. This is not Technicolor drama with guns blazing. This is people dying painfully in the dark. Later, after the war, the Dressing Station became a maternity ward. It seems impossible that children were born here. It smells of death.

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FOURTEENTH OF MAY

Travelling in a bus through rain towards Canterbury from Temple Ewell feels like travelling to another planet. At the bus stop a genteel old lady dressed in a lemon-yellow skirt, white coat and pearls, slender as the white parasol in her hand, is the first stranger to initiate a conversation in all these months I have been in this country. She tells me, with a friendly laugh, that I am better dressed for the weather than she is. So I am. In my trademark weatherproof jacket with hood, jeans and shoes. Clothes that have begun to feel like a uniform, mind-numbingly dull. I tell her she looks elegant, which she does, and that’s worth everything. She lightens up, and soon we are talking about bus routes, the unreliability of the number 15, and her job at the Cathedral, where she is a volunteer. Yesterday the tour group she was supposed to guide didn’t turn up. These are her occupational hazards. The rain is a dirty drizzle. In the bus, I take out Elizabeth Bowen’s A Time in Rome, and look at the lovely first edition lent to me by Sarah with regret. I have not finished it and I must return it when I meet her this evening. The story of my life. Things undone, unseen, unread. Bowen writes, of the visitor to Rome, “His very hurry electrifies the romance, […] —his dreams are to be haunted for evermore by glimpsed secrets, by-ways left unexplored, arcades unentered, streets he never went down.” I feel like that about Canterbury, even now, after so many days of walking to it, through it. When I read Bowen’s lines, “Knowledge of Rome must be physical, sweated into the system, worked up into the brain through the thinning shoe-leather”—I had laughed aloud with delight in my hermit’s room on campus. How true. My desire to walk every city into my bones meant that my purple boots fell apart. These are new shoes I wear, black, sensible for weather that is not sub-zero, sans furred lining, pretty without being frivolous. My longing for frivolous footwear is reaching epic proportions. Slippers so thin I can feel the ground though my bare toes. Slippers that are tied with strings around my bare ankles. Impossible in this weather. I return to Bowen. “It takes one’s entire capacity to live one moment—the present, the moment one is living.” She was wise, and it feels as if she knew me. “I began to attach myself by so much as looking. Here I was, centered. I dared to hope that all else might prove as simple. It did not.” It never does. I am linked to this Elizabeth, just as I am to that other, Elizabeth Bishop, whom I invoked in the poem ‘One or Two Things about Home’, despairingly: “Elizabeth,/ should we have stayed at home,/ wherever that may be?” I know the answer to that one by now. Do I? Meanwhile, here we are, Canterbury Bus Station, entered from the other side. The city centre drenched and dismal. I walk towards our meeting place feeling like a stranger. I know the turns, the shops, the by-ways to La Trappiste, where a beer bible awaits your reverence on every table. Delirium Red, Delirium Tremens, the famous elephant beer with bouquet of coriander and cloves! Down the road, Wild Ferment, and a jester in orange selling tickets. Sarah and I eat fish cakes and smoked duck with our Darjeeling teas and talk. Then we walk down to The Old Synagogue to listen to the last event at the Sounds New Poetry Festival this year. The last for me in more ways than one. David Herd and Simon Smith will perform a collaborative poem alongside pianist Sam Bailey and saxophonist Evan Parker. Mediating between these two duos will be composer and turntablist Matt Wright. The evening is titled ‘Feedback’. I have been hearing about this collaboration since I got to the University of Kent. About the recording, in studio, soon to be a cd; about the performance at the Veg Box that I missed because I was away in Wales. I have heard Simon read, and lecture on, his wonderful translations of Catullus. I have heard David read, and think through, the difficult poetry of JH Prynne. This is the first time I will hear Simon and David read their own poetry. The venue fills up swiftly. Is everyone as excited as I am? I imagine so. More chairs are brought in. The gallery is packed. They begin. For forty minutes I am mesmerized as the voices—real and recorded, sampled and looped back, receding and very near—enter and leave the music, interweave and interrupt the sound, this is a subtle crazy weaving, a partnering, a standing within each word, each note, with a presence that is whole, despite the fragments, despite the collisions and elisions, despite crackle and static and edging in-around-at. I forget to breathe. Outside in the clear blue air, the rain finally gone, darkness dropping down, goodbyes. Four words from my ‘Biography in Five Questions’ have entered David’s text: all was not unbeautiful. I feel lit-up. It is hard to talk about what we have just experienced. Hugs. Verge-of-tears. I walk to the bus-station. The city deserted. I turn back once, my last farewell to Westgate. The light in the sky like after-glow. Bitter cold. Two dots flicker in the sky, code for goodbye. As the bus hurtles back through pitch-black roads, I hold on to the text of the poems that we have been given, No. 42 of 100 strikingly designed limited editions, thankful for everything. Later, when the poem reaches my home in the box sent by surface-mail, I will enjoy it again. Until then, the feedback of the evening in my ears, my heart. Until then, notes in pencil, awaiting my return.

FIFTEENTH OF MAY

Foxed. By the mountain of papers that I have accumulated in my three and half months in the UK. Why am I such a paper-junkie? Why do I need to hold on to every little ticket-stub, bill, card, paper-bag, bookmark, hand-out, programme, post-it-to-myself [saying ‘Anti-Poem’]? Having attempted to climb this mountain, I set off an avalanche, and now sit, buried, like the hunter Reverend Baldur Skuggason, in a snow-drift that I have no inclination of clearing away, not yet, not with the rain outside turning to sleet, the sharp knock-knocking of hailstones on the window, how warm and safe it is in my little den. I think of all the things I regret not doing these last few months. Rather, things I may regret not having done once I’m back home. Foxed. Can’t think of a single thing. Oh yes, not having visited with my friend the Welsh poet Eurig Salisbury the house in Salisbury that Vikram Seth bought, lived and worked in, a fact I discovered while reviewing The Rivered Earth. Not having drunk Caffrey’s draught (grateful for the can that Martin, Mererid’s husband, got me, along with two other ales, Fuller’s Bengal Lancer and The Rev. James, both so wittily chosen!). Not having found the exact spot where the Tabard Inn stood, despite wandering in precisely the area that Chaucer’s Pilgrims set out from in The Canterbury Tales. Regretted my friend the Irish poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn not being in Belfast when I was so close by in Derry.  Regretted not visiting Lewes, a literary pilgrimage to the river Virginia Woolf drowned herself in, not meeting my friends the poets Grace Nichols and John Agard again, in their beautiful home, the taste of Grace’s cooking, the panache of John’s libation, last summer, that reading from our nonsense verse, the art exhibition that followed, Artists United, the light slanting low into the warehouse, the striking woman in her studio with the mannish hat upon her head, the sense of community, high spirits, Grace and John seeing me off at the station, waving as the train pulled out, such kinship. Regretted not seeing a fox, a red fox. Each time it crossed in front of the car, I was elsewhere, dozing, dreaming, missing the red fox, not content with the feral black one that streaked across the road like the wild thing it is that rainy night when Edel drove me home in East Surrey, Molesey. Last summer, in this house, a six-year old boy stood up and read, unprompted, from his notebook – “Today I saw a glow-worm and a fox.” That boy, one year later, has written three chapters of a novel, Football Crasy (sic!), which he lets me read while he leaves the room. He has both the narcissism and the shyness of the author, his eyes never leave me when he knows I am not looking, he has smitten me with that one line, written last summer, today I saw a glow-worm and a fox, an entire universe in that line, in the back garden that has refused to yield either fox or badger to my eyes. And so I content myself with story. A blue fox. A vixen in a book gifted to me by my friend the Icelandic writer Gerdur Kristny, mad Scorpionic woman after my heart. Her book for kids Land of the Lost Socks, I have begun translating into Bangla, and have gifted to the only friend I have who is married to an Icelandic woman, whose son Odin I am yet to meet. One more regret. Not meeting Sara and Odin, ever, not meeting Tobie, again. That one evening of conversation with him fills my heart. Another Scorpio. For all our tribe, that poem I began writing last summer and which I still consider unfinished. But meanwhile, consolation for friends and animals unmet, The Blue Fox by Sjón, a friend of Gerdur’s, winner of prizes, teller of a tale that is strange, from Icelandic to English the strangeness travelling right into my lap, the “daughter of Reynard on the move”. What is it about Iceland that has haunted me for years before I ever knew a person from there? My friend Richard unearthed from below the floorboards in his study newspapers dating back to 1963. The day that Kennedy died. November 24, 1963. The whole world mourns. This heinous act, says Khrushchev. Tucked away in small print the item no one notices. Aldous Huxley dies in the US. The bodyguards… the assassins… When the six police officers entered the movie house where War is Hell was being shown Lee Harvey Oswald leapt up and shouted “This is it!” I photograph the yellow brittle news-sheets, one page at a time, my nostrils filling with the acrid smell of very-old dust. I want to digitize everything, preserve it all. And then I come upon the other issue, saved from the stack. It bears my birthday date, November 17, 1963, seven years before I was born. Surely no coincidence that it came with a supplement (missing): In Colour: The Spirit of Wales. It was a Sunday. Professor Frederick Baghorn was arrested on charges of being a spy and expelled from the Soviet Union. Kennedy, still alive, was gratified at his release. A girl of eight was found dead in a field near Plymouth. Pink Gin Must Be Plymouth. Baghorn says nothing. The weather was mostly cloudy. Future outlook: changeable. Miss Priscilla Johnson, woman writer, was harassed and followed everywhere by nine men. The trouble began when she attended a poetry reading by Yevtushenko. Magazines get with the Mersey Sound. The ’64 Zodiac gives you even more luxury! And inside the steam cloud from a volcanic eruption off Iceland an island is born. The very words in my poem ‘Crossing’, crossing from present to past. I see signs everywhere. “Reykjavik recurs like an omen. Why is everyone dreaming of Iceland?” No answer, yet, not even in my poems. Meanwhile, “A blue vixen lies tight against her stone, letting the snow drift over her on the windward side.”

SIXTEENTH OF MAY

This is the day of reckoning. Choosing what to leave behind, what to take, what to send. Varying degrees of cruelty. As if to soften the blow I begin writing the titles down, hoping something will come clear. And so it goes. A Short Introduction to Islam. The Epigrams of Martial. Homer: War Music. Irish Fairy Tales. War Poet, Jon Stallworthy inscribed with warmth and wit, memories of tea and climbing out of the window to see it better, my brother’s river Cherwell. Quickened in Autumn, Brian Holton’s pamphlet inscribed that luminous afternoon at the South Bank over pints of beer at the newest Loser’s Table with Yang Lian and Bill. The Flying Trapeze by Duncan Bush. Allotments by Laurie Duggan. The Meaning of Flight by Chris Meredith. The Stones Are Asking About You. War and Flight.  Hav by Jan Morris, how unforgettable you are Compared to What/ Hospital Odyssey/ The Music of Ink. Lung Jazz. Shade. Henry’s Demons A memory of conversation, sharp pointed questions from Henry, a pleasure to answer, he really wants to know and isn’t just killing time, his fine parents, their fabulous home The Border Trilogy. The Infinite’s Ash the pink ink inscription by Victor Rodríguez Núñez, in the lovely dining room in Tŷ Newydd, Victor in the carved chair, his wife and translator beside him. Mark Doty’s Theories and Apparitions, Paul Muldoon’s Quoof from the bookshop run by angels every book just two pounds including Tate to Tate. Todd Swift’s Seaway, Fflur Daffyd’s The White Trail, Imtiaz Dharker’s Leaving Fingerprints, Patricia Debney’s How To Be A Dragonfly precious gifts each one of them. Cusp: Graham Mort, Body Language: Stallworthy, Wallace Stevens’ Collected, Steve Collis’ Lever, Tony Lopez’s False Memory. RS Thomas: Counterpoint. Nancy Gaffield: Tokkaido Road. Miroslav Holub: Although. Jan Morris’ World. Mine too.
Impossible to list it all, the exact place where each book entered my life, the smell of the store, the road, the day, the way some signatures wobble, the glory of paper, ribbed, plain, gloss, bone-white, parchment-yellow, the explosion of covers, places, Derry, Dublin, Oxford, Canterbury, London, Carmarthen, the heft, evening-light, fatigue, carrot-cake, red-wine in plastic glasses, bar-stools that wobble, hugs. Purple stoles, salt-and-pepper hair, goodie bags with mustard and coriander biscuits and perfumes and Rooibos tea. Scrap of paper salvaged by store-owner, handwritten map, hot bright metallic light, Poetry Library, faces. Sixty-seven titles later, I arrive at the end of the list and a conclusion. I will leave nothing behind. I will pay to take them, send them, have them. Such then is the nature of joy.     

SEVENTEENTH OF MAY

The landscape is a foreign language. The swans are mute. I know that in retrospect, mute swans, a specie. Someone else I know is writing about swans. I imagine the crystalline beauty of the thought she will bring to her words in a piece I will eventually see. I would have liked to have tagged the one I watched three days ago, the preenery of his long neck, his grooming beak. When he undulates his long white neck, it seems an obscenity. His head underwater, pulled out, water dripping from his beak like a strand of saliva. From the bridge above him it is possible to see what he eats from the clear water, the arguments he pulls out, the shape of worms, or weed. From the bench it is possible only to see his absorption, self- I would add before it if I knew Swan had a sense of self. I wanted to strip away all associations, lake, song, Leda, see nothing but bird, feather, S-shaped neck like a stammer or a place where hands can be wrung. I wanted to regard purely the gluttony of his self-regard, his imperturbability. Before the picture-perfect picture was this, the original, circumvented by mallard ducks and smaller cheekier birds, diving like arrows, headfirst. Abandon versus regalia. A parade unto himself. After an hour of letting slow birds and quick engulf me, I left Kearsney Abbey Gardens and made the short journey home, past the blind crossing where the sound of cars seem like oncoming death, past ducks, caravans and cctv sheds, filled with alien time. This morning, three mornings later, inside the high-beamed tea-room I have never entered, the sprinkling of chocolate on my cocoa familiar, like the trestle table we sit at, never sat at in all my journeyings past and present, grass, tree, water, swan, this is a place I know, nameable. The poet David Herd has driven down from Canterbury to have a farewell coffee with me. I am overwhelmed by the gesture, by the fact that I have his newest book in my hands, not even in the book-stores yet, just out, All Just, a beautiful slender book of poems I cannot wait to read. I tell him about my newest book, the novel, waiting for me at home in Thane, he understands at once, my need to hold it my hands. We drink up, and then we walk and talk. The grass is soft and short. I think I say, at one point, ‘I am never content’. No conversation should be repeated.
I see him off to his car, and after he has left, I re-enter the gardens, find my bench by the water, and read. At three in the morning, Rimbaud wrote. The world is feral today and still. I – don’t know if there is a poem here. I hear the voice of the poem, the poet, his brisk clear way of reading, the limber balance with which he stands inside his words. When the sky clouds over I walk back, still reading, having left the killer crossing behind, safe on the slope hidden by trees, so many questions I may like to ask, may never ask. To a friend, for a friend. Song of the cart, the breath, the stewards. Song of the cigarette. I know I want to review the book, to write about it, elsewhere. But for now, I am content with reading, with seeing how what he writes of the painter Piero della Francesca could be said of him: ‘In the name of intelligence/ He constructed/ A complex emotion.’ For now, impossible to resist, the desire to quote one poem out of them all, just.

One by one

The poem splits,

It has no desire to become a nation,

It traffics in meanings, roots among stones,

Mallow,

People.

The things they have with them,

Corrugated outbuildings

Along the broken road.

 

Immigrant through the streets

It craves sources of stability,

Processes it might settle its elegy among;

It splits,

To begin again,

It seeks the moon broken across the estuary,

People arriving,

One by one.

EIGHTEENTH OF MAY

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. The book I have been reading in a loft with a skylight pouring the sun into me. A book recommended some years ago by a very dear friend, a fine editor, a good man. It is a murder, a mystery, a love story. By chance, I find it here in this magical house in the village of Temple Ewell, not more than twelve miles from Canterbury and two from Dover. Among shelves neatly arranged by country, Zimbabwe, Ireland, India, Russia, this one lone book from Denmark. Translated from the Danish by F. David. The author a sailor dancer fencer mountaineer before he became a writer. Peter Høeg, brooding intensely on the back cover. I’m drawn right in. Smilla is mesmerizing in her strength, her wit, her aloneness. She reads Euclid to the boy Isaiah. She has “a good relationship with ice”. She never gets disoriented, except when she’s at sea. When she looks at a map, “the landscape rises up from the paper”. She is capable of breaking bones. The action moves with a precise brutality. Towards the end, all there is is violence. “You can’t win against the ice.” This book was not meant to be interrupted.
Read across two time zones, two different kinds of weather, the book splinters. I remember the body of the boy Isaiah, the coffee the mechanic makes. I remember the line on page 37 which gives me the beginning of a new series of poems. I realize that there are other writers who love lists, who see everything in a room, and want to write it all down. I cannot find any more the beautiful passage about ice crystals. I realize readers can be patient with facts, that facts are, can be, beautiful. I remember the heat between the two unlikely lovers. That words alone are capable of generating such heat. As if to atone for the splintering of snow, the breaking away of memory like floes from a berg, I read Moderato Cantabile twice in one location, twenty-four hours away from that sky-lit loft in a room filled with artificial light, in a heat so profound it defeats expiation. In Duras’ impeccable hands it is a mystery, a murder, a love story. The sun is everywhere, fading, flaming, blazing in another little boy’s mouth, never named, fusing shadows on a wall, framing a man’s body: “His mouth was moist from drinking and, in the soft light, it too seemed implacably exact.” Richard Seaver’s translation. Diabelli’s sonatina, played moderately slow and melodiously by the child, whose hands are barely formed, whose body resists, who hardly moved “as the motorboat passed through his blood.” A port city. Unnamed, like the child, but distinctly small, smaller than Marseille, that word I once followed from book to book as if to make up for having left it behind. The man who lies next to his wife, whom he has shot through the heart, holding her calmly, tightly, on the floor of the café, his mouth bloody where he has kissed her, “his face pressed against hers, into the blood flowing from her mouth.” Anne Desbaresdes, mother to the nameless child, who begs Chauvin, “One last time […] tell me about it one last time”. Miss Anne’s Feeling for Wine. Her face unsteady with it, her hands steadying as she rapidly drinks glass after glass. The scent of magnolias. “She keeps torturing the flower at her breast.” The day dies. Customers kill time. “Reading snow is like listening to music. To describe what you’ve read is to try to explain music in writing.” Høeg’s words, Duras’ book. Beyond interruption, some slow seamless movement towards continuity, moderato cantabile.

Nineteenth of May

NINETEENTH OF MAY

I have never walked on top of a cliff. Never been so perilously close to the edge where the drop is an invitation to jump. The sea is green. In Wales, my friend the poet Mererid Hopwood told me they have no word for blue. I now see why, even though I am not in Wales. I am in Dover, walking on top of the white cliffs that I saw last summer receding like a dream through the thick glass windows of the P&O ferry from Dover to Calais. I had filmed them for my father, in whose mind (and mine) the white cliffs of Dover have always been linked with Matthew Arnold, and not with the song I have been hearing on the radio this summer: But watching the cliffs, their long white length unfolding, falling away, outside the purview of the window I am bound by, the mild irritation of diners talking, oblivious of the sanctity of this moment for me and for my father, whom I am filming this for, I had been seized, yes, by sentiment. A few minutes later, my friend and I had gone up to the deck, and in the bitter cold wind, under that blazing summer sun, I had read ‘Dover Beach’ aloud, from Selected Poems of Matthew Arnold, a 1912 edition bought from the Oxfam bookstore on High Street, in Canterbury. A beautiful little blue book, hardbound, with fine butter-paper fly-leaf and an inscription in faded ink, November 1920, above it a name I cannot decipher, though it could be Irish, or Scots, in ink that was once black, and is now brown. A book bought for this journey, so we could read, at the Dover end of our crossing, this poem, and at the Calais end, the other, ‘Calais Sands’ with which I have no relationship, but which my friend brings to my notice, to my glee, how appropriate and daft this is, to be equipped so perfectly with poetry for this journey from one port to another. But now, now, now, under my feet those cliffs that had seemed unattainable last summer. I am trampling on them, rambling on them. There are miles of grass, four miles, along this track, rutted with many feet. Some of the grass comes up to my knee, brushes my thigh. There are ears to some of the stalks, in my ignorance I want to call them bulrush, wheat, corn, knowing they are wrong, but needing names to cling to, any straw I can clutch at, in order to avoid being carried away, and not just by the wind, which is strong, and tugs, not just by the drop which is sheer, and tugs, too. The soles of my shoes are white with chalk. I never knew things grew on chalk. Wild flowers, leaves like cabbage, strong yellow flowers that remind me of gorse but are not, another failure of recognition. Acres of what I now see could be crop, rustling like silk. Barley? Maybe. The silence is good. I have no need to ask. From time to time I stop, and hunker down, so I can see the curve of the cliff I have just left behind, see it closely, watch the smooth whiteness of this section, with a hole gouged in it, nest perhaps to a sea bird, a clean white section on which one yellow flower, no different from the others along the path but unutterably moving because it is where I cannot be, over the edge of the cliff, unfazed by wind and too much sun, beautiful. As I watch, a white gull swoops by. This is the first time I am above the white gulls I have been watching all summer, outside my window, on the campus on the hill that already feels so far away, and I am seized with exhilaration. I love the white gulls, even their ugly screeches, they remind me of what it means to love something alien for the first time, alone, in another country, watching something happen between people, watching place inhabit people like a secret amour. When I returned from that first journey away I was sleepless. ‘Nocturne’, I wrote. I mourned place, person, animal, thing. The sounds of the port recede. There is nothing here, but a brilliant awareness of the moment. Up near the little lighthouse, adult women are hanging on to the strings of impatient, elegant kites. I sit on the grass, legs aching with pleasure. I am afraid of lying down like my friends, because then I may feel the earth spinning below me, and not know if I will be held in place, something about the length of my body stretched along the length of grass on top of the white cliffs of Dover frightens me, as if here gravity will cease to function and mirth dislodge me, unbearable lightness float me away over the sea, Europe’s busiest crossing, and yet how placid it is now, empty but for two motionless sailboats, their perfect sails like shark-fins slicing through the water. In a while we will rise and walk over the other side, down to St Margaret’s Bay, down to where Noel Coward’s house still stands, strangely ship-like, down to Grasshopper ale, strong and brown in a glass for manly hands, down to lamb meatballs and mozzarella and pear juice, down to the little museum where the radio never stops playing its period music, where Coward’s paintings are, and a book case of his friend’s books, Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Ian Fleming visited, so did Katherine Hepburn, the light was good, but his wife tired of the seaweed and the chalk, she needed the city, they moved away, Fleming was buried in Canterbury, if only I had this information before, what would I have done with it but perhaps, morbid visitant, visit the grave? You can wear the costume of a soldier, you can sit on the bed in the billet, a billowing black cloth with a candle inside, you can read about the Dead-End kids who refused to be evacuated to Wales and hung around the streets of Dover in little gangs. You can sit at the little desk, regard the medals. Brief Encounter. The only screenplay by Coward that enters my mind. Later, we will leave the music, the museum, the manicured houses, the millionaires, and walk back, through a green forgotten path, past the horses, strong and wiry, crunching the grass, leaning over wire to rip the grass out with powerful precise movements, the sound of tearing and crunching so loud in the evening quiet, as if his teeth were shears, the sudden bicyclist, and the sounds of the port returning, announcements over megaphone, garbled except for those who know what to listen for. Still later, I will remember, as if I had ever forgotten, Rilke’s poem, ‘exposed on the cliffs of the heart’, and I will need to hear it again, and again.

This is a journal in reverse. I will start from the day before I left England and go backwards to the day I arrived, one image and one story for each of the hundred and one days that I was away from home, in Canterbury (where the Charles Wallace India Trust 2012 Fellowship placed me as writer-in-residence at the University of Kent).