A Mark

I can taste it now; teasing at the tip,
Of my tongue as I drink greedily in,
With one hungry gulp of self-serving sin.
I waited at first, for chance to unzip,
The secret you held just close to your hip.
A mark that showed me where I could begin
And lead me to a place in which you’d pin
Me to you with an unknowing firm grip.
It’s grown stronger now so don’t let it become,
A reason by which to forget how sweet,
An elixir we shared; free of jitter,
A medicine to rouse the secret numb.
I know though in time, drowning in effete,
The last sip I take, wincing; is bitter.

Something we hadn’t forgotten

For weeks the heat has built, with the sky a permanent pale wash of blue. It’s as if the earth is storing all of its energy and taking in one long, deep breath before it rages. Today this long summer seems to rest on the edge of a precipice and, as the sun crawls lethargically across the sky, the trees begin to stir faster and the wind pulls and pushes the cooling air. There is an energy that can almost be grasped. The storm is coming.

I step outside, breathing in the moment. I’ve always loved days like these. Memories of running barefoot into the street, arms aloft under heavy August showers. Spinning wildly, becoming increasingly dizzy with ecstasy as soaking clothes cling to my skin.  Before I had even begun understand it, this summer rain had always held a promise of new possibilities. Today is no exception.

I turn a corner and stand still, breathing in deep. The street I stare down is such a familiar sight to me yet in this moment, it seems to take on a new life, a new meaning transcendent to anything else. The road is a dead end adorned by a wire fence that holds behind it endless miles of corn field, country paths and hours of memories. What is it about being home? After several sporadic visits to the place I’d grown up, I had expected the constant nostalgia to end, yet it returns with the same intensity with each and every visit. Am I the only one that experiences this with such force? Perhaps I’ve just been wired in such a way that my memory is inclined to constantly recount the endless halcyon days of youth. I’m addicted to the melancholia of it all.

Reaching the end of the street I press down on the barbed wire, strategically placing my fingers between the barbs before swinging each leg over in turn. This ‘leap’ into the field was once so much more of an effort during countless days spent bounding over into the long grass below. I would spend hours here with my childhood friend, Sarah, diving into the thick mass with green-stained knees, drunk on its unique earthy scent. Even now I can feel her soft breath on my cheek as we lay in hiding and that electric sensation between our hands as they rest just beyond touching – the air thick with possibility.

Almost two decades since, I look out onto anaemic, arid earth. Stepping into the field, the brittle needles scratch at my bare ankles before snapping under my weight. A shadow edges its way across the field. I look up to see a light wisp of cloud beginning to form above. A breeze rattles through the field before falling silent again. Those days in the lush field suddenly seem long ago. As I look down at the barren dirt, the present becomes a graveyard to the past – longing for what has been and dreading what is to come.

I carry on.  The field is wrapped over a gentle slope that creeps down to a narrow footpath. I would walk here so often with Sarah as we grew older into our late teens. It became synonymous with the evenings and weekends we’d spend together. I could’ve walked this path a thousand times with her and it wouldn’t have been enough. When nothing stands in the way of perfection, its fragility remains protected and those wrapped up in it remain blind to its ability to crack. Everything was somehow more real in those days. We still had the ability to be profoundly affected by something that today we seem to have inevitably become desensitised to. We withdraw further into ourselves and leave the paradise of teenage years behind for adult life.

As we grew older, we stayed together. She seemed to flourish with each year as she devoured opportunity and savoured the possibilities of life. I was exactly the opposite. By my late twenties, I had fallen into a state of depression, leaving me bitter without reason and ruthlessly anti-social. I was dragging her down with me before she even realised it. We were married. What choice did she have?  She stood as a testament to that often forgotten vow, made one day in a haze of ecstasy. While her family had long turned against me, she couldn’t give up. She couldn’t let go of the memory of love. Maybe once I had helped her forget the world, but soon it became clear the world had forgotten us both.

I reach the end of the path and turn back to look down it. The sky is heavy to the point of bursting now and the trees begin to moan under its weight. I realise that the last good thing I did for her was leave her.  She bore my burden for too long. So I find myself here, remembering her as a series of summers. In front of me is a wooden gate that opens onto a small bridge, beyond which stands a lone oak tree.  I can just make out it’s highest branches from here; still as green and majestic as I remember.

Walking over the bridge, I notice that the water running beneath me has almost completely disappeared after months of ceaseless heat. The drop to the bottom isn’t too far but we would often dare each other to jump in when the river was full. She would always jump first: I never quite trusted my own ability to swim back to the surface. The tree ahead draws closer and rises majestically above the rest. Not even a summer of drought has paled it’s vivid leaves. It stands patiently, trusting in the rain that is about to come. Whatever the years throw at it, it continues to reach up.

As I reach the tree, I notice a bench sitting by it. I sit and look across at the valley straight ahead of me. A cricket squeaks its welcome. A sudden sense of arrival sweeps over me – I’m here. Even the far-off sounds of planes and roads console me; their distance is a comfort. Everything is still yet thrives with life. We share the same contentment, quiet: peace.

I close my eyes and for the first time in years, I think of nothing, and it is bliss. In somewhere so unchanging, I feel so far from myself. I touch the soil, the bark and the grass to remind myself of something I hadn’t forgotten, just to check.

As I breathe in the sweet, pungent smell in the air, a large splash of water bounces from my cheek, soon followed by another down my neck. I reach out my hands as more rain follows. A streak of lighting tears the horizon in two and becomes suspended in that moment. I look up to the sheet of grey above me and smile. Standing up, with my clothes now clinging to me in the mid-summer storm, I reach upwards like the child I once was and begin to spin.


A Journey to the Circus

Elek allowed the low rumbling of the boat to ease him into a serene daze, savouring the gentle familiarity as it rocked. Not quite closing his eyes, he enjoyed the blurred patterns being painted into his vision by the shimmering fairy lights of the cabin.

‘Here they come’, a gruff voice grumbled in broad Hungarian.

Snapped out of his daydream by his father’s statement, Elek lifted his body to look out of the cabin window. Excitable tourists were flooding onto the boat and voices and accents from countries he hadn’t even heard of began to flood his ears. He turned excitedly to his father, who merely shook his head and looked back to the small television screen in front of him, more interested in the ongoing football match than yet another stream of what he would call ‘rowdy’ tourists.

But the young boy wasn’t interested in whatever match his father was watching tonight. As always, he stared out onto the deck of the boat as it filled up. There were boys and girls his age, tugging eagerly at their mother’s coats and pointing out down the river Danube. Lovers were wrapped in each other’s arms, swooning at Elek’s hometown, Budapest and seeing it in ways he couldn’t imagine.

As the last of the tourists filed on, the old boat’s engine began to pick up and its regular thump gathered speed. Elek’s father casually turned the wheel and eased the boat out onto the open waters of the wide river.

This was Elek’s favourite time of year. It was mid-august and the nights were warm, that was one reason, but what he really loved was that the circus was in town. Every year, the travelling circus would arrive and set up on Margaret Island, sandwiched between the city’s two banks of Buda and Pest. His father would clean down the old family boat and transport streams of tourists to and from the island. Elek had never actually been to the circus himself but he had always been promised a visit ‘one day.’

‘Apu, Apu, can I go stand with the people?’ Begged Elek, his face light with excitement.

‘Stay on the upper deck, though, so I can see you.’

His father’s reply was always the same and Elek was only too happy to obey – the top deck gave him the best view of the city after all.

Elek squeezed through the long legs of the crowd and worked his way to the railings. He loved looking at the reactions on all of the faces as they peered out in awe at the seemingly infinite number of landmarks the city had to offer. He followed their line of site to the great statue of the Citadella, towering over the city on Gelert Hill. He always thought the statue looked a bit like an angel at this time of night, watching over them all as they passed by on their little boat. Next was the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Castle hill. This was his favourite of all, and he imagined it as a palace in a fantasy land, where he was the king and every day was spent journeying to the circus with his father. But in his world, they were the guests.

Elek looked back into the cabin, wishing that his father would look up from that wheel or the television screen for just a moment. He had once told Elek that ‘only tourists get excited about this city’, but it just wasn’t true. Elek loved watching the passengers get excited by it all. They reminded him that everything was new and exciting if you only looked at it through the right eyes. He vowed never to forget the Angel at the Citedella or the fantasy castle of the Fisherman’s Bastion. He swore to himself, that when he got old like his father, he would always smile when he drove that boat up the river and see the world just like these happy tourists.

Suddenly, the boat gave one last big sputtering thud and a slight jolt. Everyone laughed as they tried to keep their balance. They had arrived at the island. Elek ran to the front of the boat, right in front of his father’s cabin. He could already hear the familiar music bounce around the island, and just make out the great red tent. It was strange to love something he had never seen, but this circus was his favourite thing in the world. Elek turned to his father, expectantly, and he smiled back at him, mouthing those familiar words.

‘One day, son. One day.’