They keep asking me why I did it. Then, as soon as I start to explain, D C Grainger butts in with: ‘Was this on the morning of June 11th?’ I deal with that and then D C Singh chimes in with: ‘Did you tell anyone that was where you were going?’ I struggle past that, and then as soon as I get to the bit about the Holy Spring, I see ‘em exchanging those ‘Has he escaped from the funny farm?’ looks. A dispiriting business for a university professor accustomed to a respectful audience. So I’m setting it all down on paper. And then I’m not telling the police another bloody word.

     I live in Scotland now, but most years I manage a visit to my mother’s country, the Welsh Borders. When I was a child, I used to spend every summer holiday in the Abergavenny house of my grandparents, Harry and Gladys Cecil. The little town is surrounded by seven hills, but for a child the hill that holds the greatest glamour is the Sugar Loaf (its Welsh name is Pen y Val), which looms over the north of the town. Every summer, I would pester Grandad Cecil to re-tell the story of how Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West Show to Abergavenny in the summer of 1903. Grandad had been one of the children in the audience when Buffalo Bill vowed to his audience that he would walk up the Sugar Loaf. And that’s just what he did the next morning, accompanied by half the adults and all the children of Abergavenny.

     “Hey, what you think? Negro, I’m talking to you.”

     Lloyd Baker, the Basket Maker, is shaking my shoulder, leaning into my face with his one-hundred and one proof rum breath jolting me out of my thoughts.

     Mildred, aka Millie, Miller Light, and Mildew, the bartender, laughs as I lurch back from Lloyd’s toxic assault. Mildred tries to get me back in the conversation. “Monroe, Planet Earth to Monroe Collins. Are you still with us, brother?” (more…)


Beside the flanks of white houses

The plants sing liquefying songs.

Their metallic voices are like

Drops of heavy paint,

Colorful molts from a dragon’s side.

When I hear them

I believe there is a festival

In the inner life of all things,

In the marrow, the deep materials.

A knot of music

That cracks open

Like a frozen skull. (more…)

     ‘Oh pretty maids, come bite us with your pearly teeth–leave your lovely marks upon us!’ cry the leather-coated russets. ‘Hi, hi, hi– come hither and crush our ripe flesh under your dainty feet!’ squeal the fallen crab apples.

     Lizzie and Laura weave their way into the heart of the vulgar market throng, jostled to and fro by scratchy wicker baskets held in sunburnt crooks of arms.

     ‘Breathe me in,’ persuades the perfectly ripe peach. Lizzie does as she is told and soon her head feels fuzzy. When she looks up, she finds she is alone. Laura’s hand has slipped from hers, as if her slender frame has been swallowed whole by the bustling crowd. Panic rises in her throat, as if a tiny scrap of apple had lodged there.

     She fancies she can hear a flutey voice calling her from afar–Laura? She zig zags across the village green and up the chalky incline towards the wizened gate by the stagnant brook that leads to the straight and narrow of the Priest’s Way, a fearsome stony path overlooked by a congregation of thistles.

     She loved her husband, in her own way. He was young and handsome and faithful – all she required. The only cruel thing he had ever done was to tell her that he hated her favourite dress, but upon seeing her expression, he’d immediately rued his harsh words and bought her a new one. It was green silk brocade with leaves of silver thread stitched over the bodice; a flouncy thing, trimmed with ribbons and fine French lace. She never wore it. Her favourite dress was of simple black linen. Too plain, everyone said, for a woman as comely as Corinna.

    Life was peaceful in their household, quiet with no children; and though the servants were discrete, she was aware that the village gossips had their own opinions on the subject. Her husband never mentioned it, not because he didn’t want a child, she knew, but that he didn’t want her to feel responsible.

    She was of course. (more…)

forgotten song

some dreams
are not meant to be held
you were one of those,
but i dream of you still;
even if we are but a distant
reverie of lyric
that slips further into oceans
more and more distant with each
passing day—
you always struck me as otherworldly,
and i longed to be yours;
sweet faerie of the
for you saw my scars and taught me
they were beautiful
not something to be shamed of as i had always
been taught—
you woke the dreaming in me
that i once thought to be
and turned even days of cold painful rain
into melodies of joy;
and i fell in love with you
the love still remains even if now we are only
just fragments of a distant, disjointed
forgotten song.


The Fiery Bird

The spaceship, the fuel, The Fiery Bird,
the vessel builder,
rubberized boots for my feet.

The woman in the leaden space gear
draining danger from the cusp of my tongue.

A great diffusion of emptiness
in a sudden outpouring of space.

The outer rim cemetery, bathed in star shadows,
a docking of red corpuscles and broken wine glasses

floating eyes of the traveler
closed to worlds of seeing. (more…)

     In the northern woods, where the hills grow tall and deep with green, a little hut stood by a thicket of colorful trees. The hut was gray and crumbled with age, and inside lived a fat, choleric little man with legs as pointed as spindle needles. He sat all day and spoke to no one; though much longer ago than our story begins, he had held council with kings and was called by many illustrious names. For he knew the true matter of every skilled craft and also the words of Changing, used to coax frogs into men and children into trees, and even (and this was his pride) straw into gold.

     But Time had forgotten him, and he soon found himself alone. Only the grove of trees brought him pleasure. They were of red leaves and gold, purple and ivory, carmine and the deepest cobalt. He sometimes stared at them for hours, letting the evening’s fire go cold until it was time for bed.